Monthly Archives: September 2018

A Path of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

Svaroopa® yoga is a path of Grace.  Everyone else is on the other path, the path of self-effort.  In Rukmini’s first yoga class, the movements of those athletic, acrobatic yogis were graceful.  But the Grace of Svaroopa® yoga is completely different.  Swami’s beloved Guru, Baba Muktananda, gave her Shaktipat initiation, awakening the dormant energy called Kundalini.  Kundalini is your own Divinity in a seed form that grows and blossoms within.  That transmission created Svaroopa® yoga and enlivens it today.

“After Baba sent me back to America, I could see that my students were not getting the openings that the poses are meant to provide, the openings I knew so deeply and so intimately.  So I taught variations, using angles to target their spinal tensions, providing the core opening that is now named Svaroopa® yoga,” says Swami Nirmalananda.  It surprised me when people started getting Shaktipat.  Now I realize that I was carrying my Guru’s Grace, a gift to the next generation. Over several decades, I have watched a few teachers take the poses out to teach under a different name.  While the poses are still enjoyable, their students don’t get Shaktipat.  That flow of Grace doesn’t enliven their teaching or their students’ practice.”

Yet Svaroopa® yoga is a hatha yoga, so there still is self-effort involved.  This is a path of both self-effort and Grace. Self-effort is very important:  you must apply yourself to the practices.  Yet, on a path of Grace, you have to remember to make space for something more to happen.

“I remember my first yoga class,” Rukmini describes. “I had done yoga at home with a book, so I was awed to encounter a group of acrobatic, athletic yogis wearing spandex and using towels on their mats to catch the sweat.  I wanted a peaceful, quiet mind, and I found it – the intense physical effort made me focus on my body, so there was little room for other thoughts. The class pushed me to exhaustion, so then I was too tired to think.  Ahh, peace…”

Svaroopa® yoga provides a reliable experience of peace as well but brings it about in an entirely different way.  You don’t become exhausted; instead you are filled from your own Inner Source.  You are “blissified.”

Patanjali pairs self-effort and surrender in Yoga Sutras 1.12, promising that your churning mind will be stilled by abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa is persistent practice.  Vairagya is surrender, a profound letting-go. Patanjali puts the two together:  self-effort and surrender.  Why?

  • Self-effort is very important; you must persist in order to accomplish anything. But self-effort alone makes you prideful and arrogant, or you become mean and self-punishing.
  • Surrender is essential. In Svaroopa® yoga, we surrender to svaroopa, your own Divine Self, which is found through Grace, the gift of Freedom. Yet surrender alone makes you into a doormat, without any clarity or will, and leaves you stranded in helplessness.

You must have both:  self-effort and surrender.  You already know about self-effort, so we teach surrender in every class.  When Rukmini tried out her first Svaroopaâ yoga class, she was used to doing Shavasana in other styles of yoga — flat-on-your-back, flat-on-your-mat, 90-seconds of ticking clock at the end of class.

She grudgingly accepted two zeds and a roll under her knees. And that final Shavasana was a revelation!  She says, “It felt like coming home. I felt a deep comfort and ease in my body, a calm and peace in my mind.  I felt bliss.”

The surrender and Grace are there in the final Shavasana; they are in every pose.  Svaroopaâ yoga arose out of Grace. It’s suffused with Grace in the same way that ice is made out of water.  How can you take the water out of the ice?

Svaroopa® yoga is unique, a hatha yoga that’s full of Grace.  You put forth effort. You make time to attend a class or have a private session. Or you practice Ujjayi Pranayama, do the Magic Four, meditate, or you do it all.  Grace supports you every step of the way.  But where are you going?  There’s really nowhere to go.  You’re not travelling to your Self because you already ARE the Self.  You already ARE Consciousness-itself. Do more yoga.  Do more Svaroopa® Yoga.

Previously Published, April 2013

Svaroopa® Yoga is Different!

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

In India, the land of its origin, the poses are only 10% of yoga’s technology.  The other 90% is about your mind and getting beyond your mind, to experience svaroopa, your ever-blissful Divine Essence. Body-centered practice goes by the generic hatha yoga.  The West offers many brand names, including Svaroopa® yoga.

