A Yoga Transformation Journey: 30 Years and Beyond

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
The Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


Name: Mary Baird (spiritual name, Mantram)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor, Atma Center Yoga At Work Coordinator.

Photo by Flickr User whalt.

It all began in my 40’s  once a week yoga. I found yoga sometime in 1979-80. Back then, I hung onto that weekly class as my “oasis,” a welcome relief from job stress. My work was physically and mentally challenging – carrying ladders, climbing poles, running wire, repairing phone lines, and dealing with skepticism and isolation as the only woman on my crew for nearly two decades. Not exactly experiencing total transformation at this point, I would say that yoga “saved” my life! The transformation process, a process that still feels “never done,” began then as I learned to use the basic tools of yoga (asana and pranayama) to develop my capacity for self-healing.

Off the mat – yoga at work. In those “early yoga days,” it got easier to maintain my “cool” in the face of  constant verbal challenges and put-downs like “You’re taking that job away from a man who really needs it!” Or, “Who’s coming to help you with that ladder?” Using relaxation and breathing techniques to support my mental health, I’d find myself spontaneously stretching and re-positioning my body to counteract the often taxing physical demands of the job. I can remember the relief of stretching into “downward dog,” gripping the bottom rung of my ladder and breathing deeply for a few moments after too much time up the ladder, leaning out over the cable to test and connect lines in the terminal – maybe holding a side stretch in the opposite direction to balance the stress on my spine.

Developing awareness – inward bound. Though I used my yoga as “first aid” for survival, I had no daily or formal “home practice” during the first 20 years of my journey.  I did, however, develop a keen awareness that I had never before experienced — an awareness of the “state of my mental and physical self.” (It took many more years for me to become aware of my awareness – to realize how AWARENESS itself is yoga’s most fundamental gift!) In my early adult years I was very busy and externally focused on the demands and problems of the world and the people around me. A key aspect of my evolving transformation was a slow but steady shift from external to internal, beginning to experience the more subtle, deeper benefits of yoga. Knowing and healing myself became a priority. Still an activist on behalf of women and workers, I began to incorporate a broader perspective. After all, how could I change the world if I couldn’t maintain my own health and inner strength?

Moving from an early retirement at the phone company in my mid-50’s, I continued my weekly yoga – a great support as I embarked on graduate studies and other career pursuits. One thing I noticed as I approached 60 was an increased awareness of chronic aches and pains, especially low back ache and joint stiffness. I knew I needed “more yoga,” to work with my aging physical body but also to explore more deeply the philosophical and spiritual aspects of this awesome “life science.”

In the 80s and 90s I had taken classes with two excellent teachers near my west side home and kept getting their message, “There’s more here for you!”  I just didn’t know how to go about finding it. I still had not connected with the idea of a daily home practice or the personal motivation to begin.

Beyond bending and stretching Enter Satyananda Yoga® & the Atma Center on the “other side of town.” I was working with Hard Hatted Women, a nonprofit I helped start, developing school-based programs to expose children to nontraditional careers. This brought me into contact with many wonderful people. An amazing, dedicated teacher who has since become a close friend told me about this great yoga center she had discovered and suggested that I try it and that it would be worth the drive. And it was! What a great 60th birthday present, discovering a whole system of yoga, Satyananda Yoga®, deeply rooted in tradition, right in my back yard!

Daily practice and the resulting benefits. My first taste of the fruits of daily yoga took place not at “home,” but at the Atma Center where my eagerness for the “more” saw me attending classes nearly every day! The rest is history: This wonderful decade (2001 – present) has helped to solidify my deeper personal experience with a style of yoga that continues to be well-suited to my needs as an aging practitioner and spiritual seeker. The practices of meditation and mantra chanting have helped me to anchor and still my busy mind and explore my mental habits. “Freedom from the bondage of the mind” is the meaning of my spiritual name, Mantram, given to me a few years ago by Swami Niranjananda. Yoga Nidra has become a new and deeper form of relaxation to counter the stresses of life and aging and Pawanmuktasana practices have began to work on my “sluggishness” and joint pain.

Photo by Daniel Levin.

Somehow during those first few years under the tutelage of Swami Atmarupa and the other wonderful teachers, my chronic low back pain disappeared! Using my new-found intuitive wisdom, I added regular strength training sessions to my routine, combined with daily yoga to reverse diagnosed osteoporosis in my lower spine. I’ve experienced and survived accidents (one falling on ice and another “crashing” onto my tailbone in roller blades) without fractures and with only temporary aches and pains, letting me know that stronger muscles are indeed protecting my bones. Developing body awareness and a confidence in my ability to strengthen and heal myself has been an important transformative aspect of my yoga journey.

