11/30/2010 02:12 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Yoga and the Inspiration of Poetry by Andrew Harvey and Karuna Erickson

O friend, understand.
The body is like the ocean, rich with hidden treasures.
Open your innermost chamber
And light its lamp,
Within the body are gardens,
Rare flowers, peacocks; the inner music;
Within the body a lake of bliss,
On it, the white soul-swans take their joy.

Like so many modern seekers who are looking for a direct experience of the Divine, beyond dogma and the exclusive claims of tradition, we have been profoundly inspired in our journey by the mystical poetry of the universal poets of humanity such as Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, St. John of the Cross, and Walt Whitman. Although some of these poets remain within the traditions that inspired them, all of their work resonates with a primordial and radiant knowledge that belongs to the whole of humanity, and speaks to it in the universal language of love.

What we have discovered, too, in our own deepening practice and teaching of Heart Yoga, is that reading the greatest mystical poetry during our yoga sessions has had three major transformative effects.

First, it enables us to identify the peace and joy we feel in our bodies as subtle evidence of the divine presence within. Secondly, when a poem is read in the depth of an asana, it tremendously increases the power of that asana to illumine our consciousness with gratitude, rapture, and devotion. Thirdly, we have seen that by threading the sequences we have created throughout Heart Yoga with great mystical poetry that describes the essential state these sequences are designed to create, their repeated practice is imbued with quietly astonishing initiatory powers.

Let us give you some examples of how poetry can inspire the teaching and practicing of yoga postures. Imagine hearing these words of Hafiz, while deep in Child's Pose.

Your body is my prayer carpet,
For I can see in your eyes
That you are exquisitely woven
With the finest silk and wool.

The body is experienced as the prayer carpet of the Divine, and the posture is practiced with a deepened sense of reverent devotion.

Visualize receiving these images from Kabir, while in a heart-opening posture.

Open the window to the west, and disappear into the air inside you.
Near your breastbone there is an open flower.
Drink the honey that is all around that flower.
Waves are coming in:
There is so much magnificence near the ocean!
Listen: Sound of big seashells! Sound of bells!
Kabir says Friend, listen, this is what I have to say:
The Guest I love is inside me!

The heart center opens with gratitude and joy to let in this light of inspiration.

While dropping into Savasana, deepen the experience by opening to this message from Rumi.

One matter, one energy, one Light, one Light-mind,
Endlessly emanating all things
One turning and burning diamond.
One, one, one.
Ground yourself, strip yourself down,
To blind loving silence.
Stay there, until you see
You are gazing at the Light
With its own ageless eyes.

While returning from Savasana, the body, mind, and heart can fully receive this image from Hafiz, and feel comforted and renewed.

In the morning, when I began to wake,
It happened again--
That feeling that You, Beloved,
Had stood over me all night
Keeping watch.
That feeling, that as soon as I began to stir
You put your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp
Inside my heart.

Much of the world's great mystical poetry celebrates the union of body and mind which we experience through yoga. This poetry can be directly received on a cellular level to transform and expand the experience of yoga practice. One of our deepest wishes for Heart Yoga is that it will encourage yoga students and teachers everywhere to use the astounding resources of mystical poetry. Inspirational poetry will help initiate yoga practitioners, in a simple and luminous way, into the ancient truth and power of yoga.

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