The generic hatha has two translations, literal and mystical.  Literally “effort-filled,” it is even translated as “forceful” and “violent.”  It doesn’t mean you should hurt yourself!  It means you can propel yourself towards enlightenment through rigorous self-effort.  You can push yourself.  Hatha yoga is DIY (Do-It-Yourself).

Contrast this with 90% of the yogis in India.  They are sitting:  sitting to listen to their Guru expound on the teachings, sitting to contemplate the teachings they’ve heard, sitting in meditation, sitting to watch the sunrise or sunset, sitting as they participate in rituals, sitting and waiting for their own Divinity to fill into the stillness they’ve created in their mind.

Hatha yogis keep busy.  They don’t sit and watch the sunrise; they do Sun Salutations.  They don’t listen to teachings or contemplate them; they practice the poses and try to make their body measure up.  They don’t regulate their breath in order to quiet their mind; they pump their breath in order to sustain continual movement.  They don’t create stillness in their mind; they keep moving.

Swami Nirmalananda describes a yoga therapy conference she attended, “I arrived fresh from a yoga retreat in India.  I’d been sitting for long sweet hours of meditation and traditional ceremonies.  I joined 2,000 other yoga teachers and yoga therapists for the first plenary session, a full two hours of PowerPoint presentations by medical researchers, showing how they proved that yoga works.  I arrived a little late, so I sat in the back of the hall and watched the drama play out.

“Within 30 minutes, the 2,000 yoga teachers and therapists were squirming in their seats.  They couldn’t pay attention to the presenters.  They were wiggly, noisy and distracting.  After another 30 minutes, the moderator announced, ‘I know it’s hard for you to sit, so we’re adding in a break after our next presenter.’ I was shocked.  They couldn’t sit!  They think yoga is about movement.”

Yoga has been growing in the West since 1893, when Swami Vivekananda brought it from India.  Western yogis now compete for championships and even Gold Medals.  Google it; yoga is a sport.  This is a different direction than the sages intended.  Hatha yoga is described in the texts as efforting practice, a way to apply yourself physically, but for progress toward Enlightenment, not towards mastering a pose or perfecting your body.  Ultimately your physical mastery gives you the ability to apply yourself to more subtle and interior practices.

Let’s look at the second meaning of hatha, the mystical meaning, found in every Sanskrit word.  The syllables ha and tha name the energies that flow along the two sides of your spine:  ha — along the right side of your spine; tha — along your left.  When you open and balance these two flows, the energy shifts and flows through the center of your spine.  In the beginning, this flow is prana, your body’s own healing power.  Grace invokes a stronger flow: the transformative power of Consciousness, the power of your own upliftment.  This is Kundalini.  This is the Svaroopa® yoga difference.

In this mystical meaning, hatha doesn’t mean effort-filled or forceful.  You won’t get any spinal release if you’re forcing.  You have to ease off.  You may have already experienced the difference: working, pushing and trying in a pose compared to propping, softening and settling into the precise angles. More change happens when you effort less.  When you combine precision with compassion, something happens. This is Grace, the power of inward expansion.

To summarize, hatha has two meanings:

  • Effort-filled or forceful, meaning your progress towards Enlightenment is self-propelled through first cultivating physical mastery, then applying your highly developed will to subtle practices.
  • Opening and balancing the energies flowing along the two sides of your spine, so the flow of Consciousness can arise from tail to top, revealing your own Divinity to you.

One is a path of self-effort, and the other is a path of Grace – two radically different paths.

Svaroopa® yoga is a path of Grace.  Everyone else is on the other path.  In Rukmini’s first yoga class, the movements of those athletic, acrobatic yogis were graceful.  But the Grace of Svaroopa® yoga is completely different.  Swami’s beloved Guru, Baba Muktananda, gave her Shaktipat initiation, awakening the dormant energy called Kundalini.  Kundalini is your own Divinity in a seed form that grows and blossoms within.  That transmission created Svaroopa® yoga and enlivens it today.

Parashurama Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama in order to exterminate the evil kings who had derailed from their path of justice and righteousness.  These kshatriyas (warriors) had become a great burden to Bhumata (Mother Earth) and her children.

