How Nanette V. Hucknall founded Higher Self Yoga is part of the two-part Higher Self Yoga origin story.  Read the first part: A Bright New Path: The Birth of Higher Self Yoga.

Either through luck or good karma, I was honoured to be present at the very start of Higher Self Yoga in 1988. At the time, I was a ‘beginner yogi’ in New York City, as part of a very small group that has blossomed and grown, thanks to the tireless work of our teacher and founder Nanette Hucknall. While she’s still with us, it seems a good idea to gather these 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. This essay was written in the spirit of a co-worker, with hopes you will forgive mistakes and correct any inaccuracies. It is dedicated to yogis everywhere.

The class moved to Ingrid’s apartment in Manhattan and a new rhythm emerged. Ingrid was a tender soul who looked after a young boy with tough physical challenges. Nanette came to this ‘new class’ and we kept the rotating leadership and followed the ground rules already established. Our classes were based on the Lessons starting with “Uses of the Heart.” and we began each week by linking our hearts together, one to another. Then, we would do the ‘Mountain’ exercise to connect to our Higher Selves and meditate for about 20 minutes. We’d then discuss any questions that had come up during the week and how we tried to apply these lessons. Once a question came up that we wanted to explore, we’d meditate again and see if we could go deeper into the topic. We’d then share our experience with the group, to see if there was more to offer. This delicate process depended on deep trust and honesty with one another. We were finding our way to work with these high concepts without falling into fantasy or wish-fulfilment. We did our best to gently question each other and learn what worked best. Together, we came to recognise when a response really came from the Higher Self instead of from an ego/self-interested place. An answer from the HS was always very direct and simple, so any responses couched in flowery or overly-‘poetic’ language were usually from some other part of our personality. It took a lot of trust to work this way and the results were genuinely exciting and creative. Together we were making something NEW, a yoga that included psychological work and emotional honesty that was contemporary and in its own way, groundbreaking.

For example, our discussion would lead to a question that we could take into meditation. Something like “do you have a symbol that represents your spiritual life?” I closed my eyes to meditate and put this question in my heart. The image of a pebble came to mind and I realised that yes, this smooth white stone was something that sat on my shrine at home. Here was a symbol of my spiritual life. As I meditated, the pebble grew a green shoot like in Jack and the Beanstalk and I realised there was potency in this image. I shared this with the group and they each meditated on it, to see what they could offer. This time, I saw a circle of wise beings (my Master and Mahatmas) each with a hand over their hearts, smiling at me. They held out their palms to show me that they, too, each had a pebble.

It wasn’t always so serious. Once, it was my turn to lead the Mountain Exercise and I was earnestly visualising each step of the climb. When I finally got us to the top (trying the patience of everyone there) Ingrid’s phone rang and we all jumped about a foot! Message from beyond? No, just a latecomer who had trouble getting in the building.

What made these classes so compelling was that we were finding the answers within ourselves. We were learning to trust our own Higher Selves and the power of our connection to wisdom and creativity. We would check our answers with the group without judgement or criticism, creating a safe place to explore and grow. We were sincere in wanting to help each other strive higher, by being both honest and kind.

Our attitude was experimental. We wanted to explore the concept of the Higher Self as a source of wisdom that could help us. It felt creative to apply our imagination to spiritual work as we delved into emotional issues, relationships, work issues, all with the wisdom inside us. Sharing answers with the group was a good test. Sometimes my answers were self-consciously ‘spiritual’ in a way that wasn’t rooted in truth and sounded a little off-key. With practice, we learned that Higher Self answers were simple and direct. Something was growing and developing in our class that was sturdy enough to include new people.

I dream of being a tour guide for two young Spanish girls in the East Village. I encourage them to appreciate music and art, and we meet a saxophonist who wants to hear me play. I keep the girls on the move, rushing about to different locations, then we take a subway uptown where we run into my Russian friend, Victor, wearing a bowtie, gallantly escorting two older Russian women. Our group goes to a movie theatre on the Upper East Side where a teen pic “Some Kind Of Wonderful” is playing. We stand in the parking lot and wander through a maze of construction platforms to the back door of the theatre. We see people come out and overhear their comments. After the movie, I’m sitting in a clubhouse where the girls are complaining, saying that death is like a cold hospital. I say (while eating an apple and walking alongside them) that it didn’t have to be like that. That death could be like an ocean voyage on a big ship with crowds waving from the dock. 

The next morning, while walking to a coffee shop, I passed a building on East 13th Street, where two young girls had been killed by falling stone from a door frame. Across the street was a wall-sized graffiti where Betty Boop had a tear in her eye . It read “In memory of Jenny and Evelyn.”

New people joined us and we became a group of ten or so. Now, we could demonstrate what we were up to, how it was working and how to help each other. The ground rules gave us a framework to deal with any circumstance that might arise.

An Agni Yoga brother from California came to New York and visited our class to see what we were up to. He was welcomed and joined us to meditate, and we reviewed the ground rules about no judgement and no gossiping outside the class, etc. I felt he wasn’t quite in sync with the spirit of what we were doing. His was a big personality, proud of his learning and devotion to Agni Yoga and I tried to gently tell him we were trying something different here. He must have considered me an upstart to chide him like that. Because we were committed to working out personal differences and not allow frictions between people to fester, he and I agreed to meet at a cafe later to talk things over.

After some pleasantries, he said, “New people should keep quiet for two years and just listen.” I didn’t reply, but the thought-bubble above my head said, “Hogwash.”

We agreed to disagree.

By December, we were a larger group and arranged to see in the New Year at a dear friends’ house in western Massachusetts. We meditated and enjoyed spending time together far from the City, walking through the woods covered in snow. Such a harmonious group was developing that our meditations were filled with peace and joy. Once, after we had taken a break to stretch our legs and have some tea, the meditation room was left empty. When we returned, we were very surprised to realise that the room had filled with the scent of roses! How mysterious! It was such a beautiful scent, that we took it as a gift from above. A beautiful indication that maybe we were on the right track, after all.

And now, here we are nearly thirty years later and Higher Self Yoga is flourishing. From the seed of an idea nurtured by Nanette, there’s now a website, a program of ongoing classes and annual retreats that draw people from all across North America (and beyond). Nanette has published books, taught and counseled countless students and the message of HSY, that you can find the answers you seek in your own heart, reverberates in the culture at large.

To learn more about Higher Self Yoga, please visit our Community Reads where real members share their story on how HSY has made a meaningful impact on their lives.