About a year into the wonderful physical and mental benefits of daily classes, I found Yogic Studies, enrolling in the first “Yoga Patha I” course offered in the U.S. Doors opened to an understanding of the roots and multi-layered components of this amazing “life science.” Finally, I received the guidance and structure I needed to begin my own home-based daily yoga practice that continues to sustain me today.

Teaching yoga – my most transformative experience. Before long, I enrolled in the first official Satyananda Style Teacher Training course, also based at The Atma Center. I thought it might be a way to “give back” some of the benefits I had received. It took me several years to complete the whole series of Yogic Studies and Teacher Training courses, but the effort taught me a great deal: (1) It’s never too late to take on a new challenge. Believe me, it has been a challenge  – not unlike enrolling in a PhD program as a senior; (2) Learning begets more seeking begets more learning; (3) The experience of teaching is the greatest teacher of all. Meeting the diverse needs and interests of my students has been a living impetus to continue on my yoga path and to continue my yoga education for as long as I am able. My motivation is enhanced by their penetrating questions, their stories of struggle and success, and the insights they acquire and share as they embark upon their own yoga journeys.

Photo by Flickr User ojoqtv.

Add to this transformational decade, the opportunity to travel to Swami Satyananda’s ashram in India where I met him and experienced his divine energy face to face. It was there that I developed a deep appreciation for the Bhakti aspect of Satyananda Yoga®. Seeing his astounding example of giving and serving others at the core of a fulfilling spiritual path, I rejoiced in an opportunity that opened for me here in Cleveland to give where the need is great. Along with two Atma Center colleagues, I volunteer to teach yoga at a center for women recovering from addiction. We use their feedback to refine our approach, finding new ways to tailor the practices of Satyananda Yoga® to the urgency of their need for tension release, balance, peace of mind, and a self-nurturing attitude. Teaching and learning in this and other classroom settings has become one of the most satisfying, shared processes.

I am eternally grateful to Swami Atmarupa, the Atma Center, and Satyananda Yoga® for offering a community-based program that has nurtured my growth into my “later years.” In the end, it is the ongoing process of deepening awareness that comes with continued practice, which constitutes the spiritual support for navigating each day with the clarity and insight that I need at this stage in my life. And the transformation continues…

Mary Baird has been practicing yoga for over 30 years and credits yoga with saving her life, during her 17 years of working as a phone line repair and installation technician, by helping her to manage the physical and emotional stresses of her job. A yoga teacher for nearly a decade, in addition to her passion for instructing yoga, Mary has had a variety of other teaching roles: Peace Corps English teacher, elementary Career Education Specialist, tutor in adult literacy, class designer and teacher at a local women’s prison among others. Mary is now an avid volunteer: she instructs for the nonprofit Yoga Academy of North America, teaches yoga to women in addiction recovery at Orca House, prepares and serves holiday meals at Orca House and annually participates in the Stand Down for the Homeless through Interact. In her free time, Mary enjoys creative writing, biking, gardening, and visiting her adult children and their children.

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True Knowledge is Miraculous

Name: Om Prakash Singh
Location:
New Delhi, India
Occupation:
Project Sales Manger

Durga Puja- Photo by Flickr User Matthias Rosenkranz.

My name is Om Prakash Singh. At the young age of four I was sent to live with my maternal grandparents for my studies. I would return home to my birthplace once a year to visit my parents. Even as a child I had a strong inclination towards worship and prayers. Being Indian, Durga Puja was celebrated with great enthusiasm at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather was a high profile person in administration and my grandmother was a generous householder with a strong sense of spirituality. Though she was not educated, she was the one that taught me my morning prayers. 

I enjoyed my life living with my grandparents and I acquired a solid education. I graduated from St. Paul’s School in Begusarai, Bihar, India with good grades and I then moved from Begusarai to Patna to further my education. I passed my Intermediate exams and went on to graduate from Magadh University in Patna. At a very early age I married a beautiful lady named Vandana, but as I had no earnings, it became difficult to support my small family. To earn money, I began teaching English and science to the students. But in the midst of all of this, bad relations began to develop with my maternal uncles and it completely altered my way of thinking.

ISKCON Temple Delhi- Photo by Flickr user wieland7.

