“I don’t know what I expected, but that certainly wasn’t it.” Was my thought as I walk through trendy SoHo after finishing a Kundalini, Meditation and Gong class at Golden Bridge Yoga studio.
The studio itself is gorgeous and homey. Occupying a three-floor brownstone, the downstairs is dedicated to a front desk and a shop. “We have everything you need,” said the young guy at the desk, gesturing to the free Yogi tea and couches around the corner.
On the second floor is the larger studio, which was holding a “Release your inner animal” workshop that afternoon. I walk up the tea-light filled staircase, past sounds of inner animals, to my class on the third floor. It’s a smaller studio with huge skylights making it feel open and airy. The room was dim, with just the last hours of sunlight.
There were quickly too many students and mats for the space, but our teacher, Sat Siri (Pommeret), comes in and solves the problem, telling us to use half-mats or a blanket instead. (Kundalini is different than regular vinyasa, with much less downward dog-ing, so a smaller space is fine.) Sat Siri asks who is trying Kundalini for the first time. I say it’s my second time, and the first time was really hard. He replies, “it can be.” Kundalini is about releasing energy and moving it up through the chakras, which is sometimes pleasant, but not always. He spoke slowly, with a slight accent, and very friendly eyes.
We begin with the traditional opening chant for Kundalini practice, “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” which roughly translates to “I call upon the divine wisdom and self-knowledge that is within us.” Next, we do a breath of fire warm-up, and move the spine in cat/cow and neck rolls. We massage and gently pound certain pressure points on the body, focusing on the knees, where Sat Siri explains that energy often gets stuck.
Sat Siri doesn’t wax poetics about Kundalini philosophy or over-explain the practice. He gives the new students time to catch on, letting us observe what the regulars do and find our own way.
We move on to an especially testing pose that sounds deceptively simple—with elbows relaxed by the sides and hands up by the shoulders, the two front fingers move open and close. Gaze is at the nose so the eyes are open about 10 degrees, and breathing is easy. The fingers move as fast as possible, keeping the hand in a gentle fist. My brain says, “Okay, easy.” After about a minute, my fingers feel like rocks. After another minute, I feel nauseous. I have to stop for a few seconds, calm my breath and come back to it.
Sat Siri says with a knowing smile, “You’re all doing great! We’re halfway done.” The entire class half laughs, half cries. This is a mental practice. This is busting through things we can’t put into words. After seven minutes, we put our hands down in sweet relief and breathe. Then comes the next surprise of class. Sat Siri puts on music and in all seriousness tells us to stand and move to the beat. As we are on the top floor, he says “We’re not supposed to jump, but if you feel like you need to, jump lightly!” He kept us moving for at least a few songs, which feels like a long time when you’re just jumping around, shaking things out. Eventually, we sit again making our way to cool down and rest in savasana.
Sat Siri moves a massive gong to the front of the room, and begins playing quietly. Like any busy New Yorker, I fall asleep straight away. The gong bath lasted about a half hour. At some point the gong booms loudly and wakes me up. Sat Siri seemed to move between the quiet and loud extremes to alter our energy state. When we move out of savasana and meet in easy pose, I feel like I had a full night’s sleep.
After a traditional closing chant, Sat Siri puts on more music. This time a song he asks us to sing along to—“We are the people, the people of love, we the people, love today”—with our hands in prayer or on our hearts. With our cold, city hearts melted, we bow to seal the practice and Sat Siri offers a final quote from Yogi Bhajan: “You make everything in life important in your life, except learning about yourself.”
On that note, he strongly encourages us to linger downstairs, have a cup of tea, sit and chat, to make sure we are fully grounded before exiting the studio. I’m sure Kundalini classes differ between studios and teachers, just like vinyasa, but the combination of the Golden Bridge studio and Sat Siri’s teaching gave a warm, loving introduction to this style. As long as you drop your ego at the door, there’s an energetic and shifting practice waiting for you. And lots of free tea.
—Madeleine Kelsey for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $22 with $2 mat rental (free for first class). New students can try two weeks unlimited for $30.