Breezes of peaceful energy, like I never had felt before while doing physical exercise, wisped through my nervous system. As I lay on my back in Corpse Pose, muscles seemed to unclench after years of tension. Paradoxically, I was alarmingly more aware of the business of my mind, which was like a virtual talk radio doing play-by-play commentaries!
I recall this vividly from the first time I stumbled into my first yoga class in a Los Angeles gym in the early 1990’s when I was in my late twenties. I gravitated, due to a high-pressure job, to the health club more to de-stress than anything else.
Whatever reservations I had about yoga (my initial exposure growing up was seeing a paperback book my sister had with photos of a longish-haired lady in a leotard doing otherworldly-looking positions) were put at ease when I entered the group exercise room. Beverly, the yoga instructor, helped students to feel they were in a serene haven. Fortunately, we were safely tucked away in a side room from the outer pulsating noise of the lobby. Guiding the postures, she exuded tranquility, lightness, humility, and a gentle playfulness. It was uplifting to see someone who seemed to have retained some of the more spiritual qualities of an era when people wore flowers in their hair.
In each of her classes I felt glimpses of the treasures hidden within the yoga postures. Stretching and breathing, I could feel (inside my own heart, spine, arms, and legs) little streams from an ancient ocean of healing. These techniques, I sensed, must have come from beings who had deep compassion for the well-being of humanity. Each asana facilitated feeling happier and more relaxed within the nervous system! Yet, I started to intuit, even then, that yoga was something much deeper. Like the matryoshka dolls of Russia, which are dolls within a doll, within each layer of our body temples there were deeper bodies still! Beverly stopped teaching at that location before long, yet I am forever grateful for the window into the light of yoga that she shared.
Getting Beyond the Body
Many years later, I had been gratefully practicing and teaching Ananda Yoga regularly and was talking to Nayaswami Haridas, a former spiritual director of Ananda South Bay. He said something that I never forgot, “In hatha yoga we use the body to get beyond the body.” Ever since those words have informed my understanding. For those of us who seem to be carrying around extra physical and mental tension, the postures offer a time-honored way to release that unnecessary cargo! Asanas squeeze, cleanse, and rinse old gunk in our bodies that may be distracting us when we meditate. Combined with gazing at the superconscious point between the eyebrows, spiritual affirmations, energy exercises, prayer, and meditation, the entire Ananda Yoga practice can be a devotional offering of self-purification.
Paramhansa Yogananda wrote, “Each human being is a medium through which God’s magnetism flows.” Yoga techniques, including the postures, offer priceless ways to clean and polish the instrument of our bodies and minds. Then in meditation we can more easily tune in and feel God’s light and love shining within.