Category Archives: Mystical Living

Svaroopa® Yoga is Different!

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

In India, the land of its origin, the poses are only 10% of yoga’s technology.  The other 90% is about your mind and getting beyond your mind, to experience svaroopa, your ever-blissful Divine Essence. Body-centered practice goes by the generic hatha yoga.  The West offers many brand names, including Svaroopa® yoga.

The generic hatha has two translations, literal and mystical.  Literally “effort-filled,” it is even translated as “forceful” and “violent.”  It doesn’t mean you should hurt yourself!  It means you can propel yourself towards enlightenment through rigorous self-effort.  You can push yourself.  Hatha yoga is DIY (Do-It-Yourself).

Contrast this with 90% of the yogis in India.  They are sitting:  sitting to listen to their Guru expound on the teachings, sitting to contemplate the teachings they’ve heard, sitting in meditation, sitting to watch the sunrise or sunset, sitting as they participate in rituals, sitting and waiting for their own Divinity to fill into the stillness they’ve created in their mind.

Hatha yogis keep busy.  They don’t sit and watch the sunrise; they do Sun Salutations.  They don’t listen to teachings or contemplate them; they practice the poses and try to make their body measure up.  They don’t regulate their breath in order to quiet their mind; they pump their breath in order to sustain continual movement.  They don’t create stillness in their mind; they keep moving.

Swami Nirmalananda describes a yoga therapy conference she attended, “I arrived fresh from a yoga retreat in India.  I’d been sitting for long sweet hours of meditation and traditional ceremonies.  I joined 2,000 other yoga teachers and yoga therapists for the first plenary session, a full two hours of PowerPoint presentations by medical researchers, showing how they proved that yoga works.  I arrived a little late, so I sat in the back of the hall and watched the drama play out.

“Within 30 minutes, the 2,000 yoga teachers and therapists were squirming in their seats.  They couldn’t pay attention to the presenters.  They were wiggly, noisy and distracting.  After another 30 minutes, the moderator announced, ‘I know it’s hard for you to sit, so we’re adding in a break after our next presenter.’ I was shocked.  They couldn’t sit!  They think yoga is about movement.”

Yoga has been growing in the West since 1893, when Swami Vivekananda brought it from India.  Western yogis now compete for championships and even Gold Medals.  Google it; yoga is a sport.  This is a different direction than the sages intended.  Hatha yoga is described in the texts as efforting practice, a way to apply yourself physically, but for progress toward Enlightenment, not towards mastering a pose or perfecting your body.  Ultimately your physical mastery gives you the ability to apply yourself to more subtle and interior practices.

Let’s look at the second meaning of hatha, the mystical meaning, found in every Sanskrit word.  The syllables ha and tha name the energies that flow along the two sides of your spine:  ha — along the right side of your spine; tha — along your left.  When you open and balance these two flows, the energy shifts and flows through the center of your spine.  In the beginning, this flow is prana, your body’s own healing power.  Grace invokes a stronger flow: the transformative power of Consciousness, the power of your own upliftment.  This is Kundalini.  This is the Svaroopa® yoga difference.

In this mystical meaning, hatha doesn’t mean effort-filled or forceful.  You won’t get any spinal release if you’re forcing.  You have to ease off.  You may have already experienced the difference: working, pushing and trying in a pose compared to propping, softening and settling into the precise angles. More change happens when you effort less.  When you combine precision with compassion, something happens. This is Grace, the power of inward expansion.

To summarize, hatha has two meanings:

  • Effort-filled or forceful, meaning your progress towards Enlightenment is self-propelled through first cultivating physical mastery, then applying your highly developed will to subtle practices.
  • Opening and balancing the energies flowing along the two sides of your spine, so the flow of Consciousness can arise from tail to top, revealing your own Divinity to you.

One is a path of self-effort, and the other is a path of Grace – two radically different paths.

Svaroopa® yoga is a path of Grace.  Everyone else is on the other path.  In Rukmini’s first yoga class, the movements of those athletic, acrobatic yogis were graceful.  But the Grace of Svaroopa® yoga is completely different.  Swami’s beloved Guru, Baba Muktananda, gave her Shaktipat initiation, awakening the dormant energy called Kundalini.  Kundalini is your own Divinity in a seed form that grows and blossoms within.  That transmission created Svaroopa® yoga and enlivens it today.

Parashurama Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama in order to exterminate the evil kings who had derailed from their path of justice and righteousness.  These kshatriyas (warriors) had become a great burden to Bhumata (Mother Earth) and her children.

The great king Gadhi had a beautiful daughter, Satyavati.  Richika, son of Bhrigu (one of the seven Rishis), wanted to marry Satyavati, so asked for her hand from King Gadhi.  Richika was an ascetic, so King Gadhi was not interested in marrying his daughter to him.  The king decided to demand something extraordinary from Richika, to bring an extraordinary gift for his daughter — one thousand white horses who each had one green ear.

Being the son of a great rishi, Richika went to God Varuna for help and was thus able to bring these unique horses.  King Gadhi was very pleased by Richika’s determination and gave his daughter in marriage to him.  The king gave blessings to both of them to live happily.

While Satyavati adjusted well to an ascetic life due to this blessing, she did not have any children.  Meanwhile, at her home kingdom, her father had no heir to the throne.  She pleaded with Richika to help her and her mother with getting children.   Richika agreed to help both of them.  With the help of his father, Rishi Bhrigu, Richika prepared two portions of sacred rice and milk.  The portion for Satyavati was so she would have a son who would become a great sage; the portion for her mother was for her to have a mighty kshatriya son to rule the kingdom.

