Intro to Yoga & Meditation at the ISHA Institute
Tucked away an hour from Nashville, Tennessee is one of the largest meditation retreats in the USA.
Before we began our road trip from Nashville to San Francisco, Clarence and I were interested to experience an Inner Engineering session at the Isha Institute. We’d heard good things about it but were still surprised to see a massive ashram in the middle of Tennessee. Not only was there a huge golden dome but it was expanding with living facilities in the surrounds.
The Inner Engineering class would teach us the basics of yoga over three days, with both morning and afternoon sessions. The techniques are broken into 2 x 21-minute routines. The main one is a 21-minute kriya called Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya (also known as Shambhavi Kriya), which is a powerful and purifying energy technique using the breath.
First, we warmed up our bodies by synching movement with breath, an exercise that I found to be meditative. The routine involved rolling your wrists up, down, in front and to the side, breathing in as you roll them in and breathing out as you roll them out. This was followed by neck rolls and knee rolls before things got a bit harder.
Standing up and with your hands in prayer position, you’d breathe out and point your fingers out, then breathe in and return them to prayer position. Then while breathing out, you’d place your hands behind your head, then point your fingers up as you breathe in. This routine was repeated three times, helping to align your upper vertebrae and improve your posture.
We then did the same hand movements in a squatted position with our feet flat, which I thought was very hard. We woke up with sore backs every day but also noticed we were walking more erect and breathing better.
The warm-up was followed by a 21-minute meditation technique that is designed for clarity of thought. First, you warm up with seated butterflies to stretch the pelvic area, then stretch the glutes with “rock the baby”. Once that is complete, you get comfortable in a cross-legged meditation position and do the following:
- Close the left nostril with your left-hand thumb and breathe into the right nostril, then close the right nostril with your pinky and breathe out the left nostril. Repeat for a few minutes.
- OM mediation – deep breathe into the bottom of the stomach, then exhale “OM” through the stomach, the chest, and the throat. Repeat this 21 times.
- Do fast breathing through the nostrils as fast you can for a few minutes.
- Take three big breaths to relax and on the last inhale, hold your breath and tuck your chin while tightening your upper abs and lower abdomen. Hold the breath as long as possible while locking all three and upon exhaling, unlock them one at a time. Then hold the breath, lock them again and when you breathe out, unlock one at time. This teaches immense inner body control. Repeat this twice.
- Go into a five-minute meditation.
This meditation is a pretty fast reset of the mind and the breath. I noticed a lot of acidity leaving my body and burping when I did this, but also a lot of relief. It was useful to find a meditation practice that is more than just sitting still, as it has such a beneficial effect on the posture
The Isha Institute was a tranquil retreat in the woods that offered a space to connect with others and relax, accompanied by a diet that was vegetarian and very healthy. I thought it was worth it to learn this new breathing and meditation technique, connect the breath to movement, and be more mindful of my breathing.
On the downside, I do think that Isha is a marketing machine and that Sadhguru is a self-proclaimed mystic/guru. He has lots of vacuous quotes and one-liners that people ascribe to. There are additional classes and numerous other techniques that can be learned. He offers certifications for each level one progresses. The construct is a great business for $600 for the weekend and similarly expensive courses. I wondered, how can this be a non-profit? I was a bit skeptical to continue after learning that he may have killed his wife who purportedly meditated so hard she left her body. I didn’t get this and found it tough to rectify internally that I was supporting an ethically questionable person.
Nevertheless, we departed feeling satisfied with the experience and vowed to maintain the practice throughout our road trip. As we left, we stopped to grab eggs at a diner and were chatting about the experience to the owners who said: “we heard of something like that down the road but not sure what it is”. Shows how little people get out of their houses in Middle America to take advantage of what’s right on their doorstep.