Category Archives: Mystical Living

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

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