Monthly Archives: March 2018

Pain Prompts Growth

By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

-Shri Shankaracharya, Vivekachudamani

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

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


Excerpt from Continuity Amidst Change, published October 2003

Steady State

By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published September 2003

One Incarnation? Or Ten?

By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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


Dashavataras:  Ten Incarnations of Vishnu

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

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

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

The ten avatars are:

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

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

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

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

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


By Swami Nirmalananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OM svaroopa svasvabhava.h namo nama.h


Originally published August 2003