The Four Stages of Yoga is an anthology of stories and conversations that encompass the journey yogis take from birth to the last moments of life. Though yoga philosophy has been around far longer than most realize, the deeper nuances of its effects on our own lives is revealed in this modern day expose. Here, we see how Vedic India’s classic Four Ashrams of Life are experienced in the context of a yoga community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Just as Vedic myths have been carried down through eons to entertain and enlighten us, the true stories and visions encompassed herein speak to the very heart of living yoga in an everyday world. The first stage includes stories of childbirth and how yogis can draw a spiritual soul into their family, to rites of passage for children, and how yogic schools for young adults help instill and deepen compassion. During the creation of a unique yoga college come stories of visits with the Dalai Lama at his home in McLeod Ganj, as well as experiences with yogis, rishis, and mystics throughout India.
In the second stage of life we explore how householder relationships evolve; conscious work for those with monastic tendencies; how Vedic astrology can assist our lives as well as how yogis approach love, romance, and celibacy; and the mysticism that surrounds a yogic marriage ritual.
In the third stage we are introduced to how yogic couples, singles, and monastics are living their lives in creative new ways. We read stories of how yogis develop devotion, personal experiences with great souls like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and how married couples and singles can live more fulfilling lives.
The fourth stage offers reports of those embracing the Vedic sannyas vows, and how they live their lives during this remarkable and powerful stage of surrender and transcendence. Conversations with rishis, yogic psychics, and those experiencing this cycle provide a lens that offers hope and satisfaction for the last stages of life, and the final preparation for death and the afterlife.
Foreword, by Vanamali Devi
“The Student” Birth to Age 24
1. The Student
2. Calling the Child
3. How Toddlers Teach Us
4. Yogic Schools for Youth
5. Girls’ Rites
6. Boys’ Rites
7. Ingrid’s Message
8. When the Buddha Plays
9. When the Buddha Speaks
“The Householder” Age: 24–48
Illustration: The Land Between Two Rivers
10. The Householder
11. Gita’s Way
12. How Couples Become
13. Family Yoga
14. Brahmachari Aditya
16. The Veil
“The Forest Dweller” Age: 48–72
18. The Forest Dweller
19. Wands of the Devas
20. Wild Things Are
21. Finding God in Nature
22. Brother Craig
23. Yogic Healing
“The Sannyasi” Age: 72–120
24. The Sannyasi
25. Mother Teresa
26. Yogis in Transition
27. Con Te Partiro
28. The Rich
Illustration: Heavenly Abodes & Astral Planes
29. Death and the Astral Planes
Epilogue: Two Bears Crossing
About the Author
I was swimming in a lake on the Olympic Peninsula. It was summer, I was seven, and since the lake was about sixty feet deep, I was using an inner tube to stay afloat. I enjoyed being in the water and was having a pleasant time, so when I began to drift into deeper water there was no one around to observe me.
Noticing how far I was from land, I began to kick my feet within the inner tube hoping to get nearer to the shore. In my panic, the inner tube somehow came loose, and popped away fro me, as inner tubes are known to do. I struggled to reach it. The combination of my fear and dog paddling could not catch it, so it drifted further away. The more I moved toward it, the quicker it seemed to escape.
I was now in very deep water. I could feel how much colder it was than the shallow water. Not having good swim strokes yet, I began to call out, but no one could hear me. My voice sounded tiny and the swimming dock seemed miles away. As I struggled to breathe and kick, my strength slowly ran out. Soon, my body went up and down, and I began to gasp both water and air.
I felt helpless. Each time I went down under the water, I became weaker and more scared. This continued for a while. My energy was leaving me. Finally, I began to sink farther down into the lake, and I could actually see the deep green water before my eyes. I remembered experiencing immense fear and panic.
As I sank deeper, I began to realize that I was dying. Further and further I sank. At some point, my mind accepted the fact of my death and I let go. I am dying, my mind repeated. Then, something unusual happened. The more I accepted my death, the more the fear began to leave me.