Unfortunately, not trusting her son-in-law, Satyavati’s mother switched the containers.  In time, both mother and daughter found they were expecting children.  Looking at both women, Richika knew that something was not right, asked his wife about his concern.  Coming to know what had happened, he said to his wife that her mother has committed a grave blunder.  Satyavati’s brother will be a great sage instead of a warrior, and Satyavati’s son, though being a sage, will be an ill-tempered warrior, far from the sage Satyavati was expecting to have.  Seeing her distress, unable to turn everything around, Richika made amends, such that her grandson would be of a sage’s peaceful nature.

Satyavati gave birth to a son, Jamadagni, who became a great rishi.  Once grown, Jamadagni was married to Renuka, known for her chastity and devotion to her husband.  Such was her faith that she was able to fetch water every day from the river for her husband’s puja in a leaky pot of unbaked clay she made each day, with the pot held together only by the strength of her devotion.

Rishi Jamadagni’s Ashram was on the banks of the Narmada River, where he educated whomever sought knowledge.  Due to the family’s poor financial situation, Jamadagni meditated and received a sacred cow, “Kamadhenu,” from Brahma, capable of fulfilling the needs of any number of people in Jamadagni’s Ashram.

Renuka gave birth to five sons (some stories say seven): Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra (also known as Rama).  Rama was the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, an ill-tempered warrior sage known as Parashurama.  For good or bad, due to His grandmother and great-grandmother’s mistake, though being a rishi’s son, Parashurama had an inordinate love for weapons and had Kshatriya (warrior) traits in him.

Parashurama always carried an axe, which he had received from Lord Shiva after pleasing him with His meditation, thus the name “Parashu” (axe) + Rama = Parashurama.  He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, from whom he learned the methods of warfare and other skills.  Parashurama would not tolerate any harm done to Shiva’s name or Shiva’s devotees.

As usual one day, Renuka went to the riverbank to make her clay pot and bring water to the Ashram.  While at the river, in the water she saw the image of a gandharva (heavenly being) in a chariot, passing by in the sky above.  She thought, “What a handsome man!” and lifted her head up to look at him.  Filled with desire for only a moment, losing her chastity, the unbaked pot she held dissolved in the river.  She tried making the pot over and over again, but failed.  Afraid to return to her husband, she waited at the riverbank, uncertain of what to do next.

It was getting unusually late and Jamadagni grew impatient.  Through the power of his meditation, Jamadagni came to know what had happened at the riverbank.  Unusually enraged, he ordered his first four sons to behead their mother.  Horrified, they refused and the enraged rishi turned them into stones.  He waited for his youngest son, Parashurama to return from an errand and gave him the same order.

Without any questions, not knowing what had happened, Parashurama, the ever-obedient son, went to the river bank.  He worshiped Renuka Devi and beheaded her.  He returned to the Ashram with unbearable grief.  Pleased with Parashurama, Jamadagni offered to give anything Parashurama wanted.

Parashurama asked for two boons, by one he wanted His father to forgive His mother, purify her of her sin and bring her back to life with no memory of this event.  The other boon was to bring back His brothers to life and flesh, again with no memory of this event.  Impressed by the affection and devotion of his son, Jamadagni granted both His requests.  Then, Parashurama went to the forest to do a severe penance for killing His mother.  He returned to the Ashram after years of penance.

The kshatriya king of the local kingdom was Kartavirya Arjuna.  He was an evil ruler, harming all the people and the earth for selfish reasons.  Kartavirya Arjuna was born as a deformed child with no legs.  He worshipped a God known as Dattatreya, embodiment of Lord Vishnu himself, born to Sage Atri as his son.  For Kartavirya Arjuna’s obeisance, Dattatreya had granted him a flying golden chariot that could travel wherever he wished, as well as one thousand arms.

With these boons, Kartavirya Arjuna became immeasurably powerful, conducting many military conquests with ease.  He also was fond of hunting with his entourage, ranging in the forests of his kingdoms.  Kartavirya Arjuna’s violence was unbearable.  All the sages, people and even Devas approached Lord Vishnu, requesting him to help them.  Understanding the agony everyone was going through, Lord Vishnu said that he will be taking incarnation to protect them all.  This is why Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama.

When Kartavirya Arjuna was on one of his usual hunting trips, he accidentally came upon the hermitage of Jamadagni.  Parashurama was away in the forest at the time.  As with any visitor, Jamadagni greeted the king and offered food to him and his entourage, as Jamadagni had Kamadhenu to feed any number of people.

Amazed by the amount of food offered to him and his entourage, coming to know that it is from Kamadhenu, Kartavirya Arjuna decided that Kamadhenu should belong to him.  As Jamadagni refused to give Kamadhenu to him, Kartavirya Arjuna ordered his soldiers to forcefully take the cow and its calf with them to the palace, devastating the Ashram.

Parashurama found His mother and father in dismay on His  return from the forest.  Enraged, he went to the palace requesting the cow and the calf back.  When Kartavirya Arjuna refused, Parashurama challenged him to a battle.  Kartavirya Arjuna came out to fight, with his one thousand arms firing five hundred arrows at the same time.  Parashurama defended himself with ease, cut all of Kartaviryaa Arjuna’s one thousand arms and killed the mighty king with His invincible and terrible axe.  Retrieving the cow and the calf, he returned to the Ashram.  Hearing what had happened, Jamadagni ordered his son to undertake a pilgrimage to holy places to get rid of His sin of killing a king.

While Parashurama was away on the pilgrimage, Kartavirya Arjuna’s sons came to Jamadagni’s hermitage to avenge their father’s death.  Jamadagni was meditating in the Ashram; they beheaded him.  The virtuous Renuka Devi’s cry reached the ears of Parashurama, who returned to the Ashram at once.

