Opening into Love

By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published February 2004

Who do You Feel Yourself to Be?

By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpted from November 2003 article

Matsya Avatar (Vishnu’s first Avatar)

By Nirooshita Sethuram &                   Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuity & Change

By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt from Continuity Amidst Change, published October 2003

Pain Prompts Growth

By Swami Nirmalananda

I remember silently bemoaning my life, in the middle of an intense personal crisis.  The history of my life looked to me like I had been trying to walk across an ice rink on high heels, slipping and teetering from one near crash to another with a few flashy falls along the way.  This was B.Y. (before yoga).  Life definitely wasn’t working for me.  It had never been working.  It didn’t even make any sense to me and I was in despair again.  There were no tears — I was beyond crying.

As I sat there, I experienced a strange sensation uprising within me — a dawning realization that there was something underneath all the turmoil.  It was an amazing inner feeling of continuity.  In that moment, everything changed.  I knew, in all of the precipitous changes I had been through, something deeper had been there all along.  The one constant, in the midst of all those changes, was me — I was there.

No matter who else was involved, I was there and I had somehow found my way through.  Even when life was a complete flop, I survived.  Even when there were scars from what I went through, I kept on going.  I knew something in that moment and it has never left me.  I knew I could trust.  This is not a trust of anything outside of me, not even a trusting that I will always choose the right direction to go, but the trust of this inner something that was and is always there for me.  It was the beginning of the end of fear.  It was the experience of the inner continuity of being that underlies the constant change, life itself happening on the surface of that deeper reality.

I had found what a yogic sage described 1300 years earlier:

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

-Shri Shankaracharya, Vivekachudamani

Wow!  What if I did the practices that the sages recommend?  Might I find the “more” that they promise?  And maybe even without all the pain I’d been using to prompt my transformations?

The answer is a resounding yes.  It is the enlightened masters that unlock the key to discovering who you already are.  This is not a DIY operation.  This is a path of Grace.


Excerpt from Continuity Amidst Change, published October 2003

Steady State

By Swami Nirmalananda

A bird flaps its wings to take off and gain height, working hard to overcome the pull of gravity. Then it finds air currents and just floats through the air.  It’s so wonderful to watch it soaring overhead, wings extended wide as it surfs the air-stream.  Sometimes you can see it dip one wing or angle its tail feathers to navigate in a different direction; it takes only a minimal movement to create a significant change in trajectory.  This is not hard work!  Birds know how to use the wind beneath their wings.  You need to find the same thing — that which lifts and supports you from inside.

Using yoga to investigate your feelings is a process of becoming lighter and freer, like a bird.  Everything about a bird is engineered to be light, so it can float on the breeze; even the bones of a bird are hollow so it can fly more easily.  With your own inner state, when you first feel an internal disturbance, you can recognize that an emotion or feeling is stirring up.  This is an internal heaviness.  You can practice the “yoga of emotions” by:

  1. feeling the feeling,
  2. finding the desire that creates it, and
  3. releasing the desire.

When you practice this yogic release, you become progressively lighter and lighter.  Your old emotional set-point lifts to a new level.

Most people take it for granted that life will be an endless series of ever-changing moods, described as “normal ups and downs.”  Charted on a graph, you might see as much above the axis as below and even wish for balance by having the two be equal.  Thus, your times of feeling extra-good would balance out with your times of feeling extra-bad, and most of the time you live somewhere in the middle.  That’s your emotional set-point, neither happy nor sad.  Fortunately, yoga promises much more than a normal person could ever hope for.

Life does guarantee that you will have many different kinds of experiences, all of which are opportunities to feel.   Your moods do go up and down, above and below your emotional set-point.  Some people experience a greater range of ups and downs than others.  It is important that your range, both going above and below the set-point, should not be too small — or you are shutting off your own feelings.  This is called repression and denial.  It is also important that your range not be too big, as you live on an emotional roller coaster.  This is actually an addiction, one that is very hard to cure.  Yet you don’t want life to be a flat-line either.

