The Fire of Yoga

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I’ve always been an ocean-sort-of-gal, or at least I thought I was.  As a native Californian, I  grew up barefoot.  Ever since I was old enough to choose where I could live, I’ve looked for a way to be near the ocean.  I couldn’t always afford to be ocean-front, but living within a few blocks counts.  The ultimate was when I could have a roaring fire in a fireplace with the ocean just beyond.

We all love the primal elements:  earth, water, fire, air and empty space. Yoga names these mahabhutas as the building blocks of all that exists in this world.  It is especially powerful where they meet — like the ocean washing against a sandy beach or crashing against the rocks.  With the sunrise or sunset over the sea; when there are a few wispy clouds, you get all five elements at once:

  • The shoreline — earth
  • The ocean — water
  • The sun — fire
  • The clouds — air (when the air is holding water, you can see it — otherwise air is invisible)
  • The space between the clouds — empty space

So many beautiful photographs and paintings feature these primal elements because they touch something deep inside you.  Some of your favorite places have the combination of several mahabhutas, perhaps even in your own garden.  Yoga explains that you love them because they are different expressions of the One, the primordial Self, which is being everything.  You are made of this same substance, which is why you experience such a profound feeling in these environments.  You enjoy a recognition of the shared essence.  Since you are so often out of touch with your own essence, you need these external reminders.  People who dream of retiring to the hinterlands and living in the midst of nature are seeking an environment that will give them constant peace and joy.

Even before I loved the ocean, I loved fire.  My first experience of making friends with fire was when I was about 12 years old.  One by one, I lit all the matches in a book of matches and let each burn down to my fingertips.  I was enchanted and have been ever since.

The power and beauty of fire is captivating.  Fire is important in many ways.  The light and heat of the sun makes our planet hospitable to us.  Civilization began when man tamed fire.  Your own life depends on the cellular fire of digestion and metabolism.  Most importantly, yoga specializes in the inner fire of Consciousness, which blazes forth in a radiant glow that transforms your experience of yourself, your life and the world.  All of yoga’s practices are to prepare you for this awakening of Kundalini.

Transformation is needed because you live in amnesia, not knowing your true essence.  You are Consciousness-Itself, an individualized form with a type of spiritual amnesia.  This amnesia was placed in you as part of the divine play that brings this world into existence.  Your job is to recover from the amnesia and recognize your true being.  Yoga is the amnesia-recovery system.  Beyond the poses, you need the inner awakening.  This is Shaktipat.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Originally published January 2006

Attaining Inner Freedom

By Swami Nirmalananda

As a teenager, I often complained that this didn’t seem to be a free country.  If I was free, I should be able to go where I wanted, when I wanted, and do and say what I wanted.  My mother, who carefully controlled all of those things, responded that was not the meaning of freedom.  I didn’t understand her nor what I had learned in school about freedom in America.

Then I lived in Madrid during the time the Spaniards regained their freedom.  I was helping with opening a yoga center, living and working with Madrileños.  I particularly loved my daily commute by bus, surrounded by chatter in a language I could partly understand, driving through beautiful plazas with huge, incredible fountains.  Preparing for their first election in 40 years, every day featured huge political rallies that lasted until the madrugada, the wee hours of the morning.  In addition to the political fervor that I recognized from American elections, there was an added element of infectious joy.  They were so incredibly happy to regain the right to vote.

I began to question my idea of freedom.  I had leapt from many years of schooling in American history to many years of training in yoga philosophy, so different from each other.  Yet they both spoke movingly of freedom.  I knew that I still didn’t understand freedom.  It took more yoga and meditation to make it clear.

Yoga’s goal is described as “freedom” or “liberation.”  You get a taste of yoga’s freedom in every yoga class.  In Svaroopa® yoga, it might happen to you after Seated Side Stretch, when your inner opening is not merely physical.  Maybe you love JP (Jathara Parivrttanasana — Rotated Stomach Pose), precisely because it seduces you into an irresistible inner depth.  It could happen in a backbend, when the pose stops being such a struggle and you feel like you could lift off and fly.  Or maybe a seated forward bend that makes you melt into something bigger than the universe.  One of the most reliable places to find it is in Shavasana, especially the closing Shavasana at the end of class.  The whole class is a warm-up for the final Shavasana, so you can experience the freedom at the deepest level of your own existence.  Mukti – Freedom.

The practices of yoga provide immediate results, which is very important in our hurry-up-must-get-it-now lifestyle.  Even your first class makes you feel better than you imagined possible.  In the beginning, it appears that the purpose of the class is to fix your body.  Familiar pains disappear or are profoundly diminished, and you enjoy a new feeling of profound relaxation and ease.  Most amazingly, you feel both relaxed and energized at the same time, a rare combination!  The freedom of comfort and ease in your body is a great freedom, but the yoga’s promise doesn’t end with this first blush of success.

In addition to this feeling in your body, you experience an inner feeling of peace, which happens in your very first class.  You feel undeniably calmer on the inside.  In the same way that the physical benefits develop further as you continue, this inner sense of peace develops progressively into stithi, an inner stability that supports you in all places and times.  This yoga-feeling is inside you, supporting you wherever you go.  This is more than just the physical feeling of freedom; it is freedom from the inner turbulence that most people live in all of the time.  Yet, the promise of yoga is not limited to this level of freedom.

Most yogis who continue classes for more than a year become interested in the rest of the science of yoga.  The breadth and depth of the authentic yoga tradition is little known in the West.  The decompressions of your spine in Svaroopa® yoga is especially effective in preparing you for the next level of inner exploration.  The inner layers of obscuration fall away at a faster rate as you delve into yoga’s subtle techniques for the heart and mind.  Inner constrictions dissolve into expansiveness when you use yoga’s powerful meditative techniques, which are distinctly different from other types of meditation.

