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

Kurma Avatar & Neelakantha

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Indra, the King of Heaven was riding on His white elephant.  As He returned to Heaven, He was greeted by Durvasa, a great sage, who offered him a very special garland of flowers vibrating with the energy and presence of the Divine Goddess Parashakti herself.

Indra, being a king, was arrogant, so while He accepted the garland, He gave it to the elephant.  The elephant was irritated by the smell of the garland, threw it to the ground and trampled it.  Durvasa, known to be a hot-headed sage, was predictably enraged, as the garland held all beauty and auspiciousness in it.  It was to be treated as sacred prasad, a Divine Gift.  Sage Durvasa cursed Indra, “Your pride has made you egoistic about your position and wealth.  Goddess Lakshmi will now forsake you.”  Because of the sage’s curse, without Goddess Lakshmi’s blessings, Indra and all the gods lost their strength, energy and wealth.

With all His powers diminished, Indra with the other Devas ran to Lord Vishnu seeking His advice.  Lord Vishnu said the only way to get back what was lost was to churn the ocean, then made of milk, to bring forth “amrit” (the nectar of immortality).  Thus Indra and the Devas could drink the amrit, which would make them immortal again and help them regain their lost powers.  Because of their depleted powers, Vishnu explained they would need help from their half-brothers the Asuras (demons), even though they had always been in conflict with them, in order to achieve this.

Indra led the Devas in approaching the Asuras for help.  After deliberations, they all agreed to churn the ocean together and share the proceeds.  The churning of the ocean of milk was not going to be an easy task, though they were working together.  They needed a huge churning rod and a very strong rope.

They sought the help of Mount Mandara to be their churning rod and the great snake Vasuki, the snake god, to be their rope, which they wrapped 3½ times around the mountain.  The churning of the ocean began with the Devas holding Vasuki’s tail (as advised by Lord Vishnu) and the Asuras holding the head.  The Devas and Asuras pulled back and forth alternately, rotating the mountain and churning the ocean.

As they were churning, Mount Mandara started sinking in the ocean of milk.  To prevent this, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a tortoise and held Mount Mandara up from underneath.  This is known to be “Kurma Avatar” (kurma=tortoise, avatar=incarnation), one of Lord Vishnu’s ten Avatars.

The first thing to manifest from the churning ocean was a deadly poison, known as “hala hala,” which threatened the very existence of all the worlds.  As instructed by Lord Vishnu, the Devas and Asuras prayed to Lord Shiva, who is healer of sickness and remover of all poisons.  Lord Shiva came to their aid, while the Devas and Asuras watched in amazement, by swallowing the hala hala poison in one gulp.

Goddess Parvati, standing by His side, was terrified at the thought that it might poison Shiva, so She squeezed His neck to prevent the poison from going into His stomach.  The poison remained stuck forever in His throat, staining it a dark blue.  This gave Lord Shiva the name “Neelakantha,” which means Blue Throated (neela=blue, kantha=throat).

Not knowing what would happen to Shiva, they all stood vigil with Him through the night.  This was the first Shivaratri or Night of Shiva, which is still celebrated on the dark of the moon in February.

Once the danger had passed, the Devas and Asuras began churning the ocean again.  As they continued to churn, several objects came out:

Kamadhenu — the wish-fulfilling cow

Ucchaisrava — the white horse

Airavata — the white elephant

Kaustubhamani — a rare diamond

Kalpavriksha — the wish-fulfilling tree

Sura or Varuni — the goddess of wine

And Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth

The Devas and Asuras divided the objects among themselves.  Lakshmi was gifted to Vishnu who had been supporting them all along as the tortoise.

Finally, Dhanvantari (the Divine Physician) appeared with the vessel of amrit in His skillful hands.

The Asuras overpowered the Devas in order to drink it all themselves.  Looking at the situation, Lord Vishnu turned into the loveliest of the nymphs of the Heaven, called Mohini.  Mohini distracted the Asuras, then stole the amrit and gave it to the Devas.

