I met Swami Kriyananda in late 1968 and began serving at the Ananda Meditation Retreat in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills the following April. At that time, Swamiji was still living in San Francisco but he would sometimes come to the retreat on weekends to lead public programs or to enjoy a few days of meditation before returning to his busy schedule in the city.
One day, I was walking along a pathway when I heard quick footsteps from behind. Without warning, an arm reached around my chest and a hand was placed firmly on my lower back. It was Swami. With a slight pull of his arm and a gentle push with his hand, he forced me to stand erect while saying forcefully. “Stand up straight! You’ll never get anywhere if you slouch.” A moment later and without another word, he released his grip and proceeded on his way.
Those were simple words of advice but perhaps the most practical ones ever given to me. My posture was indeed poor, but more significantly, it reflected a “casual,” non-magnetic attitude toward life. “Positive, energetic, enthusiastic” were what I wanted to become but Swami made me realize I wasn’t going to succeed if I met life with a lazy, eyes-to-the-ground shuffle.
How we hold our body is tied to our mental state and I find it sad to see someone young and vital hunched over for no good reason. I’m tempted to rush up behind them as Swamiji did with me. Age and infirmity sometimes take a toll but for those still able, it’s vitally important to maintain good posture and not allow casual habits to become ingrained. Our approach to life, inward and outward, is reflected in how we hold our body. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “A bent spine is the enemy of Self-realization” because it blocks our life force from freely flowing upward toward the brain.
You can feel a difference when you sit up straight compared to when you slump. Good posture affirms health and vitality, energizes your will, radiates magnetism and, mysteriously, draws favorable circumstances to you. You mentally and physically greet the world. A slouch does just the opposite. If you are struggling, spiritually or materially, pay attention to how you sit, stand and walk. Straightening up, both within and without, can be the most powerful tool at your disposal for changing your life for the better.
The next time you go for a walk, consciously lift your chest while gently pulling your shoulders back. Notice your breath. You’ll breathe more deeply and your spine will naturally straighten without effort. In yogic symbolism, this straightening is known as “stringing your bow” before engaging in life’s battles. There is no need to strain but rather, be relaxed and notice how your your mental outlook begins to change. If when walking, you have a habit of looking downward, why not lift your gaze to the world around and mentally embrace life. If you feel to do so, send blessings.
After my experience with Swami on that pathway, I began to watch how he walked, how he sat and how he carried himself. Posture isn’t only physical but also an attitudinal approach to life. I noticed he moved deliberately as if conscious of an aura around him. It was sometimes remarked that if he were to collide with a wall, it would be his chest that touched the wall first. He led with his heart, both physically and figuratively. Good posture, besides all the obvious health benefits, also helps us open and expand the heart’s natural feelings, the prerequisite for attracting to us what we need on the spiritual path. With an open heart affirm, “I go forward in perfect faith to joyfully greet the world.”