Freedom is the only word for what you discover inside.  Layer by layer, there is a lightening of your internal load.  There are stages of this, and you might be surprised to recognize how many of them are working in you already:

  1. The internal chatter becomes less constant.  Though your mind continues to be quite active, it drops down from the familiar 100% of the time.  You enjoy many sweet moments of inner quietude, which continue to increase in proportion to the diligence of your yoga practice.  Freedom from the noisy mind.
  2. The content of your mind becomes less toxic.  Your mind is surprisingly less negative about yourself as well as others.  Freedom from negativity.
  3. You begin to prefer “quiet mind” to “busy mind.” The things your mind used to do become less interesting to you, while your sense of self depends less and less on the constant “doing.”  Freedom to “be” instead of always having to “do.”
  4. Your personality starts to lighten up.  You both laugh more freely and cry more easily.  This is a freedom from having to be who you think you are, as you become more spontaneous and responsive to everything in life.  Freedom to participate fully.
  5. Your improved physical flexibility is an indicator of your increasing adaptability, as you become less dependent on having everything go your way.  You can go with the flow, and even find beauty and meaning in things you had previously resisted.  You embrace the whole of life, regardless of the form it takes.  Freedom to embrace life.
  6. You feel less anxiety and fear.  You worry less because you know that, if you should fall, you will bounce instead of break.  Like a cat, you always land right side up, so there is nothing to worry about.  Freedom from fear.
  7. You become more generous.  You can give of your time and other resources without feeling so miserly.  That pinched miserly feeling used to arise from fear, and it is receding into a distant memory.  Freedom to give.
  8. Inner impulses of love arise and overwhelm you without warning.  This feeling is not limited to family members and pets anymore; anyone and anything can trigger this ecstatic inner arising.  The iron bars around your heart begin to melt in the increasing fire of your inner knowing and being.  Freedom to love.
  9. You continue to expand into inner spaciousness, which extends inward to include the whole world within your being.  Your love for others is a feeling of recognition of your own Self in All.  Ultimate freedom.

OK, I confess that I simplified it a little bit.  There are probably a few more stages in the process.  Also, when you experience a new stage of it opening up for you, you might be in and out of it a few times before you attain stithi, steadiness at that level.  But is happening to you already.  It is inexorable, unstoppable, totally reliable.  It is you — becoming more You.  All you have to do is more yoga…

 

Originally published July 2004

Kurma Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The Devas (Gods) and Asuras (Demons) were engaging in war all the time.  Shukra was the Asura’s Guru, using His Divine Powers to revive the Asuras from death, but the Devas didn’t have this type of assistance.  On top of this, Indra, King of the Devas, had been cursed by Sage Durvasa; so Indra and the Devas were without their strength, radiance and wealth.

Indra, with the other Devas, approached Lord Vishnu for advice.  Lord Vishnu said the only way to regain what they had lost was to churn the ocean of milk, to drink of amrit (nectar of immortality).  This would make them immortal and restore their lost strength, radiance and wealth.

Because of their depleted powers, Vishnu also suggested they would need the help from their half-brothers, the Asuras, to achieve this.  Following His advice, Indra approached the Asuras for help.  After deliberations, the Asuric King Bali agreed to churn the ocean together with the Devas and share the results.

The churning of the ocean was not going to be an easy task, though the Devas and Asuras were working together.  They needed a huge churning rod and a very strong rope.  As Lord Vishnu advised, they sought the help of Mount Mandara as the churning rod, and the Snake God Vasuki to be the rope.  Both Mount Mandara and Vasuki obliged.

Bringing Mount Mandara to the ocean became a difficult task.  Together, the Devas and Asuras couldn’t bear the weight of the mountain.  They got tired and let it slip towards the earth.  Mount Mandara landed with a thundering sound, crashing and killing everything beneath it.  At once Lord Vishnu came to their rescue, flying on His vehicle Garuda (the eagle).  He placed Mount Mandara on Garuda, flew to the ocean and placed Mandara in the middle of it.

The churning of the ocean began.  As suggested by Lord Vishnu, the Devas took hold of Vasuki’s head.  The Asuras refused to hold the tail and demanded to hold the head.  They switched sides, which was all according to Lord Vishnu’s plan.  The Asuras, holding Vasuki’s head, got poisoned by the fumes coming out of Vasuki’s mouth, due to the strain of the churning.  Despite this, the Devas and Asuras pulled back and forth on the snake’s body alternately, causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean.

As they began churning, Mount Mandara started sinking in the ocean of milk.  Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a turtle (kurma) and held Mount Mandara steady.  This is His Kurma Avatar (incarnation), to save both the Devas and Asuras.  He gave the Asuras strength and the Devas courage so they could continue the task at hand.

During the churning, Vasuki was in great pain.  The most deadly poison, known as halahala, started coming from His mouth, threatening the existence of the universe by engulfing and poisoning everything.  As instructed by Lord Vishnu, the Devas and Asuras prayed to Lord Shiva, who is the healer of sickness and remover of all poisons.

Lord Shiva came to the Devas and Asuras and saw the poison spreading in the ocean.  He gathered the whole of the poison with His hands and, while the Devas and Asuras watched in amazement, He swallowed the halahala poison in one gulp.  Goddess Parvati, standing by His side, was terrified at the thought of losing Him, so She squeezed His neck as He was swallowing the halahala, to make sure that the poison would not descend into His body.  Fortunately, Parvati’s act made the poison remain stuck forever in His throat, not going down.  Thus the color of Shiva’s neck is blue, giving Lord Shiva the name “Neelakanta,” which means Blue Throated One (Neela = Blue) + (Kanta = Throat).

Once the danger from the halahala passed, the Devas and Asuras began churning the ocean again.  As they continued to churn, several Divine Objects came out.