As Mohini was distributing the amrit to the Devas, one of the Asuras, called Svarbhanu, sneaked in to sit among the Devas and get some amrit.  The moment Chandra (Moon) and Surya (Sun), who were sitting beside him, saw that he was an Asura, they informed Mohini.  Lord Vishnu took on His real form and threw out the Sudarshan Chakra (a spinning disc-like energetic weapon).  The Asura’s neck was separated from his body, but he did not die as he had drunk one drop of the amrit.  His head was called “Rahu” and his torso “Ketu.”  Now, Rahu and Ketu periodically swallow the moon and sun to have their revenge, causing the eclipses to happen.  Rahu and Ketu are part of the nine planets of Vedic astrology.

After Indra and the Devas drank the amrit, they regained their strength.  The three worlds became filled with radiance and power.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Persona, Personality & Self

By Swami Nirmalananda

Persona is the face you present to the world.  Personality is the aggregate of characteristics that you carry with you through the different personas.  The deeper unchanging Reality within is called “Self” in yoga.  The challenge is to sort it all out on the inside.  You get too easily mixed up in the different levels of identity and lost in the superficial levels of life, running around in circles and never feeling really fully complete.  Let’s look at the three levels of identity.

Yoga recognizes the importance of the fulfilling the different roles and responsibilities of your life, called dharma in Sanskrit.  Persona is the external sense of self that you create by these roles.  It is your whole sense of self when you are at work, how you are when you are with your friends and who you are at home and with your extended family.  You actually have multiple personas, some of them amazingly dissimilar.   You might be very quiet at work, yet gregarious at home or vice versa.  You could be considerate and loving to those you live with and still be sorting out some old anger with your extended family.  You even switch from one persona to another very easily, sometimes several times a day.

You also have personal characteristics that you carry through your many personas.  You may have a good sense of humor or you may be quietly insightful.  You might be a take-charge person, or you could be a person who prefers to wait and see about things.  Maybe you carry a sense of helpfulness everywhere you go, or you are an astute commentator on life and on the people around you.  These characteristics comprise your personality.

Your personality provides you with a distinct sense of self, different from other people.  It provides a more consistent sense of self than persona does, being made up of enduring qualities that yoga calls vasanas, your mental and emotional proclivities.  You can change them if you want to, but it takes genuine work.  You can decide to become more compassionate or to improve your ability to handle the practical things in life.  It will truly be worth it.  These unique and individual characteristics (or idiosyncratic quirks) comprise the way in which consciousness contracts to become an individual — you!

Beyond persona and personality, there is a deeper dimension which is called “Self,” atman or svaroopa in Sanskrit.  This innermost essence provides you with the internal sense of continuity while the surface revolves through many selves and an ever-changing external reality.  Inside, you are still the person you were when you were a child.  That inner essence has always been you and will always be.  Yoga is the process of finding your own Self.  Your Self is Consciousness-Itself being you.

So far, we have looked at three levels of self: persona, personality and Self.  You will always have all three.  The trick is how you handle them on the inside.  Consider this:  which one of the many selves are you coming from right now?  Whatever answer you give is a good answer — there is no wrong answer.  Problems arise only when you get stuck in the superficial levels of self, persona or personality.  Yoga helps you dive deeper to find svaroopa, the Self, which is your inner essence, from which happiness, joy and love arise.

You create your persona and personality through your memories.  Patanjali explains this in the Yoga Sutras:

Chittaantara-drshye buddhi-buddher ati-prasangah smrti-samkarash cha.   — Sutra # 4.21

…if mind were see-able by another mind, there would be an infinite regression

from one mind to another, as well as a confusion of memories.

This speaks to why yoga warns against developing and using psychic powers.  If you try to know what is in another’s mind, the memories of both get tangled together within you, making you go crazy because you lose your sense of individuality.  This shows how important your memories are, because you construct your sense of identity by your memories.

