Monthly Archives: August 2019

Exploring Your Own Heart

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Your heart is an essential and amazing part of your body.  It is a hard-working internal organ, pumping blood (containing oxygen, nutrients, hormones, etc.) to every cell of your body, including your skin, your muscles, your other organs and all the way into the cells in your bones. It beats 100,000 times a day, over 35 million times a year.  It began beating before you were born! Even if you’ve had some problems with your heart, it has worked for a long time and is continuing to serve you still.

You could even pause here to say thank you to your own heart.  Take a moment, a few breaths and say thank you to your own heart.  In that moment of gratitude, you might even feel a feeling in your heart, a tangible feeling inside.  Now you’re looking at another meaning of the word, “heart.”

In English, “heart” also refers to your emotional condition.   You talk about your heart when you’re having an emotional experience.  So many English idioms express this:  with all your heart, to take heart, the child won everyone’s heart, to have your heart set on something, to follow your heart… In everyday conversations, when you use the word “heart,” you are usually talking about love and emotions.  This means that heart is a very important part of life!

Yet the word “heart” also has a broader meaning, used when we are talking about:  the heart of the matter, let’s get to the heart of it, to put your heart into it.

Yoga teaches you to put your heart into whatever you are doing.  Even businesses want their employees to put their heart into their work.  They don’t want their employees to become emotional and “wear their heart on their sleeve”, but they want their employees to bring some core, some essence or some meaningful quality to their interactions with customers.   This is because, when you are a customer, you want the person who is helping you to truly care about helping you.   

Yoga’s vocabulary agrees with all these definitions of “heart” and more, describing the heart as a gateway to the essence of a human being.  Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way:

What is the essence that is found in every human heart?

What is it about a human being that, no matter who they are, where they have been and what they have done, that there is still some essence, an essence of vital importance?

Whether we consider convicted criminals on Death Row or a child who is lost in the woods, each one is important.

Each one is a human being.

Each one matters.

There is something in every human.

What do you call that essence, found in every human heart?

Finding this essence is yoga’s goal, clearly described by the sages in the core of yoga’s teachings, in the heart of yoga’s teachings:

Aasanastha.h sukha.m hrade nimajjati.  — “Siva Sutras 3.16

The yogi established in a steady posture easily becomes immersed in the heart.[1]

“Immersed in the heart” does not mean to be immersed in your physical heart or your emotional heart, but to be immersed in the heart of beingness.  It’s what yoga does for you – immerses you in the heart of your own beingness.  This is the essential part of every human being, that core essence that yoga names “svaroopa.”

Originally published February 2014

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Relaxing Your Body & Mind

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

It is quite an accomplishment when you still your body and your mind!  In every Svaroopa® yoga class, we begin with Shavasana and the Guided Awareness.  You can make your body lie completely motionless, yet your mind is racing and your emotions churning.  We know that sometimes the first Shavasana is the hardest pose of your whole class.

You could be lying physically still because you don’t want to disturb your neighbors, but inside there is no stillness.  You have brought your body to a halt yet your inner speed continues.   From time to time this happens for anyone. Yet yoga says that if you just keep your body in stillness, your mind is going to slow down.

Sthira sukham aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

The (yoga) pose is motionless and easy.

While this sutra is really about the seated poses that lay the foundation for meditation, it applies to every yoga pose.  In every pose, you are looking for that point of sthira (absolute motionlessness) and sukha (complete ease).  When that happens, something more happens.  It is the “something more” of yoga that happens.  What this means is, just like the researcher said, “…your mind completely switches off.”  That is the beginning of everything!

Even when your first Shavasana is hard for you, your second Shavasana is quite different —  a little slice of heaven!  This is because all the other poses got you ready for Shavasana.  The ultimate purpose of all those other poses is to get you ready for the stillness and for what happens in that profound inner stillness.

While you may not always hear the words being said, our Guided Awareness in the final Shavasana ends with words that point you inward:

Being aware of your whole body…

or being aware of awareness itself…

or follow awareness into its source…

Rest in That.

That stillness and ease, which began with your body, gives you more, beginning with your mind becoming still.  This is not merely a deep relaxation of your body.  It’s not merely a respite from your thoughts and emotions. This is a tangible opening to something more, something greater, something more core to your being, something more essential — an opening to the something that is called your Essence.  It’s called svaroopa, your own Self.