The great king Gadhi had a beautiful daughter, Satyavati.  Richika, son of Bhrigu (one of the seven Rishis), wanted to marry Satyavati, so asked for her hand from King Gadhi.  Richika was an ascetic, so King Gadhi was not interested in marrying his daughter to him.  The king decided to demand something extraordinary from Richika, to bring an extraordinary gift for his daughter — one thousand white horses who each had one green ear.

Being the son of a great rishi, Richika went to God Varuna for help and was thus able to bring these unique horses.  King Gadhi was very pleased by Richika’s determination and gave his daughter in marriage to him.  The king gave blessings to both of them to live happily.

While Satyavati adjusted well to an ascetic life due to this blessing, she did not have any children.  Meanwhile, at her home kingdom, her father had no heir to the throne.  She pleaded with Richika to help her and her mother with getting children.   Richika agreed to help both of them.  With the help of his father, Rishi Bhrigu, Richika prepared two portions of sacred rice and milk.  The portion for Satyavati was so she would have a son who would become a great sage; the portion for her mother was for her to have a mighty kshatriya son to rule the kingdom.

Unfortunately, not trusting her son-in-law, Satyavati’s mother switched the containers.  In time, both mother and daughter found they were expecting children.  Looking at both women, Richika knew that something was not right, asked his wife about his concern.  Coming to know what had happened, he said to his wife that her mother has committed a grave blunder.  Satyavati’s brother will be a great sage instead of a warrior, and Satyavati’s son, though being a sage, will be an ill-tempered warrior, far from the sage Satyavati was expecting to have.  Seeing her distress, unable to turn everything around, Richika made amends, such that her grandson would be of such ill-tempered nature.

Satyavati gave birth to a son, Jamadagni, who became a great rishi.  Once grown, Jamadagni was married to Renuka, known for her chastity and devotion to her husband.  Such was her faith that she was able to fetch water every day from the river for her husband’s puja in a leaky pot of unbaked clay she made each day, with the pot held together only by the strength of her devotion.

Rishi Jamadagni’s Ashram was on the banks of the Narmada River, where he educated whomever sought knowledge.  Due to the family’s poor financial situation, Jamadagni meditated and received a sacred cow, “Kamadhenu,” from Brahma, capable of fulfilling the needs of any number of people in Jamadagni’s Ashram.

Renuka gave birth to five sons (some stories say seven): Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra (also known as Rama).  Rama was the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, an ill-tempered warrior sage known as Parashurama.  For good or bad, due to His grandmother and great-grandmother’s mistake, though being a rishi’s son, Parashurama had an inordinate love for weapons and had Kshatriya (warrior) traits in him.

Parashurama always carried an axe, which he had received from Lord Shiva after pleasing him with His meditation, thus the name “Parashu” (axe) + Rama = Parashurama.  He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, from whom he learned the methods of warfare and other skills.  Parashurama would not tolerate any harm done to Shiva’s name or Shiva’s devotees.

As usual one day, Renuka went to the riverbank to make her clay pot and bring water to the Ashram.  While at the river, in the water she saw the image of a gandharva (heavenly being) in a chariot, passing by in the sky above.  She thought, “What a handsome man!” and lifted her head up to look at him.  Filled with desire for only a moment, losing her chastity, the unbaked pot she held dissolved in the river.  She tried making the pot over and over again, but failed.  Afraid to return to her husband, she waited at the riverbank, uncertain of what to do next.

It was getting unusually late and Jamadagni grew impatient.  Through the power of his meditation, Jamadagni came to know what had happened at the riverbank.  Unusually enraged, he ordered his first four sons to behead their mother.  Horrified, they refused and the enraged rishi turned them into stones.  He waited for his youngest son, Parashurama to return from an errand and gave him the same order.

Without any questions, not knowing what had happened, Parashurama, the ever-obedient son, went to the river bank.  He worshiped Renuka Devi and beheaded her.  He returned to the Ashram with unbearable grief.  Pleased with Parashurama, Jamadagni offered to give anything Parashurama wanted.

