The Purpose of Fitness and Fitness of Purpose: A Yogic Perspective


"This life is not for enjoying sense gratification. It is for realizing God." – Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

My Aunt Nancy is 78 years old. Two years ago she developed PSP, a degenerative cousin to Parkinson’s disease.

At first her loved ones thought she had had a stroke, because her facial muscles became lax and her affect was slow-mo and slurred. PSP causes its prey to lose balance and control over body muscles, including a diminished ability to formulate words. The shoulders and torso of its victims freeze, leaving them unable to move about or care for themselves. PSP has been known to cause depression and induce extreme fear into its hosts, as their minds stay sharp and keen but their ability to participate in any of life’s functions becomes paralyzed. Nancy was no exception.

A year and a half ago, though, she began practicing Kundalini Yoga and Meditation two times a week with me. We would shuffle into the activity room at Walker Tree Top Residence and just go to it. Sometimes my mom or my student Bob or another teacher would also practice with us. At first Nancy kept up with everyone else and we had quite a good physical workout. However, the disease continued to affect Nancy’s ability to keep her balance, and after about six months together I had to "shadow" her in the execution of any standing poses. Group classes became impossible, so Aunt Nancy and I began working together privately. This was a challenge for me. PSP certainly seemed like a formidable foe and we were forced to respect it.

The whole ordeal also made my mom sad for Nancy.

And then subtly, not suddenly, as Nancy became less and less able to formulate words for casual conversation, she became increasingly able to articulate all the sounds necessary for chanting.

Inspired by a kriya (sequence of exercises for a specific result) from Yogi Bhajan’s teachings where we chant "har-har-har-har-har-har-har-hari!" as we slap the ground, we began to chant the Holy Name "Sa Ta Na Ma" in tandem with our spinal flex and shoulder shrug exercises. Then we sang "Om mani padme hum," with Sat Purkh’s CD Nectar of the Name during life nerve stretch and "Wahe Guru Wahe Jio" during side twists. We chanted in baby pose with our faces in the mat, we chanted looking at our knees in downward facing dog and we chanted while looking at the ceiling on our backs in corpse pose. Mom joined the class again and she and Nancy chanted the Christian "Kyrie Eleison" in harmony, and we chanted "aum" in rounds till we got silly.

We were also delighted to see that the dynamic rhythm of Kundalini Yoga exercises was making Aunt Nancy’s torso and shoulders looser. Practicing Nhabi Kriya, a set of exercises that demands participation from the third chakra, accessed her core strength and improved her balance. Mom, no longer sad for her sister, became happier, too. Each time the disease caused a slackening of Nancy’s physical abilities, up stepped Kundalini Yoga to help strengthen her spiritual abilities. Her chakras were strong when her muscles were not, and she began to get a continuous Vein of Gold from Source, rather than from self-will or muscular activity. Her inner light, her calm and her connection with Christ deepened as did her ability to relax, meditate and maintain this relationship with Source.

Recently, it was noted that the progression of PSP in Nancy has yielded by at least a third compared to similar patients. More importantly to us, though, is that Nancy’s humor is good; she radiates love and she is at peace.


Nancy’s life purpose as a beacon of light and merriment and of chanting the Holy Name has been revealed by the practice of Yoga. It has given her Fitness of Purpose.

Each of us has a purpose in this incarnation. The Yoga Path can help us realize this and and help us separate our Divine Destiny from our egos, self-will and karmic grooves.

My understanding is that Yoga first came from the Hindu religion as a means of liberation from the karmic patterns of many lifetimes, which keep us engrossed in the material world and mindlessly following our desires. Patanjali was a sage who delineated Yoga for the world in the Yoga Sutras. As a result, many yogis follow the sacred scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita the Sikh’s Guru Granth Sahib. And even though the "whys" and the "wherefores" of Yoga have gained new definition in the varying streams of knowledge as passed down by the swamis and gurus of the ages, and even though its concepts and principles have transmuted even more as we Westerners have adapted the teachings for our own consumption, the result remains.

Traditionally, there are eight limbs or expressions of yoga ranging from "Jhana Yoga" (the Yoga of Knowledge) to "Raj Yoga" (the Yoga of the highest exaltation).

Of those limbs, I am a "Bhakti Yogi." That is the path of deep devotion. I am also a "Karma Yogi." That is the path of selfless service. I see many Christians, such as neighborhood philanthropist Joe Selvaggio – who dedicates his life to ensuring that people of need have a chance at becoming people of means – who are Karma Yogis. Joe also is a Bhakti Yogi. (I know this not because he used to be a Catholic priest, but because one day when I was helping him in his office and his printer jammed, he blessed it and it worked again. Only someone with deep devotion can be that immediately effective, I thought as I pulled the envelope out of the base of the machine.)

