Innate Intelligence Through Yoga

“Experiencing the presence of a realized master is like being reborn.” Amma

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Recently, I experienced a profoundly transformational experience that transported me back to the deep fire of spiritual yearning that I felt as a child. Normally, such experiences I have not written about in detail, as I feel they are very personal and need not be discussed. However, the reason I feel the need to convey this experience is that, similar to myself many people have extremely profound experiences in their lives that provide a deep connection to their innate sense of self. Even though I am nowhere near being awake at a spiritual level, I feel a certain quality of spiritual longing that can provide an energetic connection that transcends our mere ego identity, even if just for a momentary lapse. Of course, this experience is not permanent, yet lasting long enough to produce radical changes in how we perceive our sense of self.

After not being able to do any Yoga asana for the last two years, after I sustained an injury that has affected the tendons of my hands and arms. Due to this injury I have literally been living in more or less constant levels of pain everyday, thus preventing me from doing numerous activities. I have undergone all of the medical and physiotherapy that exists, as well as numerous alternative approaches. The last recommendation was from my medical doctor to start doing Yoga. In the last two months, I started doing a very basic Yogic practice that I modified for a beginner, so that when the Yoga course that I signed up for came I would be ready.

The importance of this story is that when I was around twelve years old I found an old Yoga book from the 1970’s that my stepfather had, as he would do the shoulder stand to help his back. I had this profound insight that this was the path for me and I began a regular Yoga practice on the hard floor of my room in the evening. At that time my body was very stiff and I remember the feeling of resistance that I first felt, yet I preserved. The book only had the basic postures outline, nothing about spiritual aspects related to Yoga, yet after each practice I would naturally prostrate down to the Divine Mother. The interesting aspect of this last comment is that it was 28 years ago and I grew up in a rural part of the Yukon. Thus, I had absolutely no exposure to such ideas during that time in my life, certainly not to anything related to any form of spirituality. I started to research, to the best of my ability aspects of Yoga and found out that meditation was also very beneficial. Following some suggestions I would light a candle and focus on the tip of the candle, hoping to focus and still my mind.

The most important aspect is that within my inner self I felt a tremendous spark of inner connection to this type of activity. I felt a deep burning and longing to find a deeper sense of meaning in life, to become unified with the infinite Truth. Of course, being that I was young and underwent tremendous change when I started high school, having to relocate to the nearest city, my practice suffered. Yet, I found a wonderful woman, Jeanie Stevenson, who was my first official Yoga teacher sometime in 1990 in Whitehorse Yukon. I would go to her classes with all of these people who were older than my parents. I remember feeling a deeply profound sense of calmness pervading my being. As high school progress I eventually stopped doing Yoga.

When I was 19 years old I was living in Switzerland and one day I was in Winterthur, the largest city near where I was living. I happen to come into a little esoteric shop and found a very beautiful book on Yoga from Swami Sivananda. That was when I began a very serious practice that deepened when I was living in Totness England when I was 20 to 21 years old. Shortly after my 21st birthday, in 1995 I went to India for the first time and had the opportunity to study Yoga with a man in Rishikesh by the name of Rudra, who is Iyengars second disciple, as well as the Sivananda ashram located there. This was the beginning of three more trips to India where I mostly focused on studying Yoga in South India. The last was in 1998 when I completed my Beginner and Advanced Sivananda Teacher training. Shortly after I found myself in the California Sivananda Ashram where I moved to live a spiritual life. Ironically, karma had a very different plan for me as I ended up moving back to Canada until my current departure September 2013. In Canada I continued to study Yoga and had the opportunity to take workshops with some very well known Yoga teachers who had studied for over two decades with Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, or Sivananda. Some of these people were Peter Bennet, Felicity Green, Mary Paffard  and several other such practitioners of Hatha Yoga.

However, as of ten years ago my intense practice started to dwindle, as I became a full time university student and was working part time. This was when I began to attend other peoples classes more, rather than adhere to my own practice. Slowly my practice lessened and lessened, feeling so busy with life, my love for Yoga was no longer palpable. Then, two years ago I could no longer do any Yoga at all, as I had been doing a little bit still until the injury.

