Sahaja Yoga follows the Indian system of mapping the energy flow in the body through nadis or channels. According to this theory, prana or vital energy enters our body through the three channels of ida, pingala and the sushumna, which run alongside the spinal cord. Ida or the moon channel is on the left, pingala or the sun channel is on the right and sushumna is the central channel. According to Nirmala Devi, when the foetus is two to three months old, a column of rays of consciousness from the Higher Power passes through the developing brain to enlighten it, which gets refracted, into these channels. Entering through the fontanelle bone (the seat of the sahasrara chakra), the energy passes into the medulla oblongata where it leaves a thread-like line and settles at the base of the spine in three-and a-half coils. This is the kundalini. On its way down, the rays activate six more centers, adding up to the principle seven chakras running along the spine, regulating the activities of adjacent organs. The right-hand side of the body is governed by the pingala, the activity center of the body, creating the ego (equivalent to the left brain). The left-hand side is governed by the ida and is the seat of the subconscious (right brain).
When the kundalini is awakened, which Mataji says can be done by anyone whose own kundalini has been awakened, it heals and balances the over activity of the right and left sides. "In Sahaja Yoga our dormant spirituality is awakened to achieve true meditation. We are completely alert, yet our thoughts are slowed down and the mind is silent. Our hearts are full of joy and love but we are emotionally detached from what is going on around us."
I walk into a center at Napean Sea Road, Mumbai, India, run by Willy. Today, she is absent, and a young Angana Shroff puts us through our paces. The 20-odd meditators are affluent, relatively young and predominantly women. Angana came in contact with Sahaja Yoga through Willy three years ago. Says she: "I realize now that it is not what happens to you but your perspective that really matters. I'm far more aware of my actions, personality and ego." Adds Grishma Dattani: "You know what is appropriate and what is not. Surrendering to Mataji has saved me from all fears."
Sameer Desai, a young stockbroker, was suffering from recurring high fever when he came in contact with Sahaja Yoga. "After Willy raised my kundalini, I had no fever for the next three days." Now fully recovered, he also claims to be more composed.
The Sahaja Yoga brochure says: "Through Sahaja Yoga meditations, blocks of the subtle body are released, cleansing the chakras and channels. This practice can be regarded as a sophisticated internal biofeedback process which demystifies stress, improves health and heals the harried nervous system."
The organization has opened a hospital in Belapur, in New Mumbai, called the Sahaja Yoga Research and Health Center that only treats ailments with Sahaja Yoga. Set amidst lush green lawns and singing birds, the three-storeyed structure has a serene charm. Inside, I meet Dr Hule, an allopath who converted to Sahaja Yoga when he found that a patient who was also practicing yoga healed much faster than others did. Dr Hule claims to have cured thousands of asthma and bronchitis patients. Other diseases receptive to this healing include diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, migraines, insomnia. Steeping the foot in warm salted water to dissipate negative energy and the application of ice on the heat-congested chakras are some other treatments.
Hari Prakash, a software engineer from Hyderabad, has been at the Center for the last two months. He says: "I was feeling lethargic and so weak that I could not work. I'm much better now. My blood pressure and sinus problem are also under control."
Jenny Cook, a care assistant for the learning disabled in the UK, is here to treat depression after an operation to remove her right ovary. "I feel much happier now," she says.
So Sahaja Yoga helps its practitioners. But how do you contend with their assertion that it's the only way to self-realization? One may add that they are hardly the first organization to make that claim. Moreover, Mataji is unusually emphatic in denouncing most spiritual leaders as frauds.
According to Willy: "Sahaja Yoga is the only way which gives enlightenment first and then works its way backwards. The other way, you may not be liberated for lifetimes; with Sahaja Yoga you are likely to be so within one lifetime itself."