If you know this guy, please introduce me. I have been reading his stuff for a while and I want to meet him.
By Michael Wolcott
Published on 03/08/2007
We all want a magic key to unlock the Big Mystery. When I got into yoga 15 years ago, it seemed I had found it.
For a while I believed the promise of the gurus—that a no-holds-barred approach to the ways of Hindu India could thoroughly transform my life. My karmic debris pile would go up in flames. I would rise from the ashes reborn in the Light.
If I committed my energy to this transformation, I reasoned, if I adopted the yogic practices (not just the postures and meditations, but the ethical guidelines called yamas and niyamas), if I practiced bramacharya (moderation) and seva (selfless service), my psychic ball of string might untangle. My prana would flow freely. The furrows in my brow would disappear and I would float through life wearing one of those benign guru smiles, channeling Peace and Love.
If you read this column regularly (or if you ever cut me off on Milton Avenue) you will know that didn’t happen. I haven’t found the Answer, and don’t even know what the questions are any more. I just stumble along, trying to stay between the ditches.
But in 1990, enlightenment seemed a remote possibility. A friend and fellow New Yorker had checked into a yoga ashram in western Massachusetts for the summer. Geri was a lawyer and a well-practiced skeptic, but loved this place. She showed me around the well-kept grounds. There were smiling seekers and lots of flowers. Big color photos of the Indian guru hung on the walls. Bliss was in the air.
I was wary, but decided to spend two months at the ashram before moving to Arizona from New York. It would be a good transition from the rat race to the slow lane.
Ashram life was also a trip: lots of candles and incense, chanting and silent meditation; Western yogis in saffron robes, with Sanskrit names. The disciples sat on the floor; the guru up on a throne of pillows. That made me nervous. But an undeniable energy pervaded the place.
My early experiences of formal practice—postures, breathing exercises, and sitting meditation—were powerful, even mystical. The mind-body is vast, beautiful terrain, and I really traveled. It was fun.
This was enticing for a new yogi like me, who had long ago given up chemical aids to enlightenment—and missed them. For awhile, I considered diving into ashram life for a year or more. Instead, I became a yoga teacher.
It’s been years since I taught classes, but the fruits of the practice still nourish me—not the rare woo-woo experiences (which are great) but the everyday miracles of simply being present.
Living in the moment spares you the needless discomforts of past and future. There’s deep rest in the present: the mind takes a mini-vacation. Don’t take my word for it, though. Try this: take a breath. Hold it in.
Wait awhile, then let it out through your nose, slowly. Feel that?
Do it again, more slowly. When the breath comes in, feel every sensation—in your nose, your chest and belly, your shoulders. Hold it in. Soften your belly. Hold some more, then exhale, again, through the nostrils. Nice work.
Now read this paragraph, then follow these suggestions: take three more slow breaths, each slightly deeper than the last. Pause at the top of the inhalations and hold, just to the first hint of discomfort, then let the breath out. Each exhalation will be slower, more complete than the last. Pause for a moment before each inhalation. Always pay attention to what your body feels. Ready? Put down the paper, close your eyes and just breathe. After three breaths, come back.
OK. If you really paid attention to the breath, you weren’t composing a to-do list, or thinking about your boss, or worrying about the dumb thing you said to your spouse this morning. You were doing yoga.
You were simply in the moment—a nice place to visit, even if we can’t always live there. Breathing consciously (like any yoga practice) may not thoroughly change your life, but it definitely changes the moment. And our lives unfold one moment at a time.