I was dying, and this was my journey. Since there was no longer anything to hang on to I began to embrace my death. Next, everything became exceedingly peaceful and calm, and there was a warm golden light that enveloped me. This field of light was so comforting and calming that I entered a state of bliss I cannot describe. I felt myself moving very quickly through light. The sounds I could hear were not external at all, but something I’d never experienced before.
There was no sense of time or space. I felt as though I’d been floating in this state for eons, thousands of hours, hundreds of years—or perhaps just seconds. The timelessness I experienced was so compelling that I instantly forgot about my earth life, my family, everything. I remember thinking I love this place! I don’t ever want to leave!
How long this went on, I could not say. I learned later that my family, thinking I had already left the swimming area, had left too, and when they couldn’t find me had returned. I awoke to find myself lying on the dock with people hovering above and calling to me.
Next, I recall feeling my body and the unpleasant sensation of water draining out of my mouth and nose.
It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I was able to process this experience, let alone talk about it. Young children, and even adults, can block things from their memories that are beyond their understanding or extremely unpleasant.
Over time, this experience began to sift through my consciousness.
It became a touchstone for me: Do not fear the experience of death. It is really quite sacred.
Years later, when I began to study yoga as my spiritual path, that experience finally made sense. I remember first hearing about the principles of reincarnation and yoga when I was twelve. It seemed like such a practical way to set up the universe. I just had to keep returning to the school of earthly life until I got it right, until I learned my lessons.
The Student—Birth–Age 24
In the higher civilizations, the rishis established a path that led to the heavens.
Along the path were four stations. Inside the stations were remedies that helped people lead more fulfilling lives. There was the Student Stage, encompassing birth to age 24; the Householder Stage, for those 24 to 48; and the Forest Dwellers, for those 48 to 72. From age 72 to 120 came the last stage, the Sannyasi.
To illustrate the four stages of yoga, a few of my stories are fiction, the essence of which are drawn from the Vedic culture of Hinduism. Some of these stories contain symbols with esoteric meaning for yoga adherents. I also share episodes from my own life in a yoga community where people strive to live spiritually conscious lives. There are interviews with those who have lived in these four stages. And, like the following fiction story, there are visionary depictions of what a yoga community in a higher civilization might be like.
A crescent moon is floating high in the sky. In the east, the sun is slowly awakening. A group of people gather at a mountaintop retreat to watch the sunrise. Below the canyon a river moves quickly. The congregation finds seats among the leaves and grasses.
Musicians gather, carrying stringed instruments, flutes, bells, and harmoniums. Lively notes rise as the players attune to each other, listening without speaking. Through their wisdom they will teach music and songs, the yoga of magnetism, and attunement to subtle energies. There is clapping, drumming, and the sound of tiny kirtals ringing together as the children’s band enters and joins the musicians. They are followed by a barefoot procession of youths carrying an assortment of drums.
Before the crowd an earthen stage overlooks the river. Approaching the stage are elders, their locks grey and white, their eyes filled with wisdom. They are adorned with garlands of springtime and in their hands, they carry conch shells of all shapes and size. The orchestra begins to play, the elders move about the stage, their robes glowing with light. The music stops. The elders raise shells to the heavens, and each in their own time blows their sacred conch. Again and again the conch shells sound, the trumpeting varied and piercing. The elders are smiling and laughing, a light mood uplifting the entire gathering.
More elders surround the stage, bedecked in luminous garlands that reach beyond their knees, swinging gently as they move. Each garland is uniquely colored, handmade by the coveted costume designers who dress and bless them for the occasion. The gathering crowd includes children, youths, families, monastics, neighbors, parents carrying babies, and well-wishers from nearby communities. All have joined on this blessed day to welcome the students.
The elders fold their palms together in prayer, and, facing the sun, begin the Sanskrit recitation of the holy Gayatri Mantra. They continue for an auspicious number of times, aware that the children are restless, their energy unbounded and awakening.