Seeking answers to my personal struggles, one day I went to Delhi and I visited the ISKCON Temple. There I listened to a lecture given by the Chief Editor from The Telegraph. After listening to him and the way he answered questions, I was motivated to learn his way of living. But, I had fallen into a bad drinking habit of whiskey and wine on a daily basis. At this time I had a business working with architectural glass, but that began to fall apart with my lack of awareness and my increased indulgence in alcohol. After coming into dire financial hardship, I began to move from place to place in search of money, but my drinking habit continued.

After struggling for a very long time, I finally retreated back to ISKCON Temple and started listening to the lectures given each week by different saints. I started chanting the Mahamantra. In the beginning that was very difficult. I put all my work on hold for three months and dedicated myself to practicing chanting and reading spiritual books on a regular basis. Gradually, I began to enjoy the chanting and I learned to practice chanting by myself and did so day and night for several months.

Mantra chanting became my habit and I continued this for a long time, getting deeper into the practice. To complement my chanting practice, I began practicing pranayama, specifically Anulom Vilom, at night. While everyone else was asleep, I would practice my pranayama from midnight until 3:00 in the morning. My intuition became powerful and I began to see visions. My thoughts began to reveal truth and my knowledge of spiritual Indian scriptures became stronger and stronger. I began to understand Karma Yoga and Dhyana Yoga. My practice and my faith became stronger and stronger and my body and mind began to purify. I could see the burning candle of my soul.

One day, at the age of 31, I was in my village of Raillie with my parents. At this point my mind was fully submerged with thoughts of the Almighty. Everything seemed beautiful. I could find no wrong. Everything was right. I could see that everything was created by my Lord, the Almighty. I began to love all living entities and worried of even treading on the ants beneath my feet. In search of the divine, I went to the ancient village temple and I prayed for my soul to be revealed to me. 

Photo by Flickr User exper.

That night when I came back to my house I went to sleep on the top floor, beneath the open sky. I started chanting on beads and gradually began to practice pranayama. All of a sudden I was lost in great meditation. Someone came near me and pulled my hand. I felt the touch and my eyes opened. I saw that I was standing in front of my body. I was afraid and wanted to shout for help to my mother but my whole body was like a log, lying there and watching the incident. As I tried to move, I suddenly disappeared and my body became normal again. I quickly got up; I felt fresh, rejuvenated and young. I was so excited with this out of body experience that my practice grew even more intense.

Then one day I was traveling by train from Patna to Delhi. That day the train was delayed for six hours at the station at Mughal sarai. It was night time and there were many passengers in sleeper class. My body began to heat up and I developed a fever. The faith was so strong within me that I started chanting mantra on my beads and just after one hour my body temperature was normal.

From that point on, I began practicing this healing method on myself. Now I never get ill and I am able to feel the functioning of my whole body organ. If any pain arises, I can feel the organ where the pain resides. I concentrate on that organ for some time for it to be healed with vital forces and become healthy again. And I can feel the results.

This is all the power of mind. So, pay careful attention to your mind and try to discard all negative thoughts, and instead infuse your mind with the knowledge and wisdom of the Vedas.  You will start loving this world as it is.

Born in Begusarai, Bihar, India, Om Prakash Singh was nourished physically and mentally by his maternal grandparents. Wanting to lead an independent life guided by his feelings, his grandparents helped him to understand the laws of nature and how they apply to human behavior. He ultimately decided that the mind has the power to create the future person. Om Prakash Singh is a graduate from business administration and is currently working as a project sales manager in the architectural glass industry. His ambition is to seek peace for all mankind.

Edited by Jeannie Page.


Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

My Rendezvous with God Through Yoga

Name: Anonymous
Location: Australia

Photo attributed to Flickr user legends2k.

“Darker it gets, nearer the dawn.”– this anonymous quote comes to my mind when I recall my past. My real life story may sound stranger than fiction for many readers and may attract an array of reactions and comments. We live in a world of information technology and with increasing information and knowledge comes great scrutiny and spontaneous comments, without a real life experience. Words cannot adequately describe the actual experience, even in this age of information technology. Only a ‘direct perception’ can reveal the ‘reality.’

When you write about a real life experience, various people from different countries, languages, religions, cultures and beliefs read such an experience.There is always a gap between what is conveyed and what is received because people read them with their conditioned minds, wearing glasses of various colors. If the article is read by a million people, there are a millions views and understandings; yet not even one in a million may really grasp the true reality. Whatever I am writing here is purely my personal experience, and all the opinions and suggestions are my own, and I do not intend to convert or change anybody with my views or expect anybody to concur with my views. You can read them, reflect on them and decide the outcome by yourself. Only direct experience will be of value in the yoga practice.

