Monthly Archives: March 2019

You Can’t Pump Your Way to Enlightenment

Swami Nirmalananda & Rukmini Abbruzzi

Not even switching from pumping iron to pumping out Sun Salutations will do it.  If working on your body would make you enlightened, all the joggers and weight lifters would be on their way to enlightenment.  You must also engage your mind in your spirituality or your mind will hold you back.

As powerful and reliable as the poses are, your mind is the primary cause of your physical tensions. You tuck your tail under like a frightened puppy with every stress, every worry, and every fearful thought.  Consider how many of these thoughts do you have in a day.  Could you ever do enough asana to counter them?

You take a Svaroopa® yoga class and the lengthening of your tailbone reliably opens the doorway to your innermost essence.  Your body, mind and heart all open up blissfully as well.  Yet ten minutes later, a driver cuts you off on the road or you indulge in a favorite worry, and your tail tucks under again.  You instantaneously re-install those painful patterns of tension and compression. Rukmini shares:

I’ve experienced my mind’s ability to tighten my body all too many times.  Once at the end of a class, I rolled on to my side after Shavasana feeling so wonderful: relaxed, peaceful, content, at ease.  I stood up to leave, looked at the time and realized that class had run late and I’d be late for the babysitter. Before I knew it, my tailbone tightened and I was practically back to square one – the contentment and ease disappeared.  All it took was a thought.

When class ends, you still have to deal with your mind.  It’s wonderful that yoga offers more practices for your mind than the number of physical poses.  Mantras, chanting, sutra study, seva and vichara (self-examination) free you from old mental and emotional patterns.  This means your mind won’t tuck your tail under again.

While the Sanskrit word “asana” is familiar, usually defined as “pose,” it has very ancient roots.  In the many versions of Sanskrit over five or more millennia, the meaning and use of “asana” has remained the same.  It means “to sit.”  Patanjali says your seated pose must be “sukha” (literally meaning sweet, which is relaxed and comfortable) and “sthira” (steady, motionless).  The physical benefits you gain from your other asanas make you able to relax into your upright seated position without slumping or wiggling.  As you settle in your seat, your body and breath settle into stillness, bringing your mind to stillness as well.  That’s the doorway into meditation, the ultimate yogic practice.

Meditation makes you new again. Your inner immersion dives into more subtle and expanded levels of your Self.  You become the vibrant, peaceful, whole, complete, joyful you that you always wanted to be, because it’s who you really are.  It’s who you have always been, just behind the churning of your mind: svaroopa, your own Self.

Asana is a great start towards discovering what is and has always been there – your own Divine Essence, hidden within you. But it’s just a start.  A baby step. To get the rest of what yoga promises, you have to stop moving.  Think of it as an “adult time-out.”  You also have to get up out of Shavasana and sit.  In fact the seated pose is the king of all yoga poses; it is the supreme physical accomplishment.

Swami Nirmalananda reports on a national yoga conference she attended.

Medical researchers were giving slide shows summarizing their research on yoga, each one having 20 minutes to educate all of us.  My airplane was late, so I sat at the back of the hall, behind 2,000 yoga teachers.  I was horrified to watch them wiggle and squirm through the second presentation.  Before introducing the third presenter, the emcee announced, ‘We’ll have a break soon.  I know you can’t sit.’  Don’t they know that the purpose of all the asanas is to make you able to sit?

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

Asana (the seated pose) is motionless and comfortable.[1]

This is why Svaroopa® yoga teachers emphasize the seated poses.  In Teacher Training, we begin with seated poses in our first immersion, Foundations, returning to them many times in the two or more years of training.  Our final module focuses again on the seated poses, precisely because they are the most important poses.

