The words of Eknath Easwaran in his forward to the introduction and translation of The Upanishads sum up my feelings about many of my experiences over the last decade. Easwaran says, “There are always a few who are not content to spend their lives indoors. Simply knowing there is something unknown beyond their reach makes them actively restless.
The first time that I ever went to a yoga class, it was at a gym. There was nothing mystical about it. The overhead florescent lights were on the entire time, there was not any music playing, there were no candles, the teacher didn’t use Sanskrit names for any of the poses, and there wasn’t any chanting. It was completely Americanized and homogenized, yet something in my soul whispered, “Pay attention.”
Even in that first class, I understood that I was encountering a practice that was at once ancient and modern, sacred and practical. For the first time in my adult life, I felt the absence of tension, mental chatter and stress. I felt complete. I felt comfortable. I felt like I was home. Going deeply inward, connecting with my breath, I experienced even in that first yoga class a moving meditation of sorts - the kind of mind-body connection that I had read about. I was hooked.
It was my interest in, respect for, and possibly obsession with yoga that eventually led my new husband and I to travel to India to seek a baby blessing as a last shot effort to conceive from the Hugging Saint, known more commonly the world over as Amma (Mother). We had been introduced to Amma in the summer of 2014 and that same fall, I found myself with time on my hands, so a journey to her ashram in southern India seemed suddenly possible.
I had endured an ectopic pregnancy, and two miscarriages and I was already 40, so time was running out for me. My husband, 57, didn’t want to adopt. This felt like my last chance. This pilgrimage, this quest for a miracle was what I considered to be my last shot at motherhood.
I was already a yoga teacher, so taking a trip to India to meet an actual Guru and ask for a mantra and a baby blessing seemed like a completely reasonable thing to do. Part of my training included a year studying Hatha Yoga with the formidable Deepak Chopra at the world-renowned Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. I was teaching yoga part time, but had a fulltime marketing job that paid the bills. I inhabited simultaneously - the corporate world, and the spiritual world of yoga.
In mid-February, 2015 my husband Paul and I made the pilgrimage from Redding, Connecticut to Trivandrum, India immediately following a trip out to L.A. and the GRAMMY’s where Paul had been nominated for an album called Bhakti. We arrived at the ashram on Shivaratri, an important Hindu festival where ardent devotees stay awake all night signing and chanting to Shiva. Amma would be serving lunch to thousands that day and the ashram was very crowded.
After a few days at the ashram, and after receiving mantras, we learned that Amma would be leaving to go on a north Indian tour, so we made some other arrangements and moved to more comfortable accommodations, making some plans to meet up with GRAMMY friends living in Bengaluru. We traveled back into the ashram on a Saturday, the last day that Amma would be giving darshan before her Indian tour.
We arrived at the ashram early by taxi. Thousands of people were there already due to a graduating class of doctors from one of Amma’s universities who would be receiving diplomas from her directly. Our darshan token number was fairly low, but even still, we knew that it was going to be a long day.
By 5:00 that afternoon, we had eaten, made new friends, walked all around the ashram and over to the beach, meditated, and chanted the 1,000 names of the Divine Mother, all while Amma gave darshan on stage for hours and hours without a break.
We were anxious to go up and ask for our baby blessing, but the Indian man managing the line on the men’s side of the stage would not let us get in line even when we explained that we were no longer staying at the ashram and needed to travel back to our hotel that evening.
Paul pleaded our case on the women’s side, but they couldn’t let married couples go up on that side. It just wasn’t ashram etiquette. The line monitors were taking their jobs as seriously as security details at a rock concert, and they seemed completely indifferent to our situation.
Paul was on one knee in front of the women’s line monitor literally begging for mercy, while I stood next to him hopelessly starting to think that this just wasn’t going to happen. A feeling of disappointment was starting to descend upon me.
The day was rapidly disappearing, and we needed to leave the ashram soon to make the trek back to our hotel. The later it got, the less likely we would even be able to get a cab back to our hotel and the last train back was only a couple of hours away. If we got in line at that very moment, we would only just make it.
Suddenly, a petite, but stern looking woman with a German-sounding accent and shoulder-length gray hair appeared out of nowhere right next to me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“We need to leave the ashram soon, and no one will let us get in line for darshan. We want to ask Amma for a baby blessing.”
