Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

Go With the Flow

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

A yogini told me about her family vacation several years ago, a week-long river rafting trip.  Her father had worked for two years to get rare reservations for this special trip plus assembling all his children and grandchildren for a great adventure.  They had a great time, all the way through the last rapids of the trip, where the guides checked all the straps on everyone’s life jackets, and then told them they would be running the rapids without the raft.

Assuring them that it was safe, and that they had done this with hundreds of people, they gave the secret teaching that would make it work.  “As the water swirls you right into a big rock, just relax.  It will swirl you up and over the rock and you won’t get any scrapes or bruises.”  Our yogini repeated a mantra of her own devising through her whole ride, “Shavasana, Shavasana.”  She was the only one who emerged with no scrapes or bruises.  Laughing.  Victorious.  Ecstatic.

Go with the flow.  This means is that control is an illusion.  You are not in control, no matter how hard you try to be.  Life is actually not about control.  If it was, and if you really could control everything, you’d never laugh.  You’d never love.  You’d never be ecstatic.  You have to give into the flow in order to laugh and in order to love.  You have to flow with the river in order to experience the bliss.

Life is a lot like that river.  Some sections are smooth and idyllic, and others have big boulders and churning water.  While you’re not in control, you still must understand the cause-and-effect nature of the universe, just like the river guides who paddle in just the right places and who use their paddle to steer the boat in others.  That’s not control.  That’s intelligence.

You must learn to use your intelligence in a different way than you have been.  You have been using it to try to get what you want, or to impress others, or to learn more and more stuff that fills your head with more and more thoughts, which make you more and more unhappy.  Thoughts do make you unhappy.  Just watch your mind for a few minutes and you’ll realize it.  This is why yoga focuses on quieting your mind.  This is also why we love rivers, because watching one, or even rafting on one, has a wonderful effect on your mind.  Even thinking of a river has this effect – it calms and quiets your mind.  Technically, that’s called yoga:  the quieting of your mind.

If you thought river-thoughts all the time, your mind would be your friend.  Right now, it’s not so friendly.  It harasses you.  It cuts you down.  It drives you crazy.  It never gives you a moment of peace.  So you do yoga to quiet your mind.  The lessons you learn in your yoga class and personal practice apply to life so beautifully, as do the lessons you learn on the river.  Sometimes, like in this story, the lessons are the same:  go with the flow.

Originally published May 2010

Still Focusing on Pain?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I love to introduce new students to yoga by starting them with the Shavasana adjustments.  Once they lie down on their back, I make sure they have enough blankets under their knees and then I shift one shoulder blade on the floor underneath them.  After realigning that shoulder, I ask, “What is the difference?’  Most students report that the shoulder feels lower, flatter or more relaxed.  But quite a few report that their other shoulder is tighter.

Instead of reporting that the one I adjusted feels better, they focus on the discomfort in the other one.  If I now adjust the second one, then they report on a different pain in their body, and then another…  They don’t know how to actually feel GOOD.  When their first shoulder feels good, they quit looking at it, and they go looking for any spot of pain to focus on.

Your mind loves to do the mental equivalent of picking at scabs.  When you have a cut that is still healing, the scab forms and the healing is going on underneath.  It progresses so well that the edges of the scab become loose.  You know that you really should leave the scab alone and let the healing process continue underneath, but you pick at the edge.  When you pull on it, sometimes you pull it all the way off and the bleeding begins again.  You have reinjured yourself and the healing process will take longer this way.  Yet you do it with your body — and you do the equivalent process with your mind.

You have some say in where your mind goes.  Picking at the unhealed hurts is not a way of healing them.  Living in the constant memory of difficult things you experienced in the past is a way of perpetuating the pain or even reinjuring yourself.  Living in constant worry about the future is a way of creating pain from events that you may never have to live through.  It’s almost as though you have an addiction to pain.

There is another alternative. Instead of having to choose between feeling pain and feeling nothing, what if you could actually feel good?  It is simply a matter of choosing where to focus your attention.  With this new yogi, still lying in Shavasana with only one shoulder shifted into place while noticing the other (unadjusted) shoulder, I say, “OK — your other shoulder still hurts.  But, how does this one feel?  I moved it — does it feel any different?”

It can take two or three tries before she or he can actually describe the shoulder that was adjusted.  She/he stammers and searches for unfamiliar words – words that describe a sensation of feeling good.  It is an important moment, which is not just about the body.  This is an important learning — learning how to feel good.  Learning to look at what feels good, even if everything else isn’t perfect.