Parashurama asked for two boons, by one he wanted His father to forgive His mother, purify her of her sin and bring her back to life with no memory of this event.  The other boon was to bring back His brothers to life and flesh, again with no memory of this event.  Impressed by the affection and devotion of his son, Jamadagni granted both His requests.  Then, Parashurama went to the forest to do a severe penance for killing His mother.  He returned to the Ashram after years of penance.

The kshatriya king of the local kingdom was Kartavirya Arjuna.  He was an evil ruler, harming all the people and the earth for selfish reasons.  Kartavirya Arjuna was born as a deformed child with no legs.  He worshipped a God known as Dattatreya, embodiment of Lord Vishnu himself, born to Sage Atri as his son.  For Kartavirya Arjuna’s obeisance, Dattatreya had granted him a flying golden chariot that could travel wherever he wished, as well as one thousand arms.

With these boons, Kartavirya Arjuna became immeasurably powerful, conducting many military conquests with ease.  He also was fond of hunting with his entourage, ranging in the forests of his kingdoms.  Kartavirya Arjuna’s violence was unbearable.  All the sages, people and even Devas approached Lord Vishnu, requesting him to help them.  Understanding the agony everyone was going through, Lord Vishnu said that he will be taking incarnation to protect them all.  This is why Lord Vishnu incarnated as Parashurama.

When Kartavirya Arjuna was on one of his usual hunting trips, he accidentally came upon the hermitage of Jamadagni.  Parashurama was away in the forest at the time.  As with any visitor, Jamadagni greeted the king and offered food to him and his entourage, as Jamadagni had Kamadhenu to feed any number of people.

Amazed by the amount of food offered to him and his entourage, coming to know that it is from Kamadhenu, Kartavirya Arjuna decided that Kamadhenu should belong to him.  As Jamadagni refused to give Kamadhenu to him, Kartavirya Arjuna ordered his soldiers to forcefully take the cow and its calf with them to the palace, devastating the Ashram.

Parashurama found His mother and father in dismay on His  return from the forest.  Enraged, he went to the palace requesting the cow and the calf back.  When Kartavirya Arjuna refused, Parashurama challenged him to a battle.  Kartavirya Arjuna came out to fight, with his one thousand arms firing five hundred arrows at the same time.  Parashurama defended himself with ease, cut all of Kartaviryaa Arjuna’s one thousand arms and killed the mighty king with His invincible and terrible axe.  Retrieving the cow and the calf, he returned to the Ashram.  Hearing what had happened, Jamadagni ordered his son to undertake a pilgrimage to holy places to get rid of His sin of killing a king.

While Parashurama was away on the pilgrimage, Kartavirya Arjuna’s sons came to Jamadagni’s hermitage to avenge their father’s death.  Jamadagni was meditating in the Ashram; they beheaded him.  The virtuous Renuka Devi’s cry reached the ears of Parashurama, who returned to the Ashram at once.

Coming to know what had happened, took the vow to punish any kshatriya king who was deviating from the path of justice and righteousness.  He started with the sons of Kartavirya Arjuna, slaying any king who he found guilty.  Soon, kshatriyas across the land learned to fear Parashurama and His great axe.  So great was their fear of Parashurama, that they sent their women and children into hiding, disguised as brahmins.

Parashurama travelled around the earth twenty-one times and exterminated twenty-one evil king dynasties, as His mother in agony had pounded her chest 21 times after her husband was killed.  At last, Parashurama’s great anger was appeased.  He had accomplished the mission that he was born for.

He then donated all the kingdoms that he conquered.  Most of the kingdoms were without a ruler.  Some of the kshatriya children, who escaped by going into hiding, continued the line of kings, so a new ruling class emerged.  These new rulers remembered the lesson that Parashurama’s dance of destruction had taught them.  They were a great deal better than their predecessors and ruled justly.

Parashurama is chiranjivi (immortal), still living among us.  Parashurama’s story continues all through the rest of Lord Vishnu’s avatars.  He will be the martial arts Guru to Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, yet to come.

There is another interesting episode in Parashurama’s story that isn’t part of any other of Vishnu’s avatars.  While there are many versions of the story of Lord Ganesha’s broken tusk, this is the version with Parashurama.