Researchers looked into the well-accepted psychological theory that every person has an emotional set-point. According to this theory, you have life experiences that make you feel wonderful, and then you drop back down to your own individual set-point.  At other times, you feel terrible but you return to your set-point again.  This set-point (the theory says) is uniquely yours and remains unchanged throughout your life, with some people being innately happier and others living on the edge of despair.  Somebody recently gave me a sheet of Winnie the Pooh stickers — Eeyore has a very different individual set-point than Tigger.

These researchers had different groups doing different things that might affect their set-point, including one group who did yoga and meditation.  You will not be surprised at the results, though the scientists were — the yogis’ set-point changed.  The researchers described clearly that this was not a temporary high that the yoga-subjects were feeling — their emotional set-point was lifted up a few points, a permanent change.

Yoga describes its goal as a steady state of illumined insight and bliss, called sthita-praj~na (stih-taw praj-nya) in the Bhagavadgita.  Eeyore has a steady state, but it is not sthita-praj~na.  He is consistently unhappy, the confirmed pessimist.  His state is steady but not one of bliss.  Tigger also has a steady state, but not sthita-praj~na.  He is consistently giddy, unabashedly enthusiastic regardless of what is going on or how other people are reacting.  His state is happy but not sthita-praj~na.  It is ignorant bliss.  Sthita-praj~na is not ignorant.   It is a constant wind beneath your wings, an inner experience of knowing and blissful-beingness that is always supporting you from inside.

As you practice the yoga of emotions, you begin to see that you really have choice about the way you feel.  Untangling the knotted threads of your emotions is a process of becoming light and free on the inside.  This experience is promised in the yoga texts.  You will be set free from the trap of your emotions, whether you want to be or not.

“I don’t want to give up my downs,” a yoga student said to me.  “I don’t want to be happy all of the time.”  I was amazed that she would say this.  As I questioned her, it became clear that she believed that you can only go as far upward as you go down.  She feared that giving up the “downs” meant she would have to give up the “ups.”  In yoga, it really doesn’t work that way.  Remember the people in the research study:  their emotional set-point went up.  What would happen if they did yoga for more than the short time period of the study; do you think it would continue to rise?

Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite part of the Bhagavadgita was the last part of the second chapter.  He had the last 19 verses read aloud every afternoon in his Ashram (residential yoga community).  They describe one who lives in a steady state, sthita-praj~na.

When you release all the desires your mind can conjure up and turn your attention inward, you will be filled by your own inherent Inner Divinity.  Such a yogi is sthita-praj~na, one who is established in illumined insight and bliss.  (2.55)*

The text goes on to describe this steady state as being:

  • indifferent to happiness
  • free from need, fear and anger
  • untroubled by unfavorable results
  • not elated by getting desired results
  • not affected by praise or blame (2.56-57)*

Unfortunately, this can be easily misunderstood and sound like someone who is cold, distant, clinically depressed, withdrawn or even dissociated.  None of this is what the text means.  Further lines in this section make it clear:

All your suffering is destroyed and you become profoundly joyful and deeply peaceful. Your state becomes completely steady in this inner joy and peace. (2.65)

This is not a description of someone who has withdrawn from other people and the world.  It is a profound promise that you can live with your heart and your eyes open.  You see the world as it really is, not recoiling from the truth, nor lusting after something that will provide you with temporary satisfaction while leaving that deeper “itch” unscratched.  This is about raising your emotional set-point to a level higher than you can currently imagine.

However good you can imagine that it can be, it gets better.  The constant arising of bliss supports your steady state in the inside (sthita-praj~na).  It is further supported by your constant recognition of others as many different expressions of the One Reality that is your own Self.  Each moment is a divine reunion of Self meeting Self in all its various disguises.

