During the summer of 2000, the internet bubble was at its peak. As dot com boom gave birth to many small businesses, I was experiencing an internal need to expand my personal horizons. I was working for a very small startup. The CEO and executive staff sat in a cubicle right across from mine. We worked odd hours, weekend shifts, and were under the constant pressure of the release date. It was during this time that I developed an insatiable almost a compulsive obsession for yoga. I was convinced that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and I was determined to find out what that is. So I read books, attended discussions, and explored my own spiritual self. I would take long walks, and meditate on what is God, what is life, and why we are on earth to a point where my close friends started wonder if I am really here. This obsession was uncontrollable. Why was I having these “deep thoughts”, these moments and flashes of insight? This was no depression. This was not a mood disorder. There was an inner drive for seeking out answers, and my determination led me to various practices of yoga. I was reluctant to be the guinea pig, but it was unavoidable.
Finally, it came out of a conversation around the coffee pot. Gary, a colleague and a friend, was forming a meditation camp and wanted to know if I’d be interested. He’d spent the summer studying under Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the Art Of Living Center for Yoga. He had mastered the Sudarshan Kriya techniques, the poses, and their mind-body connection. He was now teaching these methods for a handful of interested seekers. From what he described, it sounded like a psychological therapy rather than a religion. So I signed myself up for the first complimentary session.
Belonging to a non-Hindu faith, I researched on this topic and asked my friends their experiences. Most just described a state of blissful peace. Others did not observe a noticeable difference. The stories about pranayam leading to a state of nirvana captivated my heart. I was determined to unlock the mysteries of the mind, the secrets about our soul, and to discover God. I was completely sure he existed and that he would materialize if we practiced the right yoga. Gary had explained the body and the seven levels of existence. Understanding how the breath is connected to our heart, the mind, the intellect, memory, ego, the self, and soul, one can control the level of understanding over our conscience. Upon attaining this level, the yogi is said to become one with the spirit of a supreme being, achieving divine powers, and able to perform supernatural feats.
With a broad mind and an open heart, I joined the meditation session on that Saturday afternoon. The room was bright with large picture windows. The large French doors were opened so that a gently cool breeze lightly brushed our hair. There were about fifteen of us. We sat cross-legged, closed our eyes, and began a low toned, deep chant. We repeated “AAHH”, “OOUUU”, and “UUMM” from the back of the throat, the back of the mouth, and front of the mouth. We proceeded with chanting “Soohuum” meaning “holiness” which is supposed to evoke the good spirits and rid evil intentions from the air and our own hearts. This was part of technique called the “Sudarshan Kriya”. I started to feel dizzy. My head began to spin, my legs cramped, and I felt light-headed. I opened my eyes and looked around. I peered at Gary in earnestness and hoped he would ok if I took a break. It seemed like it had been an hour but he pointed to the clock and motioned 15 more minutes and to continue with the chant. The others were deep in a trance, and Gary seemed to be in control of their minds because they were following his lead like blindfolded sheep.
Back in my place, I closed my eyes and tried to focus and concentrate but the mind had a different plan. I sank deeper and deeper into my childhood memories. My thoughts raced to corners that I had completely blocked off. Pieces of conversation played out like a movie. Images flashed before my eyes of people I had forgotten. My emotional responses to these were assuaged by the focused concentration upon the syllables “aoum”. My heart started dancing and made a connection with the older fellow sitting across from me. His heart responded to the signals it received. I felt a surge of emotion released from the base of my stomach and up through my chest. I did not see God or achieve enlightenment, but my entire body felt a light tingling.
When we opened our eyes, the room seemed different. Gary asked me how I felt. I tried to figure out what had happened, but I just felt more relaxed. My thought process was calmer, and I was less judgmental, not so easily offended. I felt more hungry and ate food I wouldn’t normally eat on a late Saturday. There may not be a God, but I enjoyed a very hot chicken-tikka-curry that night. I had a more clear understanding of our senses. There may not be a definitive good and evil, or right and wrong, but one thing I can say for sure is that I am a freer and a happier person. I am enjoying more of my own life and there’s a lot to be thankful for. Though I had not gained supernatural powers, I was aware of a universe and felt its presence. I now let it dominate me and take me to where it wanted to go. Though I’m still its seeker, I found myself becoming its follower. The only concern I have is that if this was a tried ancient art, why has the modern man not found a state of purer enlightenment.