Once Parashurama went to see Lord Shiva in Kailasa.  Lord Ganesha stood in His  way, having been ordered by His  mother Parvati to prevent anybody disturbing them.  As Parashurama doesn’t tolerate anyone coming in between him and Lord Shiva, he threatened Ganesha and challenged him to a fight.  Lord Ganesha agreed and a fierce fight started between Lord Ganesha and Parashurama.

They fought for a long time without clear victory in sight for either one of them.  Finally, Parashurama, with a lot of anger, took His axe, the Parashu given to him by Lord Shiva himself, and threw it towards Lord Ganesha.  Lord Ganesha saw the axe coming, while knowing that His father had given the axe to Parashurama.  He didn’t want to disrespect His father’s gift, so He allowed the axe to strike him.  It struck one of Lord Ganesha’s tusks, breaking it with a thundering sound.

Seeing this, Parashurama stopped fighting.  Hearing the sound, Mother Parvati came rushing out.  Seeing what had happened, She was enraged, ready to punish Parashurama for what He had done.  Lord Ganesha pleaded with His Mother to forgive Parshurama and somehow succeeded in calming her down.  Parashurama was so pleased with Ganesha that He gave Him His axe and blessed Him.

Om Namah Shivaya

Inner Impulse Toward Upliftment

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Yoga’s ancient sages tell us that a perfect body is not enough.  Once you achieve physical health, beauty, strength, stamina and vitality, you’ll still be looking for something more.  You can set your whole life up perfectly and you’ll still be looking for something, an indefinable something.  You can’t find it because you don’t know what it is you are looking for.  What you are looking for is your own Self.  It isn’t found outside of you; you find your Self inside yourself.

You need help in this inner discovery.  You had help in learning how to look outside.  From your earliest days, people wiggled toys in front of your cute baby face.  They tweaked your nose, talked in squeaky voices and marveled at your big beautiful eyes.  They did everything they could to draw your attention outward and make you dependent on them.  Well, the truth is that you were dependent on them:  food, drink, body care — even life itself came from them and still depended on their care.

They took you through the essential steps of human conditioning, training your mind in how to desire, need, fear, grieve, project onto others, get angry, blame and feel guilty.  Play came naturally to you.  Joy, laughter, tears — none of these needed to be taught.  But dependency on others had to be taught.  The seeds were already within you, planted by your own actions in lifetimes preceding this one, thus those who birthed and raised you simply nurtured your own karmic seeds, helping you to bring them to fruition.  Thus you were inclined toward looking outside for fulfillment and they helped you learn how to do it.

Your inner impulse toward upliftment comes naturally to you.  The more you lose your Self, the more your Self pushes up within you, demanding to be recognized.  The more lost you get in the outer world, the less happy you are and the more you yearn for that indefinable something.  Everyone yearns, but not everyone seeks.  You’re a seeker.  You’re looking for what you’ve never lost, but you’re looking on the outside.  It’s time to look inward.

Let’s say that you decide to give it a try.  You buy a book or tape on meditation. You sit in the corner, look inward and what you find is your crazy mind.  Some meditative systems teach you to watch your mind.  Yoga teaches you how to still your mind and look deeper, a profoundly different approach, and (important!) yoga offers more.  Yoga makes the inward shift easy, through Grace.

I learned about Grace when I met my Guru.  I didn’t know that it was possible that someone could help me find me.  Through decades of practice, and especially through the way his Guru had propelled Baba into consciousness, Baba was able to give the same gift to me.  The gift of Grace makes the inward turning easy, even irresistible.  That Grace flows through Svaroopa® yoga.  That Grace flows through your spine.  This is why Svaroopa® yoga works so deeply and profoundly — this is a path of Grace.  Do more yoga.

Alignment with Grace

By Swami Nirmalaananda Saraswati

Svaroopa® Yoga’s core opening is not merely a physical opening.  More importantly, it is a deeper inner opening to the experiential knowing of your own Divinity.  How does this work?  When you track your spine from your tail to top, methodically opening up inner space in stages along the way, you get a profound spinal alignment.  Along with aligning your spine, you are aligning yourself with Grace.