Recently, I started a Level 1Yoga course at Amritapuri ashram. The experience of doing asana again with a prop to assist my hands and arms, transported me back to my childhood where I re-experienced the profound longing I had, the spiritual spark that I felt throughout my entire being, there was nothing so clear in my lifetime, that this was my path in life. Even though my body is no longer that of an advanced adept of Hatha Yoga that it used to be, still within I feel this innate knowing of exactly how to place the body in most of the postures. I realize that I have a complete inner body awareness, as though I can feel my entire inner body and know how to place my body accordingly for each posture. This experience is something I did have before when I used to do very advanced asana’s, as there needs to be a certain level of awareness as to how to maintain the posture. Again, I felt a deep sense of inner peace filling me, even though my postures were not as fluid or flexible, this innate sense of deep stillness began to fill me. Of course, after not doing asana for so many years I have needed corrections to ensure that I am holding the posture correctly, this is mostly in my upper body that has been affected by the injury.

I feel the inner longing and love that I used to feel reawaken, like the coals of a fire that has never fully gone out. With a little air the flames of this innate knowing and love began to come forth. The connection I felt to an innate existence of being connected to a higher energy of consciousness allowed me to function in the world, to travel, and to focus my energy. The identification that I experienced while being connected to Yoga allowed me to have inner strength and to have a more still mind than when I let this practice go. 

Yoga has taught me the impermanence of the body and the innate intelligence that exists within us. This impermanence exists, as all physical phenomena changes and transitions itself naturally, including our bodies. Perviously, I had reached a very advanced level of practice where I was able to study very intense Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, and anything in between. I had a very strong and agile body. Thus, when that is taken away so is a part of our ego that allows us to identify with our accomplishments. Like many things in my life, I have had to work very hard or I am forced to go back to the beginning, regardless of the massive work that I had previously done. I became a beginner once again, with a body that was not only lacking in agility, but with hands and arms that can not bear any weight. The first sessions in my small flat in India were so painful I actually started to cry due to the frustration and pain of not being able to hold my arm behind my back in an easy stretch most people can effortlessly do. Yet, like all things if you keep trying, progress will be there and as I continued day after day I started to slowly see the progress, the lengthening and agility increasing. During this course, I was able to do everything that all of the other students were doing, which is a huge accomplishment, including being able to feel immense steadiness in most of the postures. This comes from all the Yoga that I have previously performed, even though my body is not highly flexible, there is an inner knowing of how to be centered and still within the postures, to make an effort and to let go and surrender to the practice.

I realize that to lose something, there is a hidden blessing waiting for us, as greater humility allows one to surrender in order to learn in a way that is not possible when one thinks they already know everything. I feel receptive, open, and similar to when I was young doing asana in my room. The deep connection to this practice is something that has been so innate to who I have been in my life; experienced as an unarticulated sense of being. I never told many people necessarily that I did so much Yoga, as for me it felt like an extension of my self, rather than something that I just did on a regular basis. I felt that the practice brought me closer to a sense of my true self, deeper within, and into a place of inner calm, which is an experience I have only had in my life through this practice. 

I feel deep gratitude that I am able to return to this practice, to embrace its powerfully purifying quality within, as a part of my daily practice.

Copyright © All Rights Reserved 2013

Into The Dawn

“One who is really in search of the Truth will have humility and simplicity. The Guru’s grace will be showered only on such a person. To really live spiritually and attain real spiritual experience, one must develop the qualities of love, humility, and innocence.” Amma

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The majority of mornings I wake with the sound of the three rings of the ashram bell, which sound at four in the morning. I usually feel a burst of energy pulsating through my body as I spring from the bed to have a quick cold shower, since there is no hot water here in rural South India. Around 4:30am I leave my room, descending into often darkness, so softly it envelopes around me as I walk to the end of the hall with the only sound of my shoes touching the floor. As I reach the point that overlooks the ocean, I glance out to see the infinite darkness, some sparkling lights that look like distant stars, and the sound of the waves crashing ceaselessly against the sandy shoreline. There is a light breeze most mornings with a cool silkiness that comes from the light humidity in the air. A deep tranquility pervades the atmosphere brining one’s sense of self deeper to an inward level. To go within with a concentrated focus feels effortless, allowing the stillness to penetrate throughout my being is something I love about this time of day. I surrender to the peaceful nature of early dawn, before the sun ascends to bless this part of the world with his infinite beauty of light. I surrender to the folds of darkness, allowing them to wrap around me as I move through the dark to my destination. 

