I was eleven years old when I watched Mark Spitz win his seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics. A nearly full-size poster of him in the red, white and blue speedo hung on my sister’s closet door. My father’s stopwatch was always nearby. We were a family of swimmers. Six AM and six PM daily practices were not to be missed. “Train hard, Swim fast, Win” was the prevailing philosophy in our home. Then one day in High School, a gym teacher held a yoga class and, for the first time, I experienced a non-competitive land activity that felt natural. I didn’t know why, but I made a note of it.
Later, as I was receiving a formal education, the “Win” philosophy became “Learn.” Math, Physics, Art, Foreign Language, Biochemistry, even Religion courses were offered and all were thrilling to me. But I noticed that most of my classmates seemed to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I did not. They only thing I knew for sure that I wanted to be when I grew up was wiser. And I began to doubt if any of this knowledge was getting me closer to that.
Grace dawned in my thirties; I met a Swami from the Himalayas. He touched my heart and it opened. I started to feel. He instructed me on a few basic things: posture, breath, food and japa meditation which made sense to me. He spoke to me about service to others and very gently pointed out some of my characters flaws that I didn’t want to admit to myself but knew I would have to address. He told me that the most important thing I could do was to be happy. Soon after he sent me on my way, my daughters were born and, coping with the hullabaloo of motherhood, the importance of Yoga Science and Philosophy became crystal clear.
Today, as I try to integrate what I think I know, I realize that swimming introduced me to the value of pratyahara and pranayama. Academia stirred an interest in the jnana yoga path. Family life gives me a direct experience with the karma and bhakti paths of yoga. Yogananda said “Everything else can wait, the search for God can not wait.” The best advice I can give my beautifully willful, stressed-out and frequently injured teenage girls these days is, “Practice, Study, Serve, and Surrender.” Then just keep going.