"I belong to you."
Those were the four words we had to say when introducing ourselves to the six other people in The Art of Living's Happiness Program, a five day submersion into meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques that apparently lead to happiness*.
(*Note, I'm not a big fan of the word "happiness," but in this case you can substitute it for "meaning" or whatever other word you like.)
But...I belong to you? This shit was going to be weird.
I tried to keep an open mind. This class was recommended to me by one of my beloved Nepali co-workers who raved about how transformative it was for her. In a unique moment of sheer exhaustion on my last trip to Nepal, she took me straight to the website's registration page and convinced me that when I returned stateside, this would help.
So here I was, telling Ari, Theresa, Anna, Jessica, Ann, and our teacher Anshul that I belonged to them. It wasn't as bad as I thought, but it definitely felt a little disingenuous since I didn't even know them. (And fun fact: I didn't actually believe I belonged to them. What did that even mean?)
Soon after we all went around to answer the question of "why are you here?" Ari said his life coach recommended it to him (IMO, a "life coach" is either an easier way to say "therapist," or is someone who steals your money). Either way, he wanted to become more comfortable in his skin. He said this while taking off his jeans to reveal navy blue leggings that had a big red stripe down each leg. More on that later.
Theresa was an older woman from Mumbai who stumbled into the class 10 minutes late, having not signed up online. She had a very appropriate answer for why she was here: She wanted to be more present as her life kept evolving and slipping away from her. With presence, she could attain peace.
Anna lived upstate and came down specifically to see what Art of Living was all about. She's a consultant for many meditation, yoga, and spiritual companies who have great intentions and zero abilities to run a business. Jessica, born and raised in Queens, was going through a divorce. Ironically, so was Ann—a french woman who spent her life traveling the world, having just returned from life in Nairobi.
My answer ended up being a long spiel of, "welllll, I'm practically 28, and I love my friends and family and my job and feel grateful for so much and yet how do you strike that balance of devoting your life to helping other people but also being 'selfish' and doing things for yourself like moving away and building a cabin in the middle of the woods and do I really need to get married and will I ever have enough money and will I ever know what my true purpose is and when will I feel that sense of stability and foundation and..." etc etc. I talked for a little longer than planned. The eyes around me suggested that Ari, Theresa, Anna, Jessica, Ann, and Anshul were all saying "aww, when I was your age I thought the same thing! Don't worry little girl." (I was by far the youngest in the group. Why am I always the youngest?)
Having word vomited a little too much, I toned it down for the next exercise. We had to write down one thing that bothers us—the first thing that came to mind. People wrote things down like having deeper relationships, silencing a worried mind, and finding peace amidst trauma.
I had written "the GOP." That received minimal laughs.
After some lecturing and a few more ice-breakers (one of which included getting into teams and coming up with a team name and chant—ours being "sweet potato pie" and no I did not pick it) we took a quick break since we were warned this would be the last time we could get up. I discovered a clock at the back of the room which read 7:45pm. Class was from 6:30-9:30pm.
"Okay ... good not great" I thought. I was getting particularly hungry; my biggest mistake thus far was not eating dinner before class, and the fact I typically eat every two hours (??) was starting to weigh down on me. Perhaps I could stave off hunger with some meditation and mindfulness. Either way, I promised myself I wouldn't read the clock again until I was convinced it was at least 8:30pm.
After break, Anshul announced we would be doing a little yoga. I was thrilled! Ari seemed especially excited to utilize his leggings. I got on my mat, ready to down-dog, forward fold, and lunge into a mindfulness bliss. Instead, we circled our head clockwise and counter-clock wise about 15 times. We massaged our cheeks. At one point we raised our leg maybe 2 inches off the ground to do ankle rolls. After about 20 minutes, I was convinced we collectively burned one calorie. My hunger was reeling. Then we sat back down, and our teacher asked, "how are you all feeling?"
To my surprise, a few people said it was challenging. "When we raised our right arm over our head...that was hard." I had to hold in my laughter. My mind floated back to the "I belong to you" that kicked off class.
Four more days. 25 more hours. Could I really do this?
After another short lecture, I finally allowed myself to turn around and see if we had made it to 8:30pm. When I looked, the clock still read 7:45pm.
Turns out it was actually closer to 9:30pm, which for my wandering mind (and stomach) was amazing news. Anshul explained we were going to learn a few breathing techniques that we would have to start doing daily, and then end with a short guided meditation. We all were super excited—finally! The meditation! And she said "short!"
Turns out "short" still meant 25 minutes. It was definitely the longest time I've meditated in one sitting, but I actually think I did pretty well. Between that and the three types of breathing techniques we learned, I had to admit that I felt good. I felt pretty wonderful, actually.
Before we left, Anshul gave us our homework. Do the breathing exercises every morning (they take about 10 minutes). Do two random acts of kindness. Make three new acquaintances. Answer questions like "what are my needs" and "what are my responsibilities."
Then came the kicker: rules. No meat (fine). No eggs (eh). No alcohol (also okay). No hard drugs (I asked if this included marijuana and yep, does). Then, the worst one. No caffeine.
I left class unsure of what I was getting myself into. Some moments seemed a little too "namaste" for me, yet other moments were strikingly beautiful and legitimately challenging. And the next morning, as I was sipping my large, caffeine-filled cup of coffee after 10 minutes of ujjayi breathing (with intention!), I had to admit I was excited to see what Day 2 would bring.