Infinity in a Body

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

In 1905, Einstein shifted science’s paradigm in his article declaring matter is made of energy, summarized in his famous formula, E=MC2.  This includes everything that appears solid: your body, your yoga blankets, every rock and every springtime daffodil.  They are all made of concentrated energy.  This is now well known and accepted.

The physicists find words to describe their discoveries by quoting the ancient sages of India.

Every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction….without end…

For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomenon.  — Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics

Physicists dedicate themselves to an outer exploration of this universe, down to the atoms and subatomic particles, yet they are finding common ground with poets and yogis, whose own exploration is an inner one.  Our yogic tradition, Kashmiri Shaivism, explains how it is that the scientists, poets and yogis can arrive at the same place:

citi samkocaatmaa cetano’pi sa.mkucita vi”sva-maya.h

— Pratyabhijnahrdayam 4

Consciousness willingly takes on contraction, in order to become both the universe and the individuals, who have the universe as their bodies in a contracted form.

Consciousness (another name for Shiva) is choosing to manifest into form; the formless blissfully dancing into form.  Shiva is concentrating the energy of His own Being into matter, outside and inside, being a grain of sand, being a wildflower and being you. Infinite Reality is taking on all the forms in the universe in order to experience being the forms.  Shiva is being you in order to experience being you. You are the One, the divine, scintillating light of consciousness, in individualized form.

As a human being you have the unique ability to know the whole of Consciousness.  In a Shaktipat (initiation) tradition like ours, these inner experiences open up so easily, which is the point of all the Svaroopa® sciences.

When you start at your tailbone, to release your spinal tensions, you also begin the inner opening that leads to spontaneous Shaktipat.  When you attend a Shaktipat Retreat, you receive intentional Shaktipat, an initiation that opens up the Infinity of your own Divinity.

Or you can simply lie down in Shavasana and listen to Swamiji’s Guided Awareness CD.  Or sit to do japa and meditate.  Turn your attention inward, so you find and know that you are infinity in a body; you are the formless in a form.  Do more yoga.

Originally published April 2014

Finding Infinity in Your Body

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

— William Blake, “Augeries of Innocence,” 1807

William Blake’s ecstatic poem is widely quoted because it speaks to a truth that you know deep inside but usually forget. Consider for a moment, if the world is in a grain of sand, what is in you?  Yoga says you are the whole of infinity in an individualized form, and promises that you can know this by exploring within.

It’s easy to feel like your body is just a body: skin encasing muscles, organs and bones.  You wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and, instead of seeing infinity in your eyes, you see bed-head and teeth that need brushing.  Perceiving your body in this mundane, material way is normal.  It’s a scientific perspective.

It stems from the Renaissance, when Western science began developing logical analysis and systemic observations of the human body and the world. Previously the body was thought to be something that housed the spirit.  It changed in the 16th century, when scientists studied cadavers to understand the human body and learn its secrets, while considering the body to be material — nothing spiritual at all.

Now scientists study living bodies, using x-rays and other types of imaging, but they still consider it to be merely material.  There is a lot more to be found by studying a living body than a dead one, so science has developed incredible and valuable understandings of your body. Yet exploring your physical body is still a limited exploration.

Yoga honors your body as a divine body, while offering you tools and opportunities to cultivate a deeper knowing.  Yoga makes it easy for you to dive inside and find that you are more than you ever dreamed of, that your self is THE Self, the whole of Consciousness.

The Guided Awareness that begins and ends your Svaroopa®  yoga class is one of yoga’s tools.  Resting in Shavasana, a pose recognized as the most important of all the physical practices, you are guided to bring your awareness to each area of your body in turn, “outside and inside.” It can seem like ‘’inside” is an instruction to explore the inner physical reality of your body. Another Teacher Training student in one of Rukmini’s trainings described that she “went ‘inside’ during a long Shavasana, and found herself like Jacques Cousteau, whizzing through her circulatory system, as tiny as a blood cell, on a grand adventure in her body.”

Swamiji had a student in his sixties who enjoyed the opening and closing Shavasanas in every weekly class, but he didn’t talk much.  One day, she talked about “outside and inside” being more, that “inside” is not just bones and muscles.   He shared that he’d thought he was supposed to be developing his ability to see inside his body, to see his muscles and organs and bones, like he would have x-ray vision.

While yogis do develop an awareness of their body that other people don’t have, the Guided Awareness is about much more.  It is about the deeper dimensions of your being.  When you go “inside,” you’re not just going into skin, muscles and bones; you can keep going, into the energy they’re made of.  This energy is conscious.  In fact it is consciousness, which is swirling as energy in order to manifest as you.  When you track it to its source, you discover the One Infinite Reality that is its own source, which yoga names as Shiva. You just have to look a little deeper.

Originally published April 2014

Embodied Awareness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

“At the end of a class, I had the students roll to their sides after their final Shavasana,” says Vidyadevi.  “One man didn’t move.  I looked over at him.  Honestly, he looked dead.  His skin was pale and I couldn’t see his breath moving.  I got up, came over and squeezed his foot several times before he opened his eyes.  For some reason I asked, ‘Where were you?’  He said, ‘Oh, I was at the beach.’”  I said, ‘You need to get into your body!’”

Unfortunately, most people float around outside their body most of the time.  They are a little above and a little in front of their body, which looks half dead — pale, dry and shriveled up.  No wonder zombie movies are so popular!

