LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (RNS) Class began at dusk in a dimly lit studio facing Pacific Coast Highway as the yoga teacher appeared, adjusting the shawl draped around his shoulders, and took his seat on a quilted meditation pillow.

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Cole Jacobs, who recently turned 20, is among one of the youngest yoga instructors in California. He teaches a Vinyasa yoga class. Photo by H. Lorren Au Jr., Orange County Register

Because the sun was setting behind him, the teacher appeared in silhouette. I could only hear his voice as he guided us through the 90-minute Kundalini yoga class – a series of meditations, chanting, vigorous breathing exercises and asanas (or postures).

“I want you to know that this is a safe place,” the teacher, Cole “Raahi” Jacobs, told us midway through class. “You can feel whatever you need to feel. You are safe here.”

I did. I was.

At the beginning of the year, I embarked on a two-month sabbatical to recover from a rough 2012. I needed to recharge, and resolved to rest, spend time with the people I love most, and find some kind of physical practice that would be restorative.

Working out is not something that comes naturally to me – in fact, I hate it – but I have practiced yoga sporadically since college and thought yoga might be my wheelhouse.

I had not-so-great experiences in the crowded commercial studios where the main goal of the ancient Indian practice seemed to be attaining the perfect “yoga butt,” rather than anything approximating enlightenment.

So, I prayed, asking God to send me a teacher and a place to practice that would be right for me.

I had heard that a new yoga studio had opened in town called Ritual Yoga Arts, where a more traditional style of yoga is taught and practiced with an eye toward spiritual, holistic health, rather than tight buns.

Ritual’s Thursday night Kundalini yoga — a discipline often called the “yoga of awareness” — seemed like a good fit because of its emphasis on cultivating compassion and consciousness in relationship with God and others. It’s a physically demanding practice, but in a much different way than, say, “power yoga” might be.

When class was over, I felt sweaty, tired and fantastic. It was just what I needed. I’d found my oasis.

A few days later, standing in the hallway after class talking about Jacobs, one of the other students said something that absolutely shocked me: “Can you believe he’s only 19?”

No way, I thought. Jacobs has a baby face, but with his depth of knowledge and grounded, laid-back manner, I figured him to be in his early 30s — not young enough to be my son.

Sure enough, Jacobs, who was born in 1993, is something of a yoga prodigy. In fact, he is believed to be one of the youngest yoga instructors teaching in California and may be the youngest Kundalini teacher in the nation.

Jacobs took his first yoga class — a workshop called “Yoga for Stiff Guys,” he recalled — after he blew out his ACL when he was 16.

By the time he graduated from high school in 2011, he was teaching 22 yoga classes a week. He completed formal teacher training and went on to teach at various power yoga studios until last fall, when he decided he wanted to go to the source to expand his practice and understanding of yoga as an instructor.

Jacobs left for the Anand Prakash Ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas in Rishikesh, India. There, he completed 500 hours of teacher training with Yogrishi Vishvketu, the Indian-born guru and founder (with his Canadian wife, Chetna Panwar) of the international World Conscious Yoga Family.

By the time Jacobs returned from India last December, he’d decided he wanted to teach at a studio where the yoga was more traditional and spiritually authentic. He began teaching at Ritual a few weeks later.

“If someone is teaching a power class and they’re not talking about anything historical or spiritual, that’s not yoga, that’s an aerobics class. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We just need to be honest about what we’re doing,” Jacobs said.

At the ashram, Jacobs was the youngest student in his training class of 30 women and four men. He was also one of the youngest men Vishvketu had ever trained.

Vishvketu calls Jacobs “exceptional.”

“He was very disciplined and concentrated and very hardworking, especially for his age,” the guru told me by phone. “He is just a beautiful person, and he has a gift. It’s a natural talent. In the West, he is unusual.”

Even more unusual, Vishvketu says, was how quickly and deeply Jacobs took to the highly spiritualized, traditional form of Kundalini yoga. “Classical Kundalini isn’t just something that you get one class in and then you teach,” he said.

Jacobs, whom the guru bestowed with the spiritual name “Raahi” (a Hindi word that means “the one you meet along the way to enlightenment”), “was connected in a special way, and it was very powerful,” Vishvketu said. “He is a wonderful soul, very inspiring.”

Indeed he is. Jacobs is among those rare few who have been blessed with a true pastoral gift. He has an uncanny ability to see and meet the needs of his students (whom he calls “yoga kin”). He’s also one of the most honest people of any age I’ve ever met.

“I feel things deeply, whatever it is, whether it’s someone else’s pain,” he says. “I’m predictably empathetic. And yet sometimes I can put a big wall up and be quite cold. I have a very soft heart – but I refer to myself as like a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with burnt toast.”

Raised as a Roman Catholic until his early teens, Jacobs says he still “believes in Christ” but now answers “yoga practitioner” when asked how he’d define himself spiritually.

“I’m a rishi, a ‘seeker,’” he says. “I have my service – I have what I do during the day for other people – and that’s really my main focus in life, to do that service, to carry out that service. I believe that what I do is what I should be doing. That’s my connection to God. That’s my offering to the planet, to the cosmos.”