This is an important change in perspective, though it is not really yoga.  It is a good beginning because, in yoga, you have to learn to look at what feels good.  Yet this new ability is not for the purpose of feeling good.  It is so that you can retrain your mind.  It is not training your mind to deny the problems that need to be taken care of, but it is being able to choose your attitude while you are handling them.  When you can see the bright side, you can smile in the midst of the storm, and it is even good for your health!  If that were all that yoga offered, it would be a lot.  As your body is opening up, your attitude is lightening up.

Still, this is all preparatory training.  This training prepares you to use your mind in more powerful ways — to use your mind to look beyond your mind.  You learn how to use your mind to look at Consciousness-Within.  Once you begin this process, you become free from the old patterns and reactions.  You become free, progressively and powerfully free.  This is yoga’s promise.

Originally published December 2003

Krishna Avatar Part 5

by Nirooshitha Sethuram

Krishna was growing up fast in Gokul, his brother Balarama by his side.  They loved each other so much that one couldn’t live without the other.  Both of them were very mischievous.  Especially Krishna, whose many amazing exploits reminded Yashoda of the words of Garga Muni, who named Krishna, announcing that the Supreme Lord had appeared as this child…

It was another beautiful day, almost noon-time.  A woman was walking with a basket of fruit on her head, shouting “Fruits, fruits…”  She was poor and had only a few fruits to sell to keep her family fed.  Krishna heard her calling and ran out to the street to get some fruit.  He didn’t have any money.  Those fruits looked very yummy and Krishna wanted them badly.  He looked around and found a pile of grain.  As bartering was usual those days, picked up a handful of grain and ran to the fruit seller.  On the way to the seller, because of his tiny little hands, he lost half of the grain he had taken, leaving only a few grains in his hand.  He reached out and gave the woman the few grains he had in his hand.  Looking at the few grains, the woman smiled at Krishna, the grace-filled little boy.  She happily gave him the fruits he could hold.  Krishna jumped up in joy, took the fruits and ran back into the house to eat them.

Wondering how she was going to feed her family, she lifted the basket to go home, and was amazed to find the basket heavy with gemstones, including rubies, emeralds, diamonds instead of the grains, with gold ornaments and other precious metals.  She was unable to understand what happened but thanked God for them and went home glorifying the divine.  Krishna was watching through the window laughing at the amazement of the woman.

Though Gokul had been a peaceful place to live, all the recent demonic attacks had made it unsafe.  Nanda and the elders met to come up with a solution.  They decided to move to the nearby village Vrindavan, both for safety reasons and because it had lush grass for their cows, along with the nearby forest and of course the river Yamuna, as in Gokul.

Within a day, they packed up everything in their carts, gathered their cattle and started their trek to Vrindavan. On the way, the Gopiis started to sing about Krishna; it was a delight to all the travellers. When they arrived, the Govardhana hills, the rich green pastureland and the beautiful Yamuna river was in sight.  It seemed a great place to live and all were happy.

In the city, Kamsa still clung to his thought of eliminating his enemy, killing Krishna.  After the death of the demons he’d sent, Putana and Trinavarta, he knew his enemy was no ordinary being.  He understood that he needed a far more powerful demon than the ones he sent earlier.  He was very anxious because he didn’t know where Devaki’s eighth son was.  He sent his spies all around, thus finding out the whole village of Gokul had moved to Vrindavan.  This made him very suspicious.  Some time later his suspicion was confirmed to be true:  a spy confirmed that Krishna was in Vrindavan.  Happy now, Kamsa could target Vrindavan in order to kill Krishna.  He called upon a ferocious demon called Vatsasura (the calf demon), ordering him to go to Vrindavan and kill Krishna.

Krishna, Balarama and their friends were big enough to take the calves out for grazing daily.  One day, while they were attending to the calves, Vatsasura took on the form of a calf, mingling with the other calves in order to get near Krishna and do the job he was sent for.  As soon as Vatsasura entered the herd, Krishna noticed him and gestured to Balarama, who is always ready to confront danger.  While Vatsasura was trying to hide and blend in, Balarama went right in front of him, to distract him.  Krishna snuck behind the demon and caught hold of the calf’s hind legs.  Lifting the demon high above his head, he whipped it round and round and threw him toward a huge tree.  Hitting the tree hard, the calf fell to the ground.  Vatsasura returned to his demon form, lying dead on the ground.

The residents of Vrindavan heard about Krishna’s valor, which increased their love and devotion towards him more than before.  They begin to believe their Guru Gargacharya’s predictions about Little Krishna, that he is no ordinary child, that he is a Divine Incarnation.