This is true of the memories that you keep reviewing like reruns inside your head, as well as the ones buried too deep for you to access consciously.  The more deeply they are buried, the more powerfully they shape your sense of self.  Yoga begins to unearth the hidden levels and clear a path to svaroopa, the Self.  It can even help you change your past because, fortunately, memories are changeable.  What you remember is not what really happened.  You have a highly selective memory, which edits out certain things and remembers others.  Worse, what you remember is actually a distorted report of what really happened.  This should not be a surprise to you —just check out your childhood memories with someone else who was actually present at the time!

Recent scientific studies have proven that your memory is unreliable.  A recent study reported work with a group of people over several years.  The scientists had each person do a series of simple puzzles, the “round-peg-in-the-round-hole” type of thing.  Every year they returned to do the same puzzles again.  Each time, the researchers told the people what their elapsed time was.  They kept getting better, because they were getting practice (and you always get better when you practice).  Every year, the scientists asked them what their time had been in the prior years.  What was really being measured was what their memory. Their memory of their elapsed times changed as their ability to do the puzzles improved.  As they got better at the puzzles, they shortened their past times — to show that they were better in the past.  In other words, when you feel better about yourself, your memories improve.  You really can change your past.

Yoga helps you with this.  You already know that when you do yoga, the way you respond to everyday situations improves.  More importantly, you can actually change your past and, when your memories change, your whole sense of self changes.  This is a profound healing of both persona and personality.  These two together are called ahamkara in Sanskrit, your externally-based sense of self, also often translated as “ego.”  You construct ahamkara through your memories, actions and thoughts.  When your thoughts and actions change, your ahamkara changes.  This is called healing.  It is called transformation.

While yoga reliably gives you these changes, they are not the goal of yoga.  The real goal of yoga is to find the Self and to let it shine through all the superficial layers.  This is because you will always have all three levels of identity.  You do not become free from ego (ahamkara) by destroying it, because it is the means by which consciousness becomes you as an individual.  If it goes, you go.

What happens instead is that you clear out all the gunk that blocks or distorts the way consciousness shines through you.  You make your ego as transparent as a sliding glass patio door, one that is so clean you cannot tell if it is open or closed.  Then svaroopa can shine through without distortion.

This gives you an internal feeling of vertical integrity, all your selves lined up inside.  Your personality and persona(s) become means by which Self (Consciousness-Itself) expresses itself into the world.  You live from the deepest level of your own being and even your emotions and memories are completely transformed.

Getting there is a process is of clearing out the old stuff; letting go.  Whether you let go gracefully or you kick and scream all the way, you will still have to let go.  The best part of this is that you are already on the way.  Doing yoga is a way to embark upon the inner journey quite consciously, but even if you aren’t doing yoga, you are on the path.  Life itself moves you — haven’t you noticed?

Be conscious about what you are doing, because you can use yoga to support any level of self that you hold dear.  Yoga can protect your persona, by doing yoga to recover from the strains of “holding it together” in a time of difficulties.  You can use yoga to protect your personality, doing yoga to just “get through the hard times.”  Or you can use yoga to dive deeper and deeper inside and base your whole inner being, and your whole life on the Self.  It’s your choice.  I always recommend, “Do more yoga!”

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Click for online version (April 2003)

Your Heart is the Crossroads…

By Swami Nirmalananda

Your heart is the crossroads between the finite and the infinite.  This is why you have such a wonderful experience when you allow yourself to feel love.  The one for whom you feel love is within the finite or material world.  He, she or it triggers your experience of the infinite within your own being.

It doesn’t much matter who or what triggers this inner experience, except that you will always want more and more of it.  It becomes a dependency, even an addiction.  You need that external object in order to feel fulfilled.  It could be a person, one who is in your life now or someone that is not available to you anymore. It could be a physical location, a place you go on vacation or your home.  It can even be a physical thing, a favorite chair or a specific piece of music.  Whether it is a person, a place or a thing, it is an external object, the object of your love.

When you allow that object to affect you, you feel an amazing experience within.  Yoga acknowledges the central importance of this feeling in your life and calls it love, but also calls it bliss.  When your inner experience fades (as it always does), then you want the outer object to trigger your inner feeling again.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Then you spend lots of time and energy trying to manipulate the external world, including other people, into triggering this inner experience for you again.  This is because you must feel this inner feeling, for the feeling is life itself.  Life without this inner feeling is so barren that you may begin to question if life is even worth living.