Coming to know what had happened, took the vow to punish any kshatriya king who was deviating from the path of justice and righteousness.  He started with the sons of Kartavirya Arjuna, slaying any king who he found guilty.  Soon, kshatriyas across the land learned to fear Parashurama and His great axe.  So great was their fear of Parashurama, that they sent their women and children into hiding, disguised as brahmins.

Parashurama travelled around the earth twenty-one times and exterminated twenty-one evil king dynasties, as His mother in agony had pounded her chest 21 times after her husband was killed.  At last, Parashurama’s great anger was appeased.  He had accomplished the mission that he was born for.

He then donated all the kingdoms that he conquered.  Most of the kingdoms were without a ruler.  Some of the kshatriya children, who escaped by going into hiding, continued the line of kings, so a new ruling class emerged.  These new rulers remembered the lesson that Parashurama’s dance of destruction had taught them.  They were a great deal better than their predecessors and ruled justly.

Parashurama is chiranjivi (immortal), still living among us.  Parashurama’s story continues all through the rest of Lord Vishnu’s avatars.  He will be the martial arts Guru to Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, yet to come.

There is another interesting episode in Parashurama’s story that isn’t part of any other of Vishnu’s avatars.  While there are many versions of the story of Lord Ganesha’s broken tusk, this is the version with Parashurama.

Once Parashurama went to see Lord Shiva in Kailasa.  Lord Ganesha stood in His  way, having been ordered by His  mother Parvati to prevent anybody disturbing them.  As Parashurama doesn’t tolerate anyone coming in between him and Lord Shiva, he threatened Ganesha and challenged him to a fight.  Lord Ganesha agreed and a fierce fight started between Lord Ganesha and Parashurama.

They fought for a long time without clear victory in sight for either one of them.  Finally, Parashurama, with a lot of anger, took His axe, the Parashu given to him by Lord Shiva himself, and threw it towards Lord Ganesha.  Lord Ganesha saw the axe coming, while knowing that His father had given the axe to Parashurama.  He didn’t want to disrespect His father’s gift, so He allowed the axe to strike him.  It struck one of Lord Ganesha’s tusks, breaking it with a thundering sound.

Seeing this, Parashurama stopped fighting.  Hearing the sound, Mother Parvati came rushing out.  Seeing what had happened, She was enraged, ready to punish Parashurama for what He had done.  Lord Ganesha pleaded with His Mother to forgive Parshurama and somehow succeeded in calming her down.  Parashurama was so pleased with Ganesha that He gave Him His axe and blessed Him.

Om Namah Shivaya

Inner Impulse Toward Upliftment

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Yoga’s ancient sages tell us that a perfect body is not enough.  Once you achieve physical health, beauty, strength, stamina and vitality, you’ll still be looking for something more.  You can set your whole life up perfectly and you’ll still be looking for something, an indefinable something.  You can’t find it because you don’t know what it is you are looking for.  What you are looking for is your own Self.  It isn’t found outside of you; you find your Self inside yourself.

You need help in this inner discovery.  You had help in learning how to look outside.  From your earliest days, people wiggled toys in front of your cute baby face.  They tweaked your nose, talked in squeaky voices and marveled at your big beautiful eyes.  They did everything they could to draw your attention outward and make you dependent on them.  Well, the truth is that you were dependent on them:  food, drink, body care — even life itself came from them and still depended on their care.

They took you through the essential steps of human conditioning, training your mind in how to desire, need, fear, grieve, project onto others, get angry, blame and feel guilty.  Play came naturally to you.  Joy, laughter, tears — none of these needed to be taught.  But dependency on others had to be taught.  The seeds were already within you, planted by your own actions in lifetimes preceding this one, thus those who birthed and raised you simply nurtured your own karmic seeds, helping you to bring them to fruition.  Thus you were inclined toward looking outside for fulfillment and they helped you learn how to do it.

Your inner impulse toward upliftment comes naturally to you.  The more you lose your Self, the more your Self pushes up within you, demanding to be recognized.  The more lost you get in the outer world, the less happy you are and the more you yearn for that indefinable something.  Everyone yearns, but not everyone seeks.  You’re a seeker.  You’re looking for what you’ve never lost, but you’re looking on the outside.  It’s time to look inward.

Let’s say that you decide to give it a try.  You buy a book or tape on meditation. You sit in the corner, look inward and what you find is your crazy mind.  Some meditative systems teach you to watch your mind.  Yoga teaches you how to still your mind and look deeper, a profoundly different approach, and (important!) yoga offers more.  Yoga makes the inward shift easy, through Grace.

I learned about Grace when I met my Guru.  I didn’t know that it was possible that someone could help me find me.  Through decades of practice, and especially through the way his Guru had propelled Baba into consciousness, Baba was able to give the same gift to me.  The gift of Grace makes the inward turning easy, even irresistible.  That Grace flows through Svaroopa® yoga.  That Grace flows through your spine.  This is why Svaroopa® yoga works so deeply and profoundly — this is a path of Grace.  Do more yoga.

Alignment with Grace

By Swami Nirmalaananda Saraswati

Svaroopa® Yoga’s core opening is not merely a physical opening.  More importantly, it is a deeper inner opening to the experiential knowing of your own Divinity.  How does this work?  When you track your spine from your tail to top, methodically opening up inner space in stages along the way, you get a profound spinal alignment.  Along with aligning your spine, you are aligning yourself with Grace.

You might think that it is as simple as good posture, except that good posture is not so simple.  You can easily lift up into a good “look,” especially if someone is taking your photo, but your spine collapses down into its habitual slump as soon as you forget.  When you straighten up, suck in your gut, open your chest and lengthen your neck upward, you do look good.  But you are tightening muscles to get there.  You can feel it.  So is this what good posture is all about?  No.

