Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

It Keeps Getting Better

By Swami Nirmalananda

When I started yoga, I did TV yoga, saved magazine articles and even took a few yoga classes.  It didn’t inspire me to continue with any regularity.  Then I took a meditation course and knew that I had found something I really wanted.

I began a daily practice of meditation, an hour every morning before my day began.  The thing that amazed me was that I needed less sleep.  I had always needed 9 or 10 hours a night, but when I meditated for an hour, I only needed 5 hours at night.  I gained an extra 4 hours of productive time every day.  I loved it!

The most important thing Svaroopa® yoga and meditation provides is the deep inner immersion.  This inner experience completely replenishes you – it is the time you need to recover from Life.

Your inner experience can unfold in different ways.  Most people recognize it first in their yoga class, as Shavasana eases you inward.  You get better results from Ujjayi Pranayama (Yogic Breathing), as you tap you into the inner source of replenishment as if you were pumping water up out of a well – smooth and slow.

Your Svaroopa® yoga poses give you reliable spinal decompression, from tail to top.  We call it “core opening,” meaning it is releasing tensions from the deepest layers of muscles inside, your spinal muscles.  It also means it’s opening up the core of your being, your inherent Divinity.  These yoga practices remove the blocks that kept you from living in the ever-arising inner source of life and vitality.  Ultimately, the fullest potential that human life offers becomes available through this powerful spinal flow.

Sanskrit offers different names for the different experiences that unfold with Svaroopa® yoga’s core opening.  You may already know how it relieves the spinal tensions that cause all (or most) physical pains and problems.  No special Sanskrit term is needed for this, but sukha would be appropriate as it means ease and happiness.  To be able to move and breathe in a pain-free body is truly sukha.

The related change in your mind and emotions is not only freedom from pain; it is shanti – peace.  The way you feel after a class or your own personal practice makes you able to handle life more easily, because the inner turmoil and anxiety is pacified (made peaceful).  As important as the physical improvements are for you, this quality of mind and mood has a much more powerful impact on your life.  Your sense of who you are becomes based in shanti, an inner peace and surety that translates to you having more confidence in your life and in yourself.

The energy that is always flowing through your spine is called prana.  This is the energy of aliveness; it makes your body a living body instead of a corpse.  When you feel energized, optimistic and generous, you have more prana flowing.  When you feel tired and drained, you have less prana.  Many things can affect how much prana is flowing, including your thoughts as well as spinal tensions.  Each time you do Svaroopa® yoga, you dissolve more of the pranic blocks, which is why you begin feel more alive.

Even more happens when you get the release at your tailbone, which you may have already discovered.  The next level of opening is a flow of udana prana, an upward flowing energy that makes you feel light and happy.  This upwelling inside is familiar to you, as you experience it every time you laugh:  it precedes laughter.  This is udana prana.  You have to have your spine upright for it to flow since it flows upward.  This means that it doesn’t happen when you are lying down.  A wonderful as Shavasana is, it doesn’t offer you everything.

Once you get enough opening at your tailbone, a more powerful current of energy begins to flow – a higher frequency is moving through your core.  It may begin as a periodic surge, and with more opening it becomes a smooth flow.  You may experience it as an inner heat that climbs your spine or as beautiful experiences of inner colors or sounds.  It may blossom as inner visions or profound realizations, or even spontaneous physical movements.  This energy has a name as well, Kundalini.  It is a specialty of Svaroopa® yoga, due to my Guru’s initiation and grace.

This is the emerging of the most powerful of your own inner forces, the energy of your own transformation.  It is the fire of yoga.  It is yoga’s promise fulfilled – the ancient sages gave us the practices and teachings so that each of us could open up this profound potential within.

Yoga says that once Kundalini begins to flow, you are on the path toward enlightenment.  You can make it in this lifetime, or you can wait for a few more – it’s your choice.  You decide by deciding how much yoga you will do.  This is why I often say, “Do more yoga!”

Excerpted from “Naming the Experience” originally published March 2006

Naming the Inner Experience

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Svaroopa® yoga specializes in the deep inner absorption, yoga’s promise.  This inner experience, whether it happens in Shavasana or in meditation, is deeper than sleep and at the same time more open and spacious.  It is deep, yet it has a quality of lightness and it is easier to surface from.  Coming out of this state, you feel profoundly rested – more rested than after a full night of sleep.

Since English has no word for this experience, you may think you fell asleep. Yet you know it was somehow different.  Many people describe this inner absorption as being “better than sleep.”  This is why yoga uses Sanskrit words, technical terminology that makes us able to talk about things that English does not name.

