Monthly Archives: June 2018

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