Your spinal muscles are each relatively small, not as big and impressive as your thigh muscles or gluteals.  Yet each spinal muscle is pivotally placed, making even that small muscle very powerful.  A structural engineer, taking our Foundations of Svaroopa® Yoga course told me, “One-quarter inch change in your tailbone makes a three-inch change in your neck.  I did the math!”  She was right.

When your spinal muscles are tight, they compress and twist your spine, creating the universal slump, as well as the scoliosis (side-to-side curvature) that most people suffer from.  Chiropractors and osteopaths explain the detrimental effects of spinal compression on your nerves, organs and glands.  Even your skin is affected!  The light in your eyes dims when your spine collapses.  The lift in your heart flattens.  The upward flow of inner joy sinks down, and your face dries up like a prune.

“Stand up straight,” your mother (hopefully) said to you.  But what you did was: tighten your back muscles to overpower the spinal tensions already compressing your spine.  When you lift your torso up straight, you are layering tensions over tensions.  All those layers of tension are exhausting.  So you relax, and your spine slumps again.  Your head and neck push forward and you get a headache.  Your belly sags and your digestion begins to degrade.  The back of your waist caves in and you get shorter.  You get bunions.

In Svaroopa® yoga, we treat the cause of the compression by finding the spinal muscles that are pulling your spine downward.  The bones of your spine are amazingly engineered to stack in a way that lifts you up.  You don’t actually need any muscles to lift and straighten your spine!  Currently, however, your spinal muscles grip your spinal bones and pull them too close together, twist them sideways and even compress your inter-vertebral discs.

To understand the anatomy of it, consider what you already know:  when a muscle is working, it shortens.  Every muscle has at least two ends, each attached to different bones, so a working muscle pulls those bones closer together.  In other words, any time a spinal muscle is working, it is shortening your spine.  This is why we teach you spinal release.  In addition, we teach you how to use your abdominals, arm and leg muscles, so you use different muscles to stand, walk and carry things.

The precision and compassion of Svaroopa yoga is a laser-beam system, utilizing props and alignments.  Specific spinal muscles are released so that your vertebrae naturally realign.  Your spine lifts and lengthens, taking pressure off your discs, nerves, organs and glands.  No wonder your body becomes healthier and stronger!

If that were the whole story, it would be a great story.  Like seeing a great movie, it would be worthwhile to repeat the experience.  You could do Svaroopa® yoga every day for the rest of your life, motivated by the physical benefits alone.  If that’s all you want, you can stop reading here.  But you’ll be getting more, whether you understand it or not.

The mechanical opening of your spine removes the blocks suppressing the energy always flowing through.  Your core opening makes you feel more alive, more vibrant and clear headed, more positive and ready to tackle life.  Yoga calls this flow “prana,” explaining that it is your own individual power plant, the energy that makes you alive.  Unblocking the flow of prana is profoundly beneficial and happens any time your spine is aligned and lifted.  This happens in a Svaroopa® yoga class.

Thus the physical benefits described above are even more powerful; you get energetic benefits simultaneously.  The full flow of your own prana gives you an energy boost.  You feel “up.”  You have more creativity, more compassion, even more time available and more ways to use it.  Core opening gives a lift to your spine and to your life.  But this is not the whole story.  There is more.

Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.  It comes from the initiation I received from my Guru, so it carries Baba’s blessing to the next generation — you.  Svaroopa® yoga’s approach to the yoga poses is so radically different than other styles of yoga because we work your body from the inside out.  I learned this from Kundalini, the cosmic power of enlightenment, as She arose from my tail and worked Her way up, giving me insight into the body’s role in this process.  It was Baba’s Grace that awakened Kundalini in me, opening me to my own Self.

Thus when you use Svaroopa® yoga to align your spine, you place yourself in that flow of Grace.  My relationship with my Baba guarantees it.  This is why Svaroopa® yoga works so deeply and profoundly — this is a path of Grace.  Do more yoga.

Originally published January 2013

Vamana: Dwarf Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

From the time of the Churning of the Ocean of the Milk, the Devas and Asuras have been in turmoil, because the Asuras had to forego the Amrita due to their attempt to steal all of it.  Victory alternated from one to the other.  The defeated party then declared war at a favorable time later.  The continuous hatred between the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) affected all three worlds, due to the suffering and death of war as well as the fear of war.

After the successful reign of Prahlad, his son Virochana became the king of Asuras. Virochana’s son Mahabali (Bali) often played on the lap of his grandfather, Prahlad.  Bali became a great leader who brought peace to his land.  Like Prahlad, Bali was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.  Bali learned the Vedas from his grandfather and later from his Guru, Sukracharyara, the Great Guru of the Asuras.

The Asuras became bold and courageous with Bali as their king.  Many heroes and scholars, who had previously taken shelter elsewhere, now rallied together under the Bali’s leadership.  Bali appointed scholars and wise men as officers in his administration.  Sukracharyara, the renowned wise ascetic, continued as their Guru, also serving as chief priest and chief adviser to the king.

Bali set out on an adventure of world conquests with his ministers and generals at the head of his army.  Who could have opposed the invincible warrior-king?  A few kings accepted his over-lordship, surrendering without fighting.  A few did so after their defeat.  A few more courted his friendship.  Having conquered the whole world, Bali became the emperor.

Not content with his emperorship of Patalaloka (the Nether World) and Earth, due to some of the Asura’s influence, Bali became greedy and wanted to rule Heaven too.  In order to take the place of Indra (the King of Heaven), being guided by his Guru Sukracharyara, Bali performed the Vishwajit sacrifice on the bank of the Narmada River, a yaj~na for the purpose of becoming the king of three worlds.