This was another failure for Kamsa.  He was troubled and worried, thinking he needed a stronger demon.  He remembered Bakasura (the crane demon), a much stronger demon and Putana’s brother.  Kamsa told Bakasura that he had found his sister’s killer, Krishna, who was living in Vrindavan.  Kamsa promised Bakasura a handsome reward for killing Krishna.  As soon as Bakasura heard the name of his sister’s killer, he was enraged.  He accepted Kamsa’s request and took off without wasting any time.

Krishna, Balarama and their friends as usual took the calves to the pastures early in the morning, then to the Yamuna River for water.  When they were resting, they saw a shadow of a crane over the river and pasture.  The bird looked like a mountain with its beak stretching several yards in front of it.  Krishna knew it was Bakasura who had taken the form of a crane.

Krishna walked towards the crane while the others held back.  Acting quickly, as soon as Krishna was close, Bakasura snatched him up with his long beak and swallowed him, thinking he had successfully killed Krishna.  Seeing this, all the kids froze in fear except for Balarama, who obviously knew what Krishna was up to.

While in the crane’s long throat, Krishna glowed with radiance, producing a lot of heat.  Unbearable heat!  The crane spat out Krishna in a hurry as its thin throat was being burnt.  Krishna jumped to the ground.  Bakasura attacked him with his beak again.  Krishna grabbed hold of the beak and tore it apart, killing Bakasura.  Another demon killed.

The younger brother of Putana and Bakasura learned that Krishna killed his siblings.  Aghasura (the serpent demon) felt so much vengeance that he decided to wipe out the whole of Vrindavan.  He disguised himself as a giant serpent, waiting for the children with his mouth open.  He resembled a mountain cave, his lower lip resting on the ground, with his upper lip touching the clouds like a mountain peak and his tongue resembling a path through the mountain cave.

Krishna and his companions were coming along in groups, playing and dancing while herding the calves.  The first two or three groups entered what they thought was a mountain cave, impressed with the smooth road, which was actually the serpent’s tongue.  They fell unconscious due to the venomous fumes inside the snake’s mouth.

Aghasura kept still as his goal was to kill all of them, especially Krishna, so that their parents would also will die in grief.  Thus, the whole of Vrindavan would be destroyed.  Krishna recognized the demon immediately when he saw it.  He had to devise a plan to kill the serpent without hurting his friends and the calves already in its stomach.

Krishna walked into the mouth of the huge serpent. Aghasura was very happy that Krishna had fallen into his trap.  In the serpent’s throat, Krishna started growing larger and larger, blocking its airway.  This made the serpent unable to gasp any air, so it died.  Krishna opened the snake’s mouth and brought all the boys and calves out.  He brought them back to consciousness by his divine powers.

Aghasura attained moksha by the grace of Krishna.  The Devas and all the celestial began celebrating this divine union. The celebration and news of Krishna’s glory reached Satyaloka, the residence of Lord Brahma.

After slaying Aghasura, the boys were having lunch, joking and laughing.  But when they finished eating, they noticed something strange.  Oh no!  All the calves were missing…  where did they go?  Did they wonder around and lose their way?  Krishna wanted all of them to stay calm and to stay in one place, so he went to look for the calves.  Searching everywhere in the forest, he couldn’t find any trace of them.  Wondering what had happened, he returned to the spot where his friends were waiting for him to tell them the sad news.  But all of his friends were now gone.

Through his divine powers, Krishna saw what was going on.  Lord Brahma had a little doubt in Krishna, as to whether he was really Lord Vishnu, especially since Krishna was acting just like a little boy, playing with other kids, even being a usual teenager with some might and powers.  So, Lord Brahma was testing him.  Lord Brahma had put the calves and the kids into a deep sleep and hid them in a cave.  Krishna smiled to himself, planning an answer for Lord Brahma.

The all-pervading Krishna manifested as each and every one of his missing friends and the missing calves, exactly how they were.  He returned to the village as usual with all his friends in the evening.  The mothers of the Gopalas and the calves welcomed them like never before, pouring their love out to them as they never had before. They didn’t know that this was because they had the opportunity and the highest blessings of being the parents of Lord himself.

After some time, Lord Brahma came to see what Krishna was doing without his friends.  To Lord Brahma’s astonishment, Vrindavan was as it had been before he’d hidden the kids.  In disbelief, he went back to the cave where the kids were hidden, thinking maybe Krishna had found them, but Lord Brahma found them still sound asleep.  He went back and forth between the cave and Vrindavan a couple of times to make sure.