This inner experience is the goal of yoga.  It is clearly explained in the texts that lay the foundation for the practices of Svaroopa® yoga.  These tantric texts guide you through the process of interweaving the two seemingly different realities: the finite outer world and the infinite reality within.  These are actually not two separate realities, though they seem to be separate.  They are just two different expressions of the One Reality.

Just as water can be liquid, ice or steam, the One Reality (Shiva) manifests in many forms.  One of the forms is you, and includes your own body, mind and heart, as well as other subtle levels of your being that you are not used to perceiving.  The purpose of yoga is to discover all the levels of your own being, and to live in the knowing of your Self as Shiva, the One Reality.  Then you recognize Shiva everywhere you look, inside or outside.  You live with an open heart, loving everything and everyone, because each is another form of your Self.  It doesn’t matter anymore if something is right or wrong, good or bad, pretty or ugly.  You love it all.

There is a process you need to work your way through before you can live in this experience.  All of the work that needs to be done is inner work.  You don’t need to open your heart to something on the outside.  You need to open your heart on the inside.  Pause here for just a moment, because this is a radically different principle.

This is not about learning to love yourself.  The cliché about loving yourself is the hardest thing in the world to actually do.  Even worse than merely being difficult, it traps you in a constant inner split.  This is because, in order for there to be love, there must be two.  For you to love yourself, there has to be you (the you is being loved), and the one that loves you (which is another you).  However, you cannot actually be two!  There really is only one “you.”  Yet, how can there be love when there is only one?  There must be two for there to be love.

Yoga’s definition of love is “the Recognition of the One in the Two.”  When you look deeply into someone’s eyes and see the light of their being, you feel this experience — inside.  This inner feeling arises because the One in you has met the One in the other.  It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does — WOW!

Now you probably want to jump up right now and go find someone you can connect deeply with in this way.  It is a wonderful experience, but it is not yoga.  Worse, it is destined to failure.    There are two reasons why:  (1) the person or thing that triggered the inner filling will not be a reliable trigger every time, and (2) even when the inner feeling does arise, it fades away — always.  Let’s look at both of these more closely.

The object that triggers your inner experience is not a reliable trigger every time.  If it is a person, sometimes they are being their most wonderful wonderfulness and sometimes they are in a rotten mood.  If it is a place, sometimes it is beautiful, and sometimes the weather is bad or the plumbing is broken.  If it is a physical thing, like ice cream, sometimes you can even eat a whole container of your favorite flavor and not really enjoy it.

What really happens is that it seems like your inner experience comes from the outer object, but it actually doesn’t.  It is all ultimately only about your inner state.  When you feel full on the inside, you can handle the bad weather and even the plumbing repair, while you laugh lovingly at the other person’s rotten mood.  You don’t need a dish of ice cream to make yourself feel better because you already feel better.  The “feeling better already” is yoga.

The second problem is that the inner experience fades away whenever something external causes it.  This happens because you have a limited capacity to stay in it.  You are used to looking on the outside, and cannot sustain the inner experience when it does arise.  You can watch it happen.  Someone or something triggers the upwelling of love inside and you allow it to fill you.  You feel your body change.  Your brain and whole nervous system is warmed with a wonderful feeling and your body floods your cells with bliss chemicals.  You feel relaxed and have expanded awareness.  Anxiety is banished, seemingly forever.  Even the texture of the skin on your face softens.  Your eyebrows widen and you smile.

Then your mind starts up, “I don’t know how long this will last.  I remember the last time I felt this way, and everything turned out to be…”  You shut the feeling down because you have been practicing looking outside for fulfillment all your life long.  If you had practiced looking within, you would immerse yourself in these inner sensations, even to the extent ignoring the one who triggered them!  Because the feeling itself is the most important thing.  This feeling is the Infinite Reality Within.  This is yoga.

Your heart is the crossroads between the finite and the infinite.  The finite external object can trigger the experience of the infinite reality of your own being, Shiva.  But the external object is not the important part.  Your capacity to feel this inner feeling is what matters.