  • Kamadhenu (the wish fulfilling cow) was given to the Rishis (Sages)
  • Ucchaisrava (the white horse) was given to the Asura King Bali
  • Airavata (the white elephant) was given to the Deva King Indira
  • Kaustubhamani (a rare diamond) was placed on Lord Vishnu’s chest
  • Kalpavrksha (the wish fulfilling tree) was sent to Deva Loka (Heaven)
  • Sura, also known as Varuni (the goddess of wine) sent to the Asuras’ realm.

Nearing the completion, Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) appeared, Her radiance brighter than lightening, illuminating all four corners.  She was holding a garland in Her hand, looking for a suitable companion in this realm, one who deserved Her.  The Devas and Asuras competed with each other for her attention, but Her eye landed on Lord Vishnu, who was concentrating fully on the task at hand.

Lakshmi was a bit taken aback that Lord Vishnu didn’t notice Her.  Noticing this, Lord Vishnu appeared before Her and accepted Her garland.  Devi Lakshmi garlanded Him to accept Him as Her consort.  When they united as a couple the three worlds erupted into ecstasy.  After being blessed by the Divine Union, the Devas and Asuras continued their task of churning the ocean of milk.

Finally, Dhanvantari (the Divine Physician) appeared with the vessel of amrit in His skillful hands.  The Asuras strove to seize it to drink it all themselves, to fulfill the cunning plan they’d had from the beginning.  They overpowered the Devas, weakened by Durvasa’s curse, and grabbed the amrit.  Seeing the situation, Lord Vishnu turned Himself into the loveliest nymph, Mohini.  Moha means delusion.  Mohini charmed the Asuras who were totally distracted by Her, so She took the opportunity to steal the amrit and distribute it to the Devas.

After Indra and the Devas had the amrit and regained their strength, the three worlds once again became filled with radiance and power.

Om Namah Shivaya

The Mystery of the Human Body

By Swami Nirmalananda

When you lie in yoga’s Shavasana, your whole body gets to deeply relax.  More than mere relaxation (as good as that is), each time you do Shavasana you are developing your ability to release multiple layers of tension from both your body and your mind.  Your body and mind both enjoy a profound sense of ease, with an inner spaciousness that you are meant to be living in all the time.

Unfortunately, when you get up and get moving again, you are still able to recreate the too-familiar tensions again.  You go back to life, and begin to tighten up.  We call this “relapse;” you are going back to how you felt before.  Instead of living in the inner spaciousness of your own Beingness, you end up living in relapse.

How can you carry the inner openness of yoga into daily life?  To answer this, you must understand the mystery of the human body.

There are many ways to work with your body in the yoga world, as well as in athletics and different forms of exercise.  Svaroopa® yoga works with your body in a very different way because we understand your body to be something different.  Instead of treating your body:

  • like a performance machine — that can be fine-tuned and improved,
  • like an artist’s canvas — that can be made more beautiful and more able to express the art and grace of the human form,
  • like a yardstick — that can be used to measure your beauty, your attractiveness to someone else, or your individual personal value or worth,
  • like a hunk of meat — that has to be dragged around with you and is always threatening to pull you down into the mundane world, or threatening to look bad or smell bad or create some problem for you…

Svaroopa® yoga sees your body as Divine, an individualized expression of the One in a physical form.  Consciousness alone has become everything that exists, including your body and mind.  The One Reality which has always existed, yoga calls Shiva.  Shiva decided to move, to dance, to play at being many — becoming you and I, and everything that exists.  That movement is called Shakti.  Shakti is moving Shiva, and is the energy that becomes the atoms.  Atoms manifest into everything that exists, including your own body.  Your body is a physical expression of the One.

This is the mystery of the human body.  You can delve into your body and open up what is contained within it, like you open up a Christmas present.  In Svaroopa® yoga, the body itself is your field of inquiry.  More than merely discovering muscles and bones, this inner inquiry opens to progressively deeper levels of the inner dimensions of your own being.

Your mind is made of the same Shakti that becomes the atoms, but your mind exists at a less dense level of contraction.  Your body and your mind are not two separate things that are in relationship with one another.  Your body and your mind are both outward expressions of only one thing — you.  They are two different levels of the blossoming of consciousness into a unique and individual manifestation — you.  Consciousness becomes you by shaping your mind into its tangible form on the subtle level, and then further condenses into the physical level as your body.  Your body is the outward expression of your mind.  Anything you do with one affects the other.

This means that you can think yourself into relapse.  Whether you do 20 minutes of yoga or devote a full weekend or week to it, you can tighten right back up with just a few minutes of worry.  Your body responds to every thought as though you were living through the experience.  If you think about walking down a dark alley at night, your body goes through the physical experience as though you were really there — your tailbone tightens, your breath shortens and the adrenaline pumps into your cells.  If you use your mind to run reruns of the worst experiences of your life, your body relives it every time you think it.  You can even have physical experiences of things that have never happened if you merely project that your future will be full of your worst fears.

While we work with your body, the purpose is to change the way your mind works.  The ancient teachings of yoga clearly state that the purpose is to work on your mind.  We work with your body because it is so easy to change your body.  Most of your aches and pains go away within four or five Svaroopa® yoga poses.  At the most, it takes a few classes and Embodyment® sessions.  The good news is that there is no reason for you to live in chronic pain and tension.  Feeling better is just a few minutes away.  And feeling better has an effect on your mind.

But if you don’t work with your mind directly, then you reinstate the prior problems with every thought.  The only way to stay out of relapse is to begin the process of quieting your mind.  Once you experience a quiet mind, you will always want to have a quiet mind.  This inner quietude frees you from the extraneous internal chatter and makes you more effective at everything you do.  At the same time, your quiet mind becomes an avenue that you can use to look more deeply inward — to find your Self, which is consciousness-itself.