Without words in English, you cannot name it, and you cannot even conceive that it is other than something you can name – sleep.  The words you already know leave no room for you to acknowledge that something entirely different is happening.  This is one of the reasons that I write these articles – to help you recognize that the things you are experiencing are beyond your concepts of what can happen.  You need new vocabulary for this.  You need words that describe the subtle and the profound.   There are Sanskrit words for all the different types of inner experiences you have.

In Shavasana, your deeper inner experience is either yoga nidra or tandra.  It is a profound inner immersion into consciousness, which is your own essence.  I like to call it, “going unconscious in consciousness.”  It is like a scuba diver who has gone so deep that there is no light filtering down to that level, but the diver is there nonetheless.  Next time, that diver might plan to bring an underwater light along.  As you become more accustomed to this inner depth, you become more able to see and know where you are, which is a profound inner level of your own being.

Yoga nidra feels more like floating.  It is an inner immersion, but not as deep.  You can hear the things going on around you, but they seem very far away and you are not much interested.   You may have experienced this briefly while falling asleep at night.  In fact, nidra means sleep, so this is a state of “yogic sleep,” which is restful without being heavy.  The ancient tradition of yoga describes that the masters give their body 3 hours of rest each night by resting in yoga nidra.  This way, they do not go unconscious nor do they tighten up.  In sleep, your body tightens – you especially recognize this when you do poses in the morning.  In yoga nidra, your body doesn’t tighten up.  Most importantly, the rest that your body needs is easily available and very time efficient.

While these are deep and profound experiences, there is more…

Originally published March 2006

Physics, Anatomy & Yoga

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Your body is made of atoms, just like every other physical object.  Those atoms consist of subatomic particles, which are tiny bits of contracted energy swirling around in vast amounts of empty space.  The subatomic particles that make up your body are the same subatomic particles that make up everything else, including what you are sitting or standing on, the air you are breathing, the meal you ate recently, etc.  These particles include protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks and mesons, which move in different patterns to become everything that exists, including your body.

The ancient yogis mapped these energy flows that produce the human body, naming them nadis.  Acupuncture calls them meridians.  Medical science confirmed their existence once machines were invented, a few decades ago, which are sensitive enough to measure and map these subtle flows.

The 720,000,000 nadis branch out from the primary flow, which is through your spine.  Your nervous system is the physical manifestation of the primary flows, with all the nerves branching off from your spinal cord.  Your spine controls your whole body.  At the same time, your spine is much more — your spine is the conduit of consciousness.

While physical tensions in your spine do block the flow of this energy, the most powerful blocks are the ones you create with your mind and emotions.  You can think yourself into exhaustion.  Similarly, you tighten your whole body with a single thought or by ruminating over your reactions to life’s prior events.  This also works the other way — your Svaroopa® yoga practice untangles the deep internal tensions in your body, unraveling your mental and emotional patterns simultaneously.

You know how this works by your own experience.  You feel better after just a few poses, a physical change and more.  The inner opening is not merely the decompression of your spine; you can tell because your state of mind and the inner quality of your being open up at the same time.  Ultimately yoga describes that the fullest potential of a human being becomes available through this inner opening, specifically through opening of your spine.

Your spine is the “conduit of consciousness.”  This phrase is very important, and contains many levels of meaning.  First, it means that the energy which has become the universe is a conscious energy.  The One that existed before this universe existed, decided to bring this universe into existence, and got it started with a big bang (spanda in Sanskrit) is called Shiva. Kashmiri Shaivism recognized that Shiva’s decision to manifest the universe means that Shiva has free will.  This means that Shiva is conscious — more than merely conscious, Shiva is Consciousness-Itself.

Secondly, Shiva contracted to become the energy and atoms that make up this world, including your own mind and body.  You can visualize this process like a bolt of lightning that strikes the earth, except that the earth doesn’t exist yet in our cosmological map — the lightening strike brings the earth into existence.  On a personal level, that lightning strike is your spine. The earth that is brought into existence is your body, which forms around your spine.  This is both figuratively and literally true, as the formation of the embryo begins with the spine.  Even the brain comes later, growing like a mushroom cap on top of the spinal cord.

The entire process is one of contraction.  Einstein named it in his famous formula, E=mc2.  Shiva contracts to become the universe, forming matter out of energy.  You are an individualized form of Shiva.  Your body is the most contracted level of your being, while your mind is a more subtle level that pervades your whole body, though many of its functions are concentrated in your head and heart. Your spine is the key to the whole thing.

