Linda Harrison puts her fear of snakes behind her at a ‘serpent healing’ workshop.
10:00AM BST 02 May 2012
I was attending a Kumara Serpent Healing class. It’s a bit like traditional yoga but – and here’s the rub – you get to handle real snakes at the end of the class. We were not in an ashram in India, but the Alchemy Centre in north London (“a centre for yoga, meditation and so much more”, says the website).
I was here for one reason: to conquer my lifelong phobia of snakes. If a snake came on the television screen, I’d have to close my eyes or leave the room. It sounds pathetic and irrational, but just thinking about the shiny, slithery creatures made me shiver. At this class, my greatest fear would be put to the test. How could this possibly work?
I opted for a mat at the back of the room, but my senses were drawn to the hissing at the front. The snakes were moving in their basket. And they sounded frisky. I was convinced I would not be able to go anywhere near them. I decided to do the yoga and just observe the snakes from a comfortable distance.
The workshops are based on a form of yoga called Kundalini and combine vigorous physical postures, or “kriyas”, with meditation, breathing and chanting.
The class was fast-paced and hard work. One kriya including – you guessed it – cobra pose, involved repeated push-ups. This helped, though, as the pain took my mind off the reptiles.
I did feel a bit of an idiot when we were crouched on all fours, bottoms in the air, hissing with our tongues stretched out. But there was a point to it all: to activate our “chakras”, or energy centres, according to our smiling teacher, Kwali Kumara (who is London-born but refuses to reveal her birth name, saying she is “not that person any more”). This would “transform fear into love”.
After two sweaty hours, we moved into a circle. I was still petrified at the thought of the “serpents of wisdom”, even with assurances they were friendly “rescue snakes”, 17 in all, who shared Kwali’s London home. (One of “very few” licensed snake charmers in London, she mainly works on the “corporate performance side”.)
I took a deep breath, reached out and touched a coil of snake, a royal python. It wrapped itself around my arm and started heading up to my shoulder.
By the end, I’d braved holding Shakti, a male red-tailed boa constrictor, and an energetic orange corn snake called Mylo. With each snake I felt calmer and more in control. At the end I felt elated and strangely disappointed that the experience was over.
It might sound strange, but I didn’t realise until later that I’d conquered my phobia. I simply realised that there was nothing to be scared of with Kwali’s snakes.
And for weeks afterwards I felt on top of the world.
Tips to fight your fear
– Take time out. Distract yourself for 15 minutes by walking around the block or making a cup of tea.
– Think about what’s the worst that can happen. Chances are, you’ll survive.
– Expose yourself to the fear. If you face it, it should start to fade.
– Visualise. Close your eyes and imagine a place of safety and calm, whether it’s a beach or your bed. Let the positive feelings soothe you.
– Talk about it. Share fears.
– Reward yourself. Reinforce your success by treating yourself to a massage or country walk.