You might think that it is as simple as good posture, except that good posture is not so simple.  You can easily lift up into a good “look,” especially if someone is taking your photo, but your spine collapses down into its habitual slump as soon as you forget.  When you straighten up, suck in your gut, open your chest and lengthen your neck upward, you do look good.  But you are tightening muscles to get there.  You can feel it.  So is this what good posture is all about?  No.

Your spinal muscles are each relatively small, not as big and impressive as your thigh muscles or gluteals.  Yet each spinal muscle is pivotally placed, making even that small muscle very powerful.  A structural engineer, taking our Foundations of Svaroopa® Yoga course told me, “One-quarter inch change in your tailbone makes a three-inch change in your neck.  I did the math!”  She was right.

When your spinal muscles are tight, they compress and twist your spine, creating the universal slump, as well as the scoliosis (side-to-side curvature) that most people suffer from.  Chiropractors and osteopaths explain the detrimental effects of spinal compression on your nerves, organs and glands.  Even your skin is affected!  The light in your eyes dims when your spine collapses.  The lift in your heart flattens.  The upward flow of inner joy sinks down, and your face dries up like a prune.

“Stand up straight,” your mother (hopefully) said to you.  But what you did was: tighten your back muscles to overpower the spinal tensions already compressing your spine.  When you lift your torso up straight, you are layering tensions over tensions.  All those layers of tension are exhausting.  So you relax, and your spine slumps again.  Your head and neck push forward and you get a headache.  Your belly sags and your digestion begins to degrade.  The back of your waist caves in and you get shorter.  You get bunions.

In Svaroopa® yoga, we treat the cause of the compression by finding the spinal muscles that are pulling your spine downward.  The bones of your spine are amazingly engineered to stack in a way that lifts you up.  You don’t actually need any muscles to lift and straighten your spine!  Currently, however, your spinal muscles grip your spinal bones and pull them too close together, twist them sideways and even compress your inter-vertebral discs.

To understand the anatomy of it, consider what you already know:  when a muscle is working, it shortens.  Every muscle has at least two ends, each attached to different bones, so a working muscle pulls those bones closer together.  In other words, any time a spinal muscle is working, it is shortening your spine.  This is why we teach you spinal release.  In addition, we teach you how to use your abdominals, arm and leg muscles, so you use different muscles to stand, walk and carry things.

The precision and compassion of Svaroopa yoga is a laser-beam system, utilizing props and alignments.  Specific spinal muscles are released so that your vertebrae naturally realign.  Your spine lifts and lengthens, taking pressure off your discs, nerves, organs and glands.  No wonder your body becomes healthier and stronger!

If that were the whole story, it would be a great story.  Like seeing a great movie, it would be worthwhile to repeat the experience.  You could do Svaroopa® yoga every day for the rest of your life, motivated by the physical benefits alone.  If that’s all you want, you can stop reading here.  But you’ll be getting more, whether you understand it or not.

The mechanical opening of your spine removes the blocks suppressing the energy always flowing through.  Your core opening makes you feel more alive, more vibrant and clear headed, more positive and ready to tackle life.  Yoga calls this flow “prana,” explaining that it is your own individual power plant, the energy that makes you alive.  Unblocking the flow of prana is profoundly beneficial and happens any time your spine is aligned and lifted.  This happens in a Svaroopa® yoga class.

Thus the physical benefits described above are even more powerful; you get energetic benefits simultaneously.  The full flow of your own prana gives you an energy boost.  You feel “up.”  You have more creativity, more compassion, even more time available and more ways to use it.  Core opening gives a lift to your spine and to your life.  But this is not the whole story.  There is more.

Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.  It comes from the initiation I received from my Guru, so it carries Baba’s blessing to the next generation — you.  Svaroopa® yoga’s approach to the yoga poses is so radically different than other styles of yoga because we work your body from the inside out.  I learned this from Kundalini, the cosmic power of enlightenment, as She arose from my tail and worked Her way up, giving me insight into the body’s role in this process.  It was Baba’s Grace that awakened Kundalini in me, opening me to my own Self.

Thus when you use Svaroopa® yoga to align your spine, you place yourself in that flow of Grace.  My relationship with my Baba guarantees it.  This is why Svaroopa® yoga works so deeply and profoundly — this is a path of Grace.  Do more yoga.

Originally published January 2013