In the yoga world, kula is a sanskrit word that refers to community. Even before I found yoga, this sense of community was a key ingredient to healing, specifically overcoming an especially dark time in my life. For me, kula refers to the like-minded, high-vibe people I needed to surround myself with to pull myself out of my darkness. These unlikely tribe members ultimately guided me to find yoga and continue to lift me up today. I didn’t find this support system overnight, and it wasn’t made up of the people I always assumed it would.
One of the darkest nights of my life was the night I found out my ex-boyfriend had gotten engaged, which was inconveniently also the night before my first day at a new job in San Francisco, for which I had to be on my game. I felt sick to my stomach, and my body started trembling. A cold feeling washed over me, only it wasn’t cold out and nothing could warm me. I couldn’t stop shaking, which made falling asleep impossible. It truly felt like my life was over.
Most of my family and friends didn’t know what to say to ease my pain, and I was too devastated to uphold any emotional boundaries. I had the foresight to remove him from social media as soon as he went public with his new relationship, but I couldn’t keep my family from sharing his updates with me – as though that was somehow helpful to my healing. (In fact, the way I learned about his engagement was from a text, followed by a concerned phone call from an old friend asking if I was okay). Comments from even some of my closest family members and friends only made me feel worse and added to my suffering. They didn’t know what to say because they didn’t know me outside of that four-year relationship – and neither did I.
Three years ago, on that sleepless night, there was only one person I could think of that might offer some words of solace. It wasn’t a life-long friend but a new pal that lived across the country; she knew me apart from the relationship that had defined me for so long. I reached out to her, and I’ll never forget her response. She said, “You’re right. Your world is ending. This yucky part is the alchemy, when the caterpillar is transforming into a butterfly.” Borrowing a technique from Gabrielle Bernstein, she instructed me to set silent alarms on my phone every other hour throughout the day with powerful affirmations in the “note” field. I was hesitant, and didn’t see how something so simple (and, let’s face it, woo woo) could help, but I was also out of any alternative, feel-better solutions. I pulled together a few phrases that spoke to me, including: “No one is you, and that is your power,” and “I choose love over fear.” The next morning, I woke up with a heavy heart and eyelids, yet, the empowering messages helped get me through the day and seemed to appear in moments I needed to read them the most.
To be clear, I don’t blame my family and childhood friends for not knowing what to say. But, as my friend suggested, I was going through a great transformation and no longer fit into the structures and dynamics they were used to. At the same time, I felt isolated. Ignoring my intuition, I had moved back to California from New York City for a glamorous job opportunity. Even though I was closer to home (or at least the area I grew up in), I moved to a commuter town 30 miles outside of the city – not near any close companions or the thrill of a new metropolis to explore. My life revolved around the new job that, frankly, made me miserable.
However, in her one small gesture, my friend planted a seed of hope within me. That seed grew into a daily ritual of emailing gratitude lists to each other. I also started consuming more of Bernstein’s motivational content. Before finding a solid kula, her digital community helped me stay aligned. Slowly, I started learning to prioritize things that made me feel good, things like meditating, cooking nourishing meals, and dedicated writing time – things I never thought to do for myself while in a relationship (or out of one, for that matter). Other activities, such as going to church and yoga classes, even offered built-in communities.
Through Bernstein, I was introduced to Kundalini yoga. The experience I had at one of her events left me sobbing and overwhelmed with a feeling of deep peace, great love, and, finally, a true connection to myself. I left that event so curious about Kundalini that I searched for yoga studios near me that offered the practice. I got one hit in my beloved town of Los Gatos: Breathe Together Yoga, which is home to much of my current kula (and a place I now call home).
My kula has expanded since that dark day over three years ago, and my tribe doesn’t look the way I always thought it would. I have lost touch with many of the people I assumed would always know what to say, support my life choices, or simply stay in my life forever – and that’s okay. It’s completely normal for people to grow apart and not something I take personally anymore. We all have to find our own path to healing and growing, and sometimes that looks very different than that of the people closest to us. Losing friends and partners can be rough, but I’ve been able to open myself up to the possibility of even deeper connections with people that support my emotional well-being. All it took was that one friend – or “spiritual running buddy,” as Bernstein would call her – to be the light, guiding me through that particularly-dark tunnel.