There is a maxim often attributed to the Buddha that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

And so I offer a deep bow and prayer of gratitude for having met mine.

(Cathleen Falsani is the faith & values columnist for the Orange County Register.)

7 Comments

  1. Interesting speculation about somebody born in 1993 being the youngest kundalini yoga instructor in the nation. However, children born to the followers of the dead kundalini kingpin, Yogi Bhajan, are automatically “certified” as kundalini yoga teachers upon graduation from Miri Piri Academy in India. It’s a controversial school set up by a highly controversial man. Controversy aside, what is not arguable is that these newly-minted teen-aged kundalini teachers return home to the USA and Western Europe. They are then plugged into Yogi Bhajan’s profitable kundalini yoga machine.

  2. Abraham Yeshuratnam

    John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr formed the Beatles and became world’s most astonishing rock-‘n’-roll band. Elegant lyrics, luminous melodies and a lovable looniness set them apart. 70 million people watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. They soon became rich and famous. They were attracted by the advertisement of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation (™ )and Yoga. It was propagated that TM would reduce stress and aid relaxation. Out of curiosity and for fun the Beatles met Mahesh Yogi. Till then Mahesh Yogi was living in anonymity. But the meeting with the Beatles gave him instant popularity and he became a world guru of Yoga and TM. Later the Beatles went to Rishikesh and stayed in the ashram of the Yogi in 1968 to study. John and George eventually left the ashram when Mahesh Yogi had made sexual advances on the beautiful actress Mia Farrow. Meanwhile, by his name linked to the Beatles, the Yogi had millions and millions of dollars. Donations and the $2,500 (£1,270) fee to learn the technique helped finance the construction of Peace Palaces, or meditation centers, in dozens of cities around the world, as well as several universities. Did the TM and Yoga help the Beatles? Instead of TM removing stress and tension, TM increased their tension, stress and worry. They smoked marijuana to ward off worry and emotional strain. Yogi misled the people by saying that TM would improve concentration; but the Beatles suffered mental strain and nervousness. There were frequent disputes among them, especially over financial matters and choosing a song. Lennon was shot and killed on 8 December 1980, in New York City . McCartney declined to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, issuing a press release saying, “After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” That was the endof the Beatles. The Beatles story is the historic evidence of the deception, falsehood and chicanery of the gurus and swamis of TM and Yoga. It is proved that troubles, stress and tension cannot be packed away and magically forgotten by TM and Yoga. It is also a real eyeopener how the swamis, yogis and gurus who are now invading the West are minting dollars by exploiting people suffering from anxiety disorders and stress in their day-to-day lives.

    • Amen, Abraham. Kundalini serpent power yoga has a down side w/bizarre side effects, which sometimes don’t go away. Here Kundalini master Gopi Krishna described an uncontrollable yogic awakening: “I knew I was dying and that my heart could not stand the tremendous strain for long. My throat was scorched and every part of my body flaming and burning, but I could do nothing to alleviate the dreadful suffering. I racked my distracted brain for a way of escape, only to meet blank despair on every side….conscious of the scalding sea of pain in which I was drowning.”

      Take a walk, folks. Have tea with friends. Swim, journal, pray to God, read the Psalms. It’s real. It works.

      • A.Yeshuratynam

        Lena It’s all nonsense … ‘“I knew I was dying and that my heart could not stand the tremendous strain for long. My throat was scorched and every part of my body flaming and burning …” Yoga, being a primitive method of penance, does not know about the purpose of lungs The purpose of the lungs and breathing is to bring oxygen into the body to send it to the blood and remove carbon dioxide in the blood It is a foolish belief in Yoga that by deep breathing that toxin will be released. But in reality, the oxygenated blood moves into the heart where it is pumped throughout the body. Yoga gurus fool the people by saying that by deep breathing, blood can be diverted to selected organs to get energy. To get sex energy, they say, by deep breath and by concentration blood can be sent to sex organs. What a foolish idea!. While having deep breath, air goes only to lungs and not to sex organs. This is proved by athletes. A fast runner will exclaim, ‘I had to stop running to catch my breath.’ Or a swimmer will say, ‘I had to stop swimming underwater to get my breath back.’
        Yoga gurus misguide people b y saying that by standing upside down with the head touching the ground (srasahrama), blood will stream into brain and improve memory power and intelligence. What a foolish idea! In this sense, blood will be streaming into our feet for they are always touching the ground. There is no scientific evidence that by standing upside down brain power will increase. Did Plato or Archimedes or Newton stand upside down every morning? It’s all foolishness to make money by yoga gurus and swamis who have infested the West.

  3. Yes, there are some swamis and so called gurus who are charlatans and phonies, however, there are also many more who are sincere and devout. As Ms. Falsani quotes Buddha, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” That does not negate false starts! Also, to compare yoga practice of an ordinary individual to that of The Beatles is also a false contrast. Evidently they didn’t meet the teacher who would lead them into a blissful state, although we cannot judge their state of enlightenment, just as we should not judge anyone who claims to have been enlightened. I applaud Ms. Faslani for reporting a spiritual interpretation of kundalini yoga which more often than not misapplied in the West where it’s often considered part of Tantric Yoga.

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