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The Bridge: The hot new (spiritual and sweaty) workout experience you have to try


Photo: Christine Yu
Photo: Christine Yu

I don’t know if this has happened before or it ever will again. Standing in the center of my yoga mat, I unselfconsciously stomped my heels, and slapped my chest, shoulders, thighs and calves with my open palm. Every once in a while, I unabashedly released a guttural sound, letting loose tension knotted deep in my belly. After 15 sweat-drenched minutes, my body tingled all over from the residue of the cathartic movement.

No, I wasn’t throwing a major temper tantrum. I was halfway through The Bridge, a seriously mind-melting experience led by two visionary teachers and healers—Kevin Courtney, a leading light among yoga teachers (whose own energy is off-the-charts amazing), and brilliant qigong instructor and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner Thomas Droge. Their goal? Use movement to clear the junk from your body and mind and reach a higher state of consciousness.

The Drano you use? A dynamic blend of vinyasa yoga and qigong (pronounced chee-gong), a moving meditation practice from TCM, that when combined amplifies the class’ spiritual and energetic oomph, they say. It’s taken five years for Courtney and Droge to create this brand new mind-body-movement terrain, which has garnered packed classes at Tribeca’s Kula Yoga Project and South Boston Yoga along the way.  

Photo: The Bridge
Photo: The Bridge

Experiencing The Bridge (with an open mind)

On the surface, the class (which is three hours altogether—be prepared) has the familiar feel of a kick-ass vinyasa yoga class—in this case, packed with sinewy yogis at Kula Williamsburg—with an extra dose of breathwork and qigong exercises (like stomping on your mat).

Class starts in seated meditation before moving through traditional yoga sequences to warm up (cat-and-cow, plus repetitions of downward-facing dog, bringing knee to nose). When we transitioned to rabbit pose (on hands and knees with the crown of the head on the floor), we entered qigong Alice-in-Wonderland territory. “Roll around the top of your head and buzz like bee,” Courtney told us.

Here it comes, I thought skeptically. But the combo of the head massage and sound vibrations were oddly soothing.

“Qigong, for me, asks you to go deeper into the essential nature and work there, versus yoga, on the surface, is more limb- and action-oriented. It drills down to the same place but in a uniquely different way,” Courtney says.

Like two musicians riffing off each other, the class is a fluid exchange between Courtney and Droge, and it can be physically challenging as well as emotionally. As Courtney called out yoga sequences, Droge makes sure you maintain the energetic connection between the feet and hands—heaven and earth.

“We’ve discovered a kind of ghost overlay of the qigong poses inside the yoga poses where they’ll share a stance or energetic connection. We’ll see the overlay and then start to play with it,” says Droge.

At one point, standing with my arms raised overhead, I felt like I held the pulsing sun between my hands.

Things move at a powerful,  molasses slow pace. Flowing from warrior I to warrior II, Droge instructed us rotate through the heels and hips over what felt like full minute, feeling the thigh bone rotate deep in the hip socket to swivel the body from the front to the back of the mat. “Press through the back heel to turn and square the hips—make it one continuous movement coming from the feet grounding down,” he explained. Then with Courtney’s instruction, moving from chair pose to revolved chair became less about the physical twist. “Feel the movement and energy spiraling from the hips into the twist and back again,” Courtney says. It changes things: At one point, standing with my arms raised overhead, I felt like I held the pulsing sun between my hands.

After two-plus hours, we collapsed on our backs, first in savasana and then for a final qigong practice. Droge explained how to take the energy we’d just cultivated in class and spread it around your body. I didn’t have to believe in anything to feel the effects: I was overcome with a strong sense of warmth and awareness, I guess you could call it. Even the pores of my skin seemed to soaked in deep breaths of the now-steamy air.

TheBridgeKula_1

Benefits of Bridging

“This is designed as a time-lapsed release. The effects of the practice will reveal itself over the next several days,” Courtney says in a sage-like way. “The practice is an oracle, the wisdom keeper. The practice is the vehicle to discover whatever it is that you need to discover.” Even if you have a list of such things, the experience helps you settle into one, making the stuff remaining on your spiritual to-do list lighter in weight and more tolerable.

You could say that The Bridge shares sibling status with spiritual sweat sessions like Taryn Toomey’s The Class, Patricia Moreno’s IntenSati, and even Kundalini. But The Bridge stirs up your internal alchemy in a different way. Without the familiar guideposts of sequencing, for example, you’re forced to let go of habitual movement patterns. You create space to let things go and feel new things.

The practice is the vehicle to discover whatever it is that you need to discover.

Courtney knows he’s probably asking you to do the exact opposite of what a really experienced yoga teacher has told you to do for years. “It becomes an exploration. Oppose everything you know and have an experience. Quite often that experience is all at once profound, sometimes painful, sometimes ecstatic and always life affirming and generative,” he says.

In the days following the class, I tried to keep track of moments where The Bridge could have affected things. I noticed that my response to annoying and stressful situations was less whip-fast. Instead, somehow, I’d found a moment to pause. That’s a promise made by meditation too, of course. But there’s something about getting there through movement that allows you to be present in both body and mind. And that’s no doubt part of the The Bridge’s secret sauce.

As Droge explains, the choices you make in class—whether to keep your tired arms lifted or lower them with intention—become a roadmap for the choices you make elsewhere in life. “It’s a place where you can slow down the time between experience and reaction and reflect long enough to make a real choice,” he says. “[We’re] teaching you how to build your infrastructure and resilience to problem-solve.”

Upcoming events include a weekend intensive at Kripalu April 15-17 and a workshop at Prema Yoga in Brooklyn on April 23. For more information, visit The Bridge.

Need to channel some healing energy at your desk right now? How about this one-minute light bath wtih Gabrielle Bernstein.