Centering Prayer and Embodied Contemplative Practices – My Experience

The article in the January 2018 e-bulletin, “Contemplative Movement” by Robin Gates, affirmed so many experiences that I observed during the first few years of my Centering Prayer practice. I noticed that my body began asking for movement as never before during reading, working on the computer, attending conferences, etc. My body always was asking me to move, even in a small way.

I did not know what was happening so I decided to have a standing work station, and began doing more physical exercises. When I found a direct correlation to my Centering Prayer Practice, and the growth of my spiritual awareness with all these changes, I began searching for explanations. I found scientific research papers supporting the cultivation of interoceptive, proprioceptive and kinesthetic awareness at the core of movement-based contemplative practices such as Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi, and so began my interest in adding these kind of practices in order to find a better balance in my daily life. 

I began practicing yoga.  I was attracted to it because is a way of living that integrates your body, mind, heart and spirit. My biggest difficulty was to find trusted guidance in this new field. I was totally overwhelmed with the amount of information and decided to try places nearby where I live.  After several attempts, I felt discouraged, because most of the schools I found were body oriented.  During this searching, I had a yoga teacher whom I trusted for her sincerity, experience and dedication, and I was able to express my experiences with Centering Prayer as a contemplative practice. She referred me to the place that she considered the best to find the answers to my questions — the ATMA Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where Satyananda Yoga (Bihar Yoga) classes are offered and advance training is available through the Yoga Academy of North America (YANA).  

It took me a year of regular introductory classes and exposure to the literature of this tradition to receive the answers to what I had been experiencing. During this time, I found out that John Main, the founder of The World Community for Christian Meditation, learned from Swami Satyananda how to meditate and adopt the discipline of silence, stillness and simplicity as part of his Christian faith and daily prayer. In addition, I found in this tradition a high respect and recognition for all meditations practices as a worldwide culture.

My initial interest in the yoga training was to understand the integration of my body with all the psychological changes I was experiencing as a part of my Centering Prayer practice that induced an entry into contemplative prayer.  I learned to listen my body and acknowledge that my mind and my soul are integral parts of my being. I learned the necessity to have a discipline in life, and that I need to be in balance in order to operate properly. I learned many practices that are called meditations, most of them differ to what Catholic writers call ‚Äúcontemplation‚Äù or ‚Äúinterior prayer,‚Äù however, the Satyananda tradition has a strong silent practice that is called Antar Mourna, with a similar purpose to uncover the God-seed in your heart, our core of goodness. With Centering Prayer, we train our mind to let go of our thoughts. Eventually our mind become calm, clear and concentrated. This is the beginning. In deeper stages, reconditioning of the unconscious occurs making less powerful the forces we encounter. All of us are torn by conflicting urges and that is our human condition. With time, conflicts of our personality are resolved so that what we believe in, what we do, and what we think become one.

After four years of training and continuing my yoga education, I have been able to integrate yoga into the daily routines of my life, which has greatly helped me control the amount of energy generated by my Centering Prayer practice. I have transformed my daily routines into a way of prayer. I have learned the importance of how to translate the effects of Centering Prayer into daily life. You may remember that at the end of Open Mind Open Heart, you find in the appendices a summary of practices. I have been always attracted to this section, but I was not able to develop the use of them. I have noticed that my yoga training has help me to cultivate self-acceptance and to train me to use a sacred phrase that I repeat as a way to maintain interior silence throughout the day.

On the other hand, I have been exposed to yoga philosophy, yoga psychology and I have been able to study the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras and read about the essences of the Upanishads. I have been fortunate that my daily Centering Prayer for many years have given me the opportunity to change from my earlier conditioning and background and open my mind to new alternatives of thinking. It has been a marvelous experience to learn from the cornerstones of the perennial philosophy, which is the belief that at the core of all great religions and wisdom traditions is the same mystical experience of Ultimate Reality.

Josefina Fernandez
Cleveland, Ohio

For more information: 

Movement-based embodied contemplative practices: definitions and paradigms. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 14 April 2014.

Editorial: Neural Mechanisms Underlying Movement-Based Embodied Contemplative Practices. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 26 April 2016.

Yoga Academy of North America

Satyananda Yoga/Bihar Yoga