Gomathy Swamy, an Isha yoga teacher, was studying physical therapy at a Rmachandra University in Tamil Nadu, India, and reading a lot of philosophy, particularly Ayn Rand, when her father, mother, and older sister decided to do the “Inner Engineering” progam offered by Isha Foundation. But even in the face of the changes she saw in her family after the program — “they were enthusiastic, happy, and excited,” she says — Swamy resisted signing up. “I was very focused on paving my own way in the world,” she says.
What made her give it a try was a story titled “Goose Sense” that she read in the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She tells the story: “When geese fly, they make a V shape. Why do they do that? One flies ahead and the rest follow, because it’s easier to fly behind another bird. That’s how they work together — when the leader gets tired, it falls back and the next takes over.”
The story made her start to question her own drive to go it alone. “Here I am trying to fly on my own,” she says. “I have no map, no directions, and it seems like someone here is showing the way, guiding people. Why do I want to waste all of my energy if there is a path?”
She finally decided to do the program, and the experience changed her life. “It was truly unlike anything I had imagined,” she says.
Swamy will teach the “Inner Engineering” program of the Isha Foundation from Wednesday, April 16, to Tuesday, April 22, at the Palmer Inn, 3499 Route 1. No yoga experience is necessary.
After Swamy first completed the 13-day program herself, she admits that even though she noticed some inner changes, they were a bit amorphous. “I knew there was excitement and calmness at the same time, a feeling that I had found something that is valuable but didn’t know what it was,” she says. Interestingly, it took the perspectives of people who knew her well to convince her that she was different. “You know how when you gain weight or lose weight, people around you notice before you do. I guess something within me was shifting,” she says.
Her friends noticed subtle yet substantial changes, telling her she had become calmer and seemed at peace within herself. When she asked one college friend to be more precise, he told her, “You’re more approachable now.”
Swamy says: “I was losing anger and resentment toward the world outside because I was an idealist and wanted to create a utopian world — but everyone else was in the way. Now no one was in the way anymore.”
The Isha program, says Swamy, is not based on gurus preaching and teaching, but starts with the individual. Yoga is much more than the stereotyped picture of people twisting their bodies, standing upside down, and doing all kinds of different postures. “Yoga is a way of being not a way of doing,” says Swamy. “Whereas our technological society makes it easy for us to control our environments, we must develop a technology for establishing a way of being, how we are within ourselves, the right kind of inner chemistry within us.”
Although the asanas, the body postures, have always been available to interested people, these deeper, internal aspects of yoga, called shambhavi, had not been offered publicly, because it requires dedication and concentration. But the founder of the Isha program wanted to spread the wealth. “Sadhguru, a yogi and mystic, designed the whole program so every common person can receive something powerful and life transforming,” Swamy says.
The seven-day program Swamy teaches in Princeton is not just learning a practice, she says, but taking a journey inward and exploring very aspect of yourself, your life, and the way you have perceived life. “You look at everything fresh,” she says, “using your intelligence, not knowledge you have gathered. You’re like a child, looking at everything fresh, with new eyes.”
After the 28 to 30 hours of class over the course of seven days, individuals will have the tools to continue the journey inward, she says. People who come to her class with serious problems — medical issues, depression, stress, difficulty communicating with their spouse or children, work issues — think that is the only way they can live their lives, says Swamy, that there is no possibility of doing anything differently. But after seven days, she sees people excited and hopeful. “It is not the content of your life that has changed but your context,” says Swamy. “You see you can approach life differently. You don’t have to be bogged down by what is around you.”
Students who have completed the seven-day program may attend a monthly support group called saphsang, meaning “communion with the truth,” where they can do the practice with the support of a teacher.
After Swamy completed advanced work in the Inner Engineering program she says, “I started experiencing this intense love within myself. Peace and joy not having to do anything — just sitting by yourself and feeling such intensity within yourself.” After 10 years of doing the practice, Swamy had the chance to train as an instructor. She spent four years at an ashram in India in a program that ran from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. “It completely changed something within me,” she says.