Svaroopa® yoga classes start with the Guided Awareness in Shavasana.  For the first few weeks or months, you track with the words all the way up to your knees or hips, then you lose the outer sounds, including your teacher’s words.  Have you yet gotten to the point where you can follow the whole Guided Awareness yet?  Being aware of each area of your body that is named, being aware through each of your body parts in turn, and being aware of your whole body all at the same time?  It’s an amazing experience!

As you continue to practice Shavasana and the Guided Awareness, your ability to be embodied increases.  This means that Shavasana is very important. As your ability to hear every word improves, you’re hearing the words without working at it. This is because the Guided Awareness is an “awareness practice,” not a body oriented practice.

Awareness is one of the technical terms of yoga, describing the true nature of your own being.  You have the inherent capacity to be aware without thought, without efforting, and without the doingness associated with your usual mode of perception. In the beginning of your yoga studies, you go unconscious at such profound inner depths, but your Shavasana practice makes you able to be very deep within yourself, yet aware while you are in there. It is not yet the fully empowered awareness that is your own Divine Essence, but it is the beginning of your inner discovery.

This happens because you are already Divine.  The innermost dimensions of your own existence are Consciousness-Itself, as clearly described in one of the Kashmiri Shaivite texts:

Chiti sa.mkochaatmaa chetano’pi sa.mkuchita vi”svamaya.h

– Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam Sutra 4

Consciousness-Itself assumes contraction to become both the universe and the individuals…

This sutra begins with “Chiti,” meaning “Consciousness-Itself,” naming the Reality which contracts to become the whole universe, and specifically points out that Consciousness becomes you. This means that you are pure consciousness, contracted into an individualized form. Consciousness doesn’t lose anything in the process; Consciousness is not diminished in any way.

Swami Nirmalananda uses a metaphor to make it clear:  do you remember running a foot race with a child, and letting them win the race?  Vidyadevi’s nephew wanted to run a foot race around the block to see who could run faster. They ran neck-and-neck all the way, yet at the very end, she let him win.  Did this mean that she was never going to have the capacity to run fast again? No.  It can even be fun to pretend to be small, but you don’t lose your greatness in the process.  Neither does Chiti.

The paradox is that Consciousness is grounding and rooting at the same time that Consciousness is expanding.  By grounding and rooting into self (small-s self), Consciousness is grounding into individuality; yet Consciousness is expanding into multiplicity at the same time.  It’s cosmic; it’s huge.  It is also totally personal.

Originally published Oct 2013

Sanskrit — The Language of Yoga

By Sadguru Nirmalananda Saraswati

The oldest known language, Sanskrit is called the language of the gods.  It even has a verb conjugation you use only when speaking to God.  “Devanagari” is the name of the alphabet, like Cyrillic is the name of the script used for the Russian language.  Deva (देव) means god, while naga (नाग) means snake, referring to the coiled energy that brings the universe into existence.  Of course, it also names the coiled Kundalini, which certain Sanskrit mantras are designed to activate or awaken.

Svaroopa® yoga teachers often say your pose names in Sanskrit as well as English.  The English name helps you learn how to do the pose, but the Sanskrit name helps you go farther into it.  It’s easy to try.  Stand up and lean your torso forward, bending at your hips for a simple Uttanasana, letting your arms hang toward the floor.   Repeat “Standing Forward Bend” for 45 seconds.  Stay in the pose and say “Uttanasana” (oot-awn-AAW-saw-naw) for 45 seconds.  See what happens.  You’ll prove how powerful Sanskrit really is.

The shape of each Sanskrit letter maps the way its sound reverberates in your head, awakening the thousand-petaled lotus at the top.  Learning to use your mouth, tongue and breath to enunciate the words properly is a lesson in ecstasy.  I’ve been chanting in Sanskrit for over 40 years and know how Grace-filled this yoga practice is.  I got it from one who knows, the great yogi who gave me everything, and who empowered me to give it all to you.  Yoga is so much more than poses!

Baba always emphasized chanting in Sanskrit rather than learning the language.  Of course, I’ve picked up technical terminology along the way, just like you learn important words in other languages (i.e. burrito and lasagna).  My little joke has truth in it, for the important Sanskrit terms are about you being fed on a spiritual level (i.e. shaktipat and darshan).

Many words have no direct translation into English, like svaroopa and ahamkara.  Self is the word used to translate them both, distinguished by a “capital-S” or a “small-s” to clarify which level of personhood is being described.  But that doesn’t work well when speaking, or even at the beginning of a sentence.

Svaroopa is your “true form,” meaning your inherent Divinity.  Your body and mind are merely the outer levels of the multiple dimensions of your being.  The science of yoga gives you tools to explore the depths and vastness within.  Svaroopa® yoga specializes in this, from a powerfully different way of doing the poses to an easy and deep meditation technology.

Ahamkara means “I am what I do.”  It is how you construct a superficial sense of self, constantly judging yourself compared to others, hopefully feeling self-respect and a sense of self-worth.  It is an activity of your mind, which keeps your mind very very busy.

When you know your own svaroopa, you still do things in the world, but you’re not looking for them to give you a sense of self.  It’s like going to an ATM.  When you want your relationships and actions to build up your ahamkara (small-s self), you’re trying to withdraw money from the machine.  When you base your sense of self in svaroopa (capital-S Self), you’re making a deposit.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

Rama Avatar, Part 10

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Sita is living in Valmiki’s forest Ashram while Lord Rama, her husband, is performing the Ashvamedha yaj~na to benefit his kingdom and all the people in it.

The yajna horse wandered around the land unchallenged, ending up near Valmiki’s ashram on its way back to Ayodhya.  Lava and Kusha found out about Rama’s horse from their friends, so they caught the horse and tied it to a tree nearby, specifically so their mother would not know about it.  Lava stayed to guard the horse with a few friends while Kusha went to get the flowers for his mother’s puja.