When Krishna saw this, he turned himself along with all his friends and the calves in Vrindavan into Lord Vishnu’s form, only for Lord Brahma’s eyes.  Seeing Krishna’s true form and understanding his mistake, Lord Brahma rushed down to offer his respect to Krishna and brought all the kids and the calves back to Vrindavan.  Everything was back to what it was earlier.

Now Krishna, Balarama and the other friends were older, so they started to take the calves and the cows further into the pasture.  One day, going farther along one of the pathways, they came to a beautiful forest, where they could smell the fragrance of the fruits and flowers.  They had been warned to stay away from this forest of palm trees called Taalavana, due to Dhenukasura (the donkey demon).

Dhenukasura was surrounded by other small demons, also taking the form of donkeys, not letting anyone into that forest so that nothing was taken from there.  The kids were enthusiastic to go in and get some of the never before eaten fruits.  Krishna hinted to Balarama to go in and do the needful.  Balarama went into the forest, followed by Krishna and their other friends.

Balarama shook the trees with his mighty strength, making the ripe fruits fall to the ground.  Jubilantly picking and tasting the fruits, the kids completely forgot about the demons who were taking their afternoon nap.  All the noise from Balarama’s shaking of the trees woke Dhenukasura.  Angry that someone had entered his forest and awakened him from his nap, Dhenukasura appeared in front of Balarama and started kicking his chest with his hind legs, sounding like an earthquake.

At first Balarama was patient, though it was not his usual nature.  But then he got very angry and took hold of Dhenukasura’s hind legs, wheeled the donkey around and tossed it up into the treetop.  The demon came crashing down, landing dead on the forest floor.  The wheeling and the tossing made the forest look as though a tornado had hit the area.

The fight between Balarama and Dhenukasura woke all the other demons.  Wanting to avenge Dhenukasura’s death, they charged at Balarama.  Skillfully, both Balarama and Krishna killed all the demons by doing the same thing Balarama had done to Dhenukasura.  From the monkeys to the birds, all the creatures of the area were so happy to be able to come to the forest to enjoy the fruits for the first time.

More to come…

The Yearning

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Built into your humanness is the innate yearning for transcendence, which is cultivated by the Svaroopa® yoga practices.  While you are moving your body, taking care of your aches and pains, improving your health and mood, increasing your stamina and vitality, balancing your immune system and resetting your endorphins — you are also cultivating the call of your heart for mystical experiences.  Once you truly realize that you cannot get true satisfaction from outside, you can experience the yearning in its true form.  Kusuma Sachs described it beautifully in her blog:

The yearning is a sense of deliciousness that you know is there, but just beyond your grasp.  It is a tingling vibration deep in your being, promising something more, something that you know is more than you can even imagine.  It is the welling up of tears for no reason; it is the  longing for that which you know – and yet can’t grasp onto.  It is the elation that wells up, just by contemplating yearning itself.  It is the swelling of your heart into an expectation of unknown joy.  This is the yearning.  You know it so well.

To allow yourself to feel the yearning directly, without mundanating it, is both painful and delicious at the same time.  I made up the word, “mundanate,” meaning “to make mundane.” It is the opposite of the word “sublimate,” which means to make sublime. The contemplative traditions (monks and nuns) practice celibacy and prescribe that the initiates sublimate their sexual energy.  You may have thought that sublimating means repressing, denying, avoiding or even expressing sexual energy in abnormal ways, and may even have thought that sublimation refers only to sex.  In fact, sublimation means to make the mundane into something sublime, supreme, or complete. In terms of celibacy, it means you turn that overwhelming desire and energy toward God, who provides you with a deeper, more complete satisfaction than you have ever experienced, even with good sex.

While something mundane can be made sublime, it also goes the other way.  The sublime can be turned into the mundane.  This is what I see when I look at the popular yoga calendars.  The sacred postures that open you up to the experience of your own divinity have become circus posters, showing contortionists wearing almost nothing.  When the yoga poses serve their original purpose, they are a rocket ship to God.

You yearn for this experience.  The yearning is built into you, inherent within you and every human being.  Most of the people you know mundanate the feeling and look for satisfaction in a new job, a new pair of shoes, a new spouse, etc.  You’ve tried doing it yourself; after all, you had such good role models!  But it doesn’t work for you.  Somehow you know you are looking for something more.  And you get no satisfaction from all that efforting, as Mick Jagger says:

I try, and I try, and I try, and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no…

The “trying” gets in the way.  You get satisfaction by surrendering to your own core essence, which is the divine all-pervasive, ever-existent One Reality, which yoga calls “Shiva.”  You are Shiva.  This surrender is not a “giving up,” but a “giving in” to your Self. Discover your own core essence. Know your own Self.  Be that which you already are, the source of full and complete satisfaction.  And carry that into your life.

