From the pursuit of happiness to the living reality: Becoming blissful through Isha Yoga
The following is a detailed account of my journey through personal and spiritual growth, thanks mostly to a tool called Isha Yoga. I offer this post as a small token of my gratitude, and hope that readers may gain some insights into these powerful practices.
I got married in Jaipur, India four years ago to an Indian man. Between the family drama surrounding the marriage and my poor health while there, I was determined never to return to India. My husband Salil was due to join me in the UK, where I had enrolled for a Master's in “Gender, Development and Globalization” at the London School of Economics. It was hard to return to academic life after the hiatus, and I maintained a distance from my classmates and the pub culture. I found the atmosphere of LSE much more competitive and less welcoming than Wesleyan, and I tried not to get too involved. Salil had visa problems getting to the UK, and once again bureaucracy was standing in the way of my dream. Yet I refused to visit him in India because I was still traumatized, so one full year passed before we saw each other.
With much resistance I decided to join Salil in India in September 2006, after turning in my dissertation. I reasoned with myself that it was a good opportunity to get some experience in the development sector. Yet I simply could not cope with the stress of adjusting to such a different environment. I was physically exhausted, disappointed by my work situation, and destroying my marriage through constant arguing. Moving cities and switching jobs still did not bring me any satisfaction. Although I was initially attracted to development by my idealism and hopes of helping people, I became increasingly disillusioned about the way organizations operated and despairingly cynical about people's living conditions and my ability to do anything to improve them.
I was falling ill every month with chronic stomach ailments, and tired of having to take antibiotics all the time. My immune system was so weak, it was as if my own negative emotions were devouring me. I felt as though I was dying, and that I might go mad in the process. Finally, in February 2008 I realized I could not continue as I had been, and quit my job to focus on regaining my health. I began seeing an Ayurvedic doctor and becoming more interested in natural medicine and lifestyle.
I attempted to redirect my energies towards writing, but I had no creative spark in me. I was so drained, even the thought of activity exhausted me. I had read many books, listened to radio shows and podcasts on well-being and spirituality, but my condition remained the same. I knew everything that I “should” have been doing to be healthy and happy, yet could not produce either.
In July I came across an article by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in the Speaking Tree, a column in the Times of India that I used to read regularly for some spiritual solace. It was called "Become stress-free with relative ease" and really resonated with me:
“Stress is not a part of life. It is not your lifestyle, it is not your work, it is not your family, it is not the situations in which you exist which cause stress to you; it is your inability to manage your system — your body, mind, emotions and your energy — your lack of understanding of how this system functions, your inability to use the system the way it should be used.”
I went to the Isha Foundation website and filled out the volunteer form, but never heard back and forgot about it. Then, in September I attended a cultural program where a poster announced that the Inner Engineering free intro talk and program would soon be happening. I jumped at the opportunity.
I found the week-long program so inspiring that I did not want it to end. My husband and I felt so invigorated that we were amongst the last to leave every evening. While the information was not entirely new to me, the practices and the context in which they were transmitted certainly was. I struggled a bit at the beginning, but by the end I felt completely renewed. No matter how much I had read or heard about awareness, it was still a challenge to achieve. Somehow I felt like I had taken a quantum leap and it was amazing to me that such a simple technique could have achieved such a profound result and make meditation so effortless.
I started experiencing the benefits virtually immediately: I had more energy, was calmer and generally more joyous. I started smiling for no reason. I enrolled for the subsequent advanced programs and began making plans for an extended stay at the Isha Yoga Center. Within a week of completing Inner Engineering I was waking up earlier naturally. I used to struggle to get out of bed by 9, and still did not feel rested even after nine or ten hours of sleep. I would be lethargic throughout the day, and usually need to take naps. This was even worse because of the Jaipur heat, which I simply could not tolerate. Even the thought of going out during the day would exhaust me.
While I was waiting for my big trip, I watched practically every video on Youtube of Sadhguru. I was particularly impressed by his answer of the Davos Question 2008:
“If we bring about meditativeness into today's leadership--political, economic, or otherwise--it will help the leaders to see and act beyond the national, racial, religious or any other identities of division.”
I felt that here was a vision of development that I could finally agree with, one with a holistic approach to both inner and outer aspects of human well-being.
I also began to notice that I was able to go for longer periods without food. I used to become very irritable when I was hungry or tired, which was most of the time. After the first night of the program I burst out in tears because I was unaccustomed to having to eat dinner so late in the evening, since usually we ate at 6pm. Normally I would have to eat first thing in the morning to counter the adrenalin rush I felt upon waking, and was constantly snacking during the day. Slowly my insatiable hunger began to decrease and I no longer become whiny at the slightest twinge; now I am able to go several hours in the morning before eating and eat much less frequently while still feeling well-nourished.