The only thing that blocks that capacity is fear.  Every time you shut the feeling down or when you have trouble allowing it to arise inside, it is because of fear.  The crazy part of this is, when you allow yourself to be filled with this feeling from the inside, you become free from fear!  So, you have to ask, “What can I do to increase my inner capacity?”

Do more yoga.  This does not simply mean that you should do more yoga poses, though they help.  Especially those tailbone release poses, because they free you from fear.  Test it out for yourself.  Anytime you feel any form of fear (anxiety, worry, concern, etc.), just do one of the Svaroopa® yoga poses that release the tensions in your tailbone muscles.  Within a few minutes, the fear is gone.

Now look deeper within for the source of love.  Open your heart on the inside.  Allow the feeling to arise from the infinite within, without depending on any external trigger.  That inner experience will further establish you in freedom from fear, and it becomes something that supports from the inside.

Real yoga is more than just doing yoga poses.  The real yoga is learning to live with your heart always open — open to the inside.  Live with your heart being filled from the inner source, Shiva.  Then you don’t live in the waiting, waiting for an outer object to trigger your inner experience.  You live in the feeling of eternal fulfillment within. Open your heart to the inside — do more yoga!

Originally published February 2003, online access

Process & Purpose

By Swami Nirmalananda

Your body is made of atoms.  Atoms are contracted energy.  The entire life process is one of contraction.  The sweet face of the toddler turns into a teenager in due time, with the requisite negativity and cynicism.  You continue to contract until you die. Except for a few moments here and there, you become more and more contracted until you see the silhouette of your mother or father reflected in the store window you are passing by.  Then you realize you have contracted to be just like those you rebelled against.

Your body shrinks as you age, the adage says.  You see it in your elders and you may have even lost some height yourself.  But it is not “shrinking,” it is just contracting.  Shiva, the One Reality, has chosen to contract for the purpose of manifesting as an individual — you.  Shiva is being many individuals simultaneously, about four billion of them right now.  The purpose is so that Shiva can have the experience of being you, without you knowing the truth that you are individualized consciousness.  This is all just a great masquerade ball.

Process and purpose:  Shiva uses the process of contraction for the purpose of experiencing being an individual.

There are so many different ways of working with your body.  They are not all compatible.  The physical conditioning that produces an Olympic gymnast does not produce a good football player.  The physical changes you get when you begin snowboarding, perform as a dancer or do Pilates don’t help with sciatica or with childbirth.  A furniture mover is not conditioning himself for playing tennis.

Similarly, different systems of yoga are not all compatible.  One system emphasizes strength and stamina, another emphasizes constant movement, and yet another emphasizes attaining a photo-perfect pose.  All of these activities are based on contraction.  You contract certain muscles to accomplish certain types of movements, and along the way (knowingly or unknowingly) you compress your spine.  Svaroopa® yoga decompresses your spine.  It is a completely different process, for a different purpose.

Process and purpose:  exercise uses the process of contraction for the purpose of accomplishing a specific type of activity.

In Svaroopa® yoga, in contrast to exercise or other styles of yoga, we release contraction.  Every class is carefully choreographed to release tensions in the muscles connected to your spine, from your tailbone progressively all the way to the top.  The reasons for this are multi-layered and exquisitely complex, the most important of which is that your body is made of atoms.  Atoms are contracted energy, which contracts by descending from the expansive All-ness and Is-ness, to a single point just below the tip of your tailbone.  This point is smaller than a dot, even smaller than an atom, and it is waiting the opportunity to expand.  Svaroopa® yoga is finding it and expanding it.

The problem is that you are not fully present, not fully enlivened and not fully embodied.  Your body needs you to be present in it.  A vacated body is called a corpse.  The parts of your body where you have pain or problems are the places where you have not been present — they are dying on the vine.  Svaroopa® yoga works expressly to “interweave” you into your body, which creates a powerful healing on all levels of your being.

