Note of Introduction:
Either through luck or good karma, I was honored to be present at the very start of Higher Self Yoga in 1988.
At the time, I was a ‘beginner yogi’ and part of a very small group in New York City that has blossomed and grown, thanks to the tireless work of our teacher and founder Nanette V. Hucknall.
I wanted to gather my memories together for the sake of future generations who may wonder how this form of yoga was born. I hope you will get a sense of how excited we all felt to discover something new – a meaningful, active way to strive spiritually.
It is dedicated to yogis everywhere.
—As remembered by Mark Solomon
THE AGNI YOGA ORIGINS
In the mid-1980’s I was living in New York, trying to make sense of my place in the city, striving to balance my spirit and my creative work. When I first attended Agni Yoga class at the East Side apartment of Patty H., I felt a strong sense that I had come home.
Patty was an elegant Texan with a sly wit who played the piano beautifully. She opened her door twice weekly for a group of 10-15 people who gathered to meditate and discuss the concepts of Agni Yoga. I was impressed that they continued to meet without the physical presence of their teacher who had died some years before. In his honor, they left an empty chair with his photo at each class.
After a few months, however, it became clear to me that the members who had been attending these classes for 20 plus years preferred a more traditional class framework. This meant starting with a group meditation, then reading aloud from the approved list of books. At the end of the class, any remaining questions were discussed by the group and then there was a brief closing meditation.
Newer members were keen to try something different. We wanted to do something to understand the spiritual concepts raised by direct experience. For example, we wanted to sit in pairs and focusing on the heart center to send and receive energy, or explore guided meditations to get in touch with the Higher Self and the wisdom within each of us.
This exploration was led by Nanette, a gifted yogi who had written a series of lessons that expanded on these principles.
My first exposure Nanette’s work was a lesson on the “Uses of the Heart.” I found it terrifically appealing and was keen to understand the concepts on a deeper level. The work called for a trust and honesty that I was eager to explore. However, these new concepts were a far cry from the methods that confined our current practice. It seemed we had reached an impasse.
Mike C. and Mario C. talked about the possible ways forward, but Nanette was clearly reluctant to lead a splinter group. She didn’t want to elevate herself as a teacher like the beloved founder of Agni Yoga, Helena Roerich.
One September evening, as members once again engaged in a heated discussion over next steps, I interrupted to say, “Stop! We need to let this fall apart to see what else will grow.” We agreed to stop attending classes with our current group and be open to the possibility of something new forming in its place.
What followed were weeks of silence. I kept wondering ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Are people talking?’ I was hoping for some kind of announcement. I worried – ‘Is this really going to just fall apart?’ ‘Is there no way forward?’ Later, I discovered that Mario and Mike had been talking about what to do, but with Nanette traveling through Europe, it wasn’t clear how long they should wait.
Never a terribly patient person, I eventually picked up the phone to call Mike and see if there had been any progress.
Mike said, “Oh, yes. Yes, there is. We’re meeting at my house next Sunday.”
I still felt like a rookie in those days. I had been coming to class for about a year and was meditating every day, but believed that everyone else was more ‘advanced’ than I was. All these people knew the prior teacher, had studied with him, lived with him and I knew him only from his photo on the empty chair at Patty’s. Without wanting to step on any toes, I knew I had to be there, and Mike must have sensed my urgency.
The Start of Something New
Oct 2, 1988
On the appointed day, I took the train out to Long Island and found a tranquil setting in a quiet neighborhood with trees and flowers. I felt like a city kid at summer camp. Five of us gathered to see if we could help plant something new in the yoga field. Mike, Mario, Ingrid, Norman and me.
Eager to please, I brought a big hunk of smoked white fish. Brunch in my family growing up had always been the highpoint of our culinary week. The key to a secular Jewish upbringing was bagels with cream cheese, lox and smoked fish, scrambled eggs with chives. This is what I knew, and I wanted to share it with my fellow adventurers. Only problem was that the fish was terrible. Smelly and under-done. Whatever it was supposed to be, it fell short. Way short. We tried to eat a little, but I felt foolish and embarrassed. (Tip: don’t buy Jewish delicacies from the supermarket. They don’t know.)
People teased me and Mike kindly put the fish out of its misery and it helped to ease the tension of what we were about to do–starting a new yoga, in Nanette’s name, but without telling her. What was there to be nervous about?
Once we meditated together, we went over the ground rules that Nanette had written.
Our goal was to find, assimilate, and use the Higher Self in everyday life through the use of the heart and through the help of others.
We would consciously link our hearts together and engage the connection to our Higher Selves. We would use lessons as a basis and focus for the classes and experiential exercise in class—meditation, imagery (symbolism), sharing of insights, and dreams.
We’d rotate the leadership of the class and see each other as co-workers with the wisdom and trust to help each other strive higher—to create a safe place to pursue the truth. No gossiping, no judgements.
We linked with our Higher Selves and with each other in order to consider the question of what to name our new class. “Guide us! May we grow closer to You with this endeavor and in all that we do.” The answer was clear and Higher Self Yoga was born.
We closed with another brief meditation and agreed to meet again. Now, there was only one question that remained. Who would tell Nanette?
Read the second part of this series How Nanette V. Hucknall Founded Higher Self Yoga. Mark continues his story on how the small group blossomed and grew to form a groundbreaking, new type of yoga — and what HSY is like today and how it continues to thrive.