I was about eight or ten years of age when I first heard the term Yoga. I had been with my parents to visit some friends. When we came into the living room, I sat on the floor crossed legged and when the man of the house came in, he looked at me and said “why are you sitting like that one the floor. are you a Yogi?” I looked at him somewahat puzzled and enquired, “Sir what is a Yogi?” “You dont know what a Yogi is? Ask your father” I looked at dad and he said “I’ll tell you later” After the visit, when we were just out of the house i asked my father again, “Dad what is a yogi?” He looked at me and said “when we go home, ask the gardener. He’s coming to work on the garden today”.I was even more intrigued. What was this ‘thing’ that my dad did not want to tell me about and I had to wait until the gardener should come.? I hung around the entrance to our yard until the man appeared and I ran to him and asked “Can you tell me what is a Yogi?” He looked at me rather strangely and I said ‘Please, my father told me to ask you. please tell me” The man cracked up and laughed, saying “Your father asked me to tell you what is a Yogi!Thats a good one” and he laughed and laughed. I begged, please tell me”. then he said “Ok here is it , that a Yogi does” and he began doing these weird postures and he could not keep serious as he would begin laughing and repeating, “your father told you to ask me…ha ha ha”. So eventually I thought, “This is not serious” and I walked away.
Some 15 odd years later, when I was about 25 years old and I was a novice in a Franciscan monastery in a nice area in the country close to the eastern Townships. We had a monk who worked very hard, slept very little and was always so busy and one day I asked him “what is the secret of your health?”
“Yoga” he said “I practice Yoga”. I never dreamt that I would have such a response to my question. I asked him to teach me and he lent me a book called “La Voie Du Silence” by Jean Dechanet ( a Benedictine monk) First Edition of this book, published in French, was in 1956 by Desclee De Brouer
I can not speak to you about Yoga without mentioning my gratitude to this French Catholic priest who, many years ago, gave to many Christians, a memorable introduction to Yoga. Up to today, his name is still known, his books are still in their libraries, in many a Catholic monastery and convent because of his rendering accessible the exercises and philosophy of Yoga to Christian contemplative minds.
Jean Dechanet said in the beginning of his book that he came across Yoga because for 20 years he searched ardently to create in himself a harmony between what he calls, the anima,(body) the animus(mind) and spiritus (soul). For him, it’s through the harmony of these three aspects of oneself that the Grace of Redemption flows. Yoga which calms the senses pacifies the soul and liberates in us certain intuitive and loving powers and can render incomparable services to Western society. He claimed too that Yoga, in helping us to become human, can make us true, full-filled, and dynamic Christians. In the preface to his book,
(published on the I st November 1957) Jean says “I am not trying to Christianize a given practice of Yoga but rather to offer the incontestable advantages of Yogic discipline to Christians, to the Christian life and especially to those who are contemplatives. ……It is a path to go to God, only that, but all of that”.
And so, without any classes or Yoga teachers as we have today, I started on my own with this book as my guide. I remember going to our summer camp in those early years of my Franciscan life, and carrying my yoga book along with me. In the morning at times, I loved to go down on the
jetty platform or on a rock and do some of the exercises. I particularly loved the Mountain Pose and it felt like a prayer I thought. For the first time, I felt I was praying with my body and not with my mind or lips. It was a different aspect, but a discovery, a gift that came to me and I was enjoying it.
As the days went by and as I read more about the breath and different aspects, I began to know some benefits of this simple exercise. It also took me beyond the body, to experience a dimension inside, a sort of quiet feeling I had not observed before. there was, it seemed, that I was discovering another part of me, a part which I had not known before and to which I felt strongly drawn. I did not put a name on this part of me. It was possible to experience this through bodily exercise and yet it was beyond the physical but dwelling inside. I loved this and I knew that somehow it was sacred and I would always cherish it.
I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation in 1967 and as a regular practitioner, at times I attended week _end workshops where yoga was advocated as an exercise to accompany meditation. It was there on those week ends that I had my first real yoga classes with teachers who were there to correct the pose and to teach also breath exercises and to explain about prana, proper breathing, relaxation and food etc. It was there also for the first time I bought a
commentary of the Bhagavad Gita and i began to read it. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had written a commentary of the First six chapters of this book and I liked the style of this commentary and it was there I really began to understand about Yoga, not only as an exercise but as a way of life, and to discover that my father’s friend was right, without him knowing. I am a Yogi on the path.
Not maybe a great Yogi but nevertheless one of many.
“Established in Yoga, (Yogasthah kuru karmani) perform actions, having abandoned attachment, Arjuna, and having become indifferent to success or failure it is said that evenness of mind is Yoga.”
Definition by the Lord Krishna in the Bagavad Gita Chap 2, V 48
Again in verse 50 Lord Krishna says “He whose wisdom is established, casts off, here in this world, both good and evil actions; Therefore devote yourself to Yoga. Yoga is skill in action.”
And so, the Lord Krishna defines Yoga as 1) evenness of mind, and 2) skill in action.
(to be continued)