The central theme of our 4-Day Intermediate to Advanced Amrita Yoga Retreat from 27th January to 31st January, 2015 was “Universal Motherhood”. As a man, I first felt this title excluded me. But instead it taught me the universal truth about myself in a loving way. I came from a very strong physical background of Ashtanga Yoga, so I was worried that an asana class about “motherhood” would be too easy and gentle for me. I was surprised at how intense, fun-loving and challenging it was!
I think that I can be forgiven for coming from a culture that views motherhood with condescension. Even feminists regard wives and mothers with some disdain. The first day asanas were designed to open the hips and strengthen them almost as if preparing us to give birth. That is probably the most physically difficult act a human body can perform! Obviously, my male hips are not designed for this. So for the first time, I was able to appreciate the unique strength of the female body.
As we progressed from intermediate to advanced asanas such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), Bakasana (Crane), Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm balance), Mayurasana (Peacock), and Eka Pada Galavasana (One-legged crow), I approached them with the usual focus on physical alignment and strength. I was proud that I could do most of the asanas except Peacock and One-legged crow. They were beyond my ability.
Yet, I still felt a lot of tension with the ones that I could do, for it was not coming from the right place. Then our teacher, Brahmacharini Shobhana, did something very surprising. She asked us to approach it from a playful attitude. Suddenly, the atmosphere of the class changed. One of the students, Jose Romero from Brazil, said, “It felt like playing in Mother’s house on her lap.”
Prabha, another student, also remarked, “I loved the playfulness and lightness of the classes. It was holistic teaching—with mantras, breathing and quotes of Amma.
The words were entering deeper and vibrating in every cell. It bypassed the mind and went very subtle. I don’t remember and cannot express to say how deep it entered. It benefited me on many levels.”
Visuddhi from Germany, Alessandra from Brazil, and Meenakshi from USA, all said the same thing. They loved how each of the intermediate and advanced postures were broken carefully into pieces. It was very clever.
While we were straining, trying to hold many of the poses, our instructor had us visualize Amma supporting our backs or chests. A Sunanda put it, “This helped so much to transcend the tension, by just letting go. We deepened into communion!”
Prabha, another student, also remarked, “I loved the playfulness and lightness of the classes. It was holistic teaching—with mantras, breathing and quotes of Amma”.
God as feminine was such a new and awkward idea for me. For example, the Kali murti (idol) in the temple in Amritapuri was initially a little scary to me as a man. Not because of the form but because of my projection of fear. Later, I began to see a sweetness and peacefulness in her face.
The Wisdom of the Divine Mother
In Sanatana Dharma, the idea of the masculine principle or Purusha as the Consciousness and the feminine principle of Prakriti or Creation made sense to my heart but not to my mind. During a satsang by Brahmachari Shraddhamrita, one student asked, “Why was Maya, the creation even created?” His answer, taken from the “Devi Mahatmyam” scripture extolling the greatness of the Divine Mother, was very interesting. Maya, creation, is like a veil of ignorance and the journey of inner understanding is to slowly purify ourselves so we can lift these veils of darkness.
It is out of compassion that Devi veils herself, as her fierce brilliance would annihilate us if we are not ready. So we need to prepare ourselves for this process and approach her slowly. “The milk of the lioness can only be stored in a golden vessel.” This means that only a pure vessel, a pure mind, can contain Devi’s powerful shakti (energy).
I was beginning to understand that yoga practices purify us so that we can receive the pure energy of the Goddess. Amma compares this process to alchemy. It is like turning rusted iron into pure gold. I now understand this analogy physically. Though I had a strong Ashtanga practice, I realized the different strength from where I had to practice when some of my rusted joints were creaking in agony as I struggled in the asanas while my closed heart yearned to open up.
Universal Motherhood for All
Finally, thanks to this quote from Amma’s speech on Universal Motherhood that Brahmacharini Shobhana quoted during class, I began to see the light and understand how it related to me as a man:
“The essence of universal motherhood is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is a principle inherent in both women and men. It is an attitude of the mind. It is love – and that love is the very breath of life. No one would say, ‘I will breathe only when I am with my family and friends; I won’t breathe in front of my enemies.’ Similarly, for those in whom motherhood has awakened, love and compassion towards everyone is as much part of their being as breathing.”
I have to admit I felt very far from being able to relate to that kind of compassion. But something from Amma’s energy was rubbing off on me the longer I spent in Amritapuri. I found the same people who used to irritate me during seva (selfless service) were less irritating as time went by. In the end, I even learned to appreciate them.
The Dawning of Motherly Compassion
Being forced into situations with people I would never normally associate with allowed me to expand myself to include them in a feeling of warmth I normally reserve for friends. I found myself going out of my way to help people. I carried heavy boxes, for example—something I would never normally do for a stranger—not out of malice, but because I wouldn’t even notice them in my self-absorption.
If this was the beginning of motherly compassion dawning inside me it didn’t seem like a threat to my masculinity.
But I didn’t get the full feeling in my heart until the night of Shivarathri. Ironically, it is an austere day to Lord Shiva, who signifies the Male principle of Consciousness. But having Amma’s presence made it into a celebration of incredible joy and love along with the austerity that upholds the day. As the crowd around me sang Shiva Bhajana (devotional singing) and the drumming reached a crescendo, I felt my heart being uplifted.
Amma had us visualize ourselves as radiant golden energy with sparks of golden effulgence reaching up into the universe. I really felt something inexpressible and uplifting as my heart joined with the rest of the audience. We reached out in communion towards something higher. Reaching for a higher consciousness like love, a feeling of universal love. Perhaps this was Universal Motherhood. If so, I am ALL for it!
Amma had us visualize ourselves as radiant golden energy with sparks of golden effulgence reaching up into the universe.
It seems that Amrita Yoga and the experience of being in Amritapuri, in a female Master’s presence, has helped me to open my heart in a way that has enhanced my life as a man.
Author: Kailash Thompson
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