You must know and remember that there is a goal.  Remember where you are headed, just like if you get in your car for a drive — don’t take the wrong turn.  You really do have a choice.  Yoga gives you the power of that choice.  You have so many tools that you can use:

  • Sit or stand in a yoga pose, or even take a few minutes for a Shavasana break.
  • Use two or three Ujjayi breaths to get a “reset” whenever you need it.
  • Look at your emotions, and let go of the desire hidden inside of them.
  • Practice contentment — becoming at ease with what is really happening, even if it is not what you thought you wanted.
  • Surrender — ending the efforting/straining and “go with the flow.”
  • Live in the Presence — of your own Divine Essence, or the presence of the Divine in any form you can relate to.
  • Silently repeat a mantra or a familiar (short) prayer. Repeat it many times.
  • Allow yourself to receive the Grace that is always surrounding and supporting you — the wind beneath your wings.

While you remember the goal, you must also understand that this is a process.  When you realize that you have gotten lost in your feelings again, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Do more yoga.

Originally published September 2003

One Incarnation? Or Ten?

By Swami Nirmalananda

Yoga’s idea of Divinity is so generous!  To begin with, you are an individualized form of God, even though you may not yet know your Self so fully.  In fact, everyone and everything is an individualized form of the One.  Beyond that, when the universe is in need, God comes to help.  Not just once, but as many times as needed.  Wow!

Newly introduced to the mysteries of yoga, this idea clashed with what I had been taught — that God incarnated only once, thousands of years ago, and I missed the chance to meet him.  As a pre-teen, this made me angry.  I would have wanted to live 2,000 years ago!

As I got to know the teachings more fully, and as I observed and benefitted from my Guru, a Divine Human himself, my mind and heart expanded to embrace all forms of Divinity.  What a benevolent God, who will incarnate to help us as many times as needed.  I love it!


Dashavataras:  Ten Incarnations of Vishnu

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Whenever dharma, the inherent order of the universe, is endangered, God comes to rescue us.  Lord Vishnu is the one who serves as our Protector and Sustainer.  He promises to incarnate into this world to reinstate dharma, to protect and to destroy evil and reinstate righteousness.

Unfortunately, there have been many times that we needed such Divine intervention.  Of His numerous avatars (incarnations), ten are mainly for the purpose described above, so they are called the Dashavataras (das = 10).  According to the Puranas, nine of them have already taken come, with the tenth to come at the end of this age (called Kali Yuga).

The ten avatars are:

  •  Matsya – the fish
  • Kurma – the tortoise
  • Varaha – the boar
  • Narasimha – the part-human/part-lion
  • Vamana – a dwarf human
  • Parashurama – a human warrior with an axe
  • Rama – a prince and king
  • Balarama – the elder brother of Krishna
  • Krishna – a prince and king, alongside his elder brother Balarama
  • Kalki – on a white horse, with a powerful sword.

In some areas of India, Gautama Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) is honored instead of Balarama.

The orders in which these avatars came is similar to the theory of evolution:

  • Matsya – a fish is the first class of vertebrates (or life form itself) in water, Silurian Period
  • Kurma – amphibious, Devonian Period
  • Varaha – a mammal, a wild land animal, Triassic Period
  • Narasimha – part-human/part-animal, an uncivilized wild-natured human being
  • Vamana – the dwarf human, one of the early humans
  • Parashurama – the angry human, early humans living in forests and using weapons
  • Rama – the perfect human, a human living in community, at the beginning of civil society
  • Balarama – a human in a politically advanced society, but rife with corruption.
  • Krishna – the divine statesman, in politically advanced societies but with corruption
  • Kalki – the mighty warrior, in a time of advanced beings with great powers that will lead to the destruction of the world.

This blog is an introduction to a series telling the stories of each of these avatars. Some of these avatars have a lot of information available about them, while some have less.  Therefore the length of the stories will vary accordingly.  Swami Nirmalananda says, “They each bring important lessons, to help you in your process of spiritual upliftment, the discovery of the inner mystery of your inherent Divinity.”