First published June 2004

Shavasana

By Swami Nirmalananda

It feels so wonderful — lying on your back in that wonderfully padded, well-supported deep relaxation, with someone guiding you through the process of becoming aware of your body.  “Sha-vaa-sa-na,” even the word is such a beautiful sound.

Well described as yoga’s Relaxation Pose, Shavasana is a profound yoga practice that is especially important to those living our crazy modern lifestyle.  The frenetic pace and the pressures create a residue of exhaustion that you carry around with you, called shrama in Sanskrit.  When you first discover Shavasana, it provides you with a deeply restful relaxation.  If that were the only thing that Shavasana offered, it would reason to do it every day for the rest of your life!  Yet it offers much more.

For a new student, Shavasana is one of the hardest things we ask you to do.  You arrive at your first class and have to take off your shoes, which is strange enough.  Then your teacher has you lie down on the floor.  If there are others already lying down, it is a little easier.  But if you came a little early so you could get oriented, you may be the first one to lie down.  As your teacher props your knees up on the blanket rolls and adjusts you into the pose, you discover a whole new level of comfort and ease.  You probably don’t even notice that other people are walking around you while they get themselves set up in a similar way.

If you have done other styles of yoga, you have done Shavasana without any blanket rolls under your knees.  It is still a wonderful pose.  In Svaroopa® yoga, we use the props in order to provide support to the tight areas in your body.  With support, you always get a deeper release.  Shavasana provides a relaxation that seeps into your core.  The blanket rolls are not there to support your legs; we lift your knees in order to support your spine, specifically to lower the vertebrae at the back of your waist onto the floor.  You may also need a little cushion under your head in order to level your forehead and chin.  This does two things for you: (1) it takes pressure off your neck; and (2) it quiets your mind.  When your head is tipped, your mind continues to race.

You may think that Shavasana is chance for a nice nap, but what you are experiencing is not sleep.  Though in the beginning you may hear every word of the Guided Awareness, that soon changes.  As your teacher starts, beginning at your toes, there is a point where you stop hearing her/him.  Then, when the Guided Awareness ends, you begin moving when your teacher describes the next pose.  Where were you?  You didn’t hear all the words, and you thought you were asleep, but you were able to move when your teacher said to do so.

The whole purpose of Shavasana is to open the doorway to the inner dimensions of your own being.  Because of shrama, the collected fatigue, your experience of Shavasana is like a nap — in the beginning.  Still, it is not sleep.  As you develop your yoga practice, you become able to discern the difference between sleep and this deep inner rest.  In Shavasana, the restful state is less heavy than sleep.  Afterward you feel more profoundly refreshed than after a full night of sleep.  It is called yoga nidra, a yogic state of deep rest, and may even deepen into tandraloka, an immersion into the inner realm of Consciousness-Itself.

If your mind is active when you first lie down, the process of becoming progressively aware of each area of your body will calm and settle your mind.  This is an interweaving, like the threads on a loom, that brings your mind back into your body.  Too much of the time, your mind is fragmented into small bits, scattered all over the cosmos.  Weaving your mind back into your body is very good for your mind, and it is very good for your body.  Your body feels abandoned when your mind is elsewhere.  You have so many creative ways to be somewhere else.  You can be thinking about a place or a person.  Or you can be reviewing the past, often accompanied by regrets or recriminations.  Often, you are projecting into the future with desires or worries.  When your mind is elsewhere, you are actually gone; your body notices.  A body with no one in it is called a corpse.  In fact, Shavasana is a Sanskrit word meaning “Corpse Pose. ‘

There is a difference between your body and the corpse that it will one day be — there is someone living in it.  The Guided Awareness brings you back into your own body and your body comes alive again.  You may even feel the enlivening it as it happens, tingles of aliveness wherever your awareness is directed to, or maybe a growing warmth or a feeling of coolness.  Some areas of your body are hard for you to be aware of because they are tight and dense, like that proverbial corpse.  Shavasana alone may not be enough to re-enliven these areas.  All of the other asanas (poses) help unravel the deep tensions that limit your ability to be fully alive and fully embodied.  Shavasana is the mother of all the other asanas.  They all arise out of Shavasana and they all lead you back to Shavasana; they all prepare you to discover what Shavasana really offers.

Shavasana is the first pose you learn, yet it is the last one you master.  Every class begins with it, so it is your first yoga pose.  Every class begins and ends with Shavasana because it is such an important pose.  Stages of mastery unfold as you become more embodied and more able to be aware:

  1. Relaxation — even if your mind was still active at the beginning, at the end you feel more peaceful and your body is more relaxed.  This may be a new feeling!
  2. Sleep —“Are you sure that I wasn’t sleeping?”  If your head turns to the side, you may have actually gone to sleep, but otherwise it is yoga nidra or tandraloka.
  3. Meditation — though you get more out of meditation in a seated pose, sometimes Shavasana propels you past your mind into the vast inner recesses of your own Being.  How wonderful!
  4. Embodied Consciousness —  the interwoven reality, your body is a physical expression of the One Reality, which you discover within as your own divine Self.

Shavasana.  I come back to the word itself.  It is such a beautiful word — the sounds in it are so smooth and soft.  Its name conveys a promise — to experience it, all you have to do is more yoga.

Original published April 2004

Opening Into Life

By Swami Nirmalananda

Vitally alive!  A body that is breathing and pulsating with aliveness in every cell.  Eyes clear and radiant.  Glowing with a happiness that arises from an inner surety of being.  Yoga makes you alive — fully alive.  You have the capacity to live this way in every moment, and some work to do in order to get there.  Too many people settle for less and walk around half-dead.