The majority of mornings I wake with the sound of the three rings of the ashram bell, which sound at four in the morning. I usually feel a burst of energy pulsating through my body as I spring from the bed to have a quick cold shower, since there is no hot water here in rural South India. Around 4:30am I leave my room, descending into often darkness, so softly it envelopes around me as I walk to the end of the hall with the only sound of my shoes touching the floor. As I reach the point that overlooks the ocean, I glance out to see the infinite darkness, some sparkling lights that look like distant stars, and the sound of the waves crashing ceaselessly against the sandy shoreline. There is a light breeze most mornings with a cool silkiness that comes from the light humidity in the air. A deep tranquility pervades the atmosphere brining one’s sense of self deeper to an inward level. To go within with a concentrated focus feels effortless, allowing the stillness to penetrate throughout my being is something I love about this time of day. I surrender to the peaceful nature of early dawn, before the sun ascends to bless this part of the world with his infinite beauty of light. I surrender to the folds of darkness, allowing them to wrap around me as I move through the dark to my destination. 

I then make my way down the ten flights of stairs into the darkness, surrounding me, with my mantra on my tongue and reverberating through my mind and body. Often I will get my small flash light out to assist the descent and make sure I am not falling down stairs. As I reach the foyer of the building I go outside, there is a wave of powerful stillness at this time in the morning, coupled with a profound sense of energy that is almost electrical. Right near the entrance of my building is a massive sacred tree, I glance at this majestic king and silently greet him, as I look at his massive form in the partial darkness. I then begin walking to the Kali temple which is located within ten feet of the tree. I send a second glance at the banyen tree located closer to the gate entrance and greet him as well. The practice of acknowledging such trees I learned from watching the older Indian’s who practice in this way. Certain trees are considered sacred and to greet them with a certain level of respect is commonly practiced in such an ashram setting. I love the presence of trees and feel a deep connection with the intrinsic aspect of nature that they provide.

Upon arriving at the Kali temple I first remove my shoes before I ascend the many white marble steps. As I come to the entrance I place my hand on the middle section of tile and bring my hand to touch my forehead and heart, as a humble prostration to the Infinite Divine Mother. The interior of the temple is of a medium size, yet at this time there are a few female renunciate’s in their trademark white saris sitting here and there. I prefer to sit near the front if possible, so I walk the length of the hall to find that my place is almost always free, due to the time I arrive. I place my mat down and organize my area quickly. Then I make my way to the inner chamber further up, which is raised up and can be closed with two large front sliding doors, with an additional two entrance way’s on either side allowing us access. I walk over the smooth marble tiles, cool against my bare feet at this time, feeling the silence and stillness that still pervades. Again, as I step up through the door on the left hand side, I again put my hand on the door stoop to prostrate. As I enter I see the shrine, yet as I come closer I see the large murti of Kali that has a splendor that transcends the ability of language to convey the ephemeral beauty. I sit down to one side of the enclosed shrine, where we can pay our respects to Kali.

The inner shrine is magnificent, with ornate decorations and carvings in all of the surfaces, bright brass ghee lamps with multi tiers are always holding fresh flames. The entire front of the temple is dark, except for this one area that hosts a brilliant display of lights filling the entire temple. Kali is there, in all Her full glory, always wearing a different extremely beautiful and ornate sari or other style of Goddess wear, decorated in a massive display of cascading jewelry which changes daily. Today She has on a exquisite sari in a beautiful red hue, some dark green and infinite amounts of gold brocade. The crown, nose ring, and piece that hung over Her forehead were all glittering with stones reminiscent of diamonds. along with the multi tiered necklace and belt. She wore a freshly made very thick garland of jasmine flowers and another made of medium pink flower. She is standing on Shiva’s chest as He reclines on the ground laying down.

The muti represents the infinite divine quality of the divine mother that we can not conceive without an external form, to redirect our attention inward. This is not idol worship, the murti is said to be alive, activated by the SatGuru, for there is a definite presence in the temple. I stare at Her red rimmed eyes, with the black pupil, the red tongue that is out and the onyx black skin. She wields a brass weapon in one of Her two hands on one side and a severed human head in the other hand. On the left hand side, Her hands are in gestures to calm the devotee, freeing us from fear and negative emotions.

