Body & Soul

More and more South Floridians have taken up yoga for exercise, but relatively few explore its spiritual underpinnings

A memento of his time there, a large, wood-grained "Master of Yoga" plaque hangs in his chiropractic office behind the Gateway Shopping Center. He painted the walls a tranquil bluish-green to remind him of the shade of Bahamian waters.

Now a chiropractor, Rogers is practicing karma yoga, the yoga of good deeds. His pay-what-you-can fee structure doesn't earn him much money, but Rogers, a tall, avuncular man with an easy grin, doesn't complain. He likes to help people.

Many of his clients are local yoga instructors or students; those who aren't are quickly, though gently, reminded of the benefits of the practice. They don't have to go far; a yoga studio stands next door. He has seen the benefits of yoga in his clients, but as a long-time student and sometime teacher, he is also mindful of its greater purpose.

Poseurs, beware: Yogi Hari insists yoga is more than a physical practice
Joshua Prezant
Poseurs, beware: Yogi Hari insists yoga is more than a physical practice

"The goal of yoga is to realize the truth, your union with God," he says. "And this God realization is pure peace and bliss; there's no separation. You are one with everything; the stars are like your skin."

Then Rogers pauses a beat and adds the caveat that many Western yoga students would rather omit: "But there's a very high price, and that is your ego. No one wants to give that up. The price you have to pay is you give up your individuality."

Rogers was drawn to yoga for spiritual reasons, but he is practical enough to know that this is not the case for all, or even most. "A woman gets to be 25, 35 years old, she gets a little big on the hips," he chuckles. "If you keep up the practice of asana, the diet changes, you don't have the usual cravings. You just gravitate towards green foods. It just happens; it happens slowly. What happens is you slowly realize that this body is the temple of God."

He laughs mischievously: "Slowly, slowly, you get to shove God down their throat!"

Or not. "It doesn't matter," Rogers says evenly. Though he has experienced the rigors of ashram life and the traditions it entails, he doesn't insist such devotion is the only way. If yoga is about oneness, it is likewise all-inclusive.

"Everybody can benefit from the practice of a yoga class, Even if it's some Westernized yoga-robics, maybe it will spark something," he says hopefully. "Maybe it will plant a seed."

At Yogi Hari's house, the late-afternoon sun is slanting sideways through the windows. One student unhinges her legs and shakes them out, fighting numbness.

Hari leads his students in an English-language chant about ananda (bliss):

From joy I came

In joy I live

In blissful joy I melt again.

At the end of the chant, students are smiling. Yogi Hari trains his gaze at a spot above their heads. His face softens to a grin, then turns serious again. "If you never heard that, you must believe. Do you believe that?" he asks.

A few meekly answer yes.

"Did you come from joy?" he exhorts them, his eyes widening with a smile, "or did you come from monkey?" He chuckles. If yoga has been stripped of its spiritual elements, so has daily life. "We don't want to hear about God," Hari complains. "We take God out of the schools. We're moving away from the truth. There's nothing wrong with talking about God in school."

Likewise, in contrast to most local yoga teachers, Hari is not afraid of speaking of gurus. "Guru means he who will remove your dullness and ignorance. Now, tell me what is wrong with that? You need that teacher," he insists. "You cannot have anything without a guru."

However, Hari does not advocate the active seeking of a guru, but rather relies on the yogic maxim, "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears." In order to prepare for that, he says, the would-be disciple must cultivate a state of dispassion, associate with people who are positive influences, and exhibit a longing for liberation and a desire to know the truth.

Hari closes by encouraging his students to buy his CDs, audio- and videotapes, and posters of him performing "perfect" asanas. "One more commercial:" he adds, self-mockingly, "Sign up for teacher training."

Students line up to thumb through the videotapes, and many of them whip out plastic to take advantage of a one-day-only 15 percent discount on a full set of tapes. Hari wanders around the room, hugging each of them and asking why they've stayed away so long -- and what they bought. It is shameless commerce; after all, Hari is hoping to purchase a seven-acre tract of land in Miramar to build a new ashram and is facing a likely split from his wife, Leela, who is currently studying ayurveda, a holistic system of medicine, in India.

When the students have gone, he sits on the floor by the sliding glass door, the light glinting off the white satin robe he put on before his talk. The red tassel on the mala beads around his neck accents the crimson swoosh on the ankle of his Nike socks. It has been a long day; scheduled to last until 3 p.m., the program did not even begin to wind down till after 3:30. Now, the magenta numbers on the small digital alarm clock near his shrine blink past five o'clock.

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