Third, the momentum is toward contraction.  From the time your body was formed, you began contracting in accordance with your experiences, even when you were in your mother’s womb.  Your early life shaped your brain and body. As you mature, your life choices continue the process of contraction, until you begin to shrink with age.  Your spine shortens while your world gets smaller and smaller.  This is the classical description of aging, a shared human experience and a prediction of your future.  The momentum is toward contraction.

Fourth and most important, the decompression of your spine turns the whole thing around.  Through core opening, the momentum toward contraction is reversed; technically, it is boomeranged.  The release of tensions in your tailbone muscles turns the contraction back on itself, like a boomerang returning back to its master.  Once you get a certain amount of inner opening, the energy in your spine is amped up, with a higher frequency moving through.  In other words, once you get enough release at your tailbone, a profound current of energy begins to flow through your spine.

In the beginning, it is a periodic surge that works on dissolving the blocks you had so carefully installed.  As you open more and more, this profound current of energy becomes a continuous flow, expanding your knowing of your own being and of the world.  The stages along the way are profound transformations, which help you uncover your deeper identity.

This is an inner blossoming of your own essence; you feel you are becoming more and more yourself.  This gives you an inner ease in your own being, and an ability to move though life fluidly, adapting to its quirks and changes as they occur — even laughing at them or learning from them more easily.

The signs that this current has begun to flow along your spine include:

  • A flare of inner heat or a wave of heat that climbs your spine
  • Beautiful inner lights/colors, inner visions or inner sounds during meditation (or even in a short seated pose in class)
  • Spontaneous realignment of your spine during a seated pose or during meditation
  • Spontaneous physical movements or breath movements
  • Deep and profound realizations during yoga poses or meditation
  • A deep inner absorption in Shavasana or meditation, from which you arise fully refreshed and knowing that you were “in there somewhere,” in a place that is both timeless and vast
  • A growing sense of inner knowingness, with a deep inner trust that needs no external support
  • A realization that you cannot go back to the way you used to be.

Svaroopa® yoga specializes in this inner awakening.  This is the promise of Svaroopa® yoga — that the conduit of consciousness gives you access to the knowing of your own essence.  This is the goal of all yogas, though it is rarely stated openly.  This is the fire of yoga, which opens up the radiance of your own being, so that you can know your own essence and recognize it in everyone and everything that exists.

Your interest in yoga may be motivated by simpler things — healing an injury, improving your health, reducing stress, ending your back or neck pain (or other pains), finding an inner tranquility that carries into your life, etc.  How wonderful that you get whatever you came for — and you get to decide how much you want.  You make your decision by how much yoga you do.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Originally published February 2006

Varaha Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

“Vaikuntha” is the abode of Lord Vishnu.  Jaya and Vijaya are the two doorkeepers guarding the seven doors of this Divine Realm.  They love Lord Vishnu and feel honored to be serving him.  They take their job very seriously, making sure Lord Vishnu’s time is spent on matters that need the most attention and assistance.

Many come to pay respect & worship Lord Vishnu, so Jaya and Vijaya make sure no one wastes Lord Vishnu’s precious time, so that he can help the ones in real need.  No one is allowed through the seventh door of Vaikuntha without Jaya’s and Vijaya’s approval.

One day, as Jaya and Vijaya were standing on guard at the seventh door of Vaikuntha, they saw four children coming.  Jaya and Vijaya were mystified, as they have seldom seen children visiting the Vaikuntha in all their years guarding the doors.  It was very rare.  Jaya and Vijaya talked among themselves and decided that it will be a waste of Lord Vishnu’s time to see these children.  They didn’t want the children to bother Lord Vishnu.

The four children came to the doors of Vaikuntha, passing through the first six to arrive at the seventh, only to find two gatekeepers with four arms and red eyes stopping them.  The youngest said, “Open up!  We want to see the Lord.”  Jaya shook his head and said, “Children, please do not disturb the Lord.  He is not available at the moment.  You go and play somewhere else.”

Another child burst out, “You think we are children!  We are not children.”  Though Vijaya was a bit confused, now in some doubt, he resolutely shook his head as he’d decided earlier with Jaya.  He said as kindly as possible, “The Lord is very tired.  He is resting.  Please come some time later.”

The expression in the children’s faces went from bad to worse, so Jaya and Vijaya were a bit scared that the children might be some high sages in disguise.  The oldest of the children, said “Do you know who we are?”  Continuing without waiting for an answer, he said, “I am Sanaka; he is my younger brother Sanatana…” pointing to the one who was quietest of them.  “And these are Sanandana and Sanatkumara, my youngest brothers.” pointing to the ones who had spoken earlier.