By Swami Nirmalananda

Let’s explore how a yogi deals with feelings.  The world of feelings is complex and confusing.  However, without feelings, there is no real juice in life.

Recognize many different things are meant by one word, “feeling.”  It includes physical sensations, as well as emotions.  Also, it can refer to intuitive perceptions about people or situations outside of you (like knowing when someone is thinking of you), or subtle perceptions of the vast inner realms of consciousness (like sensing your own immortality).  There are many levels of feeling, from physical to subtle, and they are all important.

The yoga texts of Kashmiri Shaivism describe 36 tattvas, beginning with the expansive reality that existed before the Big Bang, named Shiva.  This shows how consciousness contracts into all that exists, becoming the universe while still being greater.  Shiva also manifests the three levels of your mind, as well as inspiration, desire, your sense of mortality and your sense of immortality.

About halfway between the infinite and the finite are listed the ten senses.  These include the five familiar senses (organs of perception), as well as five organs of action.  “Feeling” is one of the organs of perception.  It is your ability to experience “sensations,” a broadly inclusive term.  This ability to feel sensations gets concentrated in your physical body, but exists at a more subtle level as well.

At the physical level, you move your body around in order to have different sensory experiences.  You experience the subtle level in your dreams, where you feel sensations without your body going anywhere or doing anything.  The subtle level is just as real as the physical.  In addition, the subtle levels of mind and emotions affect you; you have already proved to yourself that you can think yourself into exhaustion.

The perception of “feeling” is related to the organ of action called “handling.”  Handling includes your ability to use your hands as well as to handle the situations and people in your life.  The relationship between these two — feeling and handling — means that, when your ability to feel physical sensation is diminished, your ability to handle your life will be similarly diminished.

Many people have numbed out their ability to feel their physical body.  The tightest areas in your body are also where you have diminished perception.  Right now, you may be protesting that you have an area of chronic pain — but, check it out, the same spot on the other side of your body does not hurt.  The side that does NOT hurt is actually tighter than the side that does hurt, but it is numbed out so you cannot feel it at all.

Of course, in Svaroopa® yoga we release the multiple layers of tension by beginning at your tailbone and opening your spine in sequence.  As the tensions in your body begin to release, you enjoy a new flexibility and spaciousness in your body.  You can feel your body when it is not hurting, and when you are not pushing or straining it.  It is a wonderful, even blissful, sensation of your own tangible physical existence.

Without being able to feel, you are not fully alive.  Your body may be like a walking corpse — already stiff and numb before its time.  As Svaroopa® yoga opens up your body again, you become more fully alive.  You also begin to be able to feel more than just physical sensations.  It is impossible to work with the body without dealing with emotions.  You must feel.  Yoga says you must feel without getting lost in your feelings.

Every emotion is a physical sensation.  You can see why some people will shut down their body, so they won’t have to feel their emotions.  When you shut down your body and the emotions, you avoid feeling anger and fear.  You escape the experience of despair, sadness, blame and guilt.  But you also cannot feel genuine happiness, which is a full-bodied experience.  You miss out on generosity, compassion, creativity, hope and delight.  There is no feeling of inner peace or fulfillment, because there is no “feeling” at all.

Detachment is not the answer.  You already know how to withdraw and distance yourself from others.  You even know how to withdraw and split yourself off from yourself, unfortunately.  This is not yoga, and it is not yoga’s meaning of the word, “detachment.”  You must feel.  You must feel without getting lost in your feelings.

We train you in how to feel in every class.  Svaroopa® yoga is not a “performance yoga.”  It is “consciousness-yoga.”  While we begin with your body, we train you in awareness.  Shavasana, the Relaxation Pose at the beginning of class, begins with, “Become aware of your toes…” Listen closely next time. It is not a Guided Relaxation; it is a Guided Awareness.  After you do the poses and open up the tight places — to redeem/re-enter/re-enliven your body — we take you back to being aware of it again.  This is a very powerful training that increases your ability to use this organ of perception, “feeling.”

