My friend contacted me to see if I had heard of a guru- a name she wasn’t going to try to pronounce- from India who is touring 17 cities in the US to share his system of spiritual connection to the divine. I was immediately curious as I practice some very basic yoga positions and I had never met a guru of yoga or meditation.
So I looked up the website that was listed in her flyer for more information about the event.
I read that Swami Mukundananda, the guru my friend spoke of, is the founder of Jagadguru Kripalu Yog and a renowned teacher of spirituality, yoga and meditation. Previously, Swami Mukundananda had earned degrees in engineering and management from two world famous institutions in India, IIT and IIM, but had left his top corporate job when his spiritual calling overcame his early goals and priorities.
The site explained that JKYog is a “unique system of yoga with a holistic approach for nourishing the mind, body and soul”. Included in his system are the five ancient Vedic Sciences: Yogasanas, Pranayama, Subtle Body Relaxation, Meditation and Proper Diet. His approach focuses on “meditation and divine love” to purify and elevate the mind.
For this event, Devotion: The Greatest Power and the Highest Idea, Swami Mukundananda was to teach esoteric techniques for physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual health that leads one to Yog, or Union with the Supreme.
Intrigued, I registered to attend the yoga and meditation session. The spiritual event was held at the Holiday Inn about 15 minutes from my home.
Because we were instructed to not eat or drink anything more than water for three hours prior to the event, my stomach was growling as I drove to the Holiday Inn. My hunger pangs were greater than usual as I have not been eating as much for the last few days due to various distractions. I feared that the rumbling would continue and distract me from the activities. Fortunately, the growling subsided soon after I arrived.
After checking in, I was directed to take off my shoes and enter the room designated for this spiritual event. Another man, directed me to sit across the room. I found the next available space to set up my quilt (I don’t have a yoga mat) and then looked around, taking in all the details.
People of all ages, including children, were gathering and chatting among themselves. There were women dressed in the beautiful traditional Indian garb, as well as men dressed in more casual traditional Indian dress. The rest of us were dressed in exercise suits, yoga outfits or regular clothing. Most of the participants appeared to be from India or of Indian descent; though there were a few, like myself, who were clearly not Indian.
As I looked around, I realized that the women were separated from the men. In my younger days, I would have thought this to be antiquated. But now, I think the reason for the separation is to prevent men and women from distracting each other during their devotional practice, and I can accept the wisdom in this practice.
The room filled to the capacity available for people to stretch out on their mats.
The stage was set with beautiful Indian cloths of various shades of purple and lovely fresh and silken flowers. A chair was placed in the center where Swami Mukundananda would sit cross legged throughout the occasion.
The room went silent as Swami Mukundananda entered and took his seat. He had a quiet, and yet warm and confident presence, that could calm the most anxious individuals. Following the introductions, he immediately began to joyfully sing from the Sanskrit scriptures. Clearly, he had peace and he wished to share it with anyone who was interested in pursuing their own devotional path.
Then, in clear, simple language and great humor, Swami Mukundananda guided us through basic yoga positions, explaining the importance of each.
Next, he explained the importance of proper breath, and instructed us in the four types of breathing. First, there is deep breathing which involved the belly and lower lungs. Next was thoracic breathing in which the middle lungs are utilized, and finally there is breathing in which the shoulders are lifted in order to breath with the upper lung area. The fourth type of breathing is Yogi Breathing and combines the three types of breath; thereby, utilizing the entire lung space to breath, instead of the usual 20% we rely on.
Swami Mukundananda emphasized that by practicing Yogi breathing, we could get twenty times the benefits of yoga exercises alone.
The third component of his system was meditation to meet God. I appreciated his ability to incorporate the belief systems of all. He had instructed us to quietly repeat the name of the God of our understanding. And, if there was anyone present who did not believe in God, then they could quietly chant a word such as love to bring about the sense of peace and connection.
Unfortunately, I do not remember much of the meditation. As is my pattern, I fell into a sort of sleep though I felt deeply relaxed when we were brought out of the meditative state.
After the meditation, Swami Mukundananda briefly discussed the importance of healthy nutrition and what we put into our bodies. With humor, he talked about how drinking soda greatly acidifies the body and undermines it’s ability to function optimally. I was impressed by how he used simple terms to describe the chemistry involved.
With this, he summarized how his system addressed the mind, body, intellect and spirit, reinforcing everything I had been learning these last twenty years, while simultaneously expanding my knowledge.
Finally, we were instructed in the various levels of laughter, emphasizing the importance of laughing much and without inhibition. As he guided us through the most raucous level of laughter, I laughed until tears streamed down my face. I am reminded of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins singing of laughter in his English accent.
This concluded the first segment of this event. We broke for a short break to allow for chairs to be put out for the discourse that followed.
Please check back as I will describe the messages of the discourse in my next post.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about the tour of Swami Mukundananda, click here.