Amrit Yoga Invites Bhakti Yoga
By Candra das
On the invite from Amrit Yoga instructor, John Clouse, who is a religious volunteer at Snake River Correctional Institutions in Ontario, Oregon the union of two yoga systems, Bhakti Yoga and Amrit Yoga was facilitated, which may have been a first to occur inside or out a prison.
Traditionally, these Yoga classes service inmates with different interests. For instance, it is explained that Amrit Yoga “combines active yoga postures, inward focus, and meditative awareness to achieve deep personal peace and physical benefits experienced with consistent yogic practice” www.sammamishyoga.com. From the perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita, Bhakti Yoga is the last stage above the latter of the eight-fold system of mysticism. It is argued that Bhakti Yoga is a culmination of all yoga systems with the emphases on devotional service.
The combination of the two Yoga classes was a rare and unique experience. It featured a newly constructed altar built exclusively by inmate labor. In addition, the students in their respective Yoga traditions were able to experience Gaura Arati (evening worship) and put Bhakti Yoga in practice. Prior to a fully operational altar, Gaura Arati was absent of a Conchshell, Ghee Lamp, Peacock fan, Chamara and other Deity paraphernalia. Due to the mercy of Iskcon’s (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) founding Acarya A.C Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada and the sincere desire of inmate practitioners the aforementioned items and program was made manifest.
Another feature of this unique program is that it was able to host Iskcon Prison Ministry (IPM) Director, Chandrasekhara dasa. Chandrasekhara has been writing inmates in prison for almost twenty years. Additionally, H.H Hanuman Presaka Swami was the guest speaker for the two Yoga groups. The Swami was able to relate his experience traveling around the world to his discovery of Bhakti and the practical application for those in prison.
One of the standout topics that Hanuman Presaka Swami addressed was Krishna’s six opulence’s namely, beauty, wealth, strength, knowledge, intelligence and renunciation. The Swami made particular reference to renunciation. He made the reference that, “I’m God and your Bob.” referring to the position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the jiva’s, the living entities. He continued by saying Krishna remarks that, “We all have our own position, it just so happens that I am God and you’re Bob.” The point of this statement is that Krishna devotees in Vrindavan are able to approach the Supreme Lord without reverence. This concept is ever present in Krishna’s past times with his devotees and non-devotees. Hanuman Presaka Swami drew special attention to this point since the modern approach of worship to God is heavily based in reverence.
The practical application of serving God in devotion as opposed to reverence was exercised in Gaura Arati. Inmates were able stand, jump and dance in the swami step performing all forms of yoga without the limitation of proper body posture and years of practice in the eightfold systems of yoga. For example, one inmate put his arm around Chandrasekhar’s shoulder without inhibitions to conduct around religious guests or volunteers. Due to the symptomatic expressions of bliss all formalities were reduced to water droplets on the spine of a small leaf. In short the atmosphere was surcharged with sat, cid, and ananda. At the conclusion of the program and following weeks, inmates were hankering for more Harinama Sankirtana.
Written by Candra das