This October, I will revisit the place where my yoga practice most profoundly evolved: Encinitas, California. There, Paramahansa Yogananda lived and died in a modest hermitage, which remains situated in a multi-tiered, winding-pathways meditation garden. Today, the connected retreat center allows Self-Realization Fellowship members to stay for short periods, during which they practice silence and the meditation and energization techniques of Yogananda’s SRF.
I have not been to Encinitas since one month before my father died, in February 2007. Prior to that, I visited the town and the gardens at least once–often twice–a year, for about seven years. My last trip carries memories of distraction, anxiety, and a depth of sadness to which I had not yet connected: Most of my visit, my thoughts returned continually to the question, “Why am I not home when I know my father is dying?” I recall that I cut my trip short–airline change fee, be darned–and until this past week, had no yearning to revisit Encinitas.
This time, I decided to return, not because of a longing, but due to a sense of duty. My mother is now at a point in her aging that it seems wise to accompany her on forays out of her normal routine: She and her longtime friend decided that they would like to meet at my sister’s San Diego home (30 minutes south of Encinitas), which means navigating airports and a long flight; I decided to accompany my mother, and thereby embark upon my own journey to reclaim an important place in and for my heart.
Although this decision was reached, and plans were made last week, I felt no real enthusiasm about the trip: What if Encinitas no longer smelled or felt the same? (The tropical blossoms, ocean air, and wafting, waning incense from myriad town yoga studios is highly specific to Encinitas; and the energy of decades of spiritual meditators has left a palpable vibration in the atmosphere.) What if I found myself at the retreat, anxious to return home? I finally realized that the “what if’s” bore no relevance on the situation: I am set to go, I am helping my mother, and I will “walk my walk,” i.e., apply the SRF and kundalini practices that carry me through confusion and darkness.
And then, a few days ago, I felt a strong pull to sift through my old SRF Lessons. These are the foundational philosophies and techniques that one learns through a lengthy correspondence course; from my notes, I notice that the course required more than a year of following and practicing the lessons. Then, when one has satisfied that step to become a member, the next level of Kriyaban is attained through a short, but precise in-person examination of specific techniques, which one can fulfill at an SRF convocation.
As I reminded myself of those long ago years when my SRF connection first began, I no longer felt any ambivalence or hesitation about the October trip. Suddenly, I realized that the timing is exactly is it is meant to be: Not only am I ready to return, I am meant to return.
This idea was crystalized as I discovered two unopened packets of lessons, seemingly waiting patiently for me, no matter how many years they had to lie dormant. I opened them one by one, each packet containing two full lessons. In each envelope, one of the two lessons were as thoughtful as always; the second in each pack proved the timeliness of their discovery.
Over the course of the past couple of years, I seem to practice kriyas that call upon the practitioner to envision the future self, the self that one was meant to be. What is that person–me, or you–doing? Where is that person? What is the associated feeling or sensibility surrounding that dream goal? I have never had a specific task or place that arises with this particular practice, only the sense that the essence of my lot in life is one of spiritual pursuit and focus.
Then, with the unearthing of those forgotten lessons, I came upon: “All good work is God’s work, if you perform it with divine consciousness…. All work is purifying if done with the right motive…. Shake the whole world to find your work, and don’t give up until you find it.”
And also: “Stop watching the little toy-show of this world. Close your eyes and plunge behind the screen of inner darkness. By deeper effort of meditation, tear the veil of darkness…. The peace of meditation is the language and embracing comfort of God.”
Thus, in my thoughts and efforts related to finding my spot in the material world of work, I ironically have been practicing and pursuing exactly that: However, consumed by the things I think I have not been doing, but should be, I have tarnished the peace within. Yet, the divine never releases its devotee entirely; it remains eternally bound and supportive, even when we feel that we have gone awry. Just as the lessons beseeched me to find them again, Encinitas beckons me to progress beyond memory of past circumstances.
In honor of these recent gifts of revelation, I share the Hong Sau breath technique of the SRF teachings. “Hong Sau” (pronounced [hun saw]) is the Sanskrit sound vibration connected to the inhale and exhale of breathing. When chanted silently, the syllables become connected to the flow of breath, and thus the breath moves in conjunction with Universal energy.
With this connection comes deep relaxation, and a distancing from our sensory mechanisms: Theoretically, one could slow the heart to such an extent that the need for any breathing would disappear. In the words of Paramahansa Yogananda, “The yogi who has gained breath-control [sic] is then able to recognize that consciousness is the only thing that is real about his existence…. One learns to live by Cosmic Consciousness and not by ‘bread’ or breath alone.”
The technique is quite simple, but highly focused and specific. First, it is prescribed that one sit facing east, with a wool blanket underneath you; of course, if wool is not available or comfortable, any blanket will do. The object, however, is to “insulate the body from earthly magnetic influences and disturbances.”
Next, close the eyes to gaze up and in between the brow points at the Third Eye. Begin the breath, inhaling with the silent chant of Hong, exhale to the accompaniment of Sau. There is no need to alter your regular breath pace or depth; this meditation emphasizes the natural flow of your breath as it connects to the energetic vibration of Hong Sau.
Continue breathing, focusing completely on the Third Eye, and allowing the vibratory essence of Hong Sau to lead you into deep relaxation. If the mind drifts, or you begin to focus on external sense distractions, you may refocus your intent by touching the index finger of your right hand to your right palm as you inhale Hong; move the finger away from the palm as you exhale Sau. Once you have reconnected to the breath and mantra, you may quiet the moving finger.
Continue the practice for at least 11 minutes, and for as many as 33 minutes.