Shatrugna and his army followed the horse, arriving at the Ashram.  The guards at the front of the group were surprised to see the horse held captive by acetic children.  They thought the kids were playing a joke, advised them not to interfere in royal business and went towards the horse to untie it.  An arrow from Lava’s bow landed right in front of the guard’s feet.  The guards fought back, but were defeated in a minute.  They ran to Shatrugna.

Shatrugna came over and found Lava and his friends.  Shatrugna  was amazed that an ascetic child defeated the guards.  Thinking the guards had been fooled, Shatrugna politely asked the children to release the horse.  However, they were very serious about the matter and refused to do so.  Not knowing the powers they had received from their Guru Valmiki, Shatrugna challenged them to a battle for the horse.  He and the rest of the Ayodhya army were defeated instantly by Lava.

The news about Shatrugna’s defeat reached the palace, as well as the fact that Shatrugna, the army and the horse were in captivity.  Lakshmana rounded up the rest of their troops and went there.  He also found these lovely little boys, Lava leading them, and thought that Shatrugna must have made some mistake to end up in the fate he was.

Thinking that these were just ascetic children, not knowing how Valmiki trained them for battle, Lakshmana started talking to them, asking them to release the horse and his brother Shatrugna.

When Lava realized it was Lakshmana speaking, he condemned Lakshmana for leaving a pregnant woman (Sita) in the forest without any help.  As usual, everyone knows Lakshmana is very short tempered.  Thus, the peace talks didn’t last long.  The battle between Lava and Lakshmana began.  Lava fought bravely and bound all the troops Lakshmana brought.

Unable to withstand Lava’s skill, Lakshmana used his “Nagastra” (arrow of the cobra) to tie him up.  Lakshmana carried Lava to the chariot, preparing to liberate the horse, Shatrugna and the army.  The other children escaped, taking the news to Kusha, who was just returning from gathering flowers for Sita.  Kusha immediately jumped in front of Lakshmana. stopping him from liberating the horse.  He demanded that Lakshmana free Lava.

Lakshmana advised Kusha not to make the same mistake his brother had made by confronting him.  Kusha invited him to a battle to settle the matter.  The fight was intense.  It was a desperate situation, needing to free his brother, so Kusha used one of the special arrows given by his Guru Valmiki, by which he was able to defeat Lakshmana.  Then Kusha unbound Lava and imprisoned Lakshmana.  Then the twins sent one of warriors to inform Rama what had transpired.

The messenger came to Rama with the news.  Rama was astonished that two ascetic children had defeated the mighty Ramarajya troops, and especially his brothers.  He decided to go in person.  As usual, accompanied by Hanuman, Rama arrived and found the two ascetic children were those who sang the Ramayana at the palace.  Like his brothers, Rama tried to make peace by talking to them.  They were not ready to listen, decisively refusing to release the horse.  They called Rama out for a battle, saying he had no right to do the yaj~na without his wife Sita.

Watching all this, Hanuman took on his gargantuan form, saying they would have to go through him first to get to Rama.  Knowing it is impossible to win a battle with Hanuman, Lava and Kusha said that it would be very easy and whispered to their friends to start the repetition of “Sri Rama.”  All the other children started dancing and singing “Sri Rama.”  In an instant, Hanuman came back to his normal form and started dancing and singing with the children.  The children slowly moved towards the Ashram, Hanuman following them, dancing and chanting.  Rama was amazed to see this happen, realizing the children were no simple matter.  Yet he had no other option, so he resolved to fight with them.  The fight began, Rama battling Lava and Kusha.

The children and Hanuman reached the ashram.  Mesmerized, Hanuman came back to his senses, finding himself in Valmiki’s Ashram.  Hearing the chanting of Mata Lalitha Devi’s mantra by a very familiar voice, he jumped up in joy, recognizing it as Sita’s.  He ran into the puja, fell down at Sita’s feet, and shouted, “I found Sita Devi again, I found Sita Devi again…”

All the ascetics, who had been with Sita all these years, we astonished.  Everyone fell at Sita’s feet.  Suddenly Hanuman realized this was the area where he left Sita years ago, when the young sages found her.  Putting everything together, it occurred to him that the twin children must be none other than Sita’s.

Hanuman trembled, thinking of the fight that was happening between father and sons.  He explained what had happened in the past few days, between Rama’s yaj~na horse and the twins.  He also told her about the battles that had taken place and the one now taking place.  Sita was in the middle of a puja that should be uninterrupted, but realized the gravity of the situation.  Even though the other ascetics tried to stop her, she ran out, asking Mata Lalitha Devi for forgiveness for the interruption in the puja.

Sita and Hanuman came to the battleground, seeing that Rama, as a last resort, had taken the “Ramaastra” in his hand to shoot it towards the twins.  Sita shouted, “Stop!”  Hearing the voice of Sita, Rama dropped his bow and arrow, looking at her and saying, “That is my Sita’s voice…”

Sita grabbed both Lava and Kusha, sobbing, “How could you take up arms against your father?  It is all my fault!”  Lava and Kusha were stunned by their mother’s words, and quietly asked, “Are you Rama’s Sita Devi?”  Sita nodded her head and hugged them both.

When she released them, Lava and Kusha fell on Rama’s feet, “Forgive us father!  We have committed a crime by taking up arms against you, not knowing that you are our father.  Please forgive us!”  Rama said, “The crime was mine, banishing my beloved Sita from Ayodhya and being separated from her all this while, missing my children’s youth years.”  He hugged both Lava and Kusha.  Looking at the father and sons united, Sita was so happy.  Rama asked Sita to come to Ayodhya with him.