I recently purchased a medium size Kali doll from the ashram and this is what was written about Kali, “Kali represents the fierce aspect of Devi. Dark in color, Her three eyes see the past, present, and future. Her gleaming white teeth symbolize sattva, purity, and the lolling tongue represent rajas, the active principle in nature. Artists depict her with multiple arms, usually four. She holds a severed human head in one hand, indicating the destruction of the ego of Her devotees. Another hand wields a sword with which She cuts the thread of bondage. Other hands show gestures to dispel fear and enhance spiritual strength. Kali wears a garland of fifty-one human skulls, which represent the fifty-one letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Sanskrit, a sacred language, contains perfect knowledge and wisdom. When one worships Kali with love, Her fierce aspect ceases to cause fear. For Her sincerest devotees, she appears in the most loving and protective form. Kali’s love equals Her wrath. Her love is limitless, eternal; so too, the devotee can love Her eternally, without end. To the curious, the wrath of Kali seems frightening and destructive, but the beloved devotee, Kali brings freedom, protecting the devotee from his own destructive self. Hindus worship Kali in various forms. She represents the divine force of destruction. She dispenses boons to dispel fear. She destroys that which keeps man separate from his divine source. Love for Kali destroys the fear of death, which prevents progress on the spiritual path. She constantly reminds the seeker that liberation cannot be achieved as long as time, space and human limitation bind him. She destroys these limitations and brings freedom. Kali embodies time and nature. The word Kali originates from the word “kaala” which means black and also time. People call Her Kali, the black one. The three aspects of cosmic functioning – creation, maintenance, and destruction – take place in time. To symbolize this idea, artists show Her dancing on the bosom of Shiva, the Mahakaala (the eternity).” Amritapuri Ashram write up for the Kali doll.

After a few minutes I say a prayer to Kali, prostrate my forehead to the cool marble floor then make my way back to my seat. I usually meditate for a few minutes before the lights are turned on and the bell chimes to indicate the beginning of Archana. Archana is a very ancient Vedic practice of chanting Sanskrit mantras to invoke the divine. This practice has been taking place in India ceaselessly for thousands of years. This particular Archana is focused on the feminine aspects of the Divine Mother. A renunciate leads all of us woman in the Mata Amrtanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali, otherwise known as the 108 names of the Divine Mother Amma. Followed by the Sri Lalitha Saharanamavali, which is the 1000 names of the Divine Mother, Sri Lalitambikaya. The Archana is an extremely powerful sadhana, especially done with a temple filled with other spiritual aspirants, most of which are renunciate’s or bramacharini’s. This is the part of my day that is sacred, as I submerge myself into the chanting, moving through them with a speed that has taken me time to learn. This particular sadhana is very important and is offered three times a day at various times so that everyone can come participate. After we chant a long mantra that is more like a song, the Sri Mahisasuramardini Stotram, which is a very ancient hymn to the Divine Mother Durga, who killed the buffalo demon. It was originally written by the historic figure Shankaracharya, who brought back the system of Advaita Vedanta to ancient India. Although He was a pure Advaita Vedantic scholar, He also knew that the path was not for everyone, due to its difficulty, thus he composed many hymns to the Divine Mother. 

After the final prayers Arati is performed, where a bramacharini holds a brass dish with a burning flame fueled by camphor signifying the burning of the ego. We stand at the front of the stage area, looking towards the Kali murti, in silence we say our prayers as the flame is offered to Kali from the top of Her head, to Her feet and back again. Then flower petals are offered to Amma’s picture on the side and Kali’s feet. After the burning camphor is placed on the corner of the stage where we each take our turn to take some of the smoke up to our head, over our head and to our hearts. If there is any ash we can use it to place a tilik on the third eye. Today, the flame was so high that there was no ash. I love this part of the sadhana, as I love flame and the process of purifying our ego with the camphor smoke.

In silence, we take our mats, walk down the Kali temple steps; filled with an immense inner stillness, peace, and energy. I feel centered in a way that nothing has allowed me to feel, bright, awake, aware, and with a deep feeling of inner peace. I walk back to my building, up the ten flights of stairs doing my mantra, as I prefer to be alone, rather than ride the elevator. The time is a little after six in the morning so there is more light entering the atmosphere. Once I reach the tenth floor, again I stop to look out over the ocean. The rising sun has given everything a soft appearance, as I watch the pattern of waves, the aqua and indigo color of the water and the sky that has become an entire panoramic view. I feel this immense feeling of being filled with so much gratitude to be here, right now, and able to live this life. To find a time and space in life dedicated to inner transformation, is the most precious and powerful use of our time here as human beings. To still the mind enough to experience the depth of stillness and inner silence, even if just for a short while, is a gift that is so rare in this world. The product of inner stillness is an outpouring of joy, love, and feelings of being grateful for everything that life has to offer. 

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