Hearing this and realizing who these four children were, Jaya and Vijaya were very upset about refusing passage to them through the seventh door.  “You are the four Kumaras, the sons of Lord Brahma,” they said faintly, kneeling before the four children.  “We apologize for our behavior.  We mistook you for some mischievous children.”

The four were far from relenting.  Sanatana spoke, breaking his silence, “You close the door of the Lord to devotees like us.  We pray to him all the time.  Lord Vishnu is always available for us.  You said he is not available!”  Sanatkumara interrupted his brother, saying, “We curse you for this.”  Trembling, Jaya and Vijaya said, “Please do not curse us, we did this unintentionally, not knowing who you were!”

Hearing the raised voices outside the door, Lord Vishnu came to the door accompanied by His Consort, Goddess Lakshmi.  He saw His doorkeepers kneeling at the feet of the four children of Lord Brahma, with Sanatkumara completing his curse, “You will no longer be the doorkeepers for Vaikuntha.  You will be sent away from Lord Vishnu, for not letting His devotees see the Lord!”

The Lord looked at Jaya and Vijaya with empathy, while they were kneeling silently, not knowing what to do.  The four children of Lord Brahma bowed, worshipped Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi.  They said that they would lift the curse which they had cast it in haste.  But Lord Vishnu said that this curse is going to bring a greater good, not only to Jaya and Vijaya, but also to the three worlds.

Lord Vishnu turned to Jaya and Vijaya, finding them sobbing without control.  Vijaya looking at the Lord says, “We don’t mind any curse, but we cannot bear being separated from you.  Please, Lord do something!”  Lord Vishnu was touched by their great devotion and decided to give them two choices.  He said, “Either you can take seven births on earth as my devotees…”  Vijaya jumped in looking horrified, “Seven births? You mean, we can’t see you for seven births.  No, no, please Lord… No!”

Lord Vishnu continued “…Or take three births as my enemies.”  Jaya said in a whisper, “As your enemy?  Oh, My Lord!  How can we even think of not liking you, let alone being your enemies?” Lord Vishnu looked at them with a grace-filled smile.

Jaya and Vijaya looked at each other, then said, “We can’t part with you for seven births.  Se will take the option of being born three times, so that we can come back to you sooner.”  Lord Vishnu laughed and said, “Don’t you know that everyone thinks of their enemies more than their friends and dear ones?  So, you will be thinking more about me when you are born on the earth.  I will incarnate on the earth to give you moksha, my dear friends.”

Jaya and Vijaya were first born as the brothers Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, to sage Kaasyapa and his wife Diti.  Through his wisdom & knowledge Kaasyapa discovered that these brothers, who were conceived at an inauspicious time by Diti, were going to be evil.  Coming to know this terrible truth, Diti held them in her womb for a very long time until she came to know that Lord Vishnu would come to save the three worlds from her evil sons.

Meanwhile, the earth was not in a good state; the people on the earth were in turmoil all the time, fighting with each other, using devastating weapons that harmed Bhumata (Mother Earth) very much.  Bhumata prayed to Lord Vishnu to come and protect her and the good people on earth.  The great sages on the earth also realizing the damage that was being done, so they performed great yaj~nas (Vedic fire ceremonies), specifically to please Lord Vishnu.

Hiranyaksha, elder of the brothers, wanted to become the most powerful on earth, and performed severe austerities while praying to Lord Brahma.  Happy with Hiranyaksha’s devotion, Lord Brahma appeared before him and granted that he not be defeated or killed by any humans or devas (gods).  Powered by this boon, Hiranyaksha tormented everyone on earth, as well as the devas.

Finding that some devas were still powerful, he decided to weaken them by hiding the Bhumata, the source of their power, by using “the āhuti,” offerings and sacrifices by the earthlings.  He used unimaginable weapons of great power, making Bhumata slip from the axis.  With Bhumata off the axis, he hid her where no one could find her.

The devas, now disconnected from the earth, were greatly weakened.  Knowing this, Hiranyaksha challenged them all, defeating them one by one.  At one point, he came to Varuna (Lord of water), calling upon him for a fight.  Seething with anger, Varuna knew he could not defeat Hiranyaksha, so he said, “Son, I am very old and therefore will not be a good match for you.  You need to go and fight Lord Vishnu!”  When he heard Lord Vishnu’s name, Hiranyaksha felt strange.  However, as he did not remember who he was, he just nodded and decided that Lord Vishnu was the best person to defeat.

