Plus 5 Mistakes They Make While Doing Them, and One Good Reason for Getting Started
“The ultimate religious rite must be the offering of your life-force on the altar of inner God-communion.”
~ Paramhansa Yogananda
by Nayaswami Rambhakta
There are at least five reasons why people don’t do Paramhansa Yogananda’s energization exercises.
- They think of them as charmingly cute calisthenics invented by the Guru as a novelty to help us pass the time between visits to the astral world.
- They think they aren’t real spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is meditation, prayer, and chanting – dude!
- They think they are a watered-down, westernized version of the yoga postures, invented for American disciples long before the postures became popular. (“I’m doing the time-honored, real energization exercises – Hatha Yoga!”)
- They think they’re a quaint offspring of body-building systems of the early twentieth century, like the “dynamic tension” system of Charles Atlas. “I’m running, lifting weights (playing tennis, swimming, bicycling). I don’t need more exercise!”
- They think they don’t promise a sufficient reward for the effort to do them. (“I need to see some proof!”)
I’m 80 now. I’ve done the energization exercises for 55 years. I started learning them in August 1967.
I’ve been pretty regular. In the first eight years I missed maybe 30-60 days. Since then, I’ve done them twice a day for 47 years, with two misses. In 2017 I was in the hospital for five days. When I asked Master and Swamiji if I should do them mentally, I felt that I had done them long enough that I didn’t have anything to prove.
In 47 years there have been two days when I didn’t do them twice. First, when I stayed up all night laying out Ananda’s magazine, ignoring an intuition that told me I didn’t need to. I fell asleep the next afternoon and didn’t wake up until the following morning.
Second, when I simply forgot to do my evening practice. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps to keep me humble?
It worries me that people make mistakes in their practice that might keep them from enjoying the full benefits.
- A common mistake is that they introduce variations, and don’t realize it. They do double-breathing during exercises where Master didn’t prescribe it; for example, while tilting the head back against tension.
Why isn’t this a good idea? Because Yogananda designed each exercise with a specific purpose in mind. Inserting double-breathing where it isn’t called for divides energy and attention and risks lessening the results.
- Another common mistake is twisting from the waist while doing side arm swings. The side swings are intended to give the spine a twist, so it’s important to keep the waist still and only twist the torso.
- Another mistake is doing the exercises with eyes open. Yogananda said, “Do them slowly, with eyes closed, in the order given.” He also said to do them with attention lightly focused at the spiritual eye, at the point between the eyebrows.
- Some well-intentioned people make large movements where smaller movements are called for. Instead of rotating head and neck in small circles with light tension, they make big circles. That particular exercise is meant to help us bring our attention gently to the spiritual eye. It comes early in the routine and helps us focus our attention and willpower for the remaining exercises.
- Some people do the exercises competitively, even boastfully. “I’m a rough-and-tumble person. I do everything with my full willpower!” Fine, but not if the silent subtext is “I’m better than you.”
When I watched Swami Kriyananda and other direct disciples do the energizers, I saw that they were interiorized and intent on gaining control of their energy so that they could offer themselves more completely to God.
1 Good Reason
I’ve come to understand that the deeper purpose of the energization exercises is not physical. They are spiritual exercises.
In the late 1960s I attended a talk by Daya Mata during which she said, “I have done these exercises daily for thirty years, and as a result I know beyond question that this body is directly sustained by God through the medulla oblongata.”
I’ve realized that the energization exercises are about the central nervous system and the spiritual spine, more than the muscles.
Yogananda said that this earth is a rajasic planet, and that ours is a rajasic galaxy. He said to Swami Kriyananda, referring to the SRF members, “Oh, these people are so rajasic.” (I’m paraphrasing. I wonder if Swamiji had asked Master why so few of the members seemed to be able to go deep in meditation.)
This rajasic planet has entered a rajasic age. What could be more natural and appropriate than to bring a spiritual method that people can relate to, that will let them work with their rajasic tendencies to experience spiritual truth.
I’ve claimed that these are spiritual exercises, and that they are about the spiritual spine. What proof can I offer to back up this claim?
Early in my practice, I used to wonder about some of the exercises. Why do we energize the fingers, for example? What spiritual purpose could that possibly have?
Later, I realized that a good reason was that, halfway through the cycle, doing finger recharging caused me to feel my awareness centered calmly at the level of the heart, and that I could watch my body while doing the remaining exercises from a level of amused detachment.
Increasingly, I’ve realized that the energizers help us understand that the body is a sheath, a kosha, a fleshy bag for something much greater that is doing the exercises through us, and that the exercises help us to grow into that perspective.
When someone asked Yogananda which of the techniques would be the best to have if we were stranded on a deserted island, he named the energization exercises. Because, he said, by doing them we would eventually be able to work out the rest of the spiritual path.
People may feel, after a period of regular practice, that a great power of God is charging the body from its cosmic battery.
Swami Kriyananda said that we don’t need to hold tension during the 20-part full-body recharging for longer than three seconds. Yet at some point we may find the divine power holding the tension for 10 or 15 seconds or longer, while it pours energy through the medulla to all parts of the body.
Just three weeks after my book The Joyful Athlete was published in 2015, I began to have posterior pain that prevented me from walking more than a block without hobbling. Never let it be said that the universe lacks a sense of humor.
In fact, several friends whose views I respected had hinted that perhaps I should spend less time rambling the hills of Marin, and center my life more completely in Ananda.
Seven years later, I’m no longer fit. Climbing the stairs to our second-floor apartment causes heavy breathing. Yet when I’m compelled by the Great Power to hold full-body tension for up to 20 seconds, I come out of it not breathing hard, as if I didn’t need to breathe at all because of the energy flooding my physical form. The rest of the exercises then seem relatively effortless. I believe the cosmic energy is helping to keep this body healthy and giving me the energy to continue to serve in what is popularly called old age.
It also helps my meditations, not only because my body is filled with energy, but because the energy is distributed evenly throughout my body, making it easier to sit still. My practice usually ends with a deep sense of calmness.
These are wonderful exercises for the central nervous system. When I’m out shopping, and I realize that I’m hobbling along, bent-over like an old person, I know that I can exert a bit of willpower to fill the body with energy. It feels wonderful to walk like a much younger person, with straight spine and level gaze.
I won’t say more, but I can promise that daily practice will help you grow in a sure knowing that your life is an expression of the God Who sustains all things.
For more articles about the energization exercises, follow this link.
Books by Nayaswami Rambhakta
Conversations With Ananda: How We Serve
Finding Happiness & Success Through Joyful Self-Offering: Seventy Pioneering Ananda Members Tell Their Stories
Encounters With a Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda
How a Balanced Education Nurtures Happy Children Who Excel in School & Life
Happiness & Success at School: A Magnificent Synergy
Answering parents’ questions about the surprising links between happiness and high performance in the classroom.
Happiness & Success in High School: Educating Teenagers for Life
How positive feelings and individual instruction nurture success in high school, college, and for all of life
The Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training