Be still. Know “I AM."
You may have noticed an explosion of Hatha Yoga lately. PM Modi, the charismatic Prime Minister of India, recently toured the world and got the United Nations to declare an “International Day of Yoga.”
Modi’s enthusiasm for the practice is such that his cabinet members are literally bending over backwards to get with it, as overweight as they might be.
We now see prime athletes, stars, musicians, models and mature men and women all enthusiastically embracing the elegant postures, including international yoga retreats, high-profile events, such as working out in Times Square and doing postures in exotic places, such as on top of mountains in national parks.
Is this all just about losing weight, relaxing, gaining poise and balance and improving one’s medical condition? Or is there a deeper quest for peace, maybe even enlightenment?
Many years ago when I was in college, I had a tough time sleeping at night while studying history at Cal Berkeley. I was reading and writing literally 10 hours or more a day, even going to the libraries on Saturday, and sometimes even on Sundays.
Fortunately, I walked into all kinds of counter-cultural influences, such as TM, the Krishna People (ISKCON) and Hatha Yoga instructors.
Taking a work-study program during one of the summers, I had the privilege of working with an exceptional lady, Mildred Henry, who eventually became a college president. Millie and my student colleagues suggested that I look into yoga.
Knowing my original fundamentalist background, they suggested I look into Christian yoga. However, I insisted on “the real thing,” and thus picked up a picture book from Kriyananda, who founded Ananda Village, a direct disciple of the great Paramahansa Yogananda.
I actually worked out in the office conference room, minus my shoes. I burst out laughing when I came across the photo of Kriyananda bent like a pretzel crying out, “I am HE, blissful spirit. I am HE!”.
Later in college, I started classes at the local YWCA with Jonathan Pinski, a computer programmer who had a very clean yoga routine that refined my technique to the point of being passable… I could bend my knees into half lotus posture.
Jonathan used deep breathing techniques, we all went into the corpse pose and chanted “AUM” at the end.
These classes led me to his friend, Zachary Frank, who had just come back from India. Zach had donned the Hindu name, “Ponderangu Das,” and dressed like a fakir, complete with turban and robes. Pondi introduced me to isolation yoga and started talking to me freely about his experiences in that enchanted land, leaving me with a piece of fruit whenever I visited him.
Later on, after I left school and started working, Pondi introduced me to the then-fashionable est training, advising that the form of the instruction had nothing to do with Hinduism, but the enlightenment experience at the end had everything to do with it.
At the time, it was all very controversial, but fueled by such celebrities as John Denver, Goldie Hawn and Valerie Harper.
I jumped into the two-week training in a hotel out by the Bay in much like a classroom environment where the trainer got us to agree to stringent rules, such as not leaving your seat apart from official breaks.
He then got into how our lives didn’t work, and we were all trapped by our self-righteous attitudes. The training was brilliant, and people opened up in ways I had never before seen, not even in encounter groups.
On Day Four, the trainer did the “Anatomy of the Mind,” and showed us how we were all trapped into our monkey mind that seemed to take command of our every thought and action.
This might seem problematical to some, but when you actually watch other participants utterly dominated by their minds for 60 hours, you begin to open up to a new possibility.
The only way was to surrender to your mind. You were never going to control it. It had total command value over you.
“This is IT! There is nothing to get,” whispered the trainer in my ear in the second weekend.
Suddenly I got it.
The “me” controlled by mind was not the true me. The real me was witnessing it all. #Consciousness
I was passing through a hurricane and suddenly arrived in the inner eye, which was totally calm. I am in heaven, and THIS is what it looks like!
“Yoga” actually means yoke, as in yoking oxen together. When Jesus Christ claimed, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” He was actually drawing upon that image.
The deeper meaning in the Vedic tradition is being yoked, or united, with God.
Yoga is a system that unites body, heart, mind and spirit into a larger identity. “Yoga” moves from being something you DO to something you ARE.
Yoga may be the world’s oldest spiritual system, underlying both Hinduism and Buddhism, and quite possibly all great religious traditions.
Statues have been found of figurines in a lotus posture nearly 10,000 years old. Hindus claim that their tradition goes back as far as 30,000 years, possibly the time of the “gods,” like Rama, Krishna and Shiva.
Yoga has eight limbs, like the eight-fold path of Buddhism.
The first two focus on being straight in your life and refraining from causing injury to any sentient being (“ahimsa”).
Then the emphasis goes upon body posture, breathing and channeling energy up the spine to the crown chakra, just above the skull. The focus on posture, breathing and energy is the chief concern of hatha yoga, which is seen as a prep for prolonged meditation.
Hatha Yoga is only half of Raja Yoga, or royal yoga, which includes four limbs having to do with deep meditation that can lead you to merge with the Infinite.
Often a mantra, or sacred syllable is used to camouflage the monkey mind.
Chanting helps as well, sometimes even sacred singing, or bhajan. The last four limbs progress from withdrawal of the senses to total absorption to the point where there is only THE ONE. No distinctions. This is considered the supreme enlightenment.
Some gurus and yoga masters bitterly decry America’s focus on the physical aspects of yoga, which is now recognized as our fasting growing “sport.”
They feel it is defacing a sacred culture and constitute a wholesale sell-out to materialism. For example, there are schools and practices that eliminate all the Sanskrit vocabulary, and substitute common English words. (The postures were mostly named after animals in the Indian forest. The ancient Rishi’s literally imitated their movements.)
My experience is quite different.
Any form of yoga can lead you inward without your even being aware of it, or the teacher mentioning a single word.
For example, Rodney Yee, a Chinese American and form ballet dancer, has a no-nonsense approach, but he always bows and says “Namaste!” at the end, crediting his original teacher, BKS Iyengar.
You can catch Rodney Yee on DVD. He has a great flow and sequence for beginners (especially, if your body is stiff and not as flexible). This is a great way to start your day!
If you just follow along, usually to music and gorgeous natural scenery, you will find your whole nervous system opening up, even though he is entirely focused on your making graceful movements and realizing the full potential of each posture.
If you will just get started, you may find yourself being pulled to a more spiritual approach. Many teachers today still use the Sanskrit names for the posture, and enthusiastically teach vegetarianism, meditation, breathing and Self-Realization.
They may include chimes, gongs, incense and sacred music. One interesting approach is Jivamukta out of New York City, by David Life and Sharon Gannon, a couple of disciples of the Indian master, Pattabhi Jois.
You can get started today by paying attention to the spiritual elements of the yoga movements, such as deep, conscious breathing, awareness of all the muscles in your body, surges of energy up and down your spine, and chant, incense and salutations, such as Namaste!
If your instructor isn’t into this sort of thing, look around. Nowadays, there are plenty of yoga studios and teachers around.
Through careful movements and stretching, yoga will help you get rid of stiffness that keeps your body constrained, as well get rid of toxins through some healthy sweating. And the final reward is... your inner calmness or inner peace that will allow you to connect with your true self.
When you get the ultimate flash, “I AM,” cherish it, for you have just touched God, and God has just touched you.