I recently went to visit Amma, the Hugging Saint (as she has become known). For over 35 years, she has literally hugged well over 25 million people in sittings that at times are up to 20 hours a day, day after day with minimal breaks mostly for travel. Jennifer Hohman, BYSJ Staff Member and friend invited me to join her at the Ashram in San Ramon where Amma was appearing for an entire week performing one simple gesture over and over again – giving a loving embrace to all who came to see her. We got there early so we could get our “token,” indicating our time to get in line for Amma’s divine hug. I was completely heart stricken, when I walked in to see the hundreds, if not a thousand or so, people in line, or meditating, or eating or sitting to wait or browsing through the retail and information area in this space that wasn’t intended to hold so many people. It was a huge gathering and it was only a Monday, the day that was supposed to be the least crowded during her weeklong visit. Call me crazy, but I got a bit choked up. All these people, like me, ready to wait for hours. And for what? A hug?

By the way, there is no fee. Amma requests donations and there is great Indian food for sale, plus, if you like, you can purchase Amma’s books, trinkets and fabrics. But, all revenue goes towards her humanitarian efforts. She has given and continues to give millions of dollars at a time to individuals and families suffering from tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina, and the Indonesian Tsunami, and helped fund new hospitals, schools and homes for the poor. I had a chance to hear Amma speak. Amazingly intelligent and insightful, she spoke about our true essence drawing from nature to illustrate her points. Her words -though spoken in another language – made an understandable impression that was pure and comprehensive. She genuinely wants you to realize that you are loved, you come from love and are meant to give love to yourself and to those around you. Her message is that simple. The large number of people and the patience required receiving what one could get from a friend or family member – makes me wonder: what it is that we are really seeking?

Consider the appreciation you have for water. How sweet it tastes right after Eagle Pose. Consider the feeling of ease and relief you get feeling that cool air when the teacher opens the door while you are lying in Savasana. Or how clear your mind is when leaving class: the nagging issues before the 90-minute class seem to have lost their hold when class is over. Maybe you are not seeing it yet, but your appreciation has increased and with it comes a bigger gift – a feeling of JOY! Yoga is much like Amma, helping you to come to know who you really are. Amma represents compassion, a feeling of being understood, and her short embrace encourages people to release self criticism and open up to unconditional love.

When you take yoga class often enough, you become more than the svelte body you are intended to have or the beneficiary of improved mental well-being that gives you clarity and peace, even in stressful situations. The “mind over matter” game in those 90 minutes day after day helps to eliminate useless chatter – and catches the drama before it begins to stir up into wasteful energy. What arises steadily and consistently is a sense of peace all the time. Perhaps I am biased, but teaching all of you year after year, I see it. Sure life throws us off course all the time. We get tangled in this issue or that scenario but like a hug from Amma, just maybe the yoga represents compassion towards ourselves and the situation, the yoga gives us hope that it will get better, the yoga responds with unconditional love.

Amma’s hug was a gentle loving reminder that what I am right now IS enough. From that platform everything else becomes a treat. I have always loved seeing the leaves on the trees change colors, but there’s more to it nowadays. Driving down Saratoga Avenue heading to the studio, I am not just enamored with the golden leaves but feel the joy experiencing the beauty nature brings. Is that what we are seeking? The feeling behind what we know to be true. Stay awake to the feelings of joy the holiday season might bring you. Awaken to a bigger component in you that ignites feelings of love and kindness much like getting a divine hug from a living Saint.

–Michele Vennard