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  • Writer's pictureGina Greenlee, Author

Back in the Day Vol. 4: The Kundalini Shoulder Spin

Black Woman
Image credit, DuShaw Kovic, Unsplash

I discovered this by happenstance in 2012. Elena, my usual yoga instructor at the time was in Milan visiting her family. She booked a different substitute instructor for each of her four weekly classes. I asked who her sub would be. Vishnu, she said. Vishnu trained in classic yoga and had a teaching style similar to her Elena’s. Fab.

Who’s This?

I arrive for Wednesday morning class. A blonde woman sits at the front. She doesn’t look like anyone who might be named Vishnu, not in my experience, though she could have taken on a spiritual name.


Lee Ann was from Georgia and sounded like it. Not Vishnu. And, not Elena’s style of teaching. Lee Ann was into Kundalini. It was all about “breath of fire” and I don’t like breath of fire, sometimes called “ocean breath.” I like my breath; it doesn’t irritate my throat or nostrils or, as Lee Ann pointed out, look like a panting dog, which is what “breath of fire” looks like when you do it correctly.

I stick with my breathing pattern, release my attachment to Elena and stay open to Lee Ann’s Kundalini for the next 90 minutes.

Take Off

After some hip openers and hamstring stretches, we roll down, and then up, vertebra by vertebra. Once we’re all standing up straight Lee Ann starts to motor her arms – they are extended straight out from her sides – like propellers on a twin Cessna. First, counter clockwise. Faster and faster. Then clockwise. As she propels she talks to the two of us who made it to class, explaining the purpose of it, how it brings out the fire, in the chakras. Or something. And I’m doing this and it’s labor. My shoulders protest but I keep going, keep watching Lee Ann spin her arms faster, and faster, keep listening to Lee Ann explain the purpose of the spin: enter a zone where you are not thinking about moving your muscles. You are letting momentum take over. You want to walk that line between momentum and throwing out your shoulder from its socket. Yes I do. That’s why we start with muscle warm ups first, Lee Ann explains while she breathes fire and spins, to get the muscles accustomed to what’s coming and then work our way up to momentum.

And so I do this and I do this and I do this and then I take off. My arms spin faster and faster and my eyes open wide and Lee Ann knows that I’ve got it and I’m nodding and spinning and flying and she’s nodding and spinning and flying and I pierce the veil.


I return, Buzzed. Lee Ann explains why, about the energetic bodies and such but I don’t understand. I’m grinning and feel like, yeah, if I could actually fly, it would probably feel that good.

Animal Kingdom

It’s the end of class: after sun salutations and downward dogs and chaturangas, cobras and pigeon pose, which we can deepen into cow pose if we choose and, ooh, that feels so good releasing my vertebrae and deepening from cow to camel pose by holding onto my heels, at last we go into shavasana, the welcomed corpse recovery pose: arms out at sides perpendicular, 90 degrees to our legs, legs spread shoulder distance apart and me with a blanket because I cool down quickly. Lee Ann says she will be subbing for Ted who usually teaches Kundalini along with Gong meditation on Thursday nights. It is June 20 and Ted, along with much of the regular yoga teachers at Prana studio is in New Mexico for the summer solstice. I tell Lee Ann, I’ll be back.


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