Reflections on the Four Paths of Yoga, Part III: Gyan Yoga

My teachers at Arhanta Ashram defined Gyan Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge) as the use of true knowledge acquired from reliable sources to increase awareness, reduce ego and ultimately achieve spiritual liberation. Dr. Jayadeva Yogendra, son of the founder of The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, India and now its President, remains my most reliable source for the true knowledge of yoga.

I was not personally close to Dr. Jayadeva during my tenure as a student and teacher at The Yoga Institute. In fact, I was intimidated by him and observed him from a distance. But his complete embodiment of yogic ideals imbued his pithy lectures with deep meaning that I took to heart.

I can clearly picture him sitting, legs crossed, on the elevated platform at the front of the lecture hall. As always, he is dressed in a simple loose tunic and baggy drawstring pants made of white cotton. His white plastic flip flops are stationed in their usual resting place outside the door.

Students sit on the floor on thin woven mats made of a synthetic fiber, men on one side, women on the other. Elderly people occupy a few chairs in the back. The big windows and doors are open. Ceiling fans take the edge off the heat.

Dr. Jayadeva’s Parkinson’s is advancing. His head hangs down toward his chest. His speech is hard to understand. With great effort he brings the microphone to his mouth and lifts his head slightly to speak. The most eager crane their heads forward to catch his words. “We humans always think about what’s going wrong. Think about the 99% of things that are going right.”

The microphone falls to his side. His head drops back towards his chest. He begins a slow ascent to his feet. Students scramble to attention, standing with palms pressed together at their hearts. We stand that way, with our palms together and our heads bowed, as he makes his way to the door, slips on the white plastic flip flops and begins his slow and deliberate walk back to his simple home across the courtyard. Today’s lecture is over.

I left that day with a life-changing homework assignment: To define myself by the assets I have, rather than the challenges I’ve faced. To stop living in fear of everything that might go wrong and trust that I’m strong enough to face what comes.