Refusing, she said she cannot come to Ayodhya again.  Bidding farewell, she called upon her mother, Mother Earth, to take her into her arms if Sita is pure in her heart and has not lost her chastity.  As soon as she uttered those words, the earth split open.  Up came Mother Earth, took Sita in her arms and disappeared into the split earth.  Unable to do anything to stop Sita, Rama, the twins and Hanuman cried their eyes out.

Everyone returned to Ayodhya with a very heavy heart.  Rama conducted the Ashvamedha Yaj~na with Sita’s statue at his side, as planned.  Lava and Kusha helped their father with the yaj~na.  Slowly, by the Ashvamedha Yaj~na effects, Ayodhya started flourishing again.  Now that the kingdom was getting back to its glory days, Rama started thinking about giving the kingdom’s rule to the children, both his and his brothers’.

One day while he was thinking about his plan, a guard announced that a sage was waiting to see him.  Immediately, Rama ordered the guard to show him in.  The sage came in and Rama offered him a seat.  The sage said, with a little hesitation, you need to know who I am before you offer me a seat.  Rama replied that whoever who visits, even if it is a foe, the first order of business is to extend hospitality.

After the greetings, the sage said that Lord Brahma sent him, and that they need to have a private meeting, with no one disturbing them.  Immediately, Rama called upon Lakshmana to make sure no one disturbed them, to guard the door at all cost.  As usual, taking Rama’s command, Lakshmana stood guard at the door.

Inside, the sage revealed his true identity as Yama-Dharma-Raja, the God of Dharma in charge of ending lives (God of Death).  He continued that he had been instructed by Brahma to give prior notice to avatars such as Rama about their return time approaching.  He also pointed out that Shri Lakshmi Devi, who was with Rama as Sita in this world, had already returned to Vaikuntha, and that Rama needed to send Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna before his own return.

Outside, Lakshmana was guarding.  The great sage Durvasa, son of Atiri, arrived, wanting to meet Rama to discuss an urgent matter.  Lakshmana tried his best to calm him and have him wait, but Durvasa became very agitated.  Knowing Durvasa to be both short tempered and powerful, Lakshmana knocked on the door hesitantly.  He knew he was disobeying Rama’s order for the first time ever, but it was to evade sage Durvasa’s curse that would destroy Rama’s whole lineage.

The discussion between Rama and Yama-Dharma-Raja was coming to an end.  Knowing that Lakshmana would not knock without a pressing need, Rama opened the door.  Meanwhile Yama-Dharma-Raja again disguised himself as the sage who had entered earlier.

Lakshmana explained the reason he disturbed them, due to the visit of sage Durvasa.  Thanking the sage (Yama-Dharma-Raja), Rama extended his hospitality to sage Durvasa.  After sage Durvasa left, Rama sat down to consider how he could free himself from the Ayodhya kingdom.  Sita had already gone.  He didn’t need any other reason to complete his mission as avatar.

Rama came up with a plan to divide the country and give it to all 8 children, his and his brothers’, before leaving the earth.  Rama called Lakshmana in and revealed the visit by Yama-Dharma-Raja.  He explained that Lakshmana must go Vaikuntha before himself.  Lakshmana jumped up, saying that the one thing guaranteed is that all who are born in this world have an exit day.  He said that he hoped he wouldn’t have to wait long in Vaikuntha for Rama to arrive.

As Rama’s plan was being set in motion, the world around seemed to react.  Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra died one after the other, in very short intervals.  All four brothers felt sad and starting talking about mothers.  Lakshmana said he needed to clear the air, since people talked ill about Kaikeyi’s actions in the past.  He said, “Our mother Kaikeyi’s actions, in sending our brother Rama to the forest, was to keep her husband Dasaratha’s promise to her own father Ashwapati.  Ashwapati’s grandson must be the heir to the throne.  Everyone has misunderstood her actions erroneously.”

Rama was happy that this fact, which he already knew, had been brought to light by Lakshmana for the world to know.  After this, Lakshmana said his goodbyes to everyone.  He went to the Sarayu River, dipped himself in the water and saw Indra come in his flying chariot to take him to Vaikuntha.  Rama was devastated that Lakshmana was not with him anymore.

Dividing the country up and naming the rulers for each portion happened very quickly after.  The news about Lakshmana’s departure and Rama’s planned departure spread like wildfire.  The citizens of Ayodhya were there with Hanuman, who obviously never released Rama from his sight.  Rama says that he will not take Hanuman with him.  Instead Rama commanded Hanuman to be on earth as a chiranjivi (immortal), continuing to repeat Rama’s name.  With tears in his eyes, the never disobeying Hanuman accepted Rama’s command, looking at Rama dipping in the Sarayu River to go to Vaikuntha.  The children and Hanuman remained with a very heavy heart.

Sarayu River – Ayodhya (today)

It is said that Hanuman lives on this earth eternally.  He will be at any and every place where the name “Rama” is spoken, even only once.  If you are in trouble, all you need do is call out Rama’s name once and Hanuman will be there to take care of you.  Jay Shri Ram!

Om Namah Shivaya

All at the Same Time

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

There are so many wonderful strategies for managing money, successful relationships, improving your health, etc.  You do these things to attain happiness by improving your life.  Yoga also improves your life and makes you happy, though yoga’s true goal is spiritual upliftment.  The ancient teachings speed you toward attaining the ultimate — the knowing of your own inherent Divinity.  Yoga calls this your “Self.”