Swamy says that previously she had always felt like an outsider, even among good friends. Now, she says, “it established this within me — that wherever I am, I’m at home.” When she travels, which she does often, she can talk to anybody, be in anybody’s home, and be totally comfortable and at ease. She also has lots of energy and gets by on just four to five hours of sleep a night.
Swamy grew up in Chennai, India, which used to be called Madras. Her father is a chartered accountant and her mother is a homemaker. “They are 60 plus but living their lives more actively than in their 30s or 40s; they have so much energy and are so happy. It gives me so much comfort; at this age, most people are worrying about their parents’ health and how they are doing — none of that for me; they are healthy and happy.”
She came to the United States in December, 1999, and became licensed to practice physical therapy in New York. “But I decided this was not what I wanted to do,” she says. “Why just heal bones and aching backs when I can do much more?” She has been a full-time volunteer teacher since 2004, and she and her husband, an IT consultant, have decided to move to Tennessee so she can work at the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.
The Isha foundation, founded by Sadhguru in 1992, is a nonprofit organization run by almost a quarter million volunteers. The foundation has two major centers, the Isha Yoga Center in southern India in the lush rainforest at the base of the Velliangiri Mountains and the one in Tennessee, as well as 150 city-based centers around the world. “The whole idea is not just about creating a small community of people, but about transforming people so they can go out in the world and impact a change in whatever they do,” says Swamy.
Part of the workshop’s $260 goes towards the foundation’s social projects, many of which are centered on India’s rural population, where hunger and illness are rampant. Isha provides basic relief, but to avoid creating dependency in its recipients, the foundation is also trying to create sustainable living in the villages. The Action for Rural Rejuvenation offers comprehensive health and community services helping support close to 3,000 villages with free medical care, yoga classes, herbal guidance, and gymnasiums. Isha also sends out mobile medical units with a four-person team including a doctor, a yoga teacher, and two volunteers. “The villagers see them as healers so they want to become like that,” says Swamy. “The kids all want to be doctors or yoga teachers.”
A related project, Isha Vidhya, is a computer-based education initiative to be established in 206 new village schools in rural southern India by 2014. The foundation is seeking to change the existing education scene in rural India that Swamy describes as “nonfunctional,” where there are many dropouts who don’t see the point of schools where the curricula are not good and would rather go to work and earn money. The new schools will offer English instruction in the regular school subjects but also computer education so that the children will be able to compete for jobs.
The third project, Project Green Hands, is a massive public reforestation effort aiming to plant 114 million trees in the next 10 years, restoring 33 percent of green cover in Tamil Nadu, India. Many trees in the area around the center have been cut down, and pilgrims have left thousands of years’ worth of detritis. The foundation first organized people to clear the mountains, especially the litter that might kill animals that eat it. Then in the past five years the foundation started handing out saplings for people to plant at their own homes. In 2006, an organized effort with 250,000 volunteer was able to plant 850,000 saplings on October 17, a single day, which turned out to be a Guiness Record.
Swamy says it is the teachings of Sadhguru that motivates Isha volunteers to take action to improve the world. “Sadhguru says, ‘Everything is done not just because we want to do something but because it is what is needed.’” And Swamy adds, “When you come from an inner understanding and are joyous within yourself, you are just looking for what is needed. You are not compulsively doing things to make an impact, to tell someone about it, or to make the world ideal. It comes from a deeper understanding of who you are in yourself, not what to create around you.”
Inner Engineering, Wednesday, April 16, through Tuesday, April 22, Isha Yoga, Palmer Inn, 3499 Route 1, West Windsor. A free introductory talk for the seven-day program takes place on Wednesday, April 16, at 6:45 p.m. The program runs weekdays, 6:45 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon; and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. $260. Register at 866-424-4742. For more information about the program, call Sanjeev Chandrasekharan at 732-859-9958 or E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit www.ishafoundation.org.