I was initiated into Hatha Yoga through Fred the dishwasher at 16 years old. He taught me how to perform the physical movements of Surya Namaskara. I practiced Sun Salutations on the beach near my home and had a solitary mystical awakening where I experienced a sacred oneness with the sun, sky, water, earth and all the elemental forces that make up the world. This caused me to feel disconnected from the ordinary pursuits of people my age and I lost interest in school and the future it promised even though I still got good grades. By the time I finished high school I had turned into a rebel who wanted nothing to do with going to college, getting married, settling down to a steady job and having a house in the suburbs and the rest of the orthodox ways of negotiating life.
I found kindred spirits in the world of punk rock in Seattle in the early 80’s. And yet unlike my punk friends I continued to do Sun Salutations and oddly this meant that my rebelliousness and the yearnings of my spirit searched for expression in two opposing outlets. On one hand I became steeped in the punk counter culture and listened to the angry punk music whose lyrics lashed at societal hypocrisy, political corruption, injustice, needless violence and war, the stupidity of conforming, and general pandemic or creative deadness that appeared to afflict most elders. I even took up the bass, began to play the music instead of just listening to it. I had fantasies of using my shy voice to be a bigger part of speaking out against all the wrong that I saw and felt was taking place. The other outlet for my rebellious spirit came from the unlikely source of the Sun Salutations that I stubbornly and inexplicably continued to do no matter what else I was doing.
My first experiences of doing Sun Salutations had made a deep impression on me maybe because I felt that I had a direct experience of another, more real, immediate, and beautiful realm. I was not entirely clear what I had found but at least I knew there was something else besides this ordinary, unsatisfying world. But I didn’t think you could formally attempt to reach the invisibile spiritual realm through discipline and systematic study. When I came across the writings of Alan Watts and Jack Kerouac I found a connection between my rebelliousness and my experiences of doing Sun Salutations. Here are a couple examples of their words.
“Colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstacy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
“Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.” – Alan Watts.
Their words affirmed that I did not want convention. I wanted to use my life to be in the hunt for the creative, wild spirit whatever that meant. My youthful imagination caught on fire and caused me to burn right through the punk world—I abruptly quit the band that I was part of. I eventually went to college in Olympia where I joined the independent studies program and wrote my own courses of study. I spent time reading eastern philosophy and western psychology books, studying meditation and medicinal cooking—and doing Sun Salutations. I still had never been to a formal yoga class and hadn’t even thought to go to one. I also wandered around in the magical forest that surrounded the school and kayaked the waters of the Puget Sound. Without even knowing it I was embarking on a long passionate and yet strange and compass-less quest that would last a long time before I found any solid answers that provided a definite direction for me. I didn’t have clear ideas about what I was looking for or what I was trying to do. I was probing around mostly confused and in the dark but also somehow adamantly clear that I was looking for something that I hadn’t found and that apparently it was seriously difficult to find. Much later I learned that I was looking for a way to both know and to be part of sharing the sacred dimension of existence. After many twists and turns in my path I found my way to Ashtanga Yoga. I finally found a powerful and creative technology that could make a difference in helping people to pierce through the trappings of this world and know the continually renewing fount—the hidden wellspring—the eternally mysterious and unfathomable sacred realm.
However I believe that you don't have give up everything and devote your all to becoming an ashtanga master in order to use the technology to great benefit. You only need to have a bit of soulful knowledge of how to perform a few basic postures and also have a bit of skill in applying yourself to a few equally basic breathing techniques. You might do like me and fasten your self onto Surya Namaskara like a barnacle to piling and never let go—establish yourself in a routine of doing a little bit in the right spirit. Even if you decide to go further and make a larger commitment to the discipline never lose track of the simplicity of it all. The main thing is to see that your practice serves you in your quest to build a meaningful life centered in serving the world your own original way.
I have circled all the way back around to where I began, on the beach by myself not knowing what I was doing. Then I arrived unattached, trusting and open—free from pretensions or expectations. And now I aim to unburden myself from my knowledge, to drop my experiences and expertise as well as my ambitions and expectations. I use the techniques to know a state of consciousness that is beyond right or good or disciplined or faithful or wise. I practice to have the strength to remain as open, naive, and curious as a uninhibited child at play. Can I use my yogic powers to be vulnerable, to trust that the world will always be a magical realm where infinite possibilities for creative expression exist.