Can you really be fully alive in every moment?  There are so many parts of the day that are difficult.  Maybe you have a long commute in traffic every day.  Put on some rousing music and sing along at the top of your lungs.  Perhaps your challenge is at work:  it is simply a dead-end job.  Pour yourself into it and give it your best in every moment.  Even if nothing changes on the outside, you will feel better for having put yourself forth fully.

Is it possible to be fully alive in every moment of your life?  Even when times are difficult?  If you are going through difficult things at home, open your heart even more.  Love the people in your life even more!  Even if you are facing the imminent death of someone you love, you can decide to celebrate their life with them.  Say all the thank yous and remember all the times you have shared.  Allow yourself to feel the joys and the pains all over again.  Walk into grief with your eyes wide open, even when they are full of tears.  Live!  Allow yourself to feel, regardless of what is going on.

In the practice of Svaroopa® yoga, we use customized poses to open your spine.  This releases the deepest layers of tension for the purpose of freeing your body from what makes it less alive.  As you open up space in your spine, your internal organs are no longer subject to compression and begin to work better.  Your nervous system, immune system, respiration and circulation all improve.  Additionally, your mind and emotions become progressively more clear; you are able to live in the moment and carry less baggage from the past.  The joy and love that is inherent in your being can rise from the Inner Source and spread into your life and the world, while your sense of self continues to deepen.  All this makes you more and more alive — more and more fully alive.  You can participate in every moment of life fully, even if it isn’t what you thought it would be.

Yoga describes the purpose of human life as being two-fold.  If you had a sense that you came here in order to accomplish one overarching purpose, you are actually half right.  There are two things that you are here to accomplish.  The first is to have experiences, a full range of experiences.  This means that life is not merely about happiness and ease.  The experiences of life include sadness and challenge.  You are meant to be as present for grief and loneliness as for the times of celebration and community.  Allow yourself to experience it all — fully.

The second purpose of life is Self-Realization.  Whether you have embraced this as a goal or not, working on this is what makes the other purpose of life happen.  If you don’t look at your own potential for realization, the first purpose of having experiences doesn’t work out for you.  This is because, when you don’t know of your own inner essence, the outer things become the most important things in life.  Your first purpose, to have experiences, becomes your only purpose.

Thus, if things are going badly today — you are having a bad day, or (worse) you are a bad person.  If things are going well — you are a good person, having a good day.  When you don’t look at your own inner essence, your whole sense of self is created by where you are, what you are doing and how it is going, not to mention what other people think or say about you.

When you have painful experiences, you don’t want to feel the pain, so you tune it out.  You shut down on the inside, so that you don’t fully experience what is happening.  This process of shutting down is one of creating physical tension.  Your ability to feel the physical sensations of your body actually diminishes as you try to not feel what you are experiencing in your mind and emotions.  Sometimes this is a valuable decision —especially as a child, your ability to shut out the painful stuff might be what got you through a tough time.  Even if that was what you needed to do sometime in the past — that was the past.  Your ability to look life fully in the face and to move into it with vigor is based on your current stature as an adult, and as a yogi.

A yogi does not shrink from anything.  A yogi does not label anyone or anything as being good or bad — everything and everyone is a form of Shiva, the one Divine Essence manifest in all forms.  As a yogi, you can (and must) choose where you are going to spend your time and with whom, but without having to shut yourself down or tune out your experiences.  This means you can watch the evening news without being upset by it.  You can have an experience of knowing and seeing the pain and injustice in the world, without going into pain yourself.  And, even if it does bring up the feeling of personal pain, you can embrace it.  It is only temporary — all experiences are temporary.  They all change with time.  Just keep tuned in.  The show is ever changing.

As you continue the process of inner opening, you discover a deeper and greater sense of self.  Then the stuff of life doesn’t slay you.  Things come and go while you fit it into a larger perspective.  The ups and downs of life become less all-possessing because you have a larger sense of self.  It is not threatened by the momentary losses and it is not lost in the neon light of success.  If you make a mistake today, you have a sense that there is a tomorrow coming in which you can try to rectify it.  If you enjoy a great success today, you know that there will be something tomorrow that will humble you again, and you enjoy that too.  Your inner sense of self is large enough to accommodate the ever-changing world along with other people’s opinions of you.

When something in your life becomes so overwhelming that you get lost in it, then the problem is not the thing that overwhelmed you — the problem is that you lost your Self.  Your own inner source of resiliency, joy and love is lost.  This is the very source that will make you able to handle all the things that life brings, but you lost track of it.  This loss of Self is the biggest catastrophe of life — and you see it everywhere you look, in the media, the movies and TV shows, and in everyone you know.  As a yogi, you need and want something more.  You must!

In yoga, you work on the two purposes of life simultaneously.  If you tried to leave your life to work on Self-Realization, then you would have lost track of one of the purposes.  The archetype of the yogi, sitting in a cave meditating by himself is an archetype — not reality.  Yogis in India live in community, sharing the process and working together toward that ultimate aim.  Along the way, they have many experiences — of relationship, of a shared goal and the work that needs to be done, of celebrations of joy and love for one another, etc.

In other words, yogis have a life.  So do you.  You must work on both purposes of life simultaneously.  You can begin by fully embracing your life.  Step into it as though you chose to be alive.  Participate fully, while you are living from the inner depths of your essence, or looking for it — inside.

Do More Yoga!

 

Originally published in March 2004

Opening into Love

By Swami Nirmalananda

The texts of yoga define love as the recognition of Self in another.  You know that feeling when you look at someone and see something in them; maybe it’s the light shining through their eyes.  An extraordinary feeling arises inside.  What is happening is that you have seen the infinite within them, and it triggered your experience of the infinite within you.  The inner arising is the infinite filling you from the inside — the infinite meeting the infinite.  It is called Love.  I would wish that it happens to you frequently or that you live in it all the time.