Pose by pose, Svaroopa® yoga unravels the deepest layers of tension in your body, tensions that you’ve been accumulating for years, for decades, even for lifetimes.  These tensions and blockages have made you tired and cranky, literally bent out of shape. Each time you dissolve these core tensions, you are gaining more of the healing benefits of the poses:  increased strength and flexibility, improved balance and posture, reduced stress and anxiety, normalized blood pressure, stabilized blood sugar, better bone health, younger spine, improved immune system, better sleep, enhanced focus, uplifted mood, deep sense of well-being, peace of mind, increased happiness.  All of these and more are yours when you make yoga a regular, ongoing part of your life.  The benefits of yoga are truly amazing.  And meditation offers even more.

Originally published April 2016

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda


Rama Avatar, Part 8

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

After Rama’s crowning, his Ayodhya kingdom was flourishing.  Some time passed with the citizens in unbounded joy.  One day, as Rama was doing his routine checks on his citizens by going in disguise from street to street, he overheard a conversation that concerned him.  A husband and wife were arguing.  The wife had been away from home for some time and had just returned home to be with her husband.  He was refusing to accept her back, since she had been away from him for a long time, as he was doubting her chastity.  Thus, the husband was shouting at her, “Do you think that I am Rama, King of Ayodhya, accepting his wife after her being away for so long, staying under the custody of a stranger?”

Rama felt as if his heart was pierced by an arrow.  He thought, “All this time, I have been living by the law of righteousness but I have not realized about what my citizens thought about my actions.  I need to understand my citizens’ feelings in order to be able to rule the country well, with laws that fit everyone!”  His heart was filled with sorrow as he returned to the palace, thinking he failed on his duties.

Being a democratic ruler, he decided to banish his pregnant wife Sita from Ayodhya, though it was with unbearable pain.  He asked Lakshmana to take Sita to the forest, there to inform her of his decision.  No matter how much Lakshmana tried to present a case against Rama’s decision, it didn’t work.  Lakshmana found that he was hurting his brother more, for he was already in unbearable sorrow with what he had ordered.

Taking his brother’s orders, Lakshmana left to fulfill this duty.  With a very heavy heart he took Sita to a nearby forest and told her that Rama had ordered him to leave her in the forest, giving all the details.  At his first explanation, Sita cried out, “How can Rama do this to his pregnant wife, who proved her chastity in Lankapuri!”  Then, coming to terms with what was happening, she decided to abide by her husband’s wishes and said farewell to her beloved brother-in-law.

Unable to bear what he was doing, Lakshmana sought Hanuman and let him know what had transpired.  Without a word, Hanuman just leapt up to fly in the direction where Lakshmana had abandoned Sita.  Nothing was the same after this: the Ayodhya kingdom was in darkness, as was Rama, who preferred to be alone with his thoughts of his beloved Sita.

In the meantime, after a long search Hanuman found Sita, but he kept himself hidden since he had not gotten any orders from Rama to help her.  But he promised himself that he will not let any harm come to Sita.  Sita roamed in the woods for hours and days, sobbing in grief.  Hanuman silently followed her around with no direct way to help her, leaving fruits on her way for Sita to eat.  In her state of mind, she only nibbled on them and continued to wander aimlessly through the woods.

Sita was very tired and sat down to rest a bit.  Some young sages-in-training walked by her and stopped in surprise when they saw her.  They wanted to know who she was.  Not wanting to reveal who she really was, Sita said that she is a pregnant woman seeking shelter.  They started hurrying back from the way they had come, saying they were going to bring help.  Taken by her divine beauty and her sorrowful state, the young sages went back to the ashram and told their Guru Valmiki about what they saw.

Who is Valmiki?

There once lived a hunter named Ratnakara, a thief and ruthless man.  He killed harmless birds and gentle animals for food, robbing anyone and everyone who passed through the forest in which he lived.

One day he came across the Saptarishis, the seven great sages of all times.  He decided to rob them as well.  He stopped them, threatening them with his weapons, demanding all the wealth they possessed.  The sages explained that they had surrendered themselves to God and didn’t own any wealth.

They then asked him why he was stealing?  Ratnakara explained that he had to support his family, so he chose robbery as the means.  The sages asked him whether his family would partake of the sin that came from what he does for his livelihood.  Ratnakara answered without a doubt, “Yes!”  But the sages asked him to go get the answer from his family, promising to wait for his answers.