Bali then set out to conquer Amravati, the capital of Heaven, in his divine chariot which he had obtained from Agni, the fire God.  Bali was also wearing the lotus flower garland presented by his grandfather and carrying the conch gifted by his Guru.  Lord Indra knew He was not going to be able to stop Bali, due to the guidance of His Guru Brihaspati, He abandoned Heaven and went into exile.  Bali ascended the throne of heaven and became the lord of the three worlds.

Indra’s mother Aditi was saddened by His defeat and, with the help of her husband Sage Kashyapa, made a vow to seek help from Lord Vishnu.  Pleased by Aditi’s devotion, Lord Vishnu appeared and asked what she wanted.  Aditi said that she wanted her son Indra to be reinstated as the King of Heaven.  Lord Vishnu said, “Even though Bali is a great king and a great leader, your worship shall not prove fruitless.  Since Bali has become greedy and has shortened your son’s rule, I will be born as a son to you to protect Indra and the Devas.”

A few months later, Lord Vishnu was born to Aditi as His sixth incarnation.  As Kashyapa and Aditi stood amazed, Lord Vishnu changed His form to a very short-statured brahmin (priest).  Named Vamana, clad in a loincloth, with matted hair, He carried a wooden umbrella in one hand and a kamandala (a small water-pot) in other one.

Though Bali was ruling all three worlds, his desire continued to grow.  To become even more powerful, he performed the Great Yaj~na, as guided by his Guru Sukracharyara.  For the yaj~na to be successful, the person performing it must give whatever anyone asks from him.  Last in the line of people waiting to receive gifts stood the short brahmin, Vamana.  Everyone watched him, as He was illuminating the whole place with His gracefulness, even though He was a dwarf.

When Vamana came forward, Bali and his wife followed tradition by washing His feet.  Bali then asked, “O holy brahmin, what can I do for you?  Ask from me whatever you desire.  Do not hesitate; ask for whatever you want!  Cows, elephants, horses, chariots, villages, anything?”

Vamana shook His head and said, “All I need is the amount of land that is three paces long as measured by my stride.”  Bali was very disappointed with Vamana’s humble demand and said, “I am ready to grant you a whole continent, but all you wish is three paces of land?”  Bali laughed, “You shall have as much as you want.”

At that moment, Shukracharya felt something was wrong.  He stopped Bali as he took the holy water kamandala in his hand, to grant the request.  Pulling Bali aside, Shukracharya said, “Stop!  There is some scheme or plot behind this midget brahmin.  He is not the person He looks to be!”  Bali replied, “Nothing can be done now, I have given my word.  How can Bali, the grandson of Prahlad, refuse to fulfill a promise, like a common cheat?”

Shukracharya was convinced that this little Vamana was none other than Lord Vishnu himself, the sustainer of the three worlds, but in disguise to help Indra and the Devas.  He warned Bali, but it only made Bali happier, knowing that his Lord had come to ask something from him.  Since he couldn’t persuade Bali from his own destruction, Shukracharya changed himself into an insect and went inside the kamandala to blocked the spout so that Bali couldn’t pour the water to fulfill the request.

Lord Vishnu saw the situation.  He took a stem of holy grass and poked open the spout of the kamandala with it.  That injured one of the eyes of Shukracharya so that water flowed out from it.  Taking that water in his hand, Bali announced, “Holiest of all brahmins, Vamana, with this water I grant your wish.”

To everybody’s surprise, except Shukracharya, Vamana began to grow and grow.  Bali and everyone were astounded when Vamana began to measure the three paces with His feet.  With the first stride He covered the entire Earth & Patalaloka.  With His second stride, He covered Heaven.

Then Vamana asked Bali, “You promised me three paces of land.  I have covered all that was yours in two.  Where should I place my third stride?”  Now, confirmed that Vamana was none other than Lord Vishnu, Bali said, “O Lord, I am humbled by Your presence.  Please place your third step on my head and get rid of my greed!”  Lord Vishnu smiled and placed His third step on Bali’s head.  With the immense pressure of Lord Vishnu’s foot, Bali was pushed down to Patalaloka.

Indra was reinstated to Heaven’s throne, which made Aditi happy.  The Devas were very happy for getting their kingdom back.  As Bali had been His true devotee, Lord Vishnu blessed him and gave him the right to rule Patalaloka as long as he wanted to.

Then He told Bali to ask for anything he wished for.  Bali asked Lord Vishnu to be present in front of him day and night, so that he can worship him constantly.  Lord Vishnu said, “Your wish is granted, you will see me all the time!” and vanished.  To keep His promise, Lord Vishnu became Bali’s doorkeeper, standing in front of Bali all the time, though Bali had no clue.

Goddess Lakshmi and all of the Devas missed Lord Vishnu, who was not in Vaikuntha.   earning what had happened, She disguised herself as an ordinary woman and visited Bali in Patalaloka.  She said to Bali, “Your Majesty! My husband has gone to fulfill some errands and is not at home.  I need protection.  I heard that your kingdom is the safest place, please give me protection too!”   Moved by Her words, Bali said, “Lady!  You are like a sister to me.  Please come and stay in my palace, stay here as long as you wish!”

She thanked Bali and started living in the palace in Patalaloka.  Since the Goddess of wealth was in Patalaloka, it became a very prosperous place and everyone living there was very happy; Bali’s kingdom was flourishing.

