I’ve never been a fan of organized religion. I didn’t grow up with it, so it made little impact on my life except around the holidays when everyone started picking sides – Chanukah or Christmas. Given my mother’s propensity for food and presents, I celebrated whatever holiday could be covered in foil, ribbons and chocolate. And that was fine by me!
Of the eight limbs of yoga, four — pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and that ever elusive mistress, samahdi — are forms of meditation. Clearly, Patanjali thought meditation was kind of important and who am I to argue with a great sage?
Recently, I took a yoga class after which the thought occurred to me that I had no business teaching whatsoever. It wasn’t because the poses were particularly fancy or that we were doing something I hadn’t done thousands of times before. It was just obvious that this particular teacher had an amazing base of knowledge. The wisdom she possessed was not necessarily a tangible thing, but it was powerful nonetheless. And it was something I felt I didn’t have.
I’ve been on my fair share of yoga retreats over the years and I can honestly say that there is none like that conceived of and led by the incomparable Greg Marzullo. After traveling with him to Tuscany last year, I knew to expect more than just the usual vacation with some yoga thrown in for good measure. So I was well aware what I was in for when I left for southern Spain to spend a week with him.
There’s been a bit of a debate going on among my Facebook friends this week about yoga in these here parts (e.g. the West). I certainly have my own issues with the topic. I get on my soapbox all the time about the commercialization of yoga here in the U.S.; the culture of yogalebrities and the focus on Cirque du Soleil moves. But, regardless of all this soapboxiness, one thing remains absolutely crystal clear in my mind; there is power in the practice. Regardless of what direction your path takes, the power will meet you where you are.
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?