I once discovered the real benefit of a daily yoga practice while sequestered in Didholi, a remote Indian village along the banks of the Narmada River. Officially I was there to conduct my doctoral dissertation research, but really I was on an inner quest of self-discovery.
I was staying with Nani (my best friend’s grandmother) where I shared a bed with five other women, bathed at 4 a.m. in the river with the rest of the villagers, and helped milk the cow for my morning chai.
Privacy was a luxury I had to sacrifice—until I discovered an abandoned storeroom, which was a perfect sanctuary for my morning yoga and meditation practice. No one could bug me in there.
Before anyone stirred awake from sleep, I slipped out from under the leaden arm of one of my bedmates, tip-toed to my private refuge and unfurled my yoga mat. Swooping my arms above my head, I relished the flow of each breath as I invoked the sun in my body.
Alone with myself at last, I really missed being an American.
You see, as an American yogi I never believed my daily yoga and meditation practice offered anything other than my own mental, emotional and physical peace. I practiced yoga for me—and for me alone.
Yet as I continued my surya namaskara, I started to get a distinct feeling that I was being watched. And I was.
Dozens of pairs of eyes stared at me through the storeroom windows. I ignored them. I was really tired of being the village freak-show.
When I finished my practice, I tried to slip past my onlookers to no avail. I was cornered and met with a barrage of questions.
What surprised me were the kind of questions they posed to me. I expected them to ask me where I’d studied and who my teacher was. Instead, they made strange requests.
Can you come to my field later today and bless my crops?
My auntie is very sick. Could you pronounce a mantra to help her get well?
Could you help us select a bridegroom for our daughter?
I was confused. These bizarre requests seemed totally out of place until Nani explained the real benefit of yoga and meditation—why we practice in the first place.
“Because you are a yogini and you’ve come to this village, the people believe that the rain will be not too much and not too little this year. The fields will yield more food than we can eat. People won’t argue as much with each other. And we’ll all enjoy good health.”
The body of the yogi, Nani further explained, is a channel for positive energy to flow through. It’s a conduit for blessing. The yogi is a bridge between heaven and earth.
“It’s said in the days of Buddha,” Nani concluded, “that his aura spread light across thousands of kilometers attracting followers with its magnetic non-violent vibrations. Kings stopped fighting wars and became monks. And India enjoyed hundreds of years of peace.”
In a yogi’s presence, in other words, all violence gets subdued. Hostile animals and people lose their aggression. Positive values flourish.
This belief in a yogi’s power to channel goodness harkens back to the Vedas—the ancient source of the yoga tradition.
Vedic cosmology holds that the created universe—including the human body—is made up of sound and light—like a video. Veda and video, in fact, share a common Sanskrit root—vid—which means “the underlying code.”
The vibratory code that underlies creation is intelligent, awake and alive. It causes the perfect unfolding of life, from the seed to the tree. It causes the fetus to become a human being. It’s the very pulse of life.
The “seers and hearers” of this code, the rishis, discovered this intelligent code—the Vedas—by attaining extraordinary states of perception through meditation. Their expanded consciousness permitted them to see and hear the subtle “strings of code” at the basis of creation.
The sounds they heard were combinations of the 50 Sanskrit syllables—mantras— forming the corpus of the Veda. By repeating the Vedic mantras, they found that they could establish a perfect balance not only in their own bodies, but in the collective body of society.
Wherever the Vedas were chanted, healing occurred. Crops flourished. Relations improved. Through the Vedas the whole society benefited. A perfect alignment with the natural order of the universe was established.
Specifically the body of the one chanting the Vedas became the bridge between the universal and human orders. The Sanskrit language enabled this connection because the way its syllables are pronounced open channels of higher perception in the nervous system.
For this reason, the Vedas are passed on orally from teacher to student because it is a bodily transmission. Beginning when a child is just four or five-years-old, she memorizes thousands of rhythmic patterns by mimicking her teacher’s tone, pattern of breath, and pronunciation.
This continues daily for twelve years, during which time the child’s nervous system is cultured to perceive more subtle levels of reality—from the physical to the vital inner core of all things.
Purified by the continuous pulse of healing sound, her body itself effortlessly channels a higher light. And through the breath’s regulation by proper pronunciation of the Sanskrit syllables, her mind is directed to a more clairvoyant and clairaudient perception of conscious thought. She knows the inner core of all things by knowing their vibrations.
Yoga asana derives from this practice of chanting the Vedas. The body is made to match the shapes of nature—the forms of all living creatures from the frog to the turtle to the snake to the tree. And from this alignment there isn’t any dissonance with the natural order.
In other words, peace flows through your body. And everyone benefits from that.