Do more Svaroopa® yoga.


By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

An ancient yogic teaching was rendered into a modern-day sutra (aphorism) by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones:

I can’t get no satisfaction…

I try, and I try, and I try, and I try…

Your heart and your whole being yearn for a satisfaction that the world cannot provide.  Whether you’re striving for recognition on the job or in your relationships, a new home or a new car, whiter teeth or a better nose, or anything else – you can get it, but you’re still not satisfied.  That sense of full and complete satisfaction is rare, and it is essential.  Without it, life becomes a treadmill with no end in sight.

You have had experiences of complete satisfaction, perhaps better described as supreme contentment.  One tantric text describes how nature can provide such profound experiences, whether you are looking at a vast view, getting lost in the woods or watching the ocean.  In that timeless moment, you feel complete.  You feel whole.  There is nothing you need or want; there is nothing you need to do.  I have heard people say, “If I died right now, it would be OK.”

The first time I experienced this completeness, and I knew I was having an experience while I was having it, was at the top of a mountain.  Mt. Tamalpais is not your ordinary mountain.  Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean, it is easily accessible — you can drive to the parking lot at the summit.  My cousin took me there one afternoon.  We wandered along different paths across the grassy field adjacent to the parking lot, so I had no clue what lay in my immediate future.  As I came up over a rise, the whole breathtaking scene of bridge, bay and ocean burst open in front of me.  As I write this, the hairs on my arms are standing on end.  The memory of the event places me there again!

Yet I knew that something else was happening.  Something I didn’t understand.  I looked more closely at the bridge, thinking, “Is it you that is making me feel this way?”  I looked at the sunset washing its colors over the fog bank, asking “Is it you?”  I looked for the source of this ecstasy, but I could not find it in any of the things I saw, nor in the totality of the scene.  I didn’t know that the source of what I had experienced, the sense of bursting open, was and is inside.  A few months later, I found my way to my Guru, who gave me access to that inner source, which is my own Self.  Your Self is in the same place, inside you.

Yoga calls this experience pratyabhij~na (prat-ya-bij-nya), which means recognition, referring to the recognition of your own inherent divinity.  This is the only thing that truly satisfies you.  This is why it is so hard to get satisfaction — you are looking in the wrong place.  You are trying so hard, you try and you try and you try to get satisfaction from things that simply cannot provide it.

Why do you try so hard?  One reason is that your hard works pays off, but only sometimes.  Sometimes, like a runner after a long race, you get satisfaction.  You might be exhausted, but somehow, through the exhaustion, that feeling of full and complete satisfaction bubbles up.  Yoga’s ancient teachings explain how this works:  when you gain something you strenuously wanted, your mind stops; every time your mind stops, the bliss of your own being arises within you.

It’s like me standing there, overlooking the San Francisco Bay, realizing that the incredible feeling didn’t come from the view.  It’s not like the view was emanating little bliss-bits that were soaking through my skin to make me happy from the outside-in.  I knew that I didn’t understand the source of my feeling, but now I know why — I didn’t know where to look.

So when you work hard at something, or you desire it hard enough, and then you get it – you experience pratyabhij~na, what the Stones call “satisfaction.”  This happens every time your mind stops, which is why so many of yoga’s practices are for the express purpose of quieting your mind.  And when your mind settles into quietude, you experience the deeper dimension within, svaroopa — your own Self.

Originally published March 2010

Krishna Avatar – Part 4

by Nirooshitha Sethuram

The whole town of Gokul was in joy, especially Nanda and Yashoda, the new parents of Krishna, named for his dark complexion.  The cowherds of Gokul were so happy that their leader had a child to continue leading them that they decorated with garlands to celebrate Krishna’s birth.  From that day onward, the life of all the Gopis (milkmaids) and Gopalas (cowherd boys) revolved around Krishna, the divine baby.

But in the city, King Kamsa was very upset that he had been unable to kill Krishna, the prophesied eighth child.  Still targeting the children who were born in the month of Shraavana, Kamsa sent out one of his seven demons, Trinavarta, to hunt for the eighth child.

