Birth of a Spiritual Scientist

By Nayaswami Gyandev

Autobiography of a Yogi shocked me—in the best possible way.

Many years ago, I rejected the God that my Christian upbringing had taught: as Paramhansa Yogananda’s guru put it so amusingly, “a venerable Personage, adorning a throne in some antiseptic corner of the cosmos.” And why would God—supposedly the home of all good qualities, including humility—demand worship? Such beliefs and dogmas—and illogical ones at that—could never satisfy my down-to-earth, logical, scientific mindset. If those were all that religion could offer, then goodbye to religion and to God.

Clearly I hadn’t examined my own thinking, but I had a bigger problem: I wasn’t happy. Even when I later obtained all the proper ingredients for happiness—good job, good salary, good friends, good home—I wanted much more. I realized that even `best job, best salary, etc.’ could not give me the happiness I craved: I had to become something more. “Surely that must be the purpose of life,” I thought. “But what is that ‘something more,’ and how can I become it?” Science could not help me—it avoids such questions—so with virtually no idea of what to do or where it would lead, I pledged my life to this quest.

Almost immediately, Autobiography of a Yogi came my way—and it shook me! Through his transparent goodness, sincerity, and wisdom, Yogananda exploded my unexamined thinking and expanded my ideas about my potential beyond my highest hopes. I somehow knew—with as much certainty as I knew that I existed—that he had reached the apex of human potential: enlightenment, omniscience, union with God. And he wrote that I, too, could do that:

“Divine union is possible through self-effort, and is not dependent on theological beliefs or on the arbitrary will of a Cosmic Dictator.”

Monumental, joyous relief! My quest for happiness now had both direction and method: to know God through yoga—the greater yoga, not merely postures.

What really grabbed me about yoga was that it is scientific—based on specific techniques, experimentation, and personal experience, rather than beliefs, dogmas, and blind hope. Meditation became my primary tool for exploration, aided by techniques of pranayama: control of prana (life force, subtle energy), not merely breath control. I would become something more through working with both prana and the mind, taking advantage of the inherent connections between those two.

Subtle energy, I soon realized, is not so subtle. In fact, it’s so familiar that most people don’t notice it, just as they don’t notice the air they breathe. As I paid closer attention, I began to feel a natural, living relationship with prana. The combination of meditation and pranayama practice gave me more energy, greater mental clarity, and emotional balance, as well as glimmerings of proof, through personal experience, that there was more to life—and to me!—than I had ever imagined.

I became a huge fan of pranayama practice and in time, I began to share it with others: teaching pranayama classes at The Expanding Light Meditation & Yoga Retreat at Ananda Village (near Nevada City, California); recording guided practice sessions on video and audio; and sharing a unique, powerful pranayama—Yogananda’s Energization Exercises—via an Energization video and the 30-Day Energization Challenge. All this has enriched my practice, not only of pranayama, but also of Ananda Yoga, meditation, and, well, life.

Yogananda emphasized that, although techniques alone cannot take us to God, they can accelerate the process. As Swami Kriyananda put it, yoga’s techniques purify us sufficiently to be able to receive divine grace, the only power that can take us to God. They are neither boring nor mechanical: there is both an art and a science to each one, which makes the practice personal, creative, and rewarding. Techniques and divine grace—plus the vital (and often challenging) catalyst of right attitude—flow together to create a potent formula for spiritual growth.

Like almost everyone who reads Autobiography of a Yogi, I aspired to learn the ultimate pranayama/meditation technique: Kriya Yoga, which Yogananda touted so often. In time I received Kriya, and while other pranayamas still help me significantly, Kriya has been the mainstay of my spiritual practices every day for more than 30 years. This scientific seeker simply cannot resist Yogananda’s promise:

“Kriya, controlling the mind directly through the life force, is the easiest, most effective, and most scientific avenue of approach to the Infinite.”


Ananda Worldwide has a gift for you  – an audiobook or e-book of the original Autobiography of a Yogi. . We also invite you to share your own story of awakening through the Autobiography.

You may also enjoy watching The Spark, a documentary short film that reveals how Yogananda and his Autobiography ignited a spiritual revolution in the West.

I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities.

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