I admit it… I freaked out. I woke up with about sixty red bumps on my feet and all I could think was that some bizarre Indian parasite had entered into the souls of my feet while walking around barefoot in a temple. That or leprosy. So I went to the health clinic near the ashram, where the doctor promptly dismissed me as having mosquito bites. Oops.
While leaving the clinic, I ran into a man I had seen before. Once, while coughing up a storm, an old man with wild white hair and a scraggly beard had run up to me in the street and screamed “Sun prana! What you need is sun prana! I learned ayurveda from a 300 year old man in a cave! Sit in the sun and breathe in the prana!” Only in India of course would this suggestion and situation seem both plausible and reasonable. I recognized him instantly this time as he ran up to me and shouted “You! Come, come!” and ushered me into an office inside of the clinic. Inside was an exam table and hundreds of copies of the Bhagavad Gita. He began to flip through the holy book to find passages that he shoved in front of me with a “Read this!” or “Here! Here!”
He looked at me with eyes that seemed to glow and said, “You have mucus behind your pituitary! Hold your head over steam for four minutes and then….HAAAWK!” He made an awful noise and a retching motion. “Practice!” An unlikely cure for mosquito bites, but I’m sure useful in the long run.
He explained that he was the head of the ayurvedic clinic at Parmarth Niketan. His name is Siddhi Yogi. A few different times a beggar would approach his office and he would break out into a monstrous demonstration of insanity, flailing his body and making high pitched squeals. When the beggar would back away and leave us alone, he would stop and continue on with the conversation like nothing unusual had occurred.
“Watch me! Watch my aura!” Every word was an intense command, and then he closed his eyes and began to do very heavy pranayama unlike what you might learn in your neighborhood yoga class. I could not see his aura, and told him so apologizing, but his eyes were like lightbulbs they were so bright. The conversation went to and fro so fast I could hardly keep up with him. This passage in the Bhagavad Gita, that pranayama, how the local sadhus were frauds and hash had no place in yogic culture (the smell of marijuana is common while walking among the local renunciate crowd), his guru, the practice of meditation, and on and on.
When he found out I was teaching Kundalini yoga and meditation at Parmarth Niketan, he said “Good! Good! Teach! Teach! No student of yoga ever becomes a terrorist.” Not exactly a benefit of yoga I had ever thought about, but it certainly feels true.
The conversation then spun to the true sound of “Om”, which he said most people completely mess up. “It is the sound of the universe, all creatures make this sound, calling home. Listen to the tigers, to the elephants, to the trees bending in the wind…they all make the same sound.” He demonstrated a breath that sounded like a very gutteral and less well enunciated “Auummm”. He told me that he takes care of sick tigers and elephants up in the mountains and that he can use mantra and pranayama to communicate with them, and listens to the change in their pranayama to indicate where the pain is in their body. As he was speaking about his work with animals, I was struck by how the tradition of ayurveda that he follows is so strikingly similar to the shamanic practices of Native America. The herbs are different and there are more asanas involved, but the system of using sound to communicate with animals and heal them is so connected.
Speaking with Siddhi Yogi is a treat. You never quite know what to expect. If you saw him on the street you might think he was just a beggar, but at Parmarth he runs a large ayurvedic clinic and is treated with great respect. You feel in him someone with great reverence for the old ways and a deep understanding of the connection of all life. He is a good teacher. I listen harder now. I listen to the breathing of the cows and the sound of the wind of the Ganga. I hear it in my own heartbeat. Wherever you are now, listen for it. In the animals, in the plants…listen for the sound of the universe that connects us all.