One day Bali heard his sister saying her prayers.  Bali asked, “What are you praying for?”  She said, “I am praying for a long and healthy life for you, my brother.”  Bali was so happy and said, “Ask me for whatever you want, I will give it to you, my sister!”  She smiled and said, “Brother, I want my husband back.”  With a puzzled look Bali asked, “Your husband…?”  She then pointed towards the gatekeeper and said, “That is my husband….” Bali was unable to wrap his head around what was going on, but was intent on keeping his word, so he said, “Yes, you may have Him back…”

Before Bali realized what was going on, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi appeared.  Bali was shocked to learn that, all these days, it was Lord Vishnu as his gatekeeper and that his so-called sister was Goddess Lakshmi.  He fell to their feet and apologized.  “I was keeping my word!”  Lord Vishnu said and continued, “It was your honesty and which brought me here.  As promised, I was in front of your eyes day and night.”

Bali then sought forgiveness from Goddess Lakshmi for unknowingly keeping Lord Vishnu away from Her for a long time.  Goddess Lakshmi said, “Bali, it is not your fault, this is always His behavior.  He is always in front of His devotees, day and night, even if they don’t realize it!”  Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi returned to Vaikuntha. Bali wisely ruled Patalaloka as long as he wanted and attained moksha at His Lord’s feet.

Understanding Form and Formless

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Ever since I was a child, looking at the sky would attune me to the experience of God, inside.  You can use the form of the sky, which is almost formless, to find the formlessness within, your own Self.  I especially love the night sky!  I was delighted when I found this in the yoga texts:

Fix your gaze on the pure cloudless sky to experience the nature of Shiva.

Vijñana Bhairava 84

The point of human life is that you must know both realities: the whole of your own beingness (the formless) and the divinity of your form (your body and your mind).  You are already Consciousness-Itself; now all you have to do is know and experience yourself as you truly are, outside and inside.

If you have this experience without proper preparation, it doesn’t last long.  You can have a flash of cosmic consciousness, like being struck by lightning, but it fades away.  You can experience the peace that passeth understanding, but your inner turmoil and confusion returns.  You may feel yourself expand to fill the whole sky and beyond, but then you return to your familiar limitations so easily that you even forget that you had an experience.

Thus yoga is for the purpose to give you the experience of yourself as Consciousness-Itself, while yoga also prepares you to become established in it as a continuing experience.  Your body and your mind must be conditioned to consciousness.

The mainstream Western lifestyle conditions you to unconsciousness. The average person comes home at the end of a busy day and reaches for a beer or glass of wine, drugging themselves into unconsciousness.  Television is another drug, inducing a coma-like state within minutes — you’re barely breathing and have even lost the capacity for independent thinking.  Another favorite methodology that creates unconsciousness is stress.  You see, the experience of your own divinity is an experience of effortless beingness.  Thus, all your pushing and efforting is taking you in the wrong direction.

Still, you must work.  You must be productive.  You must get things done.  But do you have to strain so hard while you are doing it?  Instead, you could bring your yogic peace and innermost joy with you while you are busy and productive.  The key is found in understanding the form and the formless.  When you see your body, your mind, your work, your relationships and your life as Divine, even when they are challenging, then you can see your own inner Divinity as well.

This difference is finding the effortlessness in your efforting, which is built into the Svaroopa® yoga poses.  The effortlessness is obvious when you are lying on mounded blankets, but it is also there in the standing poses and the challenge of abs and backbends.  As you learn how to use your body in a new way, you are learning how to accomplish things without efforting, without strain.  You are also learning a new way of life.  Most importantly, this effortless efforting naturally inclines you to the experience of yourself as the form of the formless.

The Science of Form & Formless

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

You can practice yoga without ever looking at an image of Shiva.  You can do all the poses and breathing practices.  You can benefit from the healing that Svaroopa® yoga particularly provides.  You don’t have to know anything about Ganesha to grow into the peace and transformation that the inner experience gives you, especially when you sit quietly for a few moments after releasing the tensions in your spinal muscles.  Or when you get that really deep yummy Shavasana at the beginning and end of class.  You can even learn Svaroopa® yoga meditation, to experience the vastness of your own being, and you don’t ever need to look at a statue or painting or learn any Sanskrit.

Your inner exploration can take you to the depths of your being, to discover the source of love and bliss within you, and tap into the ever arising flow of creativity and joy.  Yet, you will not be able to take that into your life if you don’t understand the science of the form and the formless; you will leave your own inner essence behind when you open your eyes.  The inside and the outside will become more and more separate if you don’t understand the form and the formless, which means that you understand that you are the form of the formless.

In the West, the formless is usually called God.  If you are uncomfortable with the word God, you can substitute another term:  the One, ultimate reality, the source, essence, infinite being, the highest, consciousness, existence, primordial beingness, higher power, etc.  Any of these terms is a good start, as it names “that which banged.”

In 1992, physicists held a press conference to announce that the Big Bang Theory was no longer a theory, as it had been scientifically proved beyond doubt.  A journalist asked, “What was there before the Big Bang?  What banged?”  The lead physicist answered that is a matter for theologians, not physicists.  Yet today, physicists are studying the source texts of many religions for help in finding exactly what lies at the base of the universe; what is the source of the energy that becomes matter?   Yoga calls it Shiva.

Shiva takes on form, becoming this universe and becoming you, as described in this sutra:

Chiti samkochaatmaa chetano’pi samkuchita vishvamayah. (Pratyabhijnahrdayam 4)

Chiti, by assuming contraction, becomes both the universe and the individuals, who have the universe as their bodies in a contracted form.

The basis of all the yoga practices and teachings is this amazing formula:  God becomes you.  (Say it this way, “God is being me.”)  This includes your body as the tangible, real, material form of the formless.  Additionally, your mind is a contracted and conditioned form of the one ever-existent unconditioned consciousness.