Trinavarta could change himself into a whirlwind.  He roamed all around and came to Gokul.  Krishna was at the crawling age.  Yashoda was cradling him on her lap but felt his weight as unbearably heavy for some reason, so she put him on a mat on the floor and went about household work.  Knowing Trinavarta was in the area, Krishna crawled to the doorstep so that Trinavarta could see him.

Trinavarta saw Krishna, whose appearance matched what he was seeking.  Becoming a whirlwind, he made the whole of Gokul dark with the dust, picked up Krishna and took him away.  Yashoda came checking on Krishna, found him missing and fainted.

Trinavarta carried Krishna for a while but found Krishna’s weight increasing.  It increased to a point where Trinavarta was unable to carry Krishna anymore and fell on the ground, coming out of his whirlwind form.  He fell with Krishna on top of him.  The weight of Krishna increased to a point where Trinavarta choked and died under the unbearable weight of Krishna.  The villagers found Krishna playing on the chest of Trinavarta’s body.  They picked Krishna up and Trinavarta’s body turned into dust.  This was another failed attempt by Kamsa.

Krishna was so powerful, as made evident on another occasion.  This happened on his first-year birth star (janmashtami) ceremonies.  The whole of Gokul was invited, including the wise and learned pundits who beautifully recited Vedic hymns to bless Krishna.

Yashoda gave Krishna a holy bath (abhishek) and got him ready for the ceremony but, after the bath, little Krishna fell asleep.  She laid him under a cart outside for shade, a cart filled with heavy items.  Yashoda asked some older kids to keep an eye on Krishna.  She got really busy, taking care of the pundits’ and the guests at the ceremony.

Baby Krishna woke up and started crying, wanting milk.  With all the noise around her, Yashoda couldn’t hear his cry.  Krishna got angry and kicked the wheel of the cart with his tiny feet.  The huge heavy cart crumbled down into pieces.  No one in Gokul could believe that Krishna was the one to wreck the cart.

These events confirmed to the Gokul residents that Krishna was not just any child.  But what they didn’t know was that cart wheel was none other than a demon named Shakatasura who was sent by Kamsa to kill Krishna.  Shakatasura attained mukti (liberation) due to the fact that the Lord’s feet touched him.

Krishna was growing up fast in Gokul, his brother Balarama by his side.  They loved each other so much that one couldn’t live without the other.  Both of them were very mischievous.  Especially Krishna, who would provoke Balarama and all their friends into doing mischievous activities.  Sometimes they would grab the ends of the tails of the calves.  The calves would then run here and there.  The children would hold on to the tails tightly, pretending they too were scared.  The Gopis would come to their rescue and it all will be very dramatic.

Krishna and Balarama would go into all the houses in Gokul, stealing the curd (yogurt) and butter from the household, most of the time escaping, but sometimes getting caught.  Everyday there were a few villagers at Yashoda’s and Rohini’s doorsteps, complaining about the kids.  But there was no way to stop the brothers from stealing the milk, curd and butter.

All the brothers did was sit silently, like good boys, yet they were planning the heist for the next day.  Different strategies and different techniques had to be planned every day as the villagers made hurdles and preventive methods against the previous strategies the brothers had used.

For example, the pots containing the curd and butter were usually kept on the floor. Then the villagers moved the pots to high tables.  When that too didn’t work, they hung the pots from the roof.  The brothers were so bad that, if they were unable to get to the curd and butter, they broke the pots and ate whatever they could, making the rest unusable.  The villagers were having quite a time with the mischievous brothers.

Krishna was always the leader, while he made sure he shared it with all the kids in Gokul, thus they were always on his side.  He shared it not only with his human friends, but also with his animal friends, especially with the charming monkeys, who were as mischievous as he.

Yashoda and Rohini didn’t know what could be done.  However, much punishment was given to Krishna and Balarama, they always found a way to convince their mothers to forgive them.  One day, Yashoda and Rohini sat the two brothers in the garden and made sure they didn’t get any food, as their punishment.  The brothers were hungry.  Krishna took a handful of dirt, ready to put it in his mouth.  Balarama saw this and thought their mothers would be angry if he let Krishna eat dirt.  Trying to stop Krishna, he couldn’t get the dirt out of Krishna’s mouth.  He took Krishna by his hand and pulled him over to mother Yashoda, telling her that he tried to stop Krishna from eating dirt. but Krishna wouldn’t listen.

