Kuviasungnerk/Kangeiko – words I’d never even heard before coming to the University of Chicago in September. They stem from two completely different languages. Kuviasungnerk comes from the Inuit language and means “pursuit of happiness.” Kangeiko, on the other hand, is Japanese for “mid-winter training.” Together, they create UChicago’s great yearly tradition: Kuvia.
Students pursue happiness by waking up at 5am every morning for an entire week to participate in their own form of winter training: namely, sun salutations and exercise workshops led by different RSOs and student groups. It all goes down at Henry Crown Field House, and those who make it through the entire week get a coveted T-shirt to display their strength and valor. As a first year, I had no idea what to expect when I signed up to take part but I was excited to find out what the week had in store...
I awoke at the ripe time of 5:20 a.m. We were to depart from the Linn-Mathews house lounge at 5:30. I'd never gotten ready in 10 minutes, but I didn't want to wake up a second later than I absolutely had to. In just a few minutes, we had assembled a sizeable crowd in the lounge and off we went into the crisp, zero-degree predawn weather. If I wasn't awake before, I was after the frigid walk to Crown.
I hate to admit that I hesitated before entering the field house. And yet, I reminded myself of the famous quote, "A journey of a thousand sun salutations begins with a single step." It goes something like that, right? In any case, it gave me the strength to walk through the door.
Off with the layers and on with the early morning exercise! One of my favorite moments was being out on the floor, surrounded by other Kuvia-goers, under- and upperclassmen alike, from all different dorms and houses, all with the same first-day jitters, anticipation, and excitement.
I had never attempted proper yoga or calisthenic exercise before, and being guided through it was quite the experience. I finally discovered what sun salutations were! Far from literally saluting the sun, these salutations involved reaching up to the sky on our tiptoes, diving down into dog and snake poses, hissing as we did so, and coming back up on our tiptoes, refreshed and revitalized. And, as if hissing during yoga wasn’t odd enough, prancing polar bear mascots, Marvel characters, and animal onesies also seemed to be essential components of sun salutations.
Although the process was a bit unconventional, I felt a sense of relaxation take over my body. I also felt a sense of peaceful community as I looked left and right and saw everyone exhale and bring their hands down palm-to-palm, marking the end of Day 1's sun salutations. Just as soon as we had all gained a sense of composure, we left it and entered a state of excitement at the prospect of choosing one of the many dance and movement workshops offered.
Some may say the cold and early mornings are the worst part of Kuvia; I say it’s having to choose only one workshop! Picking between Varsity Soccer, Raas, Aikido, and Rhythmic Bodies in Motion (RBIM), almost proved to be too difficult a choice for my sleep deprived mind, but I ended up going with RBIM. I’m always dancing, albeit not always well, in my room and thought this workshop would be the perfect fit. Our lively instructors got us moving and grooving to Coldplay, and step by step, we learned the short routine in just an hour!
After all the workshops were completed, everyone packed on their layers, grabbed their free bagel and Capri Sun, and went off into the early morning. After my first morning of Kuvia, I was left feeling energized and ready to take on a full day of classes! But most of all, I was left wanting more.
Another day of Kuvia; another day where I was up before the sun. I could hear the wind howling, but even farther in the distance I could hear people congregating outside of Crown (well, I bet I could’ve if I tried really hard). Even though our house had lost some brave souls from the day before, we were still a pretty solid and plucky group as we braved the cold yet again on our trek to the gym.
Once we arrived, the turnout made waking up so early a little more bearable. Everyone was smiling and had an air of sleepy happiness about them. While we awaited the start of the sun salutations, my friends and I talked and laughed to keep ourselves awake. I don't quite know what I expected from the second early morning, but I was glad I got to spend some time with friends outside of our regular studying, dining, and trips downtown.
I was especially glad I had the chance to take part in some UChicago Maya moves. This popular undergraduate dance group had a big turnout and didn’t fail to impress. I had plenty of fun dancing to the choreography of Maya, which emphasizes the human body and movement in eastern and western dance styles. Although it was only a small chunk of a routine, I was so fascinated with the modern and interpretive dance that I attended their winter performance! I might even try out next quarter.
And just like the day before, the music died down, participants bundled up, and off we went to our next day of classes.
I had survived Day 2.