This is why you can work with your body in certain ways, ways that are different than what exercise-oriented methodologies offer, to unravel the contraction and discover the divine essence within.  You must also work with your mind, to unravel its limitations, to pour it back into its own source.  Yoga promises that you will know yourself to the deepest and fullest extent, recognizing your own divinity and seeing it in everyone and everything else.  This world — and everything in  it — is the form of the formless.

The Formless in Form

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

The first time I studied in an Ashram in India, we chanted a beautiful Sanskrit text to Shiva every eveningThe melody captivated me as much as the words, weaving a lyrical poem to the One Ultimate Reality.  From the mantra I had been given, I knew the name Shiva but I had never before encountered such rich and beautiful symbolism as this text described.  It was echoed in the many statues in the extensive gardens, statues I really knew nothing about.  Yet each night when I left the chant, the statue of the dancing Shiva drew me close.

The Nataraja was installed at a curve in the pathway back to my dorm room.  It was about 4 feet tall, but installed on a pedestal almost as high as a bench, so it was taller than me.  I slowed in front of it, lingering a bit longer each night.  One night I bowed to it.  As I tipped forward, my head came to the level of Shiva’s feet and internal heat climbed my spine.  I could feel it distinctly, starting at my tailbone and climbing all the way to the top of my head.  I knew that inner fire intimately, as I had been having ecstatic Kundalini experiences for over a year.  That’s why I was in India, to spend time with the Guru who had given me this great gift.

After that first time, I bowed to Nataraja every night.  Every night I felt that extraordinary fire climb my spine.  I realized there was something very real about this statue and, by extension, all the others, so I began to learn about them.  Now I love the statues, paintings and batiks and most especially the stories of the gods and goddesses, who are the forms of the formless.  The most important reason to understand them is that it helps you understand yourself, as you are a form of the formless as well.

Called by many names, there is only the One.  Yoga gives it the name Shiva.  Other meditative traditions call it by other names, while religions also have their names.  The unique thing about yoga is that it says that you are that One Reality.  The formless takes form — as you.  To fully understand this radical statement, you have to personalize it.  Say it out loud, or even whisper to yourself, “I am the formless, ever-existent Reality that pervades all things and has become all things.”

The hidden purpose of all the yoga practices is to know your own Self.  Only the Shaktipat Masters really know how to make that happen.  That’s why I studied with my Baba, and that’s why I serve you.

Narasimha Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Pregnant with twins, Diti was the wife of the sage Kashyapa.  The twins were incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya, whom we met in a recent blog on Varaha, Vishnu’s incarnation as a boar.  As the gatekeepers in Vaikuntha, Jaya and Vijaya had been cursed to live human lives in which they would hate Vishnu.

Diti foresaw that her children were going to hate God, so she carried them in her womb for a hundred years.  Then she found that her grandson would be a divine soul.  Knowing this, she gave birth, naming the boys Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu.

Hiranyaksha was killed by Vishnu as Varaha, the boar.  Hiranyakashipu was outraged at the death of his brother; so he started harassing all devotees of Lord Vishnu, thinking it to be the best way to get revenge.  He wanted the revenge so badly that he practiced severe austerities, appealing to Lord Brahma for a boon that Lord Vishnu will not be able to kill him.

While Hiranyakashipu was away doing his austerities, the Devas (Gods) saw a good opportunity.  Led by Indra, they attacked Hiranyakashipu’s kingdom.  Victorious, Indra captured Hiranyakashipu’s kingdom and pregnant queen, Leelavati, taking her to the heavens.

Sage Narada knew Leelavati was sinless, so he advised Indra against taking another person’s wife.  Sage Narada took Leelavati into his care, saving her from Indra.  While in Narada’s care, the fetus in her womb was affected by the transcendental teachings of the sage.  Hearing the praise of Lord Vishnu, by the name of “Narayana,” a Divine mantra imprinted in the child at such an early age — “Om Namo Narayanaya.”

When the beautiful boy was born, Hiranyakashipu’s son, he was named Prahlad.  Prahlad grew to become a devotee of Lord Vishnu, all due to sage Narada’s prenatal training.

Meanwhile, Hiranyakashipu’s penance was beginning to shake the heavens.  The Devas went to Lord Brahma seeking help.  Happy with Hiranyakashipu’s great austerities, while also thinking that he could help the Devas, Lord Brahma appeared to Hiranyakashipu.

Hiranyakashipu requested immortality, which was refused by Lord Brahma, as it was something no one can grant.  Then Hiranyakashipu, learning from his brother’s mistake, requested a cunning boon:  that no human, animal nor God should be able to kill him, with or without a weapon.  He added that he should die, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither during the day nor during the night, neither on the ground nor in the sky.  Unable to refuse, Lord Brahma gave the boon exactly as asked.

Hiranyakashipu returned to his kingdom with this huge power.  He especially continuied to harass anyone devoted to Lord Vishnu.  His successes made Hiranyakashipu more egoistic, proud, self-centered and conceited.  After chasing Indra and the Devas out, he established his kingdom in the heavens and made himself the Lord of the three worlds, forcing people to worship him as God.

Since Lord Vishnu’s devotees recite the mantra, “Om Namo Narayanaya,” all the time, Hiranyakashipu banned it.  Instead he ordered them to say his praise, “Om Namo Hiranyaya.”   Anyone disobeying the order was executed.

The Devas, along with the devotees, prayed to Lord Vishnu for him to incarnate and rescue them.  They heard a divine voice, promising that Lord Vishnu will put an end to their suffering and slay Hiranyakashipu, but only when Hiranyakashipu tries to persecute his son Prahlad.  Hearing this the Devas & all beings of the three words felt peace in their hearts.