Unfortunately, you limit how often you allow that feeling to be triggered inside.  You even limit how many people you allow yourself to feel this with.  Your list is too short.  Somehow, it is easier when a pet or a beautiful scene in nature triggers it.  It is a little harder with a person because we attach lots of other things onto this feeling.  When you say, “I love you,” it ends up with some baggage:  you have unexpressed expectations that the other person will love you back and that they will prove it by supporting you, protecting you, encouraging you, acknowledging you, always being there for you and basically doing everything you want or need.  But these added-on extras are not Love.  They are very important in life, but they are not Love.

Love transcends all of the mundane; it is the felt-sense of the infinite within.  The problem with love is that you depend on someone or something outside of you to trigger this inner arising.  Yoga specializes in the inner arising, so that you can experience what is already there inside you.  You are the One, infinite, blissful, Self-knowing, Ultimate Reality that is called “That.”  You are That.  You have always been That.  You are already That.  You don’t have to become That; you merely need to stop blocking the inner arising.

You block this inner experience by tightening up and closing off from the inner infinity.  Svaroopa® yoga opens you up by beginning with your body and going much deeper, until the opening gives you direct access to That.  You come to know the pathway to the infinite within.  The more you open on the inside, the more you allow the experience of Love to arise with others.  Fear drops away.  As it becomes easier to allow the infinite to arise within you, it is also easier to see the infinite in others, even when they are not being pretty or nice.  Even when they are not doing what you want them to do.  You can love unconditionally.

Also, you can allow yourself to feel that you are loved.  Instead of looking to other people to love you, you know and feel that you are loved by that One Infinite Reality.  Instead of having to look good or to be perfect in order to be loveable, you experience that you are loved exactly as you are.  You are loved unconditionally — which is what you have always longed for.  The lifelong yearning for this feeling can never be satisfied by the people around you.  It can only be fulfilled by feeling God’s love for you.

Yoga clearly describes God.  If yoga left God out of the picture, it wouldn’t be a complete science of human experience.  Of course, yoga’s definition of God is different than most peoples’.  God is the One Ultimate Reality that has become everything that exists, pervading it and extending beyond it.  It is called “God” when you find it outside and called “Self” when you find it inside.

There is only the One, but individuals experience it in many ways.  Love, as defined by life, shows you how to find it outside, in other people.  Love, as defined in church, shows you how to find it outside, in God.  Yoga shows you how to find Love inside, in Self.

Plus, there is more.  When you begin yoga, you are exploring the Self from a place of inner unknowing.  Your Svaroopa® yoga practice melts away tensions and the inner blocks, and the inner veil of unknowing is gradually pierced full of holes.  With each piercing, the light of your own inner radiance shines through and you are filled on the inside.  This experience overflows into your life and your relationships, emanating from the inner source.  You naturally become more committed to your yoga practice and more interested in the inner filling.  As you keep going, you get better at staying in that inner fullness, even when you are not doing yoga.

Then your life becomes an expression of That Love.  This is very different than using your life to try to find Love, trying to get moments of the inner arising.  Your inner experience of the infinite is the source from which That Love arises, and you come to experience this in every encounter, in every action and in every moment.  This is your destiny.  This is your goal.  This is your true identity.  You are not Love — you are the Source of Love.  You are That.

Originally published February 2004

Who do You Feel Yourself to Be?

By Swami Nirmalananda

Yoga is not just about how you feel — it is about WHO you feel yourself to be.  When you begin practicing yoga, it makes you feel good.  Some people describe their first yoga experience as making them feel better than ever before!  In this way, yoga is about how you feel, especially in the beginning.

According to yoga’s ancient teachings and texts, asana is a way of working with your body to quiet your mind.  There is no doubt that you need to quiet your mind, but yoga promises more than a reduction of stress.  The purpose of quieting your mind is to discover the inner source and essence of your own being, Beingness-Itself.  In other words, yoga is not about how you feel; it is about who you feel yourself to be.

One man enrolled in a meditation course with me.  One evening, I gave the group an assignment to use a mantra during the week, for the purpose of keeping calm in the midst of life.  Mantra is a way of directing your mind beyond the usual petty stuff, into your own inner essence.  This particular mantra is:

I release my desire for survival (or you can use the word “security”)

I release my desire for esteem (or substitute “affection”)

I release my desire for power (or say, “control”)

He exclaimed, “I can’t repeat that!”  I asked why not, and he said that he needed survival, esteem, power and control, because his employer was downsizing and they were expecting layoff notices any day.  As the father and sole wage earner for his family, he needed to keep his job.   I pointed out that the mantra says, “I release MY DESIRE for…” He asked, “What is the difference?”  I said, “Repeat it and you will find out.”

The following week, he returned with this story.  He repeated this mantra daily, even in the midst of the office activity.  He found that he could step back from the group clustering around the water cooler, copier or coffee pot.  Instead of participating in the constant gossip and speculation that fueled everyone’s insecurities, he would go back to his desk and get back to work.

At the end of the week, the layoff notices came out, and he was delighted to find that he was going to keep his job.  He went to his supervisor to ask why, and the supervisor said, “You were the only one doing your job, so I decided to keep you.”

Mantra is just one of the thousands of techniques that yoga provides for the purpose of shifting your inner sense of self.  This new meditator wasn’t just calmed down at work; he became a person who didn’t need to scheme and gossip in order to keep his job.

He described how this inner shift worked, explaining that he became a person with an inner sense of integrity and purposefulness that put him beyond the office politics.  He became a person who preferred to fulfill his responsibilities (the work to be done) instead of being someone so riddled with insecurities that he couldn’t see the larger picture.  He became fearless.

This is not simply feeling better; this was something much more significant and long lasting.  He didn’t just feel better; he became a new man.  He felt like he could handle anything.  Before yoga, he was a “man with responsibilities, living under a serious threat.” With the mantra, he knew himself as a man with high principles and a high work ethic, who could carry that inner reality with him even though the external landscape was shifting.  It gave him an internal continuity amidst the external change.

