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Monday, April 10, 2006

the energy within

Self-Realization Fellowship, Hollywood Temple
4860 Sunset Boulevard

Hollywood, CA 90027
(323) 661-8006

"It is said in the Bible: "Be still, and know that I am God." In these few words lies the key to Self-realization. The science of Yoga offers a direct means of stilling the natural turbulence of thoughts and restlessness of body that prevent us from knowing what we really are. By practicing the step-by-step methods of Yoga -- taking nothing for granted on emotional grounds or through blind faith -- we come to know our oneness with the Infinite Intelligence, Power, and Joy which gives life to all and which is the essence of our own Self...
Yoga is a simple process of reversing the ordinary outward flow of energy and consciousness so that the mind becomes a dynamic center of direct perception -- no longer dependent upon the fallible senses but capable of actually experiencing Truth." - from the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda

before i set foot into the hall of the self-realization fellowship temple, i already knew that i would experience a form of yoga that i had never encountered before. after all, this is supposedly the hatha yoga paramahansa yogananda, the founder of the self-realization fellowship, brought with him from india when he arrived in the united states in the 1920's.

i had heard about the SRF a long time ago through friends who live in the mount washington area in los angeles. the international headquarters, or the "mother center", is located in what used to be a luxury hotel perched atop a mountain with spectacular views of the city. paramahansa yogananda purchased the property in 1925 when the original resort declared bankruptcy and shut its doors. ever since his death in 1952, his followers have been trying to move his remains, currently interred at forest lawn in nearby glendale, to the grand shrine they've planned to build on this location. needless to say, the neighbors weren't happy with the expected increase in foot and vehicle traffic that would befall their quiet and idyllic neighborhood. so the shrine remains in the planning stage. and both sides are still battling it out.

to the relief of the mount washington neighbors, all the SRF devotees attend services elsewhere. in los angeles county alone, there are three locations: the pasadena temple, the pacific palisades lake shrine, and the hollywood temple, the latter being the only location of the three where hatha yoga is taught (although there are conflicting stories about how there may also be classes at the pacific palisades site).

when i arrived half an hour early for the women's hatha yoga class, there was already one student, chris, resting on her mat on the carpeted floor. turns out that she was one of the three teachers who rotate teaching the women's evening classes on mondays and tuesdays. while i changed into "something appropriate and comfortable" in the bathroom, two more showed up. two more teachers, that is. phyllis was there to take the class, and leslie was there to teach the class. and then there was me. talk about feeling like the odd (wo)man out. contrary to what i had half expected to find, they were perfectly "normal". they weren't dressed in robes nor turbans, nor did they act like mystics who were going to "show me the way". they taught classes on a volunteer basis, a selfless donation of their time to the SRF, of which they were members.

just before class started, another student (i didn't catch her name), joined our small group.

we started with an invocation, then moved into breathing exercises. these exercises were unique; we clasped our hands, and while holding our knuckles under our chin, we would spread our elbows while we inhaled, then tilt our heads back and bring our elbows back together as we exhaled (i told you it was unique!). then we did some double breathing exercises (luckily for me, this webpage describes it so i don't have to).

if we hardly did any poses in the iyengar class i took yesterday, we did even less at this SRF hatha yoga class. every time we did a pose that could be considered strenuous, we would follow it with a couple of minutes lying in savasana. we balanced, we lay down. we stretched, we lay down. we arched, we lay down. we twisted, we lay down. we tensed up our bodies, then we relaxed. and when we came to our final savasana 60 minutes after the class started, i felt that i was truly relaxed, but only because felt like i really hadn't done anything at all.

so i didn't get the physical workout that i was hoping to get, but i did leave feeling a bit more curious about the SRF movement itself. on a clear post-rainstorm spring day, i plan to drive up the winding road to the mother house and see if i can tour the grounds to admire the view and maybe even learn more about this thing called self-realization.

by the way, i did ask leslie about the difference between the women's and the men's hatha yoga classes. other than that the women's class is taught by a woman and the men's class is taught by a man, there really is no difference. it's not because of any religious beliefs nor any difference in anatomical focus. it started that way, and that's the way it's been ever since.

coming up next: women's kundalini yoga at yoga west...