I know that getting into your feelings can be scary.  It is too easy to get lost in them, just like if you were lost in the woods.  There are a few things that can help you — you can practice the yoga of emotions:

  1. Stay in the feeling.  Don’t shut it down, and don’t act on it.  This is the hardest thing of all — keep feeling it but don’t act on it.  Don’t even put words to it.  Stay in the feeling of it.  It is physical — it may be raw.  Stay with it.
  2. Recognize that it is a feeling — it is not who you are.  You are having the feeling; you have NOT become the feeling.  You can even name the feeling to yourself, “I am feeling anger.”  Don’t say, “I am angry.”  Your true “I” is much bigger than the temporary experience of anger — no matter how big the anger is.
  3. Identify the desire hidden inside the feeling.  Every unpleasant emotion has a desire hidden in it.  If you are angry, you are reacting because you wanted things to go a different way.  If you are sad, you are reacting because you wanted things to go a different way.  If you are blaming someone for something, you are reacting because you wanted things to go a different way.  Do you notice the pattern yet?  Every single feeling comes from a desire that things be different than they really are.  Identify the desire and name it.
  4. Now, give up the desire.  Spend a few minutes with this one.  Don’t rush it.  You might decide to notice that your desire isn’t being fulfilled.  You are in the middle of a feeling that wants to completely take over because, and only because, you haven’t accepted that things are actually the way they are.  You are rejecting reality — except reality isn’t changing to accommodate you.  So, just get real.  Accept that the situation is the way it really is.  And, for at least the moment, give up the desire that it be different.  You can always decide later if you will work toward changing it.  Your ability to be effective will be significantly enhanced by giving up the desire that fuels your emotion.  Just give up the desire hidden within the feeling.
  5. Now, it is possible that you will find fear hidden under the desire.  If so, acknowledge the fear.  You might choose to speak the truth about your fear and vulnerability, or you might not.  The emotion that started the whole thing is already gone — and the person you are speaking to may be able to hear the truth of your fear, and may even be compassionate or helpful.  Of course, not everyone you know will respond this way, so you have to be intelligent about who you share this level of your feelings with.
  6. Fear is also just a feeling.  If you stay with it, don’t push it away — it dissolves.  I guarantee it.

I know that these things are not easy, but they are essential.  You will have no life at all unless you do this work — peeling the layers.  If you decide to do this “yoga of emotions,” there is an increasing subtlety and beauty that opens up inside as you begin to be able to feel.

  1. Feelings as Physical Sensation — your body becomes progressively more open, less painful and more blissful as your ability to feel it improves.
  2. Feelings as Emotions — you become able to live in the moment, feeling the range of human experience without getting caught up in desire, knowing yourself as something much greater than your emotions.  A deeper quality of peace begins to support you and spread through all your relationships.
  3. Feelings as Intuition — subtle perceptions begin to show you a deeper level of what is happening around you, and you begin to read the situations and find the answers more easily.  After a while at this level, you realize that desire still plays too strong a part and you give up this subtle form of “fortune telling.”
  4. Feelings as Subtle Knowing — you begin holding consciousness within you, supported by a continuous all-pervasive inner sense of knowingness and beingness.  Desire has no hold on you anymore, because the inner feeling is so fulfilling that you would not want to give it up for any external desire.
  5. Feelings as Vastness and Ecstatic Reality — the progressive inner melting into consciousness becomes a sweet surrender, and continues expanding without end, described clearly in the yoga texts.  Now you can live your life in the midst of the world, recognizing it all as the manifestation of Shiva.

You can decide how far you want to go, or when you want to get lost again.  Do more yoga.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava.h namo nama.h


Originally published August 2003

Inner Experience

By Swami Nirmalananda

I stood at the counter in the bakery this morning, pouring some milk into my mug, as the man next to me did the same.  He carefully balanced a bakery box in his other hand, unwilling to let go of the four-layer carrot cake.  I smiled and said, “Looks good.”  He replied, quite sincerely, “Yep.  I’m excited about this.”

