October 2, 2013
One of the first techniques we learn at Ananda is an original creation of Paramhansa Yogananda’s: the Energization Exercises. These exercises help us learn to work directly with our life force in a way that can be applied not only in our other meditation techniques, but in everything we do.
The Energization Exercises intrigued me greatly right from the start, and I’ve enjoyed working with them over the last few years and discovering more about my own capabilities through them. But, as with any other habitual practice, we run the risk of letting it get too habitual. We can slip into a new habit of practicing with too little attention, too little energy, at which point you just have calisthenics, not sadhana.
That was the state I was in for much of this year, and not just with Energization, but with the rest of my meditation practices as well. I’d gotten into a slump that turned into a rut, and though I persisted every day, there seemed to be no improvement in sight.
Then in August I went up to Ananda Village for Spiritual Renewal Week, which, I have come to learn, always lives up to its name. Early in the week I attended Shivani’s excellent workshop on the Energization Exercises and realized that this was going to be the key to knocking myself back into shape.
So one night, after the evening program, I went out by the Babaji statue on the Expanding Light lawn and went through my regular energization routine. It came out pretty much like it had been — automatic, inattentive, too fast. So as soon as I finished, I went right back to the beginning, said the starting prayer again, and started over.
It was better the second time. I kept my eyes closed, which helped me focus a bit more, and I made more of a point of slowing down and really feeling both the tensing and releasing stages equally. A decent improvement, but not terribly dramatic. So I started over a third time. Even better now, as I tried to visualize directing the energy as light to each part of my body in turn.
At that point — heck, why not? — I just dove right in and did the entire sequence a fourth time. By then I had a fantastic buzz going, and a palpable sense of energy gathered at the spiritual eye. I debated briefly trying for a fifth round, but had been energizing for nearly an hour at this point, and thought it might cross the line from energizing to tiring. So I just sat down on a nearby bench and had a wonderful meditation.
That night was really a turning point for me, and I’ve been continuing to do extra energization when I can. Not to quite that extent, but I’ll often do two rounds before my evening meditation if I have time. Occasionally doing more and going deeper also improves the quality of the other times when I only do the exercises once. And being more effectively energized has definitely improved my meditations.
More recently I had another fun energization revelation. Due to working at a late-running event for East West Bookshop, I didn’t get to sleep until 1:00am, and as it happened I had to get up at 5:30 to lead the community meditation the next (well, the same) morning. One good thing about a situation like this is that it really gets you praying for help! And then help comes.
So I got up and only had time for a normal one-time-through the Energization Exercises before I had to lead an hour-and-a-half meditation, hopefully without completely falling asleep in the middle of it. And at the beginning of the meditation it occurred to me — out of desperation and the grace of God — to just do the Energization Exercises in my head. So I sat right there on my cushion without moving a muscle, but visualizing every part of the sequence all the way through.
Turns out that’s quite an experience. With no muscle movement or tension to distract you, you can feel the energy as energy going everywhere you direct it. I followed that with an excellent meditation and absolutely no nodding off. And then I followed that with a full day at work, going straight to choir rehearsal for the evening’s event at the church, and then the event itself, before coming home just in time for my evening meditation, in which I repeated the experiment. Afterwards, I was feeling so good I almost didn’t want to go to sleep. Though it seemed like probably a good idea, so I did anyway.
These two tricks aren’t magic bullets, and haven’t had the same dramatic effects every time I’ve tried them since. There seems to be a special grace that comes in on the “discovery” of something like this, that you then just have to coast on for as long as possible. But they’re still both very useful tools for the toolbox. And a good reminder to take an active, experimental experimental approach to our spiritual lives, as Master taught us.