In my hurried 10-minute Kuvia morning routine, the third time was definitely the charm. My body seemed to be getting accustomed to early mornings. I expected fewer and sleepier participants than yesterday. As we arrived at Crown, I was pleasantly surprised! Those who came out today were bright and cheery and ready to take on Hump Day.
Borja Sotomayor, Senior Lecturer for the Computer Sciences Department, was our sun salutation leader that day. He made the morning just a bit easier with his jokes and high spirits. Though we applauded and welcomed him, he turned things around and applauded us for “coming out at this ungodly hour” and showing such enthusiasm and gusto. Before he started us off, he made sure we knew that this is the kind of stuff that makes us UChicago students unlike anyone else.
After two days of sun salutations, I transitioned through the different positions with ease and felt skillful in the practice. After the last salutation, a wave of applause rolled through the Kuvia crowd. Afterward, Borja pretty much summed up what I was thinking by ending off with “I’m too sleepy to say anything witty. Goodbye!”
If only he stayed long enough to partake in the UC Bhangra workshop! Bhangra is an energetic Indian dance form, and all the different jumps, double steps, leg angles, and hand movements had both my body and brain working double-time just to keep up. Morning classes ain’t got nothing on early morning UC Bhangra, or any of the other workshops held by Contradance, Le Vorris & Vox, and Aikido. My friends and I laughed while fumbling through the choreography and chanting “Hoi, hoi, hoi,” which is a traditional phrase used in bhangra dances to express joy and happiness.
Every house greeted their RAs with such joy and exuberance at such an early hour. Perhaps it helped that it was the 4th day and we were almost done with Kuvia. Two more sun salutations were added onto the set. Our hisses in cobra position were loud and proud, our tippy-toe stretches were tall and towering, and our breaths at the last position were calm and collected.
Afterwards, we congratulated each other on making it this far and proceeded to different workshops. The dance group PhiNix led a workshop with lots of good beats and popping moves. Hip hop blasted through the speakers and into participants to get them pumped up for the day. By the end of the workshops portion of the week, I recognized my tendency to choose dance workshops above all others, and I was more than okay with that. Ultimate Frisbee, UC Cheerleading, and Argentine Tango also led workshops that got people moving and grooving at such an early time.
As we finished up the fourth and second-to-last day of Kuvia, everyone shuffled out of Crown with mixed emotions. Happiness certainly pervaded the crowd. We were almost at the finish line! And yet, we were also just a tiny bit sad about having to say goodbye to our fellow participants, the stand-outs who dressed up and exercised in cute onesies or superhero costumes each day, the free breakfast, and the sunrises we normally wouldn’t catch as we snoozed away in our dorms.
The final day had arrived. We all met up at Crown and trudged over to the icy edge of Lake Michigan. Promontory Point was crowded with a bunch of eager students saluting the sun—we must’ve been a quite a sight to the many cars driving by. The police department may have received some calls about a frightening polar bear sighting or two. Our Kuvia mascot was right there with us as we gathered in our houses along the lake’s edge and brought the sun up with our 10 magnificent sun salutations. Out in the cold, gloved hands on the ice, we shivered and shuddered and stretched in unison.
After successfully managing to bring the sun up, we took a few pictures to commemorate the absurd experience, and headed back to Crown to retrieve our Kuvia T-shirts. We’d all like to say we came out and did the full week of Kuvia because we loved early morning yoga and exercise, but the real reason was the free T-shirt waiting at the end. The T-shirt shows your persistence and fortitude, and a tiny bit of youthful foolishness in waking up so early and participating in such a bizarre annual tradition. Once I received it, I felt a certain irreplaceable sense of triumph. A triumph nothing could ever replace! Nothing except for that well deserved nap I took after heading back to my room before my first class that day.
Kuvia was an unforgettable experience. And don’t even get me started on the Polar Bear Run. A large group of students running in their birthday suits through the main quad was quite a sight. I only caught a glimpse because I was partaking in my own polar bear run while dashing to class. But, my friend and fellow first year Khephren Chambers, also proud to call Linn-Mathews home, told me it was interesting to say the least. Though he faltered at the start, in disbelief of finding himself in a crowd of mostly naked students, the Kuvia T-shirt waiting for the winner at the finish line was enough motivation to land him second place!
Kuvia does great good in its short time span on campus. Despite the cold weather and early mornings, I can safely say that I will definitely be taking part in it next year. And you should too!
Photos Edited by Michael Zhao, Class of 2015