I sat down to my breakfast and heard snatches of nearby conversations.  “He said he would call me, but I’ve been waiting three days.”  “It was a really good interview; I hope I get the job.”  “I leave on vacation next week, I can’t wait.” Everyone is talking about the same thing — how to get happy.  The whole point of buying the carrot cake, or getting the job, or going on vacation is so you will feel something on the inside.  All of the outer stuff is for the purpose of creating your inner experience.  Everything you do is because you hope that it will create some kind of inner feeling.

Yoga does more for you than fixing your body or relaxing away your tensions.  Yoga gives you the power of creating an inner experience directly.  Even if you have only done yoga once, it is easy to understand this. You go to class and do some breathing, a few poses and a guided relaxation, so you feel better.  It works.  It always works.  It is more reliable than anything else you can ever do.  No matter how you feel when you begin, you are guaranteed to feel better after you do yoga.  This means you never have an excuse for feeling bad again.  You can feel bad if you want to, but you have no excuse because you can improve the way you feel by doing some yoga.

The most important thing about what I am describing is the emphasis on how you feel.  This is not about yoga; this is about quality of life.  The medical profession has a term for it, “bio–psycho–social.”  They are considering more than their patients’ physical condition; they now want to know how their patients feel.  “How do you feel, physically and psychologically?  How do you relate to other people?  How’s your life?”

They have to ask these questions because statistics show that if you are unhappy, you will have more health complaints, visit the doctor more often and cost your health insurance company more money.  If you are happy, then you don’t complain as much, regardless of your physical condition.  You actually don’t hurt as much!

The whole thing began with Hans Selye.  He researched a widespread human experience and gave it the name, “Stress Response.”  He documented and described a distinct physiological response, including changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, changes in your digestion and many more indicators.  This is now well accepted and well understood.  Later Candace Pert came along and began identifying brain chemicals related to different mental and emotional states.  Now the scientists have documented certain “bliss chemicals,” which your body produces when you are happy (and when you do yoga).

How you feel is important.  In fact, it is the only thing that really matters.  You will turn your life upside down in order to change the way you feel.  How you feel really does matter.

Consider when you are happy or when you feel full of love — how do you treat other people?  And when you are angry, anxious or sad — how do you behave?  The entire world is affected by your inner experience.  You spread it around, even when you don’t want to.  Thus, you actually do have the power to make a real change in the world, simply by manipulating your own state.  This is why I repeat so often, “Do more yoga.”  You are investing in the world when you take care of yourself.

Yet yoga can take you much further than this.  When you do more yoga, you feel so filled up inside that you don’t need or crave the things you wanted before.  Most desires actually arise from you feeling unhappy.  “If I go to the movies, then I’ll feel better.”  “If I buy a new car, then I’ll be happy.”  “If I move to the mountains / get a new job / find my soul–mate / have a dish of ice cream, then I’ll feel wonderful.”

Your desires arise from the feeling of inner unhappiness.  All the things you do are attempts to change that inner feeling to one of happiness or joy.  So, if you do yoga and feel better inside already, you may discover that you really didn’t need that dish of ice cream — because you feel wonderful already.

Yoga calls this “independent happiness.”  All the things you chase after in the world create “dependent happiness,” because your feeling of happiness depends on certain external things (or people).  Dependent happiness brings three inherent problems with it:

  • It is temporary. Every desire that you are able to fulfill will make you feel good for only a time — unfortunately, for only a short time.  Nothing that you have ever done has given you permanent happiness.  You have proved this to yourself, over a period of many years.  Yet you still keep trying to create happiness by fulfilling your desires.  How many more years will it take before you conclude that it really doesn’t work effectively?
  • It is incomplete. No matter how fulfilling a particular thing may be, it is incomplete.  There are many reasons for this.  It could be that you hold yourself back from whatever it is a little bit — you are not sure you can rely on it.  Maybe it is because you keep the Internal Worry Department going 24/7.
  • It may have side effects that are not good for you. It used to be just alcohol and drugs that were known for their damaging effects, but now many other things have been identified as harmful addictions. You can overdo so many things, even work, exercise and relationship.  There are a million creative ways you can indulge in self-sabotage — all in the name of seeking happiness.