Yashoda was worried that Krishna was going to get sick and asked him to open his mouth so she could get the dirt out.  First, he refused to open his mouth, then later he opened it, due to his mother being persistent.  Yashoda looked inside Krishna’s mouth and saw all the worlds, stars, galaxies and universes in it, including all that exists, movable and immoveable.  Most surprisingly, she saw herself just as she was at the very moment, looking in her darling Krishna’s mouth.  Unable to comprehend, she fainted and fell on the floor.

On regaining consciousness, she was unable to describe what she had seen.  All she could do was hug Krishna and not let him out of her arms for the longest time.  It was the play of Lord himself, filling her with great maternal affection, making her forget the vision she’d witnessed.

The complaints about the butter thieves kept on coming.  On another day, Rohini locked Balarama in a room.  Yashoda took a stick in her hand and chased Krishna, who was running as fast as he could, through houses, courtyards and gardens.  At last she caught him!  She tied Krishna to a mortar.  Of course, the Lord let himself be caught by his mother.

It wasn’t easy for Yashoda to tie little Krishna to the mortar.  A motor is a cup-shaped receptacle made of heavy hard wood, in which ingredients are crushed, ponded or ground, using a heavy pole with a smooth bottom, especially used in cooking and pharmacies.  As she picked up the rope to tie around him, she found the rope to be two inches too short.  She found another piece of rope and tied it to the first one, wrapping it again.  It also was two inches too short.  Then she tried another one and another one, but they were always two inches too short.

She was bewildered and got tired of trying to tie little Krishna.  Lord Krishna felt compassion for his mother and decided to get bound, because of her true love for her son.  Yashoda thought that the mortar was so heavy that small Krishna would not be able to get around to his mischiefs.  She went to the kitchen to continue her household work.

Krishna couldn’t stay long.  He got bored so he started pulling the motor around the garden to try and get free from it.  He came across two gigantic arjuna trees, growing side-by-side.  Thinking that was the way for his great escape, he pulled the mortar between the two trees, thinking that will free him.  But, with his mighty power, he uprooted both the trees, which fell on the ground with a thud.  Two celestial beings appeared out of the trees.  They worshipped Krishna in a thankful manner and disappeared joyfully.  Who are these two celestial beings?

Once there were two brothers named Nalakubera and Manigriva, sons of Kubera, the king of wealth.  Handsome and wealthy, they were accustomed to worldly enjoyment such as drinking, smoking, dancing and pursuing other mundane desires.  One day they were so enamored of their wives that they didn’t notice the arrival of the great Sage Narada.  Insulted by their behavior, Narada cursed them to remain as two trees in Gokul forever.

Hearing this, their wives fell at the sage’s feet, asking him to forgive their husbands and take back his curse.  Narada relented, but a curse once given cannot be retracted; it can only be modified.  So Narada amended the curse, such that Lord Vishnu would release their husbands when he incarnates as Krishna.  Thus, Lord Krishna fulfilled the prophecy of his dear devotee Narada.

Yashoda and Nanda heard a thunderous sound, as if a thunderbolt had struck the village, and came out running.  The found that Krishna had uprooted the two huge trees which had been next to each other in the garden.  Shocked to see what Krishna had done, Yashoda stood amazed.  It was, after all, impossible for a little boy to knock down two huge trees.  But they remembered the words of Garga Muni, who named Krishna, announcing that the Supreme Lord had appeared as this child.

More to come…

Fully Embodied, Fully Enlivened, Fully Enlightened, Fully Empowered Consciousness

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

When you are fully present in your body, it is fully enlivened, yet your experience is that you are Consciousness while living in your body.  A body with no one home is called a corpse.  As you become more embodied and more enlivened, you come to know who you are.  The deeper level of this experiential knowing is the inner discovery of your own Self, your inherent Divinity.  Then you bring it into the world.

  • Fully Embodied — Any area where you have pain or tension is an area where you’re not fully embodied. You vacated the area long ago and it’s “dying on the vine.”  Your body is suffering from your absence.  Pain is how your body gets your attention, so you’ll come back and occupy this part of your territory.  Unfortunately, pain also makes you recoil away from the area that hurts, when the exact opposite is needed.  Simply send a few slow breaths into the painful area and it will begin to feel better.  It might take 8 or 10 breaths if it’s been a long time since you lived in there.  And you’ll have to do it again and again, until you move back in.
  • Fully Enlivened — Your presence in your body is what makes it alive. As you become more present, your body becomes more enlivened, thus healthier, stronger and more vital.  As wonderful as this can be, the point is not merely about your physical condition.  It’s wonderful to be well and to feel well, but it is merely a symptom of your being present.  This power of your own presence is yoga’s true goal.
  • Fully Enlightened — Knowing and being the Divinity that you already are, you radiate Consciousness. Often called “enlightened,” the term implies that you are shining with light, like a light bulb.  You are not merely full of light, you are the light itself, the knowingness itself.  You are the beingness that is being all.
  • Fully Empowered — Not merely experiencing the bliss of Consciousness, you bring it into the world in an active way. Making enlightened decisions, you carry them into action.  Enlightenment is not retirement.  Enlightenment is empowerment.  It motivates you to make a difference in the world, not just for the few people you are related to.  Your mission expands along with your ability to accomplish it.