A powerful yogic strategy is outlined in the “eight limbs” of yoga.  These important practices and how they move you toward your Self.

Yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana
dhyana samadhayo’stav angani — Yoga Sutras 2.29

This is a “list sutra,” meaning it lists the practices, while explaining more fully them in later sutras.

  1. Yama: restraints, including:
    Ahimsa — non-harming                    Brahmacharya — celibacy
    Satya — non-lying                              Aparigraha — non-greed
    Asteya — non-stealing
  2. Niyama: observances, including:
    Shauca — purity, purification           Svadhyaya — study of the texts on the Self
    Samtosha — contentment                Ishvara-pranidhana — surrender to God
    Tapas —  doing the hard stuff
  3. Asana: body positions, postures
  4. Pranayama: working with your breath and the pauses between your breaths
  5. Pratyahara: turning your attention inward
  6. Dharana: focusing inward, contemplation
  7. Dhyana: meditation
  8. Samadhi: inner absorption

In Sanskrit, these eight limbs are called “ashtanga” (ashta means eight; anga means aspect, angle or limb).  A modern yoga style is called Ashtanga Yoga because the founder, Pattabhi Jois, describes all eight limbs happening during their aerobic sequences.  Patanjali’s description is from 2,000 or more years ago, and emphasizes the seated pose, specifically so you can comfortably sit still, for long and delicious meditations.

Anga does not mean hierarchical levels or rungs on a ladder.  You don’t have to do the limbs in order.  It’s more like a climbing tree:  you can skip some limbs and still climb to the top.  Thus, many Westerners begin with the third limb, yoga poses, or with the seventh limb, meditation.

Fortunately, when you skip limbs, like with yogis who begin at asana (poses), the limbs you skipped happen to you automatically.  You may not understand what’s happening because you didn’t get the teachings about the earlier practices.  It can be surprising when, after starting yoga classes, you find you’re becoming a vegetarian (ahimsa – non-harming).  Or you realize that you’ve lost interest in shopping (aparigraha — non-greediness).  You may discover the bliss of chanting (ishvara-pranidhana) and begin studying yoga texts (svadhyaya).  Yoga is happening to you!

Vidyadevi reports, “A regular yoga therapy client complained that she didn’t like drinking alcohol anymore because she didn’t feel good the next day.  Shaucha (purity) was happening for her.  She wasn’t too happy about it.”

These are signs of spiritual progress.  Yoga is cultivating an inner alignment with your own Divine Self by basically “cleaning up your act”  This means “your act” has been getting in your way of your spiritual upliftment.  No matter the limb in which you start this process, you get the whole process.  It’s like walking into a room.  No matter which doorway you enter through, you still get the whole room.

Originally published January 2018

Body, Mind & Beyond Both

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

You may think yoga is about your body while meditation is about your mind.  Both are partial truths, but partial truths are the worst kind.  What you want is the “capital-T Truth,” the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, “so help you God.”  Yoga says you will need God’s help to find God.  Yoga and meditation are both about finding the right place to look.  And using the right tools.

In order to meditate, you need to be able to sit.  Thus, you’ll probably need some yoga poses to help you with your body.  Yoga’s ultimate pose is the seated pose.  It’s specific to getting enlightened.  You need to sit in order to delve into your own existence.

Our tradition is a Shaktipat tradition, one that uses the power of God’s Grace to reveal God’s presence, within you, being you.  Once you’ve received the Great Awakening (maha-shaktipat diksha), you must meditate in order to give Kundalini (the meditative energy) time to climb your spine.  This opens into the exploration of the inner realms of your own being, all the way to your inner Divinity.  Every time.  So easy.  So deep.

Let’s say you were able to procure a seat on one of the rocket ships going into outer space.  you’ve trained for this scientific mission to explore the farthest reaches of deep space. You’ve prepared your body for the rigors of deep space travel.  Even now, you can easily find online workout plans to train like an astronaut, moving your body into different angles to stretch and strengthen.  On the launch pad, after all your preparation, you are sitting in the rocket for lift-off.  The rocket, powered by potent liquid propellants, will shoot straight up into the heavens.

Your asana practice works like this.  Your preliminary yoga poses prepare you for your trip inward, and then you sit for “lift-in.”  The energy that climbs your spine, Kundalini, is the rocket fuel.  This energy takes you up toward the inner sky, the cosmic reality of your own inherent Divinity.

This energy does not move horizontally along the floor.  This means you must get up from Shavasana and sit.  You are propelled inward very quickly and deeply as you sit and repeat the mantra of this tradition, available from Swami Nirmalananda online.  You are now an explorer in the inner realms of your own being, discovering your own essence, the source of the universe.

This is why Svaroopa® yoga teachers emphasize the seated poses.  Our first Teacher Training immersion, Foundations, begins with seated poses.  We return to them many times in the two or more years of further training.  Our final module focuses again on the seated poses, precisely because they are the most important poses.  In this spiritual process of interiorization, the seated pose is the gateway to the progressively more powerful practices in the eight limbs.

Sthira-sukham-aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

Asana is the seated pose, easy and upright [as the beginning point of meditation].[1]

How do you get to the point that you are able to sit? Just as Patanjali recommends, you work on your mind and lifestyle, and then cultivate your body’s ability to sit in easy, upright stillness.  While the sutra defines what an asana is, the poses are not the point of the sutra.  Funny, isn’t it?  Poses are not the point of yoga practice.  Sitting is the point.

