Recharging in Sickness and in Health
About a month ago, I fell ill with an unusually virulent type of bronchitis. It came at a time when I’d been praying to Divine Mother for a spiritual renewal. I was desperate to return to the roots of my practice, and the full force of the beginner’s longing for God. In my work I use my brain primarily, and Divine Mother had kindly shown me how to balance my life by singing, exercise, and friendships. But something more was needed, and that’s when I got sick.
I’m a student of bronchitis, as I have the chronic kind. But this was very different from the usual three days of malaise and coughing. I got not a wink of sleep for the first three nights and could only nap fitfully for ten minutes at a time during the day. And it completely separated me from the standard rhythms of my life. I couldn’t read or watch videos. So I spent a lot of time lying down and coughing and thinking of God in a very elemental and simple way that was healing to my soul, if not my body. It was wonderful, in its way. But though physically laid-out, I was determined not to miss the rechargers.
It was comical, even at the time. One evening, preparing to do the exercises, I felt unsteady and braced myself against a laser printer that sat on a small table. I stood, feeling wobbly and ill, like a shaky old man, leaning against the printer and waiting for the right moment to take the first inhalation.
Something like forty-seven years ago, when I was in SRF, I attended a talk by Daya Mata in which she urged us very strongly to do the rechargers.
“I’ve done these exercises every day for over thirty years,” she said, “and as a result I know beyond question that this body is directly sustained by God through the medulla oblongata.”
The moment I straightened up and threw my arms wide and inhaled, I felt profoundly energized by some otherworldly source. I sailed through the exercises, carried on a blazing cloud of energy that seemed at once mine and not-mine. I thought of Daya Mata’s words and realized that these exercises are, as Swami Kriyananda stated, pranayam. They are spiritual exercises, designed to unite us with God.
As I suspect you’ll know, this world has entered an age of energy-awareness, and this is why Paramhansa Yogananda brought the yoga teachings up to date for an energy-aware age. By Kriya Yoga, and the rechargers, and proper diet, etc., we can come closer to God by increasing and refining our energy, until we realize that all energy comes from God and is God’s, including the energy that makes and sustains our bodies. Energy is the link, Swami Kriyananda said, between consciousness and matter.
I’m glad I didn’t skip the energizers, pleading illness, or I wouldn’t have had the experience of God doing them through me. The energy that fairly rampaged through my body was much bigger than anything I could summon. It was unbounded, limitless, inexhaustible. I realized that every time I had practiced the exercises – erratically for the first eight years, and every day for forty years – it had helped open a channel, by tiny increments, through which God could give me this experience. Will I skip them tonight or tomorrow? Not likely.
So here we are, four decades into a regular practice, about forty-eight years overall. And I wouldn’t dream of not doing the rechargers now. They’ve been terribly helpful, and I’m looking forward to the next forty years.
Here followeth standard advice for doing the rechargers.
The energizers can give us a sense of inner contact with God, if we do them with the right motives and in the right spirit. Draw on God’s energy, calmness, and harmony while you do them.
Do them receptively, devotionally. You can make that contact. Just follow the instructions that Yogananda said are essential for success: Do them slowly, with deep willingness, in the order given, with closed eyes and with calm concentration at the spiritual eye.
A temptation is to do them absent-mindedly, to stand outside the process and say, “Well, I’m doing this because it’s good for me and I’ll get such-and-such result.” But you’ll get minimal results if you do them mechanically. Merely putting in the time won’t give you the best results. The exercises work devotionally: they are a divine dance – a physical chant – a way to pray with the body instead of with the mind. When you do them in that spirit, God responds as if you’d offered Him a prayer.
If you do them devotionally, the spiritual benefits will become real. Remember Master’s promise, that the energization exercises will give you the vision of your body as energy, as light, and as a thought of God’s pure consciousness. When you have that perception, the body will no longer be an obstacle on the spiritual path.
The energization exercises stimulate the center of will power and spiritual awakening in the forehead, and thus hasten the appearance of the spiritual eye in meditation.
Create an energization habit
Paramhansa Yogananda said that it takes three years to plant a new habit in the brain. Here are some suggestions to help you get through the temptations and distractions at the start.
Do the exercises at the same time every day. If you vary your practice times too much, the resulting sense of irregularity and confusion will work against you. Be regular, and your subconscious mind will begin to support your new habit. It will be much easier to blast through inertia and begin practicing at the times of day that you’ve set aside for the exercises.
Do them in the same place. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve set aside a little space for my twice-daily practice – a little patch of ground, a corner of a room, a few square feet on a deck, or a spot in front of a window.