Medical literature has been validating the health benefits of relaxation for 30 years or more.  All this research has helped to give yoga’s practices a respectable name in the scientific community, for which the yogis are grateful.  But consider this:  yoga was doing those practices long before science thought they were respectable.  Yoga has other practices that haven’t yet been documented by science. What might those practices do for you?

While science can tell us a little bit about the health benefits of deep relaxation, it hasn’t even begun to catch up with a yogi.  Every yogi who begins the science of yoga is doing a scientific exploration within the multidimensionality of her or his own being, using proven methodologies, every time they do their own yoga practice.  Do more yoga.

Published January 2014

Krishna Avatar – Part 2

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The asuras (demons) and their descendants were taking over the earth, harming the good, righteous, virtuous people and influencing others to harmful deeds.  The earth was not in a good state: the people were in turmoil all the time, fighting with each other, using devastating weapons that harmed Bhudevi (Mother Earth).  She couldn’t bear the devastations so She sought help from Lord Brahma.

She went to Brahmaloka and stood in front of Lord Brahma with flowing tears and deep sorrow.  Lord Brahma was deeply touched and decided to escalate the issue to Lord Vishnu, who is the savior of the three worlds.  Together with Bhudevi and all the devas (Gods), Brahma went to Vaikuntha seeking help from Lord Vishnu.

While the others were praying and singing to Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma was meditating.  He received a message through his heart and shared it with all.  The message from Lord Vishnu was that He would be born into Yadu Kula (the Yadava clan), to save the world from the evil which prevailed on Earth.  He also commanded the devas to be born into Yadu Kula,  Also, Adishesha (the five-headed snake, the part of Lord Vishnu serving him as his bed) will join him as his elder brother.  And his Shakti Maya, Lakshmi, will also have a role in this incarnation.  After revealing this information to the devas and Bhudevi, thus calming them down, Lord Brahma returned to Brahmaloka.

Here on earth at that time, king Ugrasena ruled Mathura, one of the leading cities.  Belonging to the Bhoja Vamsa (family), he had a son and two daughters.  Though Ugrasena was a very kind-hearted king, his son Kamsa was a cruel ill-natured prince.  Yet Kamsa’s sister Devaki devoted her life to the worship of Lord Vishnu.  When she came of age, her father arranged her to marry Vasudeva, a Yadu Kula prince, son of King Surasena.  [Please note that the name Vasudeva differs from Vaasudeva, a name for Lord Vishnu, often used to address Krishna.]

It was a splendid wedding, the two kulas coming together as one.  On the day when the newlyweds departed from Mathura to go Vasudeva’s kingdom, Kamsa himself offered to drive the chariot, as it’s the tradition for the brothers to go with the sister to her new home.  Many golden chariots were following the hundreds of elephants, horses, maids, etc.  While this wonderful procession was going on, all of a sudden, a thundering voice from the sky startled everyone.  It said, “Kamsa, you fool!  You are innocently serving them your sister, yet her eighth son is going to be the cause of your death.  He will kill you.”

Being cruel by nature, Kamsa immediately drew his sword to kill Devaki.  Vasudeva, shocked by this action, jumped in front to protect Devaki.  Being a wise person, Vasudeva decided to handle this situation with intellect.  He told Kamsa, “Devaki is not the threat.  Killing your newlywed sister is going to bring you a lot of karmic repercussions.  All you want are her children, so I promise you that I would deliver them to you when they are born.”

Though he was already mourning his unborn children, even hoping it wouldn’t happen, Vasudeva said this to save his wife from the heartless Kamsa.  Kamsa was somehow convinced by Vasudeva’s words and let them go.  Vasudeva quietly went home with his wife, having succeeded in putting off the danger.

Maharishi Narada was watching all this drama, not too happy about the postponing of Lord Vishnu’s avatar, so he decided to visit Kamsa in order to provoke him into action sooner.  As everyone knows, Narada makes a lot of trouble, but always for the greater good of the world.  All the mischief and trouble he causes, at the end always brings happiness to the world.

Narada planted seeds of fear in Kamsa, saying he’d made a bad decision that in letting Vasudeva and Devaki go, trusting them to deliver their children.  He also revealed Lord Brahma’s plan, including about the devas being born into Yadu families, and anxiously awaiting and preparing themselves to protect Devaki’s eighth child, who will be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  Upon receiving this news, Kamsa wanted to imprison Vasudeva and Devaki.  His father, Ugrasena, objected, so Kamsa overpowered him, imprisoning him and taking over the kingdom.