From Narada’s Ashram, Hiranyakashipu brought his wife & son back to his own kingdom.  He sent Prahlad to Sukracharya, the Guru of the demons.  The teachers taught Prahlad all the knowledge and, most of all, the praise of Hiranyakashipu, accepting him as God and chanting the mantra, “Om Namo Hiranyaya!”  As Prahlad’s mind & heart was already filled with the mantra “Om Namo Narayanaya,” no other praise was able to get into it.

This made Sukracharya and the teachers very worried, so they took him to Hiranyakashipu, saying they taught him everything except his praise, “Om Namo Hiranyaya!”  Hearing this, Hiranyakashipu was enraged that, of all people, his own son was not accepting him as God.

Controlling himself to his best, Hiranyakashipu asked Prahlad, “What will give someone everlasting happiness?” Prahlad answered, “Dear Father, whoever renounces the world and its attachments, understanding that it’s all Maayaa’s doing, and surrenders at Lord Vishnu’s feet, will be in eternal bliss.”  Prahlad gave full respect to his father but refused to praise his father as God.

Hiranyakashipu glared at the teachers and ordered them to take his son back to the Guru’s Ashram, and to guard him closely so that the devotees of Lord Vishnu will not influence him.  He warned them not let Prahlad out of their sight and to teach Prahlad his father’s mantra.

The teachers asked Prahlad about who had given him teachings about Lord Vishnu.  Prahlad answered, “Whom but Vishnu himself gave the knowledge.”  The teachers tried punishing Prahlad, to make him accept Hiranyakashipu as almighty, but Prahlad simply refused.  Time passed, and the teachers gave up, so they taught him the four goals of life.

The other students were attracted by Prahlad’s divine nature and started following him.  This made the Guru’s situation even worse.  Unable to handle the situation, the teachers took Prahlad back to his father.

Prahlad gave his pranams (bows) to his father.  Hiranyakashipu took Prahlad onto his lap with affection, patting his head.  He asked, “What have you learnt from your Guru all these years?”  Prahlad answered, “Dear Father, I learned that the most worthwhile occupation for anyone is the worship of Lord Vishnu.”

Hiranyakashipu looked at Guru Sukracharya with anger, but the Guru immediately clarified that this was never taught by anyone at the Ashram.  In fact, he said that they were afraid that Prahlad’s behavior was influencing the other students.  Hiranyakashipu furiously asked Prahlad who taught him all this nonsense?  Prahlad answered humbly, “Vishnu himself reveals these teachings to those who are devoted to him.”

Blinded by anger, Hiranyakashipu threw Prahlad from his lap onto the floor and ordered his guards to kill Prahlad.  However, Prahlad just sat silently and meditated on Lord Vishnu, so none of the weapons had any effect on him.

His guards then threw Prahlad beneath an elephant’s feet.  They cast him into the midst of huge fearful snakes.  They hurled him from a hilltop.  They gave him poison.
They starved him.  They exposed him to severe cold, winds, fire and water.  They threw heavy stones to crush him.  But throughout these trials, Prahlad was simply absorbed in thoughts of Lord Vishnu and thus remained unharmed.  Unable to kill Prahlad, the guards brought him back to Hiranyakashipu.

Hiranyakashipu became furious and didn’t know what to do next.  He asked Prahlad, “The Lord you worship, Vishnu, where is he?  Can you show me where he is so that I can kill him and prove to you that I am the most powerful person in the three worlds?”  Prahlad answered, “He is everywhere!”

Hiranyakashipu’s temper was out of control, “Tell me one place where he is.  Is he in this pillar in front of you?  If I don’t find him, I will kill you with my own hands.”  Praying to Lord Vishnu, Prahlad replied without any hesitation, “Yes!”  Hiranyakashipu took up his sword, got up from his royal throne and, with great anger, struck his fist against the pillar.

His blow broke the pillar into thousands of pieces, and out came a ferocious half-man, half-lion creature, never seen before.  This creature had angry eyes like molten gold, a shining mane on the fearful lion-like face, deadly teeth and razor-sharp claws.

Hiranyakashipu used all sorts of weapons, with no effect on the creature in any way.  At twilight (neither day nor night, according to the boon he received), with one blow, the creature brought Hiranyakashipu down.  Then the creature picked up Hiranyakashipu and took him to the entrance of the palace (neither inside nor outside), placed him on his thighs (neither on the ground nor in the sky) and began to rip Hiranyakashipu’s torso with its claw-like nails (with and without a weapon).  Hiranyakashipu perished, by which Vijaya completed his first birth on earth.

All the Devas and the sages at the palace prayed to Lord Brahma to protect them.  Lord Brahma appeared, saying, “This is Narasimha.  Lord Vishnu himself has taken this form to save the little boy Prahlad, his devotee.”  Nara means man, simha means lion.

They asked Lord Brahma to calm Lord Vishnu down, but Brahma said only Prahlad could do so, as he was the one for whom Lord Vishnu had taken the fearful Narasimha avatar.  He told Prahlad to go to Narasimha.

Without any hesitation, knowing it is the ever-loving Lord Vishnu in this terrifying form, Prahlad went closer to Narasimha and fell at his feet.  Lord Vishnu calmed down instantly and showed his blissful form, blessing Prahlad with a hand on his head.  Like a bolt of lightning, Prahlad was given the ultimate knowledge and started singing the praise of Lord Vishnu.

Lord Vishnu asked Prahlad to name any boon, so he asked to purify his father’s sins and bless everyone in the three worlds.  Prahlad then participated in the rituals to liberate his father’s soul and became the king of Asuras (Demons).  With the blessings of his Guru Sukracharya and the other celestials, Prahlad ruled the Asura realm gracefully for a very long time.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

To your inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

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