Once you discover the power of yoga, you can create an independently arising inner experience of peace, contentment and joy.  You have the ability to create this, anytime you make the choice.  It is a simple choice.  Just do some yoga practice, and your inner experience shifts.  You feel this independent happiness arising inside, and you are able to go into the activities of your life with an entirely different attitude.  This may give a whole new meaning to “Happy Hour.”

Yet, yoga offers more.  As you continue your practice of yoga, your inner experiences become more profound and more exquisitely satisfying.  The physical release of the hidden layers of tension begin to create a new comfort level in your body, and as you keep practicing, even more develops — you experience physical bliss, which prompts profound healings on all three levels:  body, mind and emotions.  In Svaroopa® yoga, it takes only a few weeks or a few months before many students begin seeing inner lights and colors.  Along with the lights you can see inside, there are 12 different inner sounds that you may hear, as well as many other amazing inner experiences unfold.

You can understand this subtle reality in this way.  In Svaroopa® yoga, we are always working with your spine and spinal cord.  Your spinal cord is the primary conduit of electrical energy in your body, the energy that runs through your nervous system. It is a specific type of electrical energy called piezo-electricity, which flows more directly once your spine is decompressed. Your brain is an extension of your spinal cord; both are made of the same gray cells.  As you decompress your spine, both your spinal cord and brain are “tuned up,” much like a musical instrument. They begin to function in a whole new way.

These newly opened currents of piezo-electricity may now flow through areas of your brain related to sensory perception.  As this energy flows through the visual areas of your brain, you see lights or colors on the inside.  As it flows through the auditory sections, you hear inner sounds.  As these currents flow though your spine, they branch out through the nerves in your whole body and create a tangible physical sensation of bliss.  These are genuine experiences, and serve as landmarks along the yoga path, to show you that you are headed in the right direction — inward.

Still, the lights and other inner phenomena are not the goal.  I have seen many yogis get stuck in the trap of internal sensory phenomena, because these inner experiences can be so sublime.  As you continue your practice, you dive deeper within, and these sensory pleasures fade away — like leaving behind the scenery on a car trip as you draw closer to your destination.

The culmination of your inner exploration is to discover the essence of beingness that is your own true being.  It is there in every human being.  It is already there inside you.  It is the essence that has become everything that exists — there is only One, who is being many.  You find That One inside yourself.  Then you can open your eyes and look outward, and you recognize everyone and everything as another form of that inner essence.  Each and every person and thing is another form of your Self — and you live your life in the inner experience of constant joy and love.

You can manipulate your own inner experience, from the simplest level to the most profound.  How do you want to feel?  What do you want to be dependent on?  Do more yoga.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava.h namo nama.h

Originally published July 2003


By Swami Nirmalananda

You cannot do it all.  It is a fallacy that, if you just go faster and just try harder, you can do it all.  No, you have to choose.  There is not enough time in the day and not enough days in your life for you to do everything that your mind can conceive of.  Your body simply cannot keep up with your mind.  You must choose which things are most important to you.

If you watch a movie for the evening, you won’t go to yoga class.  If you plan to do both by going to yoga and then watching the movie, you will miss out on sleep.  You simply cannot shoehorn it all in there.  There are a few of you who don’t want to hear this, so you decide to do yoga at home while you watch the movie.   But you won’t get the full benefit from the yoga and you won’t fully enjoy the movie.  You will get more quantity in your evening, but significantly less quality.  There’s the choice — do you want more “things” or more value?  You are making this choice all the time, in your home furnishings, in your relationships, in your job, etc.