The hunter went straight to his wife and asked whether she is willing to share his sins.  Even though she was benefiting from his sinful life, she refused to share the sins.  Hoping that at least his children would partake of the sins with him, he was heartbroken by hearing the same answer from his children.  In disbelief at what he had heard, he returned back to the sages with a heavy heart.

Ratnakara threw himself at their feet, asking to redeem his soul.  The sages blessed him and gave him a mantra.  He couldn’t remember and say the holy name of “Rama,” so they gave him the mantra “ma-ra,” meaning “kill,” but which is an inverted version of “Rama.”  He was asked to repeat the mantra without interruption until they returned.  Ratnakara sat in a meditative pose, reciting the mantra for years.  An anthill formed around him, ultimately covering him fully.

After many years, the seven rishis returned and brought him out of his great tapas (austerities).  He came out a person different in every aspect.  The rishis blessed him as one of the great rishis, naming him “Valmiki” since he came out of “valmik” (anthill).  With the rishis’ blessings and with his spiritual energy and knowingness, he earned the respect of everyone from everywhere.

Once he was visited by Maharishi Narada.  Valmiki welcomed Narada with great respect.  Narada blessed Valmiki and they started conversing about great beings living by righteousness.  Valmiki asked Narada to name the most perfect being, who is living a dharmic life.  Narada immediately named Rama, the King of Ayodhya.  Narada started telling the wonderful story of Rama, which fascinated Valmiki.  Valmiki was very grateful to hear the story of Rama, and continued to repeat it in his mind all the time as though he were hearing it afresh.

One day Valmiki was on his way to have a bath in the Tamasa River, attended by one of his disciples.  He saw two birds on a branch of a tree, courting and cooing together.  Mesmerized by the birds’ love for each other, Valmiki stood there watching them.  As he was admiring them, a hunter killed one of the birds; the other one was devastated and in deep sorrow.

In his grief, Valmiki cursed the hunter for being so cruel.  The Sanskrit words he uttered spontaneously, because of his grief (shoka), came out in verse form, with melody and rhythm.  This was the first “shloka” (Sanskrit stanza) ever.  At that very moment, Lord Brahma, the lord of creation, appeared in front of him and requested Valmiki to write the story of Rama as narrated by Narada.  Brahma blessed him to write what he knew and that the unknown would be given to him.

With that blessing, Valmiki sat in a meditative pose and the story started unfolding in front of him as though he was witnessing the whole thing all over again.  Valmiki started writing the first epic of all times, “Ramayana” in stanza form.  After finishing writing the Ramayana, he started reading it to the public at large.  The crowd was spellbound by the story.

Back to the main story…

A little while later, the young sages returned with their Guru, Rishi Valmiki.  As soon as the Rishi saw Sita, through his spiritual insight, he knew who she was.  He introduced himself as Valmiki and invited Sita to his hermitage, greeting her with utmost respect, offered her help, assured her of his guidance and protection.

Not revealing Sita’s true identity to anyone, Valmiki asked everyone at the ashram to treat her with all the love they had.  Sita, abandoned by her husband, found love and support from Valmiki and his disciples.  Especially the female ascetics took special care of her, as she was pregnant.

More to come…

Yoga is More Than Asana

By Swami Nirmalananda & Rukmini Abbruzzi

You are so much greater than you could ever imagine!  Yoga’s sages say your inherent essence is the whole of Divine Consciousness.  How great is that?  Yet your Divine Essence is hidden within and must be unveiled. The human condition is that you don’t know your own Self.  The ultimate task of every human life is to discover who you really are.  Yoga’s stated goal and purpose is to unveil your spiritual greatness to you.  The sages gave us the asanas (yoga poses) as a way to start that process.

While recent research studies prove yoga’s value, those studies are not proving that yoga is better than exercise. Sometimes exercise beats out yoga in the studies, though sometimes yoga beats out exercise.  Sometimes they come out the same. Research proves that exercise gives you 90% of yoga’s benefits because they are studying exercise-oriented yoga styles.