This internal continuity deepens with your continuing practice of poses, meditation, mantra or any of yoga’s many other practices.  It becomes a knowing of your own self at a new level, which is profoundly deeper and more intimate.  Yoga doesn’t merely make you feel better; it gives you a deeper internal point of reference.

When you have this internal point of reference, you are not shaken by external circumstances like before — this is because you have grown up.  When you were 2 years old, it was a significant event if you could not have the Popsicle you wanted.  When you were 10 years old, you felt like you were worthless if you missed the ball in a baseball game.  When you were 15, you went into agony if your clothes weren’t just right, or if a certain person ignored you.  Now, you have grown up.

Your sense of WHO you are is not dependent on Popsicles, baseball scores, riding the wave of fashion, or getting attention from a certain person; at least I hope not!   You have a bigger sense of self.  Your world has enlarged, not only on the outside, but also on the inside.  You can take it or leave it — and you can even take the loss of position or the loss of possessions in stride.  Your sense of self is bigger than that.

You can easily check it out in your own experience.  Right now.  Sit up comfortably and check in with yourself quickly.  Where do you find your sense of self?  See how deep in you have to go to find that internal point of reference that says, “I am me.”  Now, slow down your breath and smooth it out.  If you know Ujjayi Pranayama, you can create the breathing sound; if you don’t, then just smooth and slow down your breath —not forcefully, but with a quality of gentleness.  Stay with it for two or three minutes.

When you finish, immediately check inward for where you find your sense of self.  How deep inward do you have to go to find that internal point of reference that says, “I am me.”  Has it changed?  Of course!  This is because the depth of your own existence is more than you currently know it to be — it is even more than you imagine it to be.  You are Consciousness-Itself.  You are the Source and Essence of the Universe, and Beyond.

I invite you to adopt the mantra described above, though it can be hard to lift something like this off of a piece of paper.  When you sit in a room with someone teaching you how to use it, it is significantly easier.  The personal contact will empower it and empower your ability to use it.  Still, it will work.  More importantly, there are more effective mantras available, should you be interested in going further.  They are part of the ancient ever-existing science of yoga.  Poses work too, especially the way we work with the body in Svaroopa® yoga — opening the internal levels of the body creates an inner opening to the depth of your own Being.

Asana and meditation are only two of yoga’s eight entry points to the inner experience of your own essence.  The science of yoga offers you so many rich and beautiful opportunities — not just to change how you feel, but to change who you feel yourself to be.  Do more yoga!

Excerpted from November 2003 article

Matsya Avatar (Vishnu’s first Avatar)

By Nirooshita Sethuram &                   Swami Nirmalananda

Brahma is the name we call the One God, when He/She is creating, also known as Creator-God.  Brahma’s own day and night is comprised of a few billion years each.  When Brahma’s day is over, He goes to sleep and utter darkness prevails with the earth is submerged in water.  This is called the Pralaya (Deluge), which continues throughout Brahma’s night.  When Brahma wakes up in his morning, the worlds slowly come out of the water and life prevails all over again.

Hayagriva was a very powerful Asura (evil being), a horse-headed demon who was causing a lot of trouble to the Devas (heavenly beings) and others.  Knowing that the Vedas were the breath of the Devas, sages and all virtuous people, Hayagriva conspired to take away the Vedas during Brahma’s sleep.  With the Vedas in his possession, Hayagriva planned to hide himself in the deepest abyss of the ocean so that no one could find the Vedas.  Without the Vedas, Brahma would not be able to create the universe, thus the Asuras could rule the worlds.  With this thought, Hayagriva was waiting for the Brahma’s night to come.

A great sage was living at that time, Satyavrata, who was a king who had become a great Master.   He was doing deep practices, absolutely devoted to Lord Vishnu, sustaining himself only on water, performing severe austerities.

One day, as he was offering water to Lord Vishnu in the Kritamala River, Satyavrata reached into the river to take some water into his hand for this purpose, and a tiny fish came with the water into his hand.  As he was trying to let the fish back in the river, the fish requested Satyavrata to save him from all the big fish in the river.

Out of compassion, Satyavrata put the fish into his small water-pot (kamandala) and took it to his ashram.  The next morning, picking up his kamandala, he saw the tiny fish had grown to fill the size of the kamandala.  Hence, Satyavrata put the fish in a big tub.  The next day, the fish grew to fill the entire tub.  So the good sage put the fish and in a big well nearby.  Again, the next morning he saw the fish occupying the whole well, to his wonder.  He was really confused.  Out of pity, he carefully moved the fish to a big lake nearby.  To his consternation, he observed the fish growing, in a short time filling the entire lake.

Now realizing that the fish is none other than Lord Vishnu, who has come in the form of a fish, the king-sage said, “Oh Lord Vishnu, it is you who has come in this form.  Accept my respectful salutation!”  Lord Vishnu in the form of the fish replied, “Blessings Satyavrata. Brahma’s night is coming in seven days.  This means darkness and severe downpours, resulting in an unprecedented flood covering the three worlds in water, destroying all life.  I have come to warn you of this deluge.  Gather the seven rishis, all the life species, life forms and seeds.  At the time of the Pralaya, a spacious boat will approach you.  Board the boat with all you have gathered and it will sail down the Ganges.  When it reaches the ocean, I will be waiting for you.  Tie the boat to my nose and I will drag you and the occupants of the boat on the turbulent water until Brahma’s night comes to an end.”  Then the fish disappeared in the water, saying, “I now need to go save the Vedas!”  Following Lord Vishnu’s command, Satyavrata gathered the seven rishis, along with all the life forms and seeds.  They waited for the seventh day and the arrival of the boat.