Kamsa pronounced himself as the king of Yadu, Bhoja and Anthaka clans.  Then he imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki in the dungeon.  Thereafter Kamsa’s tyranny threatened all, even including the sages.  Especially he targeted the Yadu Clan people, harming them and making them flee into other cities and villages, living in exile, disguised, hiding from the tyrant.

Devaki gave birth to her first child.  The guards informed Kamsa who came to the dungeon.  Even though he knew that only the eighth son is his enemy, Kamsa, being a oppressor, decided to kill all of Devaki’s children, afraid that they may be Lord Vishnu’s avatars.  As Devaki cried out for sympathy, Kamsa took the newborn baby by his feet and throws him towards a dungeon rock wall, killing the baby instantly.  Laughing arrogantly, Kamsa returned to his palace, above the dungeon.

There was nothing Vasudeva could do, but to console his wife and give her courage.  An year passed, the second child was born and Vasudeva and Devaki faced the same fate.  This cruel act of Kamsa continued with each child until the sixth.  The people spoke in hushed tones, afraid about this evil deed of their king.  Even the relatives and friends of Kamsa couldn’t stop him, so they ended up praising him, afraid for their own life and position.

It was time.  Lord Vishnu ordered Adishesha to be born as Devaki’s seventh child.  Devaki could tell that this child was different and was more scared for the safety of the child.  Yet she knew that, without help from Lord Vishnu, the fate of the child could not be changed.

Lord Vishnu called upon Yoga Maya, the Shakti of the universe, asking her to transfer the embryo in Devaki’s womb to Rohini, another of Vasudeva’s wives, who was secretly living with her sister’s family in Gokul.  Revealing his plan to be born as Devaki’s eighth son, he also wanted Yoga Maya to be born at the same time, in Gokul, as the daughter of Queen Yashoda, the wife of Maharaj Nanda, head of cowherds.  Hearing this from Lord Vishnu, Yoga Maya executed the command by switching the unborn child from Devaki’s womb to Rohini’s.

Thus Devaki’s seventh child was presumed dead in her womb and Kamsa was blamed for harassing her into this state.  Kamsa didn’t care about the blame; he was happy that the seventh child was dead, not knowing what really transpired.  Devaki was in a lot of grief and worry, not only due to losing her seventh child, but also thinking of how she was going to save the eight child, so he could save the world from her tyrant brother.

In Gokul, Rohini gave birth to a son, an incarnation of the powerful Adhishesha, all by the grace of Yoga Maya.  Gargamuni, their family priest, secretly performed the rituals for the newborn baby, naming him “Rama,” and adding “Bala” to his name, predicting his extraordinary strength and valor.  Thus he was called Balarama.  Lord Vishnu’s eighth avatar had taken place, Adishesha being part of the Lord himself.  Balarama was growing up in Gokul, expecting Lord Vishnu to arrive soon.

Not a Guided Relaxation

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

The Guided Awareness in Shavasana is not a “Guided Relaxation.” You’ll never hear your teacher say, “Relax your feet and ankles,” or, “Let your legs soften.” In a Guided Relaxation you are relaxing, which is a type of doing, trying to relax the areas of your body that feel tense.  How can that ever be successful?

Try it this way:  right now, relax your shoulders.  You can even speak directly to your shoulders.  Say, “Shoulders, Relax!”  Does it work?

Not really.  Bottom line:  thinking is not relaxing, in case you haven’t noticed.  When you think of your toes, your toes are not going to relax.  But when you become aware of your toes, something amazing happens.  Of course, it may take a little bit longer to become aware of your toes, but that’s merely because you are not well practiced at awareness. Swami Nirmalananda says, “You have had a lot of practice with thinking, but you are not yet that good at awareness.”

When you cultivate awareness of your shoulders, they relax! From this you can conclude that awareness is relaxing.  Fortunately, the medical community is now validating your personal findings through their studies of “the relaxation response.”

Under Dr. Herbert Benson, researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered long-term practitioners of relaxation methods (such as yoga and meditation) have far more “disease-fighting genes” active compared to those who practice no form of relaxation[1]. Other medical researchers have found that yoga, meditation, and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the “relaxation effect,” a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side effects.

One researcher explained it this way, “What you’re looking for is a state of deep relaxation where tension is released from the body on a physical level and your mind completely switches off.  The effects won’t be achieved if you are lounging round in an everyday way, nor can you force yourself to relax.  You can only really achieve it by learning specific techniques.”

Those techniques are not new.  They are the ancient science of yoga.

Published January 2014