If I’m practicing outdoors, the earth becomes packed smooth, giving it a well-worn, homey look. I’m sure, too, that helpful vibrations build up on that spot.
Do them with intense zeal, and the habit will form much faster. Let’s face it, 10-15 minutes of all-out effort twice a day won’t kill you. In fact, you’ll get great satisfaction from giving your best. And – hey – they’re called the rechargers, right?
Make a vow. Gandhi spoke of the wonderful freedom that his many disciplinary vows had given him. Keep a calendar of your practice, if you wish. Stubbornness and rajasic restlessness can be turned to the service of a worthy goal.
Reinforce your good habit in every possible way. Take time now and then to think deeply, willingly, and energetically about the spiritual advantages of doing the energization exercises – not in selfish terms, but with the understanding that the fastest way to get the selfless devotion and universal love that you crave is by pleasing Master.
Do them when you least feel like it. Unwillingness is an enemy and willingness is a friend when it’s particularly hard to do the exercises: when you’re tired, busy, or feeling sad and unworthy. At such times, think of yourself as the good, noble warrior who’s been driven into a corner by unworthy opponents. Don’t allow unwillingness to take away your loyalty to “the good.” Do the rechargers with zeal, and unwillingness will flee.
The longer I live, the older I get (funny how that works), and the older I get the more I am convinced that the energization exercises aren’t primarily about energizing the body at all; rather that they are about increasing awareness of the energy in the spine, and more particularly, working with that energy to transform consciousness.
Consider that weird exercise where we rotate our arms out at the side. What’s that supposed to accomplish? What I’ve discovered is that if I can really get the motor going and step on the gas and bloody-well energize the windmill, it has a very, very powerful effect on awakening the energy in the upper spine, with a very direct and powerful side-effect that it raises the consciousness into the upward-aspiring, confident, strong chakras in that upper spinal area. Try it – you’ll like it. See if the exercises that follow (wiggling fingers, etc.) don’t feel very different, more energized and alert. This will set you up nicely for meditation.
My secret for late-night recharging is a drink that Master recommended before doing hard physical labor. His recipe is a handful of ground almonds in a glass of orange juice. I make it in a Vitamix (blender works fine). I make it 3 or 3 ½ glasses at a time: a half-pound of frozen pineapple from TJ or WF, two organic Valencia oranges, a little Stevia, a handful or two of almonds (or a really big scoopful of pre-ground almonds). I drink a half-glass maybe an hour before recharging, and find it really energizes brain and body, helps me do them with gusto. I share it for what it’s worth.
At the Ananda Seclusion Retreat the daily meditation schedule (when I first visited, in 1974) called for doing the Rechargers after morning meditation, assuming that they would somehow cause the meditator to be too energized. But having done them daily for 40-plus years, I am inclined to heartily disagree. I find that they prepare my body and my mind and nervous system splendidly for meditation. More and more, I am convinced that they are designed to awaken energy in the spine, and to increase awareness of and energy the chakras, including first and foremost the Christ Center in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. I have never found that they interfered with meditation; rather the opposite, they are wonderful preparation.
Enjoy them. If you can form a daily habit, the energization exercises will reveal to you the stunning perfection of their design. There is endless joy and fascination in the beautiful, ever-new intricacies of their flow. Sometimes rollicking, bubbling laughter will rise up within you as you practice; sometimes the energy will flow so strongly that you can barely contain it – you’ll feel yourself swimming in an ocean of joyous, divine life. Even when you don’t get those experiences, enjoy the exercises just because they remind you, like chanting does, to turn your attention inward to the spiritual eye and thoughts of God.
Realize their value. Unlike hatha yoga, there are no famous teachers who’ve made the energization exercises the cornerstone of their instruction; no academies of energization; no lovely picture books; no medical research; no TV programs called Energizing with Elaine. So it takes a little extra courage and faith to practice something that’s new, that lacks a long and hallowed tradition. You simply have to do the energization exercises to find out how great they are; no one will try to sell you on their worth.
I once attended a lecture in which the speaker said: “I can stand here and inspire you with the things I say, but I can’t motivate you. That’s up to you.”
You’ll have to cultivate your own desire to do the energization exercises. And the best way is to tie them firmly to the deepest desires of your heart. Realize that they can help you very much to find your inner connection with God.
“When I was lecturing around the world, I was saddened to see how very few people who were following Master’s teachings bothered to do the energization exercises.” – Swami Kriyananda
Don’t be that guy.