As soon as darkness fell and Brahma closed his eyes, Hayagriva stole the Vedas from the Creator and found his hiding place in the deepest part of the ocean.  As the Pralaya was approaching and the whole world was going under water, he thought no one could find his place.  But no hiding place was good enough for Lord Vishnu!  He found Hayagriva in the deepest part of the ocean and fought with him to get the Vedas back.  After a fierce battle, Lord Vishnu killed Hayagriva and took possession of the Vedas.

By this time, Satyavrata had boarded the boat with the seven rishis and all the life species, life forms and seeds he had collected.  The boat was sailing down Ganges, with the water was rising as the worlds were going under water.  When the boat approached the ocean, Lord Vishnu, in the form of the golden fish of an extraordinary size was waiting to help them to ride out the deluge.  As instructed, Satyavrata tied the boat to the fish’s nose.  Lord Vishnu pulled the boat through the Pralaya, and imparted to Satyavrata the eternal truth contained in the “Matsya Purana,” as well as all things connected with the secret knowledge of the soul.

Time passed.  At the start of Brahma’s daybreak, the floods subsided.  By the grace of Lord Vishnu, Satyavrata was safe in his boat with all the precious things, as well as the knowledge and spiritual wisdom he gathered.  It is he who became Manu, the son of Vivasavan, in the next eon-age.

After saving the worlds and the boat with Satyavrata and his collection, Lord Vishnu returned the Vedas to the rightful owner Brahma, who had risen from his sleep.  Thanking Lord Vishnu, Brahma continued his work, creating life in the worlds, never to lose the Vedas again.

Continuity & Change

By Swami Nirmalananda

Life is constant change.  Yoga’s ancient texts clearly describe this constant change in exquisite detail.  They explain that this world is based on change, a constant progression of events that are sequencing themselves through time.  There are two types of change, regardless of whether you are creating the change or whether it is being thrust upon you.

One change is simply for the sake of novelty or variety, also called entertainment. This is the one that you see most commonly — society’s norm.  A superficial type of change, sometimes you want to change things around just for the novelty of it.  A woman described to me that she drives a different route to work every day.  I asked her why, and she said, “A change is nice.”  Yes, it is.  However, usually you crave variety in order to distract you from what is going on inside.  There are inner blocks preventing your access to the deeper dimension of your own being, so you look for something to create an enjoyable diversion on the outside.

The other type of change is called personal growth. This is a change that clears the inner blocks preventing your experience of your own blissful, eternal, immortal essence.  Of course, if you don’t clear out these inner blocks through yoga, life’s seemingly random events will force you to this change.  Personal growth is actually an opening into consciousness, sometimes in spite of yourself.  It is the clearing away of the inner constrictions that currently block your deep inherent knowing of your own being as Consciousness-Itself.

When you do Svaroopa® yoga, you are choosing the personal growth type of change.  Whatever gets you started in yoga, when you get the thing you wanted — you were changed.  Maybe you wanted help with your physical aches and pains, healing on more subtle levels (to calm your mind or heal your emotions), or for stress relief and relaxation.  When you get what you have come for, you are changing.  This is personal growth, not just a type of entertainment.  This is an opening into consciousness.

Maybe you even started Svaroopa® yoga because you wanted to open the inner spiritual dimensions, but when they open — it is still a change from where you were.  Many of you are experiencing all of these changes simultaneously: healings, relaxation and opening into consciousness.  That’s one of the best things about yoga.

Along with change, you also want stability, safety, consistency and security in your life.  You have or you want a home, as well as to work in a fulfilling profession with a satisfying level of personal income and other things as pillars in your life.  You may have pets and you want them to be healthy and live a long time; you want your family members to be healthy and happy, and to live for a long time.  It takes a lot of work to pull this off — you have to do the laundry, get the car serviced, water and weed the garden, and spend time with the people in your life, even when they are cranky and unhappy – or especially when they are cranky and unhappy.  You have to remember their birthdays if you want them to remember yours.

All of this creates an external form of continuity.  You try to create this external continuity because you are hoping for a sense of safety to come from the outside, so the internal levels of panic will subside and your crazy mind will quiet.  The true sense of continuity comes from the innermost essence of your being, the Self.  The Self is consistent, complete, and content — the inner continuity of Consciousness-Itself, Consciousness-Itself being you.

The Supreme Reality of your Own Being is inwardly experienced as unbroken consciousness, the unchanging sense that “I am I.”  It is the unchanging Reality within.  — Shri Shankaracharya, Vivekachudamani

Have you ever been a passenger on a car trip and you nodded off?  You were watching the scenery, and the driver was driving, and you dozed off.  Maybe you were going along through the woods, and then you woke up and you found that you had arrived at the beach.  The outside is completely different and you don’t even know how you got to where you are.  But you still have this sense of inner continuity.  You don’t even have to think of it to make it exist.  You still are who you were, even though you are in a different place.

It’s like this when you go to sleep, even though your mind stops attending to things.  It can rain outside and you don’t know it.  There might be a thunderstorm at night.  The next day, someone says, “Did you hear the thunder?”  “No…  I was asleep.”  You are unaware of the outside, even though things are still going on.  But inside, at a deeper level than sleep, there is the Self.  It never blinks out.  It never goes unconscious — it is Consciousness-Itself.  It is never unaware.  It is always aware — even aware of your sleep.

You may have had the experience that you knew you were sleeping while you were asleep.  The Self is the knower — always aware, knowing all, experiencing all.  The Self is being all.  The one Self has become everything that exists, including you.  So when you wake up, you have this inner feeling of continuity.  Even though your mind was asleep, and the outside was not a continuity of experience, the Self was continuous.  The Self IS continuous.  You exist.

 

Excerpt from Continuity Amidst Change, published October 2003