Because I train yoga teachers, I have the great fortune of knowing many people who are making a career choice.  Many embarking upon this career path are successful professionals in other arenas, but have decided that they cannot settle for the “big bucks” any more.  They are willing to make an investment of both time and money in order to change their profession, and even to take a risk that their new profession won’t provide as much income.  If our economy actually valued the things that benefit people the most, yoga teachers would be among the most respected and the best-paid people in the country, along with child care workers.  Instead, in the real world you have to make a choice — love or money.  Meaning or rewards.  Quality or quantity.

To return to our starting point, you want to ask, “Can’t you have it all?”  The answer is a definite and resounding, “No!”  Yoga probably comes the closest to making everything possible — actually, you can do very well financially as a yoga teacher.  But you will give up watching some of those movies.  Your whole lifestyle will change if you become a yoga teacher; it isn’t just a job.  It comes back to choice.

The hardest choices to make are the ones that have a lot “riding on them.”  For example, choosing between Job “A” or Job “B” can be a hard choice, simply because you want to pick the one that combines many key factors:  you will like the work, you will be successful, you will get recognition, make a lot of money, have a lot of time off, and actually like the people you work with.  Of course, it is impossible to get all of these things, but you still can spend a lot of time trying to figure out which job will come the closest.  It is hard to choose, because your choice determines what your life will be like for many years.  More than that, this job has an effect on whatever job you might have next, so your choice may be a once-in-a-lifetime event that creates and shapes everything that comes next.  Plus, we haven’t even begun to talk about making choices in your relationships!

All of this becomes problematic because of persona and personality, which need certain external “security blankets” in order to feel complete.  To practice “the yoga of choice,” pause and look inside to see who is choosing.  When your choice is coming from persona or personality, it will always have an agenda attached.  It will always have the purpose of propping up the persona or personality, often at the expense of another person.  From the inner vantage point, the view from the Self, every job is worthwhile, every person is worth knowing, and whether you make a lot of money or not does not affect your inner sense of deep fullness and vast knowing-and-being.  How can you live from this deeper inner dimension and make choices in a tangible and practical way? problem arises because you are looking at how your life creates your happiness or your unhappiness.  The reality is that there is no perfect job, no perfect relationship, no perfect family, no perfect home, etc.  No matter what you choose, there will be something about it that bothers you — because you have the “seeds of bother-ment” within you.  Just under the surface of your mind is an irritation waiting to be triggered.  For some people, leaf blowers will set it off.  For others it is the ringing of a cell phone in a yoga class.  Maybe you fume about the other drivers on the road.  Maybe everything I listed bothers you!  This inner irritation is not in your deepest Core of Being — it is hidden within your mind.

This inner irritation, always waiting for something to set it off, arises from a feeling of need.  You are irritated because that (usually unrecognized) need is not being met.  Your persona and personality have the need that your surroundings be perfect before they can feel good.  You base your happiness on your state of mind, which fluctuates with the conditions around you.  If the stock market is up today, you’re happy.  If not, then everyone around you better watch out.  You work hard to manipulate the world into looking how you want it to look.  You even ignore the things that don’t match, by ignoring world events and avoiding certain members of your family.

This is important because you can refine how you use your free will.  You can choose more freely.  Instead of making choices about how to construct your world for maximum enjoyment, you can choose to enjoy what is happening.  If it is snowing, you can choose to enjoy the snow.  If it is hot, you can dress differently and relax into the sauna being provided for you by the Mother Nature.  If your job is challenging, you can enjoy rising to the challenge — or even enjoy being pushed beyond your limits and learning something new.  If your world is in limbo, you can learn to be happy without the usual hallmarks of security and stability.  If yoga doesn’t give you the ability to work with your mind, then what is the point?

Originally published May & June 2003