Together these four phrases mean you are Consciousness, being an individual who lives in a body, which is a form of Consciousness.  To know your own Self is to embrace embodiment along with all it brings, yet knowing that you are more than the circumstances of your life or condition of your body.

I coined this phrase to succinctly describe the goal as well as the pathway toward it.  It helps you understand the purpose of the Svaroopa® Yoga poses and breathing practice.  Each inner opening makes you better able to be present in your body.  Your body becomes progressively more and more enlivened, while you become more fully aware of who you are, the one that lives in your body.  You bring that fullness of being into your life and into the world.

This is pure tantra.  This phrase says that, as you become more established in the Consciousness that you already are, you also become more embodied and more alive.  You participate in life fully.  This is not an ethereal, other-worldly spirituality.  It’s not about becoming airy, frail, impractical, inept or incompetent.  As the full spectrum of human capacity awakens in you, you become more competent, more productive, more powerful and more compassionate, all at the same time.

From the Inside-Out

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Recently a student arrived at one of our 10-day trainings wearing a hand brace. Her doctor was planning surgery for her debilitating pain, caused by ulnar nerve entrapment; the band of nerves were compressed at her elbow, set improperly after a break thirty years ago, with arthritis also impinging on the nerves.  She says, “In a few days I didn’t need my hand brace — tangible evidence of the opening I was feeling, first in my tailbone and then into shoulders, neck and down my arm. Now, I experience pain occasionally, but my practice takes care of it.”  She also reports that the doctor now says there is no reason to have the surgery.

All these changes came from the inside-out.  Svaroopa® yoga provides these types of physical benefits because decompressing your spine helps your bones, muscles, joints, nerves and even your internal organs.  Your internal organs don’t function well when they are being compressed, as if “squeezed in a vise,” even for 20, 30 or 40 years.   Worse, spinal compression impinges on the nerves leading from your spinal cord to your organs, so your organs can’t function properly.  Every chiropractor and osteopath will explain how this can affect your digestion, respiration, glands, your heart, etc.

When your Svaroopa® yoga teacher talks about core opening, she or he means the poses are decompressing your spine, yet it is your spinal cord and nervous system that are of primary importance, not just your vertebrae. This is completely consistent with yoga’s ancient teachings. Thousands of years ago, the sages mapped it all, but at a deeper level than medical science currently explores.

The atomic energy that becomes the physical matter of your own body moves in predictable patterns, with the primary ones shown in this diagram.  Your body is made up of 720 million naa.dis (energy channels), all of them branching out from the core flow in your spine.  Thus the most important naa.di is the central one: your spine.

Madhya vikaasaac cidaananda laabha.h — Pratyabhijnahrdayam 17

By development of the middle channel (your spine), you attain the bliss of consciousness.

Through core opening, not only will you get amazing healings, but yoga promises more:  the bliss of consciousness.  This bliss arises from its source, which is your own svaroopa — your own Self.  Medicine doesn’t talk about this much, yet acknowledges that your “spiritual beliefs” can affect your body’s ability to heal as well as your mental and emotional state.  (D. Aldridge, “Spirituality, healing and medicine,” British Journal of General Practice)

This is perfectly mapped in your naa.dis and cakras (energy centers, pronounced ‘cha-kras’), which are familiar from so many drawings. To the right, you see the central channel (su”sumnaa naa.di) and two side channels (ida naa.di and pingala naa.di). They crisscross at periodic intervals along their pathway from tail to top, creating major cakras (energy spirals) wherever they cross.  Each level relates to a specific capacity in life:

  • Muulaadhaara (root) — below the tip of your tailbone; creates a clear sense of individual identity and freedom from fear; blockages create anxiety and fear.
  • Svaadishthaana (genital) — at the juncture of your tailbone and sacrum; creates a capacity for genuine intimacy (sexual and non-sexual); blockages create sexual neediness and codependency.
  • Manipuura (navel) — at the top of your sacrum; creates a capacity for decision and action in the world; blockