Here is a little bit about how Yoganand and Allison Gemmel Laframboise’s book came to be in this second excerpt from “Pranayama as a Path to Spiritual Freedom”. The book will be available this fall from amazon.com.
I had just returned from a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, where I was staying in an open-air pagoda in the rainforest. The property could only be reached by boat, and when the trusty captain of my little dinghy delivered me from the sea to the beach, all I saw was sand and forest. No people. No buildings. No signs of civilization anywhere, until my brother came running out of the wall of trees to greet me, barefoot and waving both arms overhead.
The place was such a reprieve from the rest of life. Neither cell phones nor land lines existed there. In a couple of days, my body was completely in sync with the rhythms of the day. Absorbing the sounds of the wild all around us, we practiced yoga and learned to paint from a Shamanic artist. At night, there were lectures about local botanical life-a fascinating topic, but the teacher’s style didn’t captivate me. So I snuck a half mile down the beach to a tiny family-run hotel with an outdoor bar and patio, where I learned to dance salsa and merengue.
Having just come from the most enlivening, exhilarating, liberating, rejuvenating experience of my life, the news that I was being fired felt like a slap in the face. The job that had been snatched from me was Director of Special Projects at a public health research company near Boston. I had begun working there as a research assistant immediately after college. When I first started, I filed endless piles of paper and entered countless fields of data, which taught me a lot about research design, but I wanted to do much more. I worked hard to move up through the company of 200 employees, holding six different positions before landing my final role as a director.
Having always been an overachieving people-pleaser, I experienced getting fired as the ultimate failure in life. Not to mention that it felt incredibly unjust. From my perspective, it was a gross misunderstanding that could have been cleared up with a simple conversation. I was livid. I was heartbroken. I was mortified and ashamed.
And I was elated.
The morning I got the axe, I had turned to my brother on my way to work and said, “I’m ready for a change.” I had started to feel stuck and uninspired in my job. Even though I loved the research topics, I felt as though we were spending exorbitant resources to maybe produce one or two findings that a handful of people might read in a scientific journal. I wanted to have an impact that I could see and feel firsthand.
Yet, I had been too comfortable to make a change on my own. I was making good money for a twenty-something, felt proud of my achievements, and was terrified to step out and try something new. Left to my own devices, I would have remained at that company for another decade. This was why, amidst my feelings of turmoil and chaos, part of me knew that this cosmic kick in the butt was exactly what I needed.
It was on that retreat in Costa Rica when I truly felt called to become a yoga teacher. Practicing yoga at least twice a day, free from my daily grind, I realized this practice needed to become a more integral part of my life. And I desperately wanted to share it with others. In fact, I felt responsible for doing so. I saw it as a way I could have that immediate influence I longed for, so different from the remote impact I might make in the research field.
Four years earlier, I had discovered Kripalu Yoga at a small studio in Brighton, Massachusetts, and this style of yoga resonated with me so deeply that I looked no further. My brother, after volunteering at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, told me, “If you go to Kripalu, you won’t come back.”
He was right. That fall after losing my job, I left Boston and headed to the Berkshires, where I began a 200-hour monthlong yoga teacher training (YTT) to become a Kripalu Yoga teacher.
I had no idea that I was about to begin a whole new life-meeting one man who would become my teacher, another who would become my husband, discovering the region that would become my new home, and incorporating my passions into a new career that would come to feel like my life’s true calling.
I confess that, when I signed up to become a yoga teacher, I didn’t want to take a training directed by Yoganand Michael Carroll, one of the YTT faculty members at the time. In fact, I tried hard to avoid him. I didn’t know a thing about him, but all of my yoga teachers up to then had been women. Studying with women, I felt deeply nurtured by an unspoken connection to the feminine divine. I longed for that connection as I stepped through the doorway from practitioner to teacher. But Yoganand was teaching the next training offered at Kripalu, and the one after that felt too far away from my window of opportunity. So, despite my hesitations, I went for it.
By the middle of the first session, I found myself utterly intrigued by Yoganand’s wisdom. “Yoga is not about being good. It’s about being real and whole,” he said. My mouth hung open. I had never heard such a concept within a spiritual tradition before, and it resonated with me deeply.
As the training continued, I became increasingly enthralled. Yoganand spoke of ancient and mysterious teachings in a way that I could apply to my own spiritual seeking. The content of these teachings resonated with me on a cellular level and a soul level as what felt like ultimate truth. I wanted to absorb it all-I couldn’t scribble notes fast enough to capture this life-giving wisdom. I thought to myself, “I really hope this man has written some material that I can pore over later.” Then I thought, “If he hasn’t, I want to help him write it.”
During the training, I approached Yoganand about the prospect of writing a book with him. He was pleasant in his response, but told me we should talk about it sometime after the training was over. He saw the realistic possibility that I was speaking from a grandiose place, drunk on yoga, and not necessarily grounded. I suspected he had been approached about such projects many times before.
I persisted. I attended a class that Yoganand held in Boston soon after my training and restated my strong desire to help translate his teachings into a more lasting form. Eventually, he agreed, and, three months after completing my 200-hour YTT, I moved to the Berkshires and spent the next two years with this book as my job. (It took another decade to fully complete the project, but that’s its own story.)
I cut back my living expenses tremendously, taught a few yoga classes to pay my bills, and sat at my computer for hours every day. Just as I had felt called to become a yoga teacher, I felt it my duty in this life to transfer Yoganand’s teachings onto paper.
As I immersed myself in the writing project, I continued advanced studies with Yoganand, diving headfirst into intensive retreats and teacher trainings. Under Yoganand’s direction, I completed my 500-hour yoga teacher training and began to assist in his programs regularly. Eventually I trained with Yoganand to codirect an advanced pranayama program with him.