I know folks of many faiths who are both Bhakti Yogis and Karma Yogis who have never formally practiced yoga asanas (postures) and many folks who practice asanas, but haven’t a clue as to the deeper purpose of a yogic lifestyle.


In this world today, the problem is power: lack of power to fuel our vehicles and run our countries, lack of personal power and too much power of some over others. Who indeed wants to live in this world without power? So the practice of yoga gives us power. Mom and I saw it with our own eyes in Aunt Nancy’s miracle. But without a spiritual system, that unchecked power combined with our egos can be like a live fire hose sans the fire fighter, spraying and splaying all over the place causing lots of damage.

A spiritual system might look like a 12-step recovery group where people become freed from their obsession to drink, overeat, gamble or whatever by community support and by applying the 12 Steps to their lives. In that system, they examine the mistakes they have made, clean up their mistakes, and continue to live in an orderly fashion, never resting "on their spiritual laurels" by carrying that message of spiritual recovery to others.

Similarly, in the Hare Krishna yoga paradigm the same is true in theory, as explained by Swami Prabhupada in his text, A Second Chance: "We…incorporate into our lives a program of self-examination and steady inner growth, based on spiritual strength and clarity of thought…. The transcendental potency necessary for developing complete psychological and spiritual fulfillment is already present within everyone. It must, however, be uncovered by a genuine spiritual process."

"Chanting is the wings on my prayer." – Suzanne Nystrom


In the 12-step spiritual system, prayer and meditation are crucial for freedom from karmic patterns. For many on the Yogic path, meditation on the Name of God is also instrumental in attaining freedom. While Prabhupada says that, "…meditation on the Hare Krishna mantra is the most powerful," my friend Krishna Singh on a Yahoo Kundalini Yoga Loop says, "Meditating on Wahe Guru is like moving into a new apartment and having the water turned on. All you have to do is go and turn on the tap, and there is water. And all I ever have to do is ask, and there also is Wahe Guru."

And Kundalini Kirtan vocalist Snatam Kaur (©2004) sings these glorious words one one of her CDs: "Allah…Jehovah…Rama…Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. It’s by Thy Grace that I sing your Holy Name. Someday the day will come / all the glory will be thine / people will say it is yours’s / and I shall reply / not mine."

Once in Jamaica when my husband and I were walking home from a support group where the conversation had been about the identity of God, these songs lyrics (© Megel Richards 2005) came to him: "Some say Allah / Some say Krishna / Some Say Buddha / Whatever, wherever, whoever / God is ever."

I have been told that the Sikhs have 8,000 names of God.

Swami Veda Bharati, who monitors a worldwide full-moon meditation practice [[email protected]] offers over 11 names of God from as many traditions from which one may choose during that hour, ranging from the Himalayan tradition ("so-ham") to the Jainas ("Om hreem") to the Christian ("Jesus," "Yeshu" or "Maranatha"). My husband reminded me recently while we were driving and I was chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare" that Swami Veda Bharati had forgotten a sect from his full moon meditation list: the Rastafarians. Without missing a beat, we chanted together: "Jah Jah Rasta, Jah Jah Rasta, Rasta Rasta, Jah Rastafari!"

But by any name, one very important concept of Yoga written about by Swami Prabhupada and by Paramahansa Yogananda is that our mentality at the time of death is ever important, because what we are thinking of at that time will carry us to our next incarnation. Hare Krishna devotees chant the name of Krisna to imbue their hearts and consciousness with thoughts of Him. Devotees of Yogananda hold the thought of Christ and Krishna in silent meditation and also use devotional chanting to align with the higher vibe so that when they die they will reincarnate at the highest level possible.

Constant chanting of the Holy Name can help us keep our consciousness at the Christ level. It can help us so that we are looking for answers to life’s problems and looking for love in all the right places. Inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, I recently wrote this poem:

When You’re Tired

Been looking for love in too many faces?

Then talk to me and I’ll take you places

outside of the world of right and wrong

and into the realm of the Beloved’s Song

The thirst for affection can never be sated

by imperfect love of mortals when fated

to continue the karma of longing and lust

and who always return again back to dust

We leave the world in an embittered state

of unrequited love and then reincarnate

again and again till we recognize

the Perfect Lover in each other’s eyes

When you do, you can love others more deeply and true

without trying to see what’s in it for you

It’s a new way of being, it’s pure and clean;

if you like, come with me and see what I mean

This path is the yoga and deep meditation

it’s really a daily cosmic vacation;

when you’re tired of looking love everywhere

try a new place, and I’ll take you there. – Gaia Richards © 2007

However we define our path or articulate the Name of our Creator, the result of yoga is, in Swami Prabhupada’s words, "complete God realization and pure love of God." Now, who wouldn’t want to be Fit for that Purpose?

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