By Joan Bragar, EdD
A 21-Year Journey
I first took Svaroopa® yoga classes in 2000 — the same year I was invited to lead a workshop in China. I traveled to Tianjin, a northern industrial port. To face December subzero temperatures, I brought my long underwear and a big down parka. I also brought a small Sony tape recorder. I wanted to be able to listen to Gurudevi’s 1992 Shavasana audiotape, Relaxing: Cultivating Awareness. (I still listen to this tape today!)
The participants were scientists who advised national family planning policy. In our workshop, they were practicing leading teams and influencing stakeholders. I gave content and instructions through a translator. After the teams engaged in practice and held discussions, their responses were translated back to me. We engaged in these dialogues for many days. During each short break between sessions, I returned to my small hotel room. Exhausted and cold, I’d lie on my narrow bed. There I listened to Gurudevi’s voice on the tape as she led me into Shavasana.
After twenty minutes, Shavasana would restore my energy. I was then able to bring this energy back to the participants. They deeply appreciated the thinking that emerged from their work. I was invited to return to be their ongoing consultant. I was honored, but unable to commit to regular travel to China.
Returning to Boston, I continued to take weekly Svaroopa® classes. In 2007 I was privileged to attend Gurudevi’s Business of Yoga course. It — and the business emerging from it — helped me establish my leadership development business.
Shortly afterwards, I was badly injured in a small plane crash. I broke fourteen bones and suffered three brain hemorrhages. I looked for every available modality that could heal me — from orthopedic surgery to energy work. My yoga teacher, Deborah Shapiro, kindly provided yoga therapy at my home. Svaroopa® yoga was key to my recovery.
During this time, I also worked with Gurudevi in phone courses. To accelerate my healing she encouraged me to start a daily Ujjayi practice. By 2008, I had recovered from my injuries and returned to in-person yoga classes. I also attended workshops with Gurudevi whenever she was in the New England area. I still saw myself as a weekly yoga student.
Fast forward to 2020, when my husband and I moved to Southwest Florida. There were no Svaroopa® yoga teachers within a hundred miles. Fortunately, I learned that I could take an online class at Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram. I began online yoga and meditation classes with Swami Prajñananda.
In January 2021, I underwent a complicated abdominal surgery. While recovering, I wrote a detailed letter to Gurudevi to let her know what was happening to me. She asked Brahmacharini Yogyananda to support me in restoring a daily Ujjayi practice. I was also supported in online yoga therapy with Swami Prajñananda. For the first time, I began my own daily yoga practice. In the spring, I was finally strong enough to participate again in a regular yoga class.
For many years, I had been contented with taking weekly Svaroopa® yoga classes. But my 2021 experiences have shown me that Svaroopa® yoga provides so much more. It is a reliable portal to deeper spiritual experiences. To learn more about yogic philosophy, I took Gurudevi’s Year-Long Programme (YLP). She took us through a deep inquiry about Being, Light and Bliss.
Gurudevi’s straightforward words conveyed a spiritual reality that I could hear and touch. She spoke to each student with great care and attention. At the same time, she was not hesitant in delivering challenging messages from an ancient body of wisdom.
During my YLP study, Gurudevi told me to read Baba Muktananda’s book, Play of Consciousness. Now I read from this spiritual autobiography daily. Like Gurudevi, Baba is eloquent in describing what it’s like to see God from within — as your own Self.
In November 2021, I decided to receive Shaktipat from Gurudevi. This was a big decision for me, but I felt ready to make it. After I received Shaktipat, my meditations immediately got deeper. Now in meditation I actually experience God within me. I am also beginning to understand the importance of being in the Guru’s presence. I appreciate her teachings in the weekly online Swami Sunday. They help me stay in touch with who I really am.
Looking back, I am so grateful to Gurudevi for “being” with me in China twenty-one years ago. Shavasana breaks led by her filled me with Grace. She supported me to support scientists who were advising a country of a billion people. I now see that those scientists and I were all interacting from Self.
I am grateful for Gurudevi’s contributions to my health, as well as to my endeavors to make my contribution in this world. But the key thing I am grateful for is her resolute commitment to sharing our lineage based in Kashmir Shaivism. Her commitment brings me access to Grace in my life on all levels. For this I do not have sufficient words of gratitude.
I told my husband I was going to God. He asked me if I was planning on dying. I said, ”No, through the Guru’s Grace I can go to Him while I am still living!”