Swami Nirmalananda says, “Simply sitting still quiets your mind.  Patanjali explains this in his following sutras, describing how your breath smooths out and suspends into timelessness.  It even happens when you watch the ocean or the night sky.  Yet the inner awakening of Shaktipat offers more, a whole level of inner experience that Patanjali does not describe.  For this, you have to study with a Shaktipat Master, as I did.”

Once you’ve received Shaktipat from such a Master, you have the experience that those yogis in the high Himalayas sought, the inner knowing of your own Divinity.  Svaroopa® yoga is the Yoga of Grace, which is the revelation of your own Divinity.  This is the gift given by such great beings.  Not only mantra, but our core opening poses can invoke your inner awakening.  To cooperate with it, after your yoga practice, sit.  Settle into your easy upright seated position as a way to soften into the deeper dimensions of your own Being.  Your Self is not so far away.  Just sit.

Previously published May 2018

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda

The Ultimate Pose

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

Yoga’s asanas (poses) did not come from a bunch of yogis playing charades in the forest.  “Ooo!  Ooo!  I know!  It’s a frog!  No, a rabbit!”  “Bingo!  You’re right!”  “Wow, this feels really good.  My back feels better, my breath more open, even my mind is calmer.  Hey guys, let’s put this on the list.” There are some yogis writing that the forest sages made up the poses, having their disciples stand like a tree, pose like a tortoise or move like a cat, but the origin of these sacred body positions was not conjured up by anyone’s mind.

The sages in the Himalayas were living and practicing far from mainstream spirituality of the time, both Classical Yoga as well as Hinduism.  Studying with the tantrics meant the new yogi began by receiving a transmission of energy from the Guru, an initiation called Shaktipat.  Shaktipat awakens your inner power of upliftment, the sacred energy called Kundalini.

As this energy flowed up their spine from tail to top, different yogis had different experiences depending on their individual nature and readiness.  Those who were more kinesthetic, rather than visual or auditory, experienced physical movements.  Other yogis copied their spontaneous movements, which are today’s yoga poses.

Vidyadevi says, “After I received Shaktipat, during meditation my body would move spontaneously into Fish Pose, with my chest lifting and my head leaning way back.  Over time, this movement completely cleared up chronic neck and sore throat problems.   Through the years, Kundalini has moved me into other poses as well, as gunk was cleared out of my spine.   Some of the positions were painful, though beneficial, while others were pure ecstasy, with bliss pouring up my spine.  I can see why ancient yogis copied others’ spontaneous movements to get what I got.  But what I got was much more than mere improvements in my body and mind.  I got my Self.”

Doing the moves in the photos and videos, too many yogis are pushing or forcing their body into the poses, without realizing they’re tightening their spine in order to get the same look.  When Kundalini moves you, the asanas are effortless and profoundly opening.  In Svaroopa® yoga we don’t copy “the look.”  Instead we use the asanas to give you the openings Kundalini would provide by moving you into spontaneous poses.  You get the results, amazingly deep and amazingly easy.

Many have already gotten Kundalini awakening through our core opening practice, but whether your Kundalini is awakened or not, your asanas are tremendously beneficial.   It’s incredible how they improve your physical condition along with your mind and emotions.  Yet, these are side effects, not the real reason for the poses.  Ultimately, your spinal decompression prepares you for the true meaning of  “asana,” to be able to relax into an easy, upright seated pose.

Sthira-sukham-aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

Asana is the seated pose, easy and upright.

This sutra is a “definition sutra,” meaning it defines the third of eight pivotal practices known as the “eight limbs.”  The first two limbs, yama and niyama, are lifestyle practices.  They are about how you handle the world and how you handle yourself in the world.  Asana is the third limb, in which you begin working on your body.

Just like in English, Sanskrit words change meaning over time — except for “aasana.” It is one of the rare Sanskrit words that has remained the same for 10-15,000 years.  It means “to sit,” as in “the disciples sat close to their Guru while He gave the teachings.”

What does the Sanskrit dictionary say?  It begins with “sitting, sitting down,” and expands the meaning to “seat, place, stopping, dwelling, encamping, abiding.”  It clearly doesn’t mean “to move fast, to jump around, or to hang from a trapeze,” as so many Westernized yoga trends offer.

Yoga’s eight limbs take you through a process of interiorization.  Your lifestyle practices have calmed your mind and emotions, so next you work with your body.  Asana is not about the external world.  You leave your day behind to do your yoga class or home practice.  You may think it’s for your health or for peace of mind, but it’s all for the purpose of learning how to sit.  The seated pose is the single most important pose of all!

Rama Avatar, Part 9

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Sita, abandoned by her husband Ram, found love and support from Valmiki and his disciples in the Ashram.  Especially the female ascetics took special care of her, as she was pregnant.

After a few months, Sita gave birth to twin boys.  Valmiki blessed them, naming them Lava and Kusha.  Lava, the youngest, was like his mother Sita in features, complexion and mannerisms, fair and gentle.  Kusha had his father’s features, complexion and mannerisms, dark and kind.

They were brought up by the guidance and teachings of Valmiki, their beloved Guru.  Valmiki taught them everything they needed to learn including the Vedas, martial arts, and war tactics.  But especially, he taught them the “Ramayana,” the story of Rama, the king of Ayodhya, a poem he composed.  They learned to recite the Ramayana, accompanied by a musical instrument called the “veena.”

Lava and Kusha enjoyed singing the Ramayana, but without knowing that they were singing about their own parents’ story, as Valmiki had promised Sita that he would not reveal her identity to anyone, which included Lava and Kusha.  Valmiki also taught them special astras (energetic weapons), to be used only in unavoidable situations.  The twins were great in their studies as well as in combat training.

