Yesterday morning I headed up to Union Square. Slushy weather and train delays didn’t help the trip, and I began my meditation practice a bit early as I tried to let the irritable thoughts float up and away.
9:35 was still a fine time to arrive, it turns out. I settled onto a bolster and blanket in the middle of the large, elegant room. Plain white walls and smooth dark floors led up to a colorfully preserved door frame, in front of which sat a beaming Alan Finger.
One of NYC / LA’s most well-known teachers, Alan is the co-founder of ISHTA here in New York. (ISHTA stands for Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda.) He studied with Paramahansa Yogananda (author of the pivotal Autobiography of a Yogi), Swami Nishraisananda (a scientist turned yogi), Swami Venkatesananda (a student of Sivananda), and Shuddhanand Bharati (a Tantric master). He also founded/co-founded YogaZone, Be Yoga, and YogaWorks. I’d seen Alan on the screen, in the yoga documentary Enlighten Up! He’s just as funny and enjoyable in person.
Alan started off with a self-described “sales pitch” on the benefits of yoga, specifically the ISHTA sequence for meditation he was going to teach us. Yes, alternate nostril breathing seems simple and boring, but it really works! Yes, you have to practice every day. But if you do, this sequence will take you to transcendence in just about… 11 or 12 years. (You can practice every morning from 4–7am, like Alan did, if you want to shave a few years off.)
So. The ISHTA meditation sequence. The “Ishta Diksa.” It has five parts:
- Pre-meditative Asana (to stretch out the stiffness, “instead of trying to OM it away”)
- Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing — just 4 rounds, eventually maybe 8)
- Hum Sa Kriya (inhaling Hum up to the mid-brain, exhaling Sa down to the base of the spine, visualizing a white ball of light tracing the path)
- Ajna Bedhana (lick your finger and wet the center of the forehead, to “pierce” the third eye… meditate there for 18 minutes)
- Mantras (to ground the energy, a few repetitions of each of these mantras)
We were fairly close together in the large room, but it was fine for the simple warm up sequences of Cat-Cow, Cobra, Child’s Pose, etc. I managed the whole thing in cords and a sweater; you don’t really even need a mat. The breathing exercises, the kriya, and the meditation brought tingles up my spine. Alan walked around doing Shaktipat (raising kundalini energy, usually by holding a hand gesture near the student), and the tingles intensified like the teeth of a comb running up my scalp and flying out the crown of my head.
We grounded ourselves (brought the energy out of our heads, and back down towards the earth) with the mantras and a few more poses. The mantras were complicated — I was absorbed just trying to match the hand gestures — and I didn’t want to do any more asana, but I had to admit I felt more settled and less spacey afterwards. (He made us do wall sits! I haven’t done that since early morning crew practice.)
I was tickled and touched by the experience, and happy to have another spot of inspiration to support my meditation attempts. Thank you Alan!