A choir assembles next to the stage, singing as the elders lightly dance, prelude to an event everyone will join. The elders exit, eyes glowing with calmness, still swaying, some with palms folded close to their hearts. The elders watch. Their energy is a vital source of well-being to the students. They will teach the students meditation and yoga, mantras, rituals, dances, and songs. The children will learn how to make costumes and how to grow their own food through their work in the gardens. They will learn how to master a craft or start a business, use yogic healing techniques and learn how to live in harmony with all. In return these students will someday care for their elders with the same love and energy they have been given.
“In a most engaging way, Nischala Cryer explains the traditional stages of a yoga practitioner’s life by weaving into that paradigm the story of her own spiritual journey. She shares this journey, and deftly draws in the reader, by sharing fascinating stories and observations of her private interactions with some of today’s spiritual leaders. She excites us with her tale, while simultaneously reminding us that, in truth, the highest journey is always to be found in our own heart. Highly recommended for both students and teachers of yoga. You will be entertained and educated with a soft and lyrical touch. Inspiring!”
— Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, founding member of Yoga Journal, author of nine books including Restore and Rebalance: Yoga for Deep Relaxation.
“One of the first books that explains in detail what it means to live the four stages of yoga. This book is inspirational, scientific, and useful. An inspiring guide for life.”
—Dr. Amit Goswami, quantum physicist, author of The Self-Aware Universe
“I just finished reading The Four Stages of Yoga. It took me only two days, because I could not put it down. For the past four years I have been reading at least one book a week, and I have to say that very few of those works have provided me with the feeling of transcendent oneness that yours did. I was moved to tears many times as my heart swelled with love for the great souls mentioned in these pages. I believe this refreshing book will move many readers to consider the path of yoga in their own lives. Congratulations on such a wonderfully enlightening account.”
—Henry Huta, The Ancient Wisdom of Yoga Holistic Wellness Center, Florida, USA, doctoral candidate in Performance Psychology with a concentration in Yoga and Meditation.
“Spiritual practitioners of all paths will find The Four Stages of Yoga’s framework practical, useful, and illuminating.”
—Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda and The Life of Yogananda
“This is the first book, written by a Westerner, on the four ‘ashrams’ or stages of life. Others have written on this subject, but no one has captured it in such a profound yet personal way that touches one’s heart to the core. This book is a must-read for all those interested in yoga and Hinduism, and for those who want to perfect their lives by diving into the vast spiritual heritage found in Sanatana Dharma.”
—Vanamali Devi, author of The Song of God and The Play of Rama
“Ancient knowledge from the higher civilizations, when applied to everyday life, is reflected throughout this educational and entertaining book. An inspiring new contribution to the field of yoga, ideal for all ages!”
—Walter Cruttenden, Founder of The Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge (CPAK), author of The Lost Star of Myth and Time
“You buy this book to figure out what to do with your kids. You keep reading, because suddenly it is about yourself. Then you want to give it to your parents, or your grandparents, but you can’t, because soon you will become them and will need it yourself to guide your progress into, and through, the inevitable stages of life. This is a classic subject, but usually people write about it intellectually. I don’t think it has ever been done in this how-to-live way. Entirely practical, with life-changing implications.”
—Asha Nayaswami, yogi in the fourth stage of life, author of Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him
“This book offers important insights to help anyone consciously use the natural rhythms of a lifetime for their own and others’ spiritual benefit. You will find insights, practical suggestions, wise counsel, large-hearted humor, and accessible inspiration no matter where you are on your spiritual journey. Read it slowly and savor.”
—Joseph Selbie, author of The Physics of God
“Through imaginative stories, true-life interviews, personal experiences, and ancient yogic wisdom, Nischala Cryer offers a vision of the purpose behind each stage of life. This book is a guide to living with fulfillment and enlightenment.”
—Nayaswami Devi Novak, co-Spiritual Director of Ananda Sangha Worldwide, co-author of Touch of Joy: A Yogi’s Guide to Lasting Happiness
“This book is moving, entertaining, and full of wise insights for those engaged with yoga, nature, and the journey of life!”
—Joseph Bharat Cornell, Founder of Sharing Nature Worldwide, author of Deep Nature Play and AUM: The Melody of Love