But what if your yoga is a spiritual practice?  Researchers haven’t studied Svaroopa® yoga, so they haven’t compared spinal decompression to exercise.  They haven’t compared the bliss of the Self to the bliss of jogging.  Even if they do begin these comparisons, they’ll probably continue to measure physical and psychological benefits, not spiritual progress.  Yoga’s stated goal and purpose is to unveil your spiritual greatness to you.

The true value of Svaroopa yoga’s poses is found in the inner opening to your own Divine Essence.  Fortunately, the same poses free you from pain, open up your breath and heart and give you a new lease on life.  But their true value is their spiritual power.

While you can use the blissful baby steps of Svaroopa® yoga poses as an entry point to meditation as well as work on your mind and heart with yoga’s many powerful techniques, there’s more available. Svaroopa® yoga is all about your spine because of the meditation energy that arises through your spine.  It is because this uplifting energy flows upward that you have to sit up.  Get your spine vertical.

Your own inner power of revelation, the energy of your own enlightenment is arising within you.  Called Kundalini in Sanskrit, it has been sparked awake by the Grace that underlies and infuses your practices.  This is the gift that Swami Nirmalananda brought from India and passes along to us.  If your goal is a spiritual goal, if what you want is liberation, this energy of upliftment will carry you all the way.

Along the way, this Divine inner arising expands what you get from yoga exponentially.  Amazingly, meditation will fix your body, open your heart and transform your mind, while it gives you your own Divinity.  You can have it all!  The goal is greater than merely the physical and psychological benefits yoga poses offer.  The goal is your own Greatness.  And with the Grace of your Svaroopa practices, your goal is guaranteed.  Dive inside and discover your Self.

Excerpt from Asana, Mind & Grace, originally published in April 2016

Creativity & Its Source

By Swami Nirmalananda & Rukmini Abbruzzi

Musicians, artists and writers base their livelihood, even their life, in their creativity. Yet everyone is creative, even if you don’t think of yourself that way. For example, coming up with a solution to a problem is creative: that moment where you think, “Oh!  I know what to do about that.” That aha moment is an inner arising; it bubbles up just as joy and happiness do. You have an amazing potential hidden inside you.  So how do you tap into that potential and become more creative?

You currently use your creativity in a limited way: to plant a garden, to decorate your home or your body, or even to bring a new life into the world.  Creativity is blissful!  This is why there are so many arts and crafts stores with so many options for you to explore and enjoy.

Rukmini remembers how much her children loved to be creative:  “They’d come home from pre-school with more drawings and paintings and macaroni art than could ever fit on the refrigerator, excited and happy to share each one with me.”  Do you remember the joy and pride of showing your mom, ”Look what I made!”  Being creative feels wonderful, because in your own small way you’re being Brahma.  You’re experiencing the flow of Consciousness, being Shiva and manifesting something from your own being.

Swami Nirmalananda says, “When my Guru was living and teaching in Los Angeles, we held many programs on creativity, which were well attended by actors, screenwriters, producers, cinematographers, musicians, set designers, etc.  The famous and the wannabes came.  They wanted to tap into their creativity and Baba showed them the way to the source of their creativity — inside.”

Your Svaroopa® yoga and meditation practices progressively dissolve your creative blocks.  Energetic blockages in your spine keep you from your own creativity and worse, keep you from experiencing the source of your creativity — your own Self. Especially once Kundalini is awakened, your yogic openings clear the way for your creative capacity to blossom forth from within, along with the radiance and bliss of your own being.  Meditation is particularly effective because it is the direct route to your own source, plus it clears and reconditions your mind, so the light of creative consciousness can shine into your life and into the world.

Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked along the way.  It’s easy to lose track of your goal to know your own Self when a solution to a problem, an idea for a song or other creative impulse bubbles up during your meditation.  Your mind has a catcher’s mitt, so you start catching the arising bubbles, which makes your meditation be merely about your life, a way to solve problems or make money.  This is a trap.

