On October 6th, I attended my first White Tantric yoga experience in New York. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I am, however, generally curious about everything, and I’d been practicing Kundalini yoga since the start of the year so I knew how beneficial it could be even when practicing a couple times a week. To describe the experience as intense or powerful feels like a gross understatement; essentially, White Tantra involves sitting across from someone (in my case, a total stranger) for 10 or so hours and practicing consecutive 31- or 62-minute kundalini yoga meditations of varying degrees of difficulty as you stare into this human’s eyes. I’d like to say I’d experienced intimacy before that day but to be completely honest I’m unsure whether that’s true. Looking into someone’s eyes for that long means you can’t really run away or not allow them to see you for that period of time – which means everything that you experience you end up experiencing together. It means there is no hiding anything that you’re struggling with or self conscious about. When you allow this experience to continue, something counterintuitive and quite remarkable happens – you stop curating and editing and allow yourself to just be, and in doing so open up the space for the person you’re with to just be themselves, too. When your body relaxes in this way, you start to connect on a deeper level and there is a sense of shared consciousness or oneness. This is the gift of being seen and the gift of true presence.

In one way or another, we’ve all been programmed to dim our light. There’s some sort of taboo against taking up space and actually liking yourself / saying kind things about yourself out loud. For a woman, this is usually in the context of how she expresses herself, the way she chooses to dress, the accessories she uses to adorn herself. For a man, this is usually about hiding his emotional self. The story men have been told is something along the lines of, someday a woman will come along and she will stay and chip away at all of your emotional walls and then you can finally let your guard down and process your feelings with someone. Maybe sometimes this is true, but then where does that leave him? He only gets to share the deepest parts of him with one other person for the rest of his life. Seems kind of unfair to both parties. The truth is, you can experience connection and belonging everywhere you go – you can experience it with a stranger at the grocery store or at the airport – but it involves you being all of you.

I’m definitely guilty of only allowing myself to be sparkly for a limited pocket of time until I attract attention I feel like didn’t ask for – be it positive or negative. That’s usually when I’ll crawl into my shell and try to become invisible – you can hear it in my voice (I’ll keep getting asked to repeat what I said on these days), see it in my closed off body language, my tinier than usual handwriting, and how I stop taking care of my skin or spend less and less time getting ready each day. I just want to be left alone to somehow make up for the extremely short-lived moment in time where I allowed myself to take up a little more space in the world.

My experience at White Tantric was simultaneously the most terrifying and liberating experience because it was on that day that I had these realizations about myself, and when I started to take note of how it was part of a larger program that we all buy in to. There was also one more realization that was perhaps even more important – I didn’t want to live like that anymore. When I allow myself to just be me and move around in that energy I draw everything to me: the community that is right for me, the clothes that feel like a true expression of who I know I am (this ‘true expression’ is different from how other people see me or even how I see myself – it’s a physical , whole body yes rather than a cognitive confirmation), you get the idea. It changes the energy of the room, because it changes my energetic contribution to the room. It makes me feel inspired, happy and free. I have more to give to the people around me – friends & complete strangers – because my cup is so full.

I’ve also noticed, both in myself and others, that for some who are used to playing a certain role within a group of people, this fear of actually being seen also manifests itself as taking up too much space, which means you tend to crack jokes when you’re not feeling them or you’re talking when you would much rather be listening, just because you’re uncomfortable with being seen (more importantly, you’re refusing to see yourself) exactly as you are in that moment. It’s just a different way of trying to control the present moment. It’s that feeling when you leave a party or a gathering knowing that you took up a lot of space, maybe you were even the center of attention and you can recognize that, but you felt like you were completely alone in the crowd or that no one really saw you. The thing is — you may think you need to play this role and the people you’re with may even think that they need you to play this role but what they really want is your presence, and what you really want is to be present because what we all crave is authentic connection to each other. The only way we can give each other this gift is to stop controlling and just be seen. It is in these moments where we feel community and belonging, when we allow the present moment to drown out the voices in our head that are constantly analyzing the past or trying to predict the future. It is in these moments that we are free.