“If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change.” Man in the Mirror- Michael Jackson
I had no idea that choosing the path of yoga (or was it that yoga chose me?), would alienate me from my family more severely than if I had moved to a foreign country. In 1983 the Born Again Christian movement was in full swing and my parents had embraced it with full and sincere hearts. Because they were devout Catholics it was something more than other Christian forms of “Born Again”. It was in fact, a courageous defiance of the Catholic Church. At mass, oftentimes celebrated in my parent’s living room, there was singing and guitar playing, praising the Lord aloud, rather than beating the chest in repentance for sins committed. It was also as far from the practice of yoga as you could get and as my family embraced this underground swell of religious fervor, I stepped away from their world to better understand these feelings I was experiencing.
Truth be told, I was very nervous about all the gods and goddesses represented in the religions of India. Then there was the caste system that actually condemned people to be untouchable from birth, while others ruled as superior beings. To my mind it was all due to the unexplored concept of reincarnation. Wrapping my Catholic head around all of that was too much for me in those beginning days. So, I ignored it all as much as possible, easy to do with no teacher and only a few books to study. So with what I had, I set about practicing day after day. In the brutal heat of Florida my body embraced what is inherent in the practice of yoga, a deep inner cleansing that burns away sorrow and leaves the pure essence of love, like nectar on the tip of my tongue. I was being reborn, but not as my parents would have wanted for me.
According to the Born Again mentality of that time, yoga was an abomination, a link to the devil. I was damned for practicing it and I was doubly damned for walking away from the Catholic Church. I was pretty well damned, and yet it felt so right, so good for my heart and soul. I once read that when the old Swami masters sent their disciples here to the West, they told them just to teach us asana, because we were not ready for anything other than dealing with the physical. Let asana awaken the mind, step by step, for it is inherent in the practice to do so. Rather than proselytize and demand our awakening let the body first detoxify, open and then the magic can arise.
It wasn’t long before friends wanted in on my practice. I had no idea what I was doing other than reading and rereading every word in Bikram’s Beginning Yoga book and admiring the young, lithe figures of men and women twice my age featured on those pages. So I caved to their demands, charged them each five bucks and rented a room large enough for 10 people with a wall of mirrors. That was the beginning for me as a yoga teacher. Watching them, watching myself, breathing into the postures, focusing, concentrating, stopping my mind, stepping off the wheel of incessant thought. Then doing it again, the next day and then the next. Yeah, I had discovered the sweet elixir of life once again, or maybe I had never tasted it, not like that, not that full connection to something so much greater than my small ego “I”.
When I would go home to visit the family I was invited to attend mass or pray the rosary. For a while I complied, to keep peace with my mom especially, she was so worried about my soul rotting in some after life hell. But after a few years I began to decline her invitations, because I needed to be honest with myself and with her. Satya, one of the first steps on the path of yoga had reared its head without my even knowing it existed, tucked away amidst the 5 Yamas waiting for me to strip the fear from my eyes and look deeper into the practice. Satya means to be honest in word, thought and deed; and I had learned it on my mat when I wanted that extra inch in a stretch fully knowing my body was not ready to go there. Yes, well, greed will do that to you, cause you to lie to get what you want, more stretch, more things, more money, more of my mother’s approval. I was beginning to trust that my journey was the right one for me, despite the pit of hell fire that awaited. Let it burn, thought I, it will never devour me.
Coming Soon: So You Think Your Spiritual, Eh?