Hearing Bhumata’s distressed cry to be rescued, Lord Brahma decided to seek Lord Vishnu’s help to rescue her from Hiranyaksha.  He thought, “Lord Vishnu brought me into existence, so He would be the one to rescue Bhumata.”  As he started praying and meditating for the assistance of Lord Vishnu, a tiny Varaha (boar) emerged from the nostril of Lord Brahma, soon to grow to a size of a huge mountain.  Brahma at once was grateful to Lord Vishnu for taking this incarnation for the greater good.  The Varaha started its journey towards the depths of the worlds to find where Hiranyaksha was holding Bhumata hostage.

As he approached Hiranyaksha, Lord Vishnu smiled, realizing that Jaya’s first birth caused by the curse was coming to an end.  To Hiranyaksha’s astonishment, the huge Varaha dived and took Bhumata from where Hiranyaksha had hid her.  Hiranyaksha chased the Varaha, challenging it for a fight.  The Varaha ignored Hiranyaksha, running faster and faster with Bhumata to place Her back on Her axis.  Bhumata thanked Lord Vishnu, knowing that it was He in the form of the Varaha.

The Varaha turned towards Hiranyaksha and looked at him so furiously, that Hiranyaksha was momentarily was terrified.  The Varaha and Hiranyaksha fought each other, but this time Hiranyaksha had met his match.  The Varaha fought brutally, managing to go past all the defenses of Hiranyaksha.  Hiranyaksha was getting weak and was nowhere close to defeating the Varaha.

Hiranyaksha looked at the Varaha.  The Varaha seemed to be looking at him lovingly.  “Why would the boar look at me lovingly?” Hiranyaksha thought, but he charged at the Varaha again.  The Varaha easily deflected his attack and pushed him away.  With all his strength lost, Hiranyaksha, got the final blow from the Varaha.

As Hiranyaksha was taking his last few breaths, by the grace of Lord Vishnu, he remembered who he was and realized that Lord Vishnu has come in the form of a Varaha as he promised at the doors of Vaikuntha.  With his last breath, Hiranyaksha (Jaya) thanked Lord Vishnu for finishing his first birth on earth.

The Fire of Yoga — Within

By Swami Nirmalananda

You already know that yoga helps you with your aches and pains, and can even cure many conditions that stymie medicine. I am delighted to hear of every “miracle cure” and receive several reports every week.  This is the starting point for most yogis, the motivation to make some changes in your life.  In Svaroopa® yoga classes, we work diligently to help you with your body while showing you yoga is about a deeper inner experience.  Once you have had a taste of your own Divine Essence, you know the real reason you are doing yoga.  One student told me recently, “Holy cow! This is about something more!”

Perhaps you got the first taste of the vastness and depth of your own being in a well-propped Guided Awareness in Shavasana, as you surfaced from a deeply restful state.  You may have even thought you took a short nap, yet you were  not groggy from it at all.  You were profoundly energized and deeply peaceful all at the same time.

Or perhaps you first realized that there was something going on when your teacher set you up in a seated pose, with blankets and props strategically placed to support the tensions in your body.  That support made you able to settle into a profound stillness and ease, which was both physical and more than physical.  This is especially wonderful after doing Seated Side Stretch.

You may have had the experience of lying in an easy pose, angled and propped for deep spinal release, and had an inner heat spread through your body.  The deep spinal opening ignites an inner fire that expands from your core.  It’s really amazing!  It’s called the fire of yoga.  It is the purpose of the spinal decompression — dissolving the inner blocks and awakening the fire of yoga.

This fire, like all fire, has the properties of both heat and light.  The heat of the inner fire is your own inner radiance, and yoga makes you capable of experiencing it shining at full strength.  The inner fire is the light of consciousness — which has become you and is being you right now.  It is your own power of insight, the flash of creativity, the burst of joy that fuels your laughter or tears.  This inner fire is the source of love; it is your own deepest knowing; it is an expansive fullness of inner beingness.  This is Kundalini, a specialty of Svaroopa® yoga.

The tensions in your spine block your radiance from shining through your heart and mind.  When a pose gives you a spinal release, the fire of yoga may flare up — it is not a hot flash!  It may be brief or it may continue for a few minutes, feeling like your own portable sauna   Svaroopa® yoga releases the core tensions so that you can experience yourself and your life in a new way.  While the dissolving of these blocks is good for your body, much more opens up within you.  The fire of yoga is melting the inner blocks even more profoundly than you can do with yoga poses alone.

How can you come to know this inner reality?  Do more yoga!  Do more Svaroopa® yoga!

Originally published January 2006

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