I began feeling so much more happy than I had even imagined possible. Anxiety runs in my family, and I blamed all the Jewish ancestors since Adam and Eve for the way I was. No matter how destructively I behaved, nor how desperately I yearned to change, these patterns were so deeply ingrained that I could not dislodge them. Yet the practices naturally did that for me. I used to get so frustrated and angry when things did not go my way, or when I could not understand something, but my reactions began to shift. I was no longer so easily emotionally disturbed, and if at all something did bother me it was to a much lesser degree and duration. The fights that were a constant feature of my existence disappeared, and mood swings no longer destabilized me.
My creativity had been sparked and poetry began flowing. While at first I still held on to my hopes of finishing my novel and becoming a great writer, I started to realize that it would be much more worthwhile to explore the source of my creativity by devoting time to explore who I was beyond the bundle of identities I had crafted for myself. I threw myself into volunteering and found the joy of being swept up by something that was so much bigger than my small self. My petty problems began to look like a joke in the light of Isha yoga.
It has only been just under a year since I took the Inner Engineering program, but I have experienced such a profound transformation that it feels like several lifetimes have passed. It has been an utter roller coaster: fun but scary, thrilling but threatening to the way I have conceived of life up until this point. Now that I have gotten on, though, I am glued to my seat and life’s surprises no longer throw me for a loop.
The Inner Engineering program has not only saved my life, but has given me an entirely new one. My health has dramatically improved and I no longer suffer from the chronic stomach ailments, sinusitis, allergies, asthma and exhaustion. More important than that, I have never been so calm and my energy level has never been higher. I feel incredibly balanced and at ease within myself and with the situations that I face. Things simply do not get to me the way they used to.
The practices I learned are such an integral part of my daily routine that I cannot even consider not doing them. They provide a constant support unlike any that I have ever known. Looking back, I realize I was only living half a life—just barely managing to stay afloat, and wasting away. Now I feel so intensely alive and joyful that it is hard for me to see that most people I know are still struggling in the cycle of stress and striving, or just boredom and bleakness that we have come to accept as “normal” aspects of life.
Now my only real problem is bearing the pain of wanting to share this with others but not knowing how to reach them. Being freed from a large amount of my own self-inflicted suffering, I am so much more aware of it in others. When I visit the West now, I am struck by the unconscious consumerism that people are sucked into. There is a constant drive for more, but it is directed in the most superficial ways. People value material goods more than themselves or other people, and are propelled by a deep sense of insecurity that only products can satisfy, at least momentarily. Even those who are so-called socially conscious seem to be trapped in their own web of ideas, hardened by anger at the structures which supposedly encase us. No one seems to have any free time, yet waste countless hours mindlessly absorbed in the television or internet, or in pleasure-seeking pursuits that only provide fleeting relief.
Having been touched by Marxism and feminism myself, I fully empathize with the desire for liberation. Yet no text on revolution or empowerment could ever have liberated me from my own self-destruction. What is truly radical about Isha’s “silent revolution of self-transformation” is that it provided me with my own tools to free myself from my own cage: without getting entangled in analysis or emotions, I was able to slip out of it effortlessly, at least to the extent that I was willing. Everything on the outside is still the same, but it all looks drastically different because of how I feel inside. Although the revolution in me has been silent, I feel like shouting at the top of my lungs, “Here is a solution to our suffering. If I can do it, you can too!”
I finally started experiencing a way of life that I had only read about and desperately wanted to attain. This is not to say that I have become superhuman or perfect, but the taste I have had of something which is beyond the physical makes me want to continuously and consciously strive to break my own limitations.
The same desire to help others that had propelled me towards work in the development sector is now being channelled in a different direction. It was only natural to become involved as a full-time volunteer, and now I have recently decided to dedicate myself to the path of teacher training so that I can work towards sharing the same Inner Engineering program that had such a huge impact on me. I feel such fulfilment in offering this opportunity for personal growth to others that my high hopes for personal gain have simply vanished. I have realized that this is the most significant thing that I can do with my life, and I can still fulfil my dream of helping people, but in a way that I could never have envisioned. I feel so lucky to be able to play a small part in something so crucial to the well-being of others and our planet.
“It is time to really create a vision within ourselves as to what is it that we really care for, not just for today. If you look deep enough, your vision will be the universal vision. Really, being a human being, see what is the highest that you can seek and simply create that vision.”—Sadhguru, “Create a vision for life.”
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