Remember the goal — to know your own Self as Consciousness-Itself.  Meditation will take you all the way in, but you have to put down your catcher’s mitt and meditate longer.  Get past the rising bubbles of creativity to find the source they’re coming from – your own Self which is Consciousness-Itself.  You will not only get one answer from there; you’ll find all answers there.  You don’t merely have the capacity to be creative for a few moments.  You are the Source of creativity itself.  When you base your life and being in that inner reality, you live in an endless flow of creativity that never dries up.  You won’t have to wait until you meditate.  You will live in the experiential knowing (svaroopavidya) of your own Divine Essence.

Originally published August 2015

The Yoga of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Once I received initiation from my Guru, the fire of yoga began to blaze within me.  I wanted to surrender to this inner flame, and learned how under my Guru’s watchful care and guidance.  Kundalini taught me about core opening, through the physical movements (kriyas) she prompted in my meditations.  My gratitude will never end for what my Baba gave me.  He was one who could give the gift of enlightenment!

Yo’vipastho jna-hetushcha — “Siva Sutras 3.29

Only a yogi with mastery over the wheel of energy is capable to enlighten others

Along with this inner awakening, He taught me to trust what Kundalini brought forth within me.  Every time I had a doubt about a new level of inner opening (and I had many doubts), He reaffirmed for me that I could trust the arising of Consciousness within me.  By the time he sent me back to America and I began teaching, I knew that I knew.

Your practice of the discipline named Svaroopa® yoga, based on the key principles of precision and compassion, allow you to mimic the physical processes I went through in my early years with my Guru.  The awakened Kundalini moved me through the full range of yoga poses, but in a way that opened my spine effortlessly — a radical departure from what I was doing and what I saw others doing in our yoga classes, as we tried to move our bodies into our idea of the picture-perfect pose.  I knew that “imposing” the “pose” on my body was wrong because I experienced the grace and ease of each pose in my meditations, when Kundalini moved me.

As my process advanced, I left the physical kriyas behind and experienced Kundalini clearing my mind and heart.  She unraveled the crazy-bits, of which there were many, by tracking them to their inner-most kernel: again and again I confronted the fear that drove all the crazies.  But I couldn’t unravel the fear.  My Guru did that.  I know what Grace is, for it begins the process (through Shaktipat initiation), supports the process (the ever-present umbrella of Grace) and it completes the process (the inner revealing of who you really are).

Even if you don’t know what Grace is, Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.  Every time you target the core tensions and melt them away, tail to top, you open yourself to Divine Grace again.  Core opening is a process of inner opening, surrendering the way you resist your own Divinity and surrendering to the inner Reality of your own Self.  The practices invoke the blessing of the ages, coming from the sages and masters of yoga, those who are gone and those still alive.  Most students of Svaroopa® yoga experience Kundalini awakening within their first two years of regular study and practice; many experience this incredible gift in their first class or in their first year.  Or you can simply come to a Shaktipat Retreat and get it in a weekend.

What will Kundalini do for you? How do you know if your Svaroopa® yoga practices have awakened this Divine Power of Revelation within you?  If you feel the inner heat climbing your spine or radiating from your core, the revelatory power of Consciousness (Kundalini) is awakened and working within you.  If you dive in deeper than deep, losing track of time and place, the doorway to your own Divinity has been opened; Kundalini is opening you from the inside out.  If you find yourself lifted or moved effortlessly into a deeper angle in a pose or even right into a painful spot (to burn it away), the fire of yoga (Kundalini) is moving you light-years in a few breaths.

When you get inner answers, always right even when they don’t make sense, Kundalini is showing you how to live your life by the inner compass.  When you stop craving things that your mind still says it wants, Kundalini is freeing you from your compulsions.   When you find that everything you thought you wanted is just a summer rerun, and you realize that what you want is something more… you’re on the path.  This is yoga.  This is Svaroopa® yoga.  The Yoga of Grace.

Excerpted from Swami Nirmalananda’s Contemplation Article, June 2012