Sri Nataraja Temple

All my life I studied and practiced only science and engineering. But deep within me there was a great passion for Philosophy, Metaphysics, Occultism and Theology. This deep rooted passion has its origin in my past and it did not just come out of the blue. I am now 58 years old and I was born and brought up in the small town of Madurai, India, right around the time that India gained its independence from Britain. I remember we did not even have electricity at that time. Poverty and illiteracy were common. Our life centered on the great temple of Meenakshi. My dad was able to educate himself and he graduated from American College, a well-known college even today in Madurai. At that time, he was one of the few handfuls of graduates in the entire district. He educated all of us and I graduated as an engineer and I also did my post-graduate work at the University of Madras, now known as Anna University in Chennai, India.

During one of those days in the university, I happened to meet a fortune-teller, who was supposedly able to predict one’s future by simply looking at that person. He stopped me while I was walking past him and he said, “You come from a warrior family, who belong to the Vijaya Kingdom.You belong to a Naik clan and Naidu caste and you speak telugu. You will become a philosopher during the latter part of this life because that is your destiny.” I just laughed at his prediction. I offered him a cup of coffee and he accepted it as a fee for his prediction and then walked away. I never met him before or after this incident.

But in the second part of life, things changed completely. It was a deep, dark tunnel through which I had to travel nearly fifteen years of my life. I was deeply in debt and I had to sell everything to clear my debts before I became completely broke. I decided to leave India for good because I could not see any future there because of my past actions. I was able to migrate to Australia. My educational background and professional experience helped me for the migration. It was the darkest moment of my life.

Photo attributed to Flickr user h.koppdelaney.

During one of those dark days in India, I had a very strange experience. One day early in the morning I got up and looked at the mirror. I realized I was looking at a man in the mirror. It was a very strange, bizarre and scary moment which I will never forget in my lifetime. For a moment, there was no memory of me. My mind was completely blank. Even though it is only my own image in the mirror I was looking at, I could not relate to it. That momentary experience changed me completely into a new person, spontaneously dissolving all of my past. The great veil of Maya lifted for good. That experience taught me: when I was able to witness my own body, then who am I? The image in the mirror is a reflection of me, yet, I did not recognize that moment. There is a subject within me witnessing an object in the mirror, two different entities.

This mirror experience turned my life upside down. That was the beginning of my spiritual journey, because it was the ‘direct perception’ of my ‘self.’ What more evidence do I need to realize this truth that I am not the body but a spirit? Once this veil of ignorance called Maya is lifted, the darkness that engulfed my life simply vanished.

Now, I am a new person and there is a new beginning. During those solitary moments in silence, I can always feel that oneness with Self and experience Sahaja Samadhi. It is an experience where the Jeevatma merges with Pramatma in an eternal bliss. That was my liberation from the clutches of worldly attachments.The purpose of yoga is to prepare one’s body and mind until it dissolves one’s individual identity called ‘ego,’ and merges with the universal divinity called Iswara, in the state of Samadhi. Once you experience this state, there is nothing else to achieve because it is a direct meeting with ‘God,’ the most gracious, indescribable, ever-present and the most compassionate. It is beyond words.

My life today is very simple. I do not need anything and I spend all my time in the deep contemplation of Iswara, who showed me the path. I have been a vegetarian for the past 12 years and I don’t even think about alcohol and I am certainly not concerned about wealth or women. I have deep compassion for all forms of life on earth. I cannot witness any violence and injustice even in TV shows and I am overwhelmed by sights of poverty, hunger, domestic violence and exploitation of nature in the name of science and prosperity. I now view women with great reverence and respect. I see great divinity in the power of women to create, maintain and destroy. It is a great gift of God and cycle of nature.

I must warn the readers that the veil of Maya is very powerful and we cannot underestimate its power. We can overcome the power of Maya only with the grace of Iswara. When Maya becomes all the more powerful, then the world is in darkness and its end is imminent.

Yoga is a practical, step by step instruction manual that teaches people to transform themselves completely into their divine nature. It is not just a physical exercise or posture. The process is long and tedious and the path is full of hurdles and difficulties, but one can certainly attain the highest goal of Samadhi by following three simple rules of Tapa, Swadyaya and Iswara pranidinani ( strict discipline or austere life, deep contemplation of ‘who am I?” and complete surrender to Iswara). Everything else will fall into place for sincere aspirants.

Jesus Christ is one of the highest yogis in human history,  and Jesus said: “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel and will rule over all.”

This post was submitted by an anonymous author.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.