I’ve been practicing yoga for well over a decade. I’ve been meditating regularly, not for as long, but a while. I svadhyaya (self-study) all over the place and yet, I still haven’t felt the effects of a shaktipat or the kundalini rising that I hear about from others. I mean, I can’t even see auras! Sometimes I feel like a yogic failure. Where’s my damn enlightenment, already?!
I remember distinctly, during the deepest days of my yoga teacher training, hearing stories from my fellow students about their energetic experiences. In one of the earliest sessions, my teacher walked among us during a meditation conferring upon each of us a shaktipat, a transference of spiritual energy. Afterward, we all compared notes. Some students described it as a bright burst of colors behind their eyes or a sense of warmth in their skulls. I listened with a mixture of envy and disappointment; I wasn’t sure I’d felt anything at all and I was bummed. I wanted a transformational experience. Was I not open enough? Not spiritual enough?
Toward the end of our training, a student shared that there had been a death in her family. Two other students indicated that they had known something was wrong because it was reflected in her aura. What?! I hadn’t noticed anything.
Another student often had to step out of practice during breath of fire as it induced extreme panic. Is it wrong that I found myself wishing for a panic attack just so I’d know that the yoga was “working”?
Even today, many years and probably thousands of hours of asana and spiritual questing later, I still find myself waiting for that intense energetic experience. Not long ago, a friend of mine told me that when she was new to teaching, leading multiple classes a day, she often felt that she was both in the class and somewhere else at the same time; as though she was crossing different planes of existence. It scared the yoga pants off her. I, of course, was completely envious. Clearly, here was someone who was closer to enlightenment than I. Goodness knows I’ve never crossed multiple planes before.
Recently, I did have my own experience, though I wouldn’t describe it as magical or mystical. It happened, unsurprisingly, on my way to a yoga class. I stopped to give a homeless person some money. Not unusual and certainly not metaphysical. But it got me thinking about how much I’d changed since my earliest yoga days, back in Sex and the City-era New York. At that time, I was definitely more cosmos and stilettos than down dogs and chakras. And my interactions with homeless people were limited to assiduously avoiding eye contact. I certainly never extended any sort of kindness. Today, I can’t even imagine ignoring someone else’s struggles when they are right in front of me.
When I think about it, there is little about me that remains entirely the same as my before yoga self. The changes are not limited to tiny acts of charity. Yoga has become the axis around which my life rotates. It colors everything I do – at work, with my family, and how I prioritize what is most important in my life.
That day, on my way to class, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I realized that enlightenment comes in a variety of different forms. The way I am experiencing it – slow and steady – is just as valid as a more immediate kundalini awakening or the unblocking of a chakra or two.
Don’t get me wrong; when I hear stories from others who are more inclined to have deep energetic experiences, I still have yoga envy. And sometimes I get caught in that old trap of feeling like the yoga isn’t “working.” But when I reflect back on the influence of yoga on every aspect of my life, I believe it has helped me make significant strides along the path to enlightenment. Or at least becoming a more enlightened human being (I hope!).
Yes, I still want that big, fat energetic experience. I still want to see bright lights and feel all warm and out- of- body during meditation. I want to reach Samadhi if only for a brief moment. Give me a freaking aura already! But maybe my kind of enlightenment is more about all the baby steps along the way. Maybe I can stop waiting and realize I’m already on the path. And if you’re mindful, compassionate and open, you probably are, too.
Originally published on Elephant Journal