“Come with me,” she said as she marched us back over to the men’s side of the stage. Facing down the male line monitor who looked intimidated, she spoke.
“They’re coming with me.”
This woman was obviously someone important, a force to be reckoned with. The man held up his hands in surrender and backed away. He clearly had no intention of challenging her.
We were then marched to the very front of the line, and deposited directly in front of Amma, with only a couple of people in front of us. In just a few moments we would be able to ask for our blessing. The Swami attending Amma and helping with translations noticed us joining the front of the line and started to move towards us to enquire as to what we were doing, and then saw the small, but powerful woman escorting us. He then immediately nodded at her in silent understanding. Clearly, she was someone very important to the ashram and Amma’s inner circle, with the authority to move people to the front of the line at her discretion.
I turned to our savior and said, “Thank so much you for helping us. It means the world to me to get the opportunity to have this last darshan here in Amma’s ashram before we leave. We’re going to ask Amma for a baby blessing. I’m Jen, and this is Paul. What’s your name?”
“Prana,” she said with a smile.
“Of course it is,” I laughed. Prana of course being the Sanskrit word for ‘life force’. This tiny woman was definitely a force to be reckoned with.
“Where do you live?” Prana enquired.
“Close to New York, in Connecticut.”
“I run Amma’s kitchen here, and on the tours. I’ve been with Amma for almost 30 years since I came here from Austria. I raised my children here. Come and find me in the kitchen at the New York program.”
Now I understood Prana’s power. No one would want to mess with the woman who was in charge of running the kitchen, and feeding so many people on a daily basis. The expression, ‘don’t shit where you eat’ came to mind.
“We will, thank you.”
“You know, the Westerners that ask for a baby blessing usually end up with baby girls, and the Indians usually get boys. I don’t know why, but that’s what usually happens,” Prana explained.
I smiled at this information, and filed it away for later. We were aware that we weren’t the first or last people who would ask Amma for a baby blessing. There were hundreds if not thousands of children that had been born or adopted because of Amma’s Sankalpa, or divine intention.
Paul and I both hugged Prana, and I kissed her on the cheek. And then she disappeared as quickly as she had appeared. It was all Amma’s leela or play, and Her grace that Prana had appeared at exactly the right moment in order to help us. It was no coincidence that Prana had come to our aid.
Being this close to Amma felt dizzying. The energy and activity was a bit overwhelming, but the system of handling people and moving the line forward was quite organized.
Live musicians and singers were chanting and singing, sitting on the floor in front of the stage, in the center of the two chair lines. Long-time devotees and Swamis surrounded Amma, occasionally conferring with Her on her right side on various matters in the native Malayalam language. Other volunteers and devotees were in front of Amma, helping to move the line, assist people, answer questions, provide tissues, and occasionally translate as needed. There were three devotees on Her left performing prasad, or blessed offering seva. Each person that was hugged was then given a Hersey’s Kiss and a rose petal. The Indian devotees also received a packed of sacred ash. I watched all of this with utter fascination.
We had asked the translator what we should say to Amma to request a baby blessing.
“Just say, Amma baby,” the male devotee dressed in all white replied. “She will understand.”
Within moments we were kneeling in front of Amma, and together we said, “Amma, baby!”
Amma paused for split second, and considered us, looking more at Paul than me, as if to say, “Are you sure?” Paul still had some lingering anxiety and apprehension about becoming a father again, but here he was on his knees beside me in Southern India in front of the Divine Mother asking for a baby blessing.
Amma smiled then, and showered us with handfuls of rose petals. She embraced Paul first and murmured into his ear. Then she embraced me, murmuring into my ear.
“My daughter, my daughter, my daughter.” There was an intoxicating scent of roses. I felt bliss like I had not known before, and I wanted to stay in her arms forever. She then pulled back, and swiped Her hand over my womb, just lightly touching me.
Then, she embraced both of us together, wrapping her arms around our necks, as if connecting a circuit. She then pulled back and handed Paul, who was now weeping, an apple as prasad. We prostrated at Her feet.
We knew then that Her answer was a resounding “Yes.” We ate our apple together on the beach as the waves of the Arabian Sea crashed up onto the rocky shore. Three months later, we were pregnant with a little girl just as Prana had predicted. She was born in 2016 on the same day of the month as Amma herself.