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What Happens When You Stare a Stranger in the Eyes


Her eyes were blue and the crows feet furrowing the corners didn’t betray her youth. Still, she was blinking profusely, over and over again. I felt uncomfortable and a very strong urge to look away. But she was my partner and the voice in the background kept egging me on to maintain contact. “Don’t lose focus,” I heard him say. “Stay on this path.”

It was the first time I had stared a stranger in the eyes — an intensely intimate and uncomfortable experience passed by shifting from left to right, blinking, blinking, blinking. Two minutes crept by and sped up and ended suddenly.

“Now, find a new partner. Go now!” The instructor’s tone had changed from lulled and hypnotic to demanding and powerful. “Don’t talk. Don’t think. Find a partner,” he urged, and a high twang of the sitar seemed to punctuate his demand.

The next stranger was much taller. His eyes were also bright blue like the sky behind him. His hair was white and slightly thinning at the top. There I spent another two minutes staring and not talking and trying desperately not to laugh. The instructor’s forceful tone struck in again: “Imagine your partner’s life, starting with the fetus.” And I lost the battle against laughter.

Full disclosure: I was already out of my element when I first walked up to the Hanuman Festival (a three-day yoga celebration) and saw hula hoops whirling around the gyrating hips of hippies. My element packed up and left me when I let someone spray me with patchouli. Now, in a Kundalini Yoga class, my element called and asked me to send the rest of its things.

Kundalini literally means “coiled,” referring to an unconscious, instinctive force, which lies twisted at the base of the spine.That’s why it is often regarded as a slumbering serpent. Kundalini Yoga, a more spiritual yoga that focuses on breath and chanting, is touted as the practice of awakening that serpent, which is said to result in enlightenment, self-knowledge and a meditative state.

Laying on my mat at the end of that yoga session, I felt surprised to find myself tired and relaxed and a little more understanding of these people who were once so alien to me. Sure, it was hard for me not to laugh at myself during the chanting session (Adi Shakti, Namo Namo!), and the instructor’s lecture at the beginning of class on the concept of time was, incidentally, the only time I meditated … on what to cook for dinner. Pasta sauce? No, that will take too long. Maybe a steak salad. But I did feel a sense of understanding — of my breath and of the people around me. That might have something to do with the eye contact. Or the fact that one of the most commonly reported effects of Kundalini Yoga is the feeling of universal connectedness.

Other effects include:

•Heart palpitations (caused by staring a stranger intensely in the eyes)

•Extreme heat or cold (caused by breathing erratically while chanting Adi Shakti, Namo Namo! — a mantra said to eliminate fears and fulfill desires)

•Dominant emotions for short periods of time (Caused by imagining your death)

•Depression (Also caused by imagining your death)

•Pressure inside the skull and headache (Caused by intense breathing while imagining your death)

So, maybe Kundalini Yoga isn’t for me after all. In truth, I’m probably the last person you would expect to find at a yoga festival. But in the spirit of open-mindedness I have to say I still appreciated the experience and I recommend everyone give it a go, unless of course the above effects scare you (as they would me had I read them prior to attending).

I will say this about the Hanuman Festival, which offers yoga classes of all kinds — I briefly discovered my inner hippy (then quickly denied she ever existed). And while I never swung a hula hoop around my neck, arm, waste and … is she really doing that around her knee? I did chant Adi Shakti, Namo Namo while pointing my hands toward the sky. And I did stare those strangers in the eyes.

So if you’re considering going next year, I offer you this advice: meditate on it. You’ll know what to do.


And in the meantime, for those curious about Kundalini Yoga, here are some classes to try in our area:


Adi Shakti Kundalini Yoga Center of Boulder, 6717 Valmont Rd., offers classes most days from noon to 1 pm, Friday at 9 am; 720.252.3962

Light on Kundalini, 2727 29th St., Boulder; M 9 – 10:30 am, T7:15 – 8:45 pm, W 5:30 – 7 pm, F 5:30 – 6:45 pm; 303.803.0159

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