In my studies with Yoganand, I have had a number of deeply humbling and profound experiences. During one intensive retreat, Yoganand guided our group of 26 yogis through many of the techniques described in this book, along with other advanced practices from Swami Kripalu. We did this all day for one week straight. The intention was to raise our energy to high-enough levels that the protective armor we had built over time would soften. Then, we were to practice observing what rose to the surface once our guard was down. Some of the techniques seemed a bit strange to me, and some felt wildly bizarre, but I trusted Yoganand wholeheartedly, so I continually recommitted myself to my yoga. Give yourself to the practice, I told myself over and over. Give yourself to the practice.
Early on in the retreat, I began to feel very vulnerable. Then I came down with a cold, which made me feel even weaker. I chose to stay with it. Give yourself to the practice. I continued through the week, following Yoganand’s guidance through yoga techniques that took me beyond my edge on many levels. I practiced watching, watching, watching my inner experiences unfold.
A number of times during the week, my thoughts returned to a letter I had received not long before: a rejection letter, telling me that an article I had submitted to a popular magazine had not been accepted. I couldn’t understand why this was sticking with me. I had known when I submitted the article that it was highly unlikely to be accepted, so why was the letter lingering in my awareness? I simply observed the experience and my questions surrounding it. “Interesting,” I thought. Each time thoughts of the letter arose, they would fade before long, and something else would float into my mind.
During the final Friday-morning session of the retreat, Yoganand led us through a meditation to help us integrate the experiences of the week. Again, the rejection letter came into my mind, and I noticed a looming sense of failure surrounding it. This time, instead of passing on to something different, my thoughts were quickly followed by memories of being fired from the research company and feeling like a failure then as well. This opened up feelings of shame and self-loathing, which reminded me of how I felt as a child as a result of being sexually abused. I watched and watched and watched all of these experiences, thoughts, and feelings-guilt, hurt, anger, inadequacy, shame, and an acute sense of failure.
Without allowing these experiences to consume me, I watched from a still place within me, a place that had been developed and strengthened through my yoga. As I watched, I realized in amazement that all of these experiences related to shame and failure were closely linked. It was as if a spider web that had been in shadow was now moved into the light, and I could see how every silken thread connected to another. Thoughts about that rejection letter had been haunting me so relentlessly not because the letter itself was such a blow, but because those thoughts were linked to other experiences in my life that were excruciatingly painful. It wasn’t that the old wounds were re-opened; rather, the fact that they had never fully healed was revealed to me.
After that final session, I left the retreat and spent the rest of the day alone. I wrote feverishly in my journal and spent time in nature. Sitting in the grass with those old wounds, I did nothing but simply acknowledge them. I had come to learn that sometimes acknowledging and witnessing my experience is far more powerful than analyzing, trying to figure it out or fix it. I was gentle with my pain and with myself. I made space for this internal storm of raw emotion to rage and then settle.
As challenging as it was to feel vulnerable and exposed to the pain of my old wounds, I felt an excitement and buzz from knowing I had done a significant piece of healing work during the retreat. I had gained tremendous clarity and self-knowledge, shining a floodlight on shadowy forces I didn’t even know had been holding me back. Now I could do whatever was needed to help them heal further.
It turned out that little more was needed at the time. I had done years of prior work on some of those issues. Now, simply observing, being with, and acknowledging was enough. I felt empowered by knowing that this self-growth had happened by activating my own energies. I felt tremendous growth in my ability to remain steady as an observer of these soul-rattling feelings-not being consumed or owned by them, but allowing them to move within me and stir me up as I watched, steadfast and calm. I felt the validation of choosing yoga as my spiritual path and deciding to pack my bags and move to the Berkshires. I felt affirmed in trusting my instincts to give myself to the practice. Once the storm settled, I felt lighter and freer. By simply being seen and lovingly acknowledged, my old wounds had lost some of their hold on me, and I was able to walk on having shed much of their weight.
This is one of many profound experiences I have had studying with Yoganand, and one of the defining moments that led me to write this book. I share my story here to demonstrate that the practice of yoga can be a powerfully transformative spiritual path. Yoganand, informed by Swami Kripalu, teaches yoga in a way that supports and cultivates this deeper transformation.
What I admire most about Yoganand is the depth of his practice, combined with his refreshing relatability. He lived as a renunciate monk for 15 years, and spent as many years as a devoted husband. To this day, he maintains a physically, emotionally and spiritually rigorous yoga practice. His diverse life experiences allow Yoganand to share esoteric teachings in a way that is accessible for those of us who have never lived renunciate lifestyles or practiced eight hours of yoga every day.
Yoganand found tremendous wisdom in Swami Kripalu’s teachings and has studied those teachings in great depth. He practices them in a deeply authentic way and then passes them on to other seekers. As his student, I appreciate the fact that he does not claim to have all the answers, but he generously shares the knowledge he has gained on his decades-long journey of exploring yoga.
Here I have gathered material from Yoganand’s trainings and lectures, as well as recorded conversations between the two of us, over endless hours in person and by phone. I’ve translated Yoganand’s verbal teachings into written word. It is my sincere hope that you will find inspiration and jewels of wisdom among these teachings that have profoundly informed my yoga and my life.
Allison Gemmel Laframboise is a Kripalu Yoga teacher who thrives on sharing drumming and yoga with others. With her husband, Shaun Laframboise, she leads retreats, drum circles, and workshops throughout the Northeast. Shaun and Allison are founders of Handsdown Productions and members of KDZ: The Kripalu Drummers, which plays at Kripalu YogaDance® sessions and performs as part of the Saturday-night concert series at Kripalu