If you’ve ever wanted to go see Amma, the famous hugging saint and spiritual teacher, but you haven’t known just what to do, we have a set of instructions for you.
Arrive! In Los Angeles, Amma’s programs are held at the LAX Hilton. Carpool, take public transit, cab, Uber, or Lyft, or drive yourself and find a place to park.
Park. Because of the large numbers of people who come to see Amma during these days at the LAX Hilton, the hotel’s parking may be full. Don’t let it put you off going to see her. Simply find a nearby lot and walk. Read signs carefully and make sure to park legally.
Please write down exactly where you parked, take a picture of the spot with your phone, or use the drop pin function on your smartphone map. After the experience, your intellectual brain is usually pretty rattled and you might have a difficult time remembering where you parked. Right now is the moment to ensure you have a smooth and easy exit, so please take some sort of notes.
When you enter the lobby of the Hilton, start asking anyone and everyone where you get a TOKEN. A token is a small piece of paper with a letter and a number on it. Your token secures your place in the queue to see Amma. You will most likely have to ask several people for directions on how to get a token, different people will point you in different directions. Keep your sense of humor and don’t give up until you find the right place. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP.
Once you find the token line, you will be asked the question “Have you seen Amma on this tour/ this year/ yet?” Your answer is “I’VE NEVER MET AMMA BEFORE EVER—THIS IS THE FIRST TIME EVER.”
You will be given a token which is a small piece of paper. DON’T LOSE THIS PAPER NO MATTER WHAT!!!! You will not be given another one no matter what story you have for losing it. y If you lose it, that is it. I usually put mine in the small slot in my wallet where I keep my drivers license.
Next: secure a spot “in the hall.” The lecture hall fills up and if you don’t have a secure seat, you will be placed in an overflow room in the hotel. Make sure you have a scarf or blanket or something to put on a seat that indicates that it is yours. If you arrive late and have to be in the overflow room, don’t panic, you will get to see her once the program “breaks.” You will not be stuck in the overflow room all night.
Once you have secured both a TOKEN and a SEAT, you can take a sigh of relief until the program starts. This is the moment to use the restroom, have a snack and a cup of tea, and look around.
Usually the evening program starts at 7:30pm, but this is subject to change. Please check with any official on the start time and make sure you are in your seat five minutes before.
The Program: Since Amma is a spiritual teacher, she will give a Dharma Talk (spiritual discussion) for about an hour. She will lead music for another 60-90 minutes. There will be Arati (a short ceremony with fire and flowers.) There will be a short meditation (only about two to five minutes.)
Then Amma will get up and start offering DARSHAN. Darshan literally means “To See” as we are all interested to be “Seen By The Guru.” It translates as a blessing by the guru. Different teachers/ gurus offer Darshan in different ways.
Amma offers her blessing with a HUG.
Observe the posted signs in the hall for LETTERS AND NUMBERS. When yours is called you may get in line for the hug.
Make sure to read the card that has the posted DIRECTIONS for how to receive a blessing from Amma. There are several things to know that ensures respect for the traditional and health for Amma. These include taking off your shoes and making sure you are dressed modestly without long pants or long skirts and with neck and shoulders covered.
Rather than you leaning in to hug Amma, let her lean in and hug you. This is simply to protect her fragile body, imagine being hugged by 34 million people!) The direction card will explain all of these particulars. If you mess one up- -it’s ok! You will not be in trouble. It is just nice to know the routine.
Usually you need to wait several hours before your Letter and Number are called. During this time, you have an opportunity to investigate Amma’s humanitarian efforts, enjoy a snack and meet new friends.
If you decide to shop, all of the money that is earned is channeled to Amma’s charities. This even extends to Amma herself; when offered a first class seat on an airplane, Amma turns the ticket in, in exchange for money which she donates to her charities. When offered to sleep on the most luxurious bedding, Amma will be found then next morning sleeping on the floor—she takes nothing for herself.
During this time, if you had been in an overflow room, it is a good chance to walk around. As long as you are not disturbing the flow, as long as you are not interrupting someone else’s sightline, this is a good moment to walk to different angles of Amma and watch. Not only is she giving hugs, but she is counseling businesses all over the world, feeding babies, and even conducting marriages all at the same time. It is here that we see how the Goddess has 10 arms!
If you have a health concern, or genuinely have an excuse of why you can’t wait on a long line, you may go to the “Special Needs” area. Generally this is saved for pregnant women, people with disabilities, or people with other special needs. Please keep in mind that people travel for days just to get to the city she is visiting in order to see her. People wait all night long. If you are asking or special treatment, make sure you really need it.
Once you are on the Darshan line, it is a good time to start to focus on what you are doing there, what you hope to have clarified, to set an intention, and even to reflect on your prayer for the planet. It is easy to be distracted, this is the time to start to settle in. Take your time in the presence of a spiritual teacher like Amma to set your intention and stay focused.
When you get to the front of the line, you will be asked to remove your glasses (if you are wearing any) and to wipe your face as Amma will be hugging you tightly.
When Amma hugs you, surrender to the experience without expectation. Some people find refuge, some have a moment of seeing the interconnectivity of all beings and some people feel nothing. All experiences are perfect as they are. Know that you are “getting” exactly what you are meant to get, and that not everything happens at exactly that moment. A seed may be planted for you that might not water for some time…
Once you are done being hugged you will be given a KISS, a Hershey’s Kiss, a small piece of chocolate, and a flower petal. This is considered PRASAD, or blessed food. You can either eat the prasad right away or save it for later or give it to someone meaningful to you. It is your choice.
You will then be invited to sit quietly next to Amma and observe her giving Darshan to others. If you feel complete and don’t wish to sit, of course you can move on.
If you do decide to stay, you will sit at the end of a second line and you will slowly be moved forward. You will usually sit in this line between five and 30 minutes. You will have the opportunity to sit near Amma, to watch her for some time and then be done.
At this time you may go and collect your glasses, your shoes and either stay and enjoy the atmosphere (have another snack and meditate or spend time with friends) or head home.
Depending on which city you’ve visited Amma in, there may be a place to find PARKING VALIDATION on your way out. Usually there is discounted parking with validation. Ask about parking.
Reference your notes or image on your phone for parking. Once you get to your car, don’t rush out. Please take a moment to take a breathe, feel grounded, and get back into the headspace of driving. It is easy to be “spaced out” after an experience with a spiritual teacher such as Amma and you want to ensure that you are driving safely.
Enjoy the rest of your night or day.
For more information, visit amma.org.
Om Amriteshwariyae Namaha!
Sara Ivanhoe MA has been teaching yoga since 1995. Sara is a graduate of the MA program in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University, where she now teaches. She serves as the faculty advisor for YogaGlo.