Probably without realizing it, you spend a lot of time out of your body.  You live in the future or in the past.  Even worse, you spend much of your time in constant frustration because you’re always comparing things with your idea of the way they should be.  The purpose of Svaroopa® yoga is to make you actually arrive in your life and in your body, which is the “interweaving.” In Sanskrit, the word for interweaving is tantraSvaroopa® yoga is a tantra.

Badly misrepresented in the USA, tantra actually means “loom,” the vertical and horizontal threads weaving together to make a whole piece of cloth.  It refers to the physical and the spiritual dimensions of your own being, weaving together to make your life whole.  As a tantra, Svaroopa® yoga shows you how to live your whole life as yoga, how to embrace your life more fully, wholly and completely.

Process and purpose:  Svaroopa® yoga uses the process of systematic and progressive internal release for the purpose of making you more fully alive.

We begin with bringing you into your body.  It is so easy to open up the tensions in your body.  In a few minutes you are genuinely more alive.  You feel and look younger, healthier, and have more strength and stamina, even though you didn’t exercise.  When you release the tensions in your body, you also you calm your mind.  You are less stressed, more joyful, kinder, more loving and more understanding.

Most importantly, this opens up inner experiences beyond your mind.  When you land fully in your own body, the energy of the universe will boomerang from that point at the tip of your tailbone and go back up your spine — from contraction into expansion.  As your practice develops, you will have more and more experiences of the vast reality inside, until you realize you are embodied consciousness.

When you do yoga on a semi-regular-but-still-erratic basis, you get benefits, but with really minimal results.  Your yoga practice is just a way of recovering from life, instead of a way of enlivening yourself fully.  Svaroopa® yoga teachers want to move you in a new and more effective way — to help you become more fully embodied and more fully alive.

Process and purpose:  the process of committed practice provides more progress toward the purpose of becoming more fully enlivened and knowing yourself as embodied consciousness.

You can use yoga to improve your body, and you can even use your body to deprogram your mind.  More than that, you can open your body as the beginning step on the pathway to the more profound dimensions of your being, to discover that you are embodied consciousness.  Do more committed yoga!


Originally published January 2003, online access

Story of Ganga

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Ganga was born as the eldest daughter of Himavan, the king of the Himalayas.  She was not only beautiful, but also had the power of purifying anything she touched.  This quality made her a favorite among all, especially the Devas (Gods).  Led by Lord Brahma, they came to Himavan requesting him to let Ganga go with them to the heavenly realm.

Photo via

King Himavan was saddened by this request, but for the greater good of the three worlds he agreed to part with his first-born.  He blessed his daughter to go with them and told her to serve them dutifully.  In her absence, it became impossible for the people to live peacefully on the earth.  The Asuras (demons), who hid in the ocean during the day, came out at night and started harassing everyone.  Not knowing what to do, the people decided to hide in caves.

Lord Brahma and the Devas felt sympathy towards the people of earth and decided to help them to find and conquer their mysterious tormenters.  They went to Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of the three worlds, to ask for guidance.  Lord Vishnu told them the only way to defeat the Asuras was to dry up the ocean they hid in.  He then said that Sage Agastya was the only one capable of doing that job.

Photo via

Hearing this from the Divine Protector, the Devas led by Lord Brahma went to see Sage Agastya.  The great sage agreed to help the Devas by drinking up the ocean.  This exposed the Asuras, helping the Devas vanquish the Asuras.  The Devas pleaded with Agastya to fill up the ocean with the water again, but the sage couldn’t do it as he had already digested it.

Devastated, the Devas ran back to Lord Vishnu seeking help to solve the new problem.  Vishnu told them that only the descendants of King Sagara could cause the ocean to be filled up again, so they needed to be patient as Sagara had no children yet.

King Sagara was yearning for heirs, so he decided to perform intense tapas (yogic austerities) dedicated to Lord Shiva, to win the boon of having children.  Lord Shiva responded, appearing to King Sagara and his two wives.  Shiva was pleased by their devotion and granted the boon.  By this boon, Keshini gave birth to one son and Sumati gave birth to the 60,000 sons.  While Sumati’s 60,000 sons grew up conscious of their royal status, Keshini’s son Asamanja was a wicked prince.  However, Asamanja was the only son who had a son, Amsuman.  He was opposite of his father, strong and brave like his uncles, also kind and loving.