Meantime in Ayodhya, the wives of Rama’s three brothers (Mandavi, Urmila and Shrutakirti) also gave birth to two children each.  Lakshmana and Urmila had Angada and Chandraketu.  Bharata and Mandavi had Thaksh and Pushkal.  Shatrugna and Shrutakirti had Subahu and Shatrughati.

As much as these events were to be celebrated, somehow things were not the same in Ayodhya ever since Sita was sent away.  Rama couldn’t be himself without his beloved wife Sita.  Rama’s state affected all in Ayodhya Kingdom.  Rama didn’t have the heart to see the people and help their lives as a king.  Ayodhya started to dim in its glory.  The royal mothers were very worried.  Vasishtha, Rama’s Guru wasn’t pleased with what was happening either.  He needed to do something to restore the glory and happiness back to Rama-Rajyam (Rama’s Kingdom), Ayodhya.

At Valmiki’s Ashram, Lava and Kusha were preparing for their journey to Ayodhya.  They were going to fulfill their Guru Valmiki’s command to recite the Ramayana there.  They went to their mother to get her blessings.  Sita blessed them and told them to meet Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and to get his blessings before coming back to the Ashram.  The twins were very excited to have a chance to meet Rama and Sita in Ayodhya.

They started their journey towards Ayodhya by singing the story of Rama along their way in all the villages and cities.  They were instructed by Valmiki to introduce themselves as his disciples, which they did proudly.  People in thousands gathered to see the twins recite the Ramayana.

The news about two young children reciting Rama’s story reached the palace grounds.  The queen mother, Kaushalya requested her guards to invite these children to perform in front of her and the rest of the royalty.  The twins were very happy that they had a greater chance of meeting Rama and Sita at the palace.

When the children arrived at the assembly, their looks and divine presence mesmerized everyone.  When they started singing, the audience was in awe about their talent and their devotion to the King Rama.  Rama himself heard them singing and rushed there to hear them.  The minute he saw them, he felt something in his heart.

After the twins finished reciting the Ramayana, he inquired about the composer of this beautiful poem, and asked the children who they were.  They answered that they were disciples of Maharishi Valmiki, who composed the poem and taught it to them.  Rama felt some sort of happiness after a very long time.  He wanted to reward them with jewels and pearls.  They refused to accept any gifts and only wanted to see the queen, Sita, as they were so eager to meet her.  Without a word, Rama turned and went into his chamber, his head bent down in sorrow.

The twins worried that they said something to hurt Rama.  They asked Kaushalya, “Did we say something wrong, to hurt our hero, King Rama?”  With a heavy heart and eyes full of tears, the queen mother broke the news that Sita been sent away.  The children were very disappointed to hear about Rama renouncing his wife in order to fulfill his duty as a king to his constituents.  They were too small to understand the sacrifice that Rama had made.  They were angry, to a level of hating Rama, for him making such harsh decision.  They went back to the Ashram convinced not to sing Rama’s story anymore, as they felt betrayed by Rama due to his actions towards Sita.

Sita was waiting at the Ashram, eager to ask the twins about Rama.  But she saw their disappointment and anger in their faces.  She asked them about Rama’s well-being.  The twins answered with disgust that he was doing fine.  Then she asked why they were annoyed and angry.  Thus Sita came to know about what had happened at the palace.

She advised her children not to be angry, explaining that Rama has to follow his dharma as a king, fulfilling the laws of the land.  The children were not ready to accept her argument, also saying they were worried about what would have happened to Sita in the forest.  They also told her their decision not to sing Ramayana any more.  Sita was devastated to hear the children feeling such hatred towards Rama, as she was expecting the exact opposite from them after they met him.

Whatever Sita said didn’t appease the children.  Finally, Sita said that she would not speak to them ever again if they don’t sing the praise of Rama.  Without any other way, half-heartedly, the children agreed to continue to sing the Ramayana, for the sake of their mother’s happiness.

In Ayodhya, poverty and depression was on the increase.  Drought was taking hold.  Food shortage was becoming a big issue and, the never-before heard word in Rama-Rajyam, crime was staring to take root.  Maharishi Vasishtha, Guru of Rama, had to do something to get Ayodhya out of the desperate situation it was in.

After a lot of thought, consulting with the queen mother and Rama’s brothers, he decided to ask Rama to perform a ceremony named “Ashvamedha,” for the benefit of the kingdom.  In an Ashvamedha yaj~na, a horse with the king’s flag was sent on a tour through all the lands, to return to the yaj~na if no one opposed it or imprisoned it.  If it was imprisoned, the king will have to free it by peace or force.

Hearing this from his Guru, Rama was puzzled because a king without a queen cannot perform this yaj~na.  The only way to perform this mighty yaj~na would be for Rama to remarry.  When this was suggested, Rama became unusually angry and outright rejected the plan.  He told everyone that he is a follower of the ‘eka-patni-vrata’ (vow of loyalty to one wife), that his love for Sita was only for her and cannot be shared with anyone else.  Rama was a living example of righteousness.  He said he couldn’t even dream of being with another woman.

Vasishtha suggested they make a golden statue of Sita, to have next to Rama while conducting the yaj~na.  Rama agreed, only to fulfill his duty as a king.  The citizens of Ayodhya brought all the gold they had, to be used for the statue of Sita, saying that the state of the land was their fault to begin with.

