Book Review: Spiritual Yoga: Awakening to Higher Awareness
Spiritual Yoga: Awakening to Higher Awareness
by Nayaswami Gyandev
Nayaswami Gyandev’s new book, Spiritual Yoga: Awakening to Higher Awareness bridges the millennia between our times and the timeless teachings of ancient India. He dedicates the book to his spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, and to his guru, the great yoga master, Paramhansa Yogananda. “All that I know of yoga,” Gyandev writes, “has come through their teaching, inspiration, and guidance in my own practice.”
Continuing a great tradition
Kriyananda’s brief description, in his foreword to Spiritual Yoga, brings a beautifully simple and clear perspective on the origin of hatha yoga itself, as well as on his own approach to its practice.
As Kriyananda developed the hatha yoga system that came to be known as Ananda Yoga, he remained true to his guru’s teachings by emphasizing the spiritual benefits of each pose. He not only showed how bodily position could be used to influence right attitudes in the mind, he also wrote affirmations to accompany the poses, and thereby support the mind in directions suggested by the poses themselves.
Kriyananda concludes his foreword with a statement explaining that he has written all of his books, not as the final word on the subject, but as seminal—as seed thoughts to be developed and applied by succeeding generations: “For many years,” Kriyananda writes, “Nayaswami Gyandev has continued the development of this system of Ananda Yoga. I am very grateful to him for popularizing it in America. This book will be a valuable adjunct to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.”
An internationally respected approach
When I interviewed Gyandev about the writing of the book, I was moved by his quiet, understated description of the eleven years of effort that went into the completed book. He was asked to take on the Ananda Yoga Teacher Training Course in 1998, and, in a spirit of service and discipleship, accepted.
Working with Kriyananda’s book of yoga postures (Yoga Postures for Higher Awareness) and with Kriyananda’s correspondence course (now titled The Art and Science of Raja Yoga), Gyandev developed an internationally respected approach to the art and science of hatha yoga.
During the fifteen years he has directed Ananda Yoga, Gyandev has also developed a detailed and comprehensive manual specifically for students of Ananda’s Yoga Teacher Training Course. He has, in addition, produced an extensive series of instructional videos for yoga students, as well as a number of books on yoga and the Indian scriptures.
Conversational, informal, and magnetic
Gyandev’s teaching style is a delight — conversational and informal, experiential, light-hearted and humorous, and designed to keep the reader on his toes, and actively practicing what he is learning. As I read, I feel that Gyandev is speaking directly to me — as a friend. I have that sense of dynamic connection usually felt only in the direct interaction between teacher and student in an actual yoga class. Gyandev’s magnetic presence, as he explains the principles of yoga, communicates, on a vibrational level, the deeper reality of those principles.
How thrilled I would have been to have had Spiritual Yoga as a guide to my own beginning forays into the world of yoga and the spiritual life. I was living alone in a cabin in the backwoods of North Carolina. My only “way shower” was a book of photographs of a shaggy and smiling yogi in various yoga postures. Without real guidance or understanding, and driven by the fanatical zeal of a new convert. I succeeded only in making myself thoroughly ill!
What a difference it would have made had I been introduced to yoga with the book’s clear and careful explanations — accompanied by superb photographs — of how to practice as well as of attitudes and states of consciousness that underlie successful practice. Even now, 45 years later, I feel in reading this book a renewal of enthusiasm for the yoga postures as a support to meditation and to a life dedicated to the spiritual search.
Yoga’s higher purpose in the forefront
Gyandev’s preface explains his purpose in writing Spiritual Yoga: “to show others how to quicken their spiritual growth by skillfully integrating the postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.” Elsewhere, he gives this inspiring definition of yoga: “Yoga is — and always has been — first and foremost a spiritual discipline….a comprehensive system for allying self-effort with divine grace in order to experience the eternal oneness of soul and Spirit.”
The structure of the book keeps yoga’s higher purpose always at the forefront. Each chapter is introduced by a quotation from Yogananda or Kriyananda, each one emphasizing the spiritual nature of yoga. “The Art and Science of Hatha Yoga” (The first chapter) sets the tone with Paramhansa Yogananda’s words: “Yoga is an art as well as a science. It is a science, because it offers practical methods for controlling the body and mind, thereby making deep meditation possible. And it is an art, for unless it is practiced intuitively and sensitively it will yield only superficial results.”
Gyandev’s text explains the mind-energy-body connection, the essential relationship underlying the “science” of yoga: the use of bodily position to uplift energy toward the brain, and thereby to uplift one’s state of mind. This same mind-energy-body connection is carefully and inspiringly explained in the book’s detailed presentation of individual postures and breathing exercises. Gyandev’s joy in his own practice is everywhere evident.
Become “a spiritual artist”
One of my favorite sections of the book is titled “Keys to Practicing Spiritual Yoga.” These number three:
• Aim high and stay grounded.
• Bring your awareness to the spiritual eye.
• Be a spiritual artist.
By “spiritual artist” Gyandev means a yogi who brings to bear on his practice faculties of mind and heart that lifts one’s consciousness out of worldly entanglement and into the clear light of spirit. “Above all,” he concludes, “bring devotion into your practice of all the techniques — not as a mere idea or wish, but as the heart’s vibrant feeling of upward aspiration, yearning, and commitment. When you practice with devotion, in active partnership with Spirit, your energy will rise naturally and your practice will become alive, uplifting, and deeply fulfilling.”
Gyandev’s blessing on his readers is a fitting conclusion to this review: “Through your ever-deepening practice, may you come to know your own divine essence.”
Nayaswami Prakash is a long-time member of Ananda. He currently serves at Ananda Village doing forestry and landscaping work. Before moving to Ananda Village in 1974, he taught English and Literature at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.