Over the last month I’ve been engaged in several conversations about its mean to be living as a yogi/ni, and the many facets that branch off from such a lifestyle. Almost every conversation was provoked by folks asking me what I think about the acclaimed actions taken by John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga. Hmmmm. The alignment principles of this form of yoga and the aim to live life with grace have been my main studies for the last 8ish years. I still feel these teachings of setting the body and intention are sound, sensible and soul-filled. The character of John Friend
is not mine to debate at this point for me it just feels like gossiping on my behalf. What I am genuinely curious about is what is truly yogic? I say I am a yogini (female form of yogi) and living in the Western world what does that mean really?
The owner of the local studio, Paul, and I had one of the very first dialogues. He inquired if John would still be my main teacher to whom I looked to for guidance. Actually I disclosed John wasn’t who I looked to as my main teacher/‘guru.’ Our discussion evolved to gurus and teachers, partly because one was visiting our town soon. As our conversation evolved Paul inquired again so who is your main teacher? I admitted I am not a big drink the kool-aid gal so sticking to one particular guru/teacher hasn’t been my history. Paul felt strongly we each need to have a teacher (not just an asana-based one) as yogis. I have been a dappler most of my life. Folks have inquired about this part of my wanderlust being. Sometimes I wondered if there was something wrong with this part of me. My first day of my master’s degree program in my first class – Introduction to Integrative Health Education I finally felt acknowledged. “If you are one of those folks who pick up information on many things and try out many things this is exactly the field for you,” the professor spoke confidently. I was relieved to have found out I wasn’t an irresponsible mess.
Anyway… I’ve been pondering the moments I’ve had with bona-fide gurus. I think the first was Gurumayi and I remember slowly making my way up to the front of the room to receive a blessing from her peacock feather which she taps on your shoulders as a way to initiate shaktipat . I am not sure if I became awakened and the experience definitely shifted my thoughts and curiousties of spiritual practices of the East. I also vividly remember waiting hours (five or more) ahead of an event to get in line outside to receive a hug from the infamous Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Ama. After many more hours inside the building I finally found myself engulfed in her warm sumptuous arms, a feeling of unadulterated love seeping into my pores and still I was not called to follow. I respected them both immensely for devoting their lives to spreading the word of God/Brahmin and giving of themselves selflessly. Maybe I didn’t realize what they were really about since I encountered both of them in Western settings.
Then I went to India. An ashram (yogic focused living center) was my home for a month while I obtained my yoga teachercertification. The gal in the bed next to mine in the woman’s dorm was a devotee of a guru named Sri Sri Ravi Shankar not the musician). Julia, my British bunkmate, had pictures of him on the little concrete ledge running the circumference of the dorm. Our few bedside needs shared the ledge with the millipedes and other creatures who occasionally came to escape the monsoon storms. Nice smile, I thought as I looked at Sri Sri’s picture. I was not willing to drink the kool-aid.
The second week into our program Julia bounded toward me as I swept the path from the compound’s front gate to the ashram shop, my karma yoga duty while living there. “HE’S COMING!” she exclaimed. “SRI SRI IS COMING to Trivandrum,” her smile widening with glee. Her guru was coming to speak in the city closest to the ashram, about a 45 minute cab ride. The challenge was that we could only leave from our training on Sundays, our only day off each week. His talk would be on a Friday night. We would have to seek special permission to miss the program that evening and leave the grounds to go to town. Julia somehow persuaded the swamis leading our training to let me, her and one other gal, who was deeply curious, attend.
The respectful tradition, when coming to hear/meet a guru, I am told, is to dress in white (purity) and present the guru with a garland of marigolds or some other sort of offering of respect. I was the only one of the three of us without any white clothing. Who brings white clothing when traveling about and living out of a ruck sack for two plus months? Thankfully the small shop on the ashram had one traditional Hindu outfit made out of a light muslin cloth and it fit. We arranged for the taxi to pick us up early enough that Friday so we could go to the market first to find garlands. When we arrived at the venue that evening, after a crowded bus ride form the market, the sun was just starting to lower its intense heat from the sky. We stood dressed in our white garb holding our garlands taking in the dusty parking lot roped off into square sections with walking aisles between them. There were no chairs or carpet squares. White, orange and a few golden cloths adorned the backdrop with a few flower arrangements, one large chair in the center and a wide array of cushions on either side. Julia was recognized by one of the ushers, he was from the London Art of Living ashram. Art of Living is the name of the organization Sri Sri created. I am informed by the British lad the Art of Living foundation does everything from teach meditation to assisting the poor with food, housing and schooling for the children.
Thousands of people fill in the large lot till it is humming and buzzing with life. I am on sensory overload as the crowd rises and begins to acknowledge the arrival of the guru. He is dressed in white with a few simple adornments. Though our section is not along the main aisle I can see him beaming a large white smile under his immense beard and mustache. I am intrigued. Once on the stage and everyone has settled down he holds us all in silence, he does this often. It feels to me his pauses in between thoughts are is way of waiting for just the right words to surface from somewhere deep inside him. I have felt this sensation myself after I did my yearly silent retreats. None of the three of us can understand anything he says since it is all in Punjabi, and still I get a hit off the flow of his voice. Once he finishes speaking music begins to play. Julia’s British bud is inquiring if we would like to come up on stage to dance. ALL OF US, REALLY? Dance with a guru in India, how can I pass up that experience? To this day in my mind’s eye I remember the feeling of euphoria streaming through my body that evening. I don’t know what it was exactly. The closest thing I can imagine is of a deep connection to the vital energy in all of us, whatever you may call it – The Divine, God, Spirit – it was a direct tap into something so deep it stirred my soul.
Reflecting back now is this what it means to be yogic? The ability to tap into your vital energy without impediment? I posted a quote the other day by Ama that speaks to this “We should be able to face very moment of life with renewed expectation, like a freshly blossomed flower.”
And what about as a yoga teacher in the Western world… what is our responsibility? I am deeply curious about this and would love to know what others think. And/or if you could use one word to describe what yogic is to you I am listening.
I leave you with a writing from the book I read out of each morning after I do yoga. It is by a fellow cancer survivor, Mark Nepo. The book has daily readings and contemplations and is titled, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. This is from March 6th.
We carry a center
that is always returning.
We all stray from the moment in particular ways. If we meet someone and begin a new relationship, it isn’t long before we’re walking hand in hand, while wondering if we will sleep together; and if and when we do, we are wondering…..
No one can avoid this straying…. No matter how far we’ve gone, it is the practice of returning to whatever moment we are living now that restores us, because only when fully in each moment can we draw strength form the Oneness of things.
o Center yourself and feel the moment at hand.
o Note the vitality of energy that appears when you stop focusing on yourself.
o Breathe steadily and feel yourself stray. Note how that vitality lessens while straying.
o Breath through your straying and re-enter the moment at hand.
o Note the resurgence of vitality.