This was the first time they were able to see Rama after Sita was sent away.  They were so happy to see their king.  The statue was made and the yaj~na begun.  Rama’s brother Shatrugna led Ayodhya’s army, following behind the horse, chosen especially for the tour of the land, carrying Ayodhya’s flag.

The news of Rama’s Ashvamedha Yaj~na reached Valmiki’s Ashram.  Sita was devastated to hear the news, as she knew a king had to have his wife in order to perform such a ritual.  She fainted, as she couldn’t bear the thoughts of Rama with another queen.

Rishi Valmiki knew what was happening with Sita and went to her rescue.  While she was unconscious, he was able to transmit his meditative energy, to lift Sita out of her physical body on a trip to Rama’s chamber in Ayodhya.  Sita saw the devasted Rama treating her golden statue as her, pouring his heart out to the statue.

This made Sita even sadder, but at the same time relieved that her husband’s love for her had not diminished.  Seeing her husband’s devotion towards her, even after he had renounced her, brought peace to Sita.  She travelled back to the Ashram, reentered her physical body and thanked Valmiki for the revelation.

She was filled with remorse and shame that she doubted her beloved husband, so she wanted to do reparation for her action.  As suggested by Rishi Valmiki, Sita decided to do a puja for Mata Lalita Devi, to be done uninterrupted for ten days.  For the puja she needed one thousand lotus flowers.  Lava and Kusha promised to bring them to her.

Guru Valmiki had an important event to attend and left the ashram for a few days.  Sita started her puja and immersed herself in the worship of Mata Lalita Devi.

More to come…

Chakras Are Not Important

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

Chakras are not important.  It’s the nadis that count, especially the central energy channel (nadi), through your spine.  All the other 71,999,999 nadis radiate off from it.  Secondary nadis crisscross the central sushumna nadi from side-to-side several times, creating energy whirlpools that are your primary chakras.  If the energy flowing through your nadis is low or imbalanced, the whirlpools won’t whirl.  Chakra means “whirling disc,” so the whirl is essential to the meaning of the word as well as to the inner function each performs.

Also depicted as a series of lotuses, your chakras depend on your nadis in order to function.  Svaroopa® yoga works on your nadis, thus balancing all your chakras.  Every Svaroopa® yoga class is a full nadi opening and chakra-balancing session.

The true power of the energy flowing through your nadis is significantly greater than most websites convey — more than most teachers know.  Vidyadevi says, “Only a Kundalini master really knows.  I can see that this is true because I’ve been studying with a Kundalini master, Swami Nirmalananda, for years.  Only now am I beginning to see what she knows.”

The map of inner development shown in the chakra drawings clearly displays the inner process of spiritual development.  First you uplift your focus from your lower three chakras, into and through your upper three and beyond.  Beyond the six chakras, your sahasrar (crown) blossoms you into what you have always been, though you didn’t know.

You don’t lose your lower 3 chakras when your crown blossoms.  Once your chakras are opened, it’s like you’re able to use both hands to play all the keys on the piano.  Your heart is open while you are paying your bills, which is a first chakra issue (survival & security).  You see and understand your own inner dimensions while you are arguing with a teenager, a second chakra issue (esteem & affection) mixed with a third chakra (power & control).

Even if you’re not yet enlightened, you run on the energies of your chakras.  When the energy flowing through your nadis opens and balances your chakras, every interaction is inspired.  Every thought is scintillating with Consciousness.  Every choice is made for the betterment of others.

While many in chakra workshops are seeking improvements in their life and relationships, yogic literature says the chakras are about your inner work.  They map the mystical process of spiritual growth that reliably unfolds once Kundalini is awakened.  Nadis are more important than chakras because spiritual progress comes from Kundalini moving through your central nadi.  Swami Nirmalananda says, “This is why I rarely teach about chakras.  They’re like neon lights, drawing your attention to something, but the neon lights don’t work unless the electricity is flowing.  I focus on the electricity.”

The vinyasa (sequencing) of Svaroopa® yoga uses the poses to create an inner opening from tail-to-top.  This invites your next step: the unlocking of the energy at the tip of your tailbone for the inner arising of Consciousness-Itself (Kundalini).  For this you need shaktipat, the awakening of Kundalini.

Kundalini rises upward, passing successively through the chakras. — Vij~nana Bhairava 29

Signs that Kundalini is awakened include heat climbing your spine, inner sensations or even spontaneous physical movements.  Svaroopa® yoga comes from Swami Nirmalananda’s experience of these physical movements, clearing away imbalances and blockages from her nadis.  This is where all yoga poses and breathing practices originated from.

Once you’ve received Shaktipat, you may experience certain chakras being opened in meditation, perhaps seeing a lotus, the God or Goddess residing in it, or the colors within it.  You may feel subtle sensations of the inner unraveling, even tickles or thrills of bliss.  You get what you need and what you are ready for.

When you cooperate with this process, it goes easier and faster.  This is one of the things that makes Svaroopa® yoga unique.  Each pose targets specific areas of your spine, to reliably unravel the blockages in the same way that Kundalini does.  This inner opening also opens up profound mystical experiences for you.

Other styles of yoga teach practices to invoke Kundalini, while scholars study about Her in the Sanskrit texts.  Yet, without Kundalini being awakened, it’s like they’re studying swimming without getting wet.  Theory doesn’t take you to experience.

The most important feature of Svaroopa® yoga is that our teacher, Swami Nirmalananda, is a Shaktipat Guru.  She knows Kundalini.  Thousands of Svaroopis have gotten Kundalini awakening.  While you get amazing physical benefits from our core opening practice, this inner awakening is the most valuable result.  It opens up the mystical dimension of your own Self.

originally published September 2017