King Sagara decided to perform the great Ashwamedha Yaj~na to earn the blessings of gods, making him a mighty king.  In an Ashwamedha Yaj~na, a horse was set free with an army following it.  As the horse goes where it likes, if no one opposes it and imprisons it, it then returns to the yaj~na location.  If the horse is imprisoned, the king must free it by peace or by force.

Indra, the king of Devas, suspected his own position would be threatened by Sagara’s Ashwamedha Yaj~na, so Indra stole the horse and tied it to a tree at Sage Kapila’s ashram.  When the horse didn’t return, King Sagara ordered his 60,000 sons to find it.  After a long search, they found the horse in Sage Kapila’s ashram and accused Sage Kapila of stealing the horse.

Photo via

Angered by their audacity, the powerful sage opened his third eye and burned all of them to ashes, cursing their souls to be stuck in the world with no liberation and no heaven.  When his 60,000 uncles didn’t return, Amsuman went in search of them and the horse.  Finding the horse at Sage Kapila’s ashram, unlike his uncles, Amsuman greeted the sage with great respect and inquired of his uncles.  Discovering what had happened, grieving, he asked the sage for a way to liberate his uncles’ souls and send them to heaven.  The sage replied that the only way would be to bring Ganga to earth and make her touch the ashes, thus purifying their souls.  Kapila allowed Amsuman to take the horse back with him because Amsuman was patient and righteous.  Amsuman told King Sagara, his grandfather, about his uncles’ ill fate and the remedy given by Sage Kapila himself.

For many years, King Sagara, Amsuman and his son Dilipa tried but failed to bring Ganga to earth.  Day and night, the thought of the fate of the 60,000 princes tormented all of them.  Dilipa’s son, Bhagiratha made a vow at his father’s deathbed that he wouldn’t ascend the throne until he brought Ganga to earth.

Bhagiratha did severe tapas and meditation for several years, dedicating them to Lord Brahma.  Pleased by Bhagiratha’s efforts, Lord Brahma appeared before him and granted him the boon to bring Ganga back to earth.  He also said that Bhagiratha would need the assistance of Lord Shiva to soften her fall onto the earth, as no one else would be able to bear the force of her descent from the heaven.

Photo via

Hearing this, Bhagiratha performed many more years of tapas and meditation, dedicated to Lord Shiva.  Lord Shiva appeared and agreed to receive Ganga on her descent to earth.  But Shiva warned Bhagiratha that Ganga should be conducted properly on earth, because she is so used to flowing anywhere at her own will.

After all Bhagiratha’s great efforts, at last Ganga started to descend to earth.  Being willful and powerful, she decided that she would come down in a torrent and sweep away everything in her path.  Shiva foresaw her intention and imprisoned her in his matted hair, only letting her flow onto earth after Bhagiratha’s plea.

As Ganga started flowing as a river on earth, Bhagiratha steered her to Sage Kapila’s ashram.  As Ganga was sanctified again by Lord Shiva’s hair, on the way to Sage Kapila’s ashram, she washed away all the sins of the people whom she touched.

Photo via

But, along her way, she capriciously flooded sage Jahnu’s ashram, only to be swallowed up by the great angry sage.  Again, Bhagiratha had to pacify a great sage to release her.  Jahnu poured her out through his ear, so she is called Jahnavi, the daughter of Jahnu.

After being released, Ganga flowed over the ashes of the sons of Sagara, purifying them and releasing them to go to heaven.  Then she reached the ocean bed, filling the ocean up again.  Since she was brought back to the earth by Bhagiratha’s great penance Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi.

Her earthly body as a river still flows today, with her purifying everyone who comes to her.  When Brahma granted the boon that brought her back to earth, she resisted because she would collect so many sins and impurities from the millions of people who would bathe in her.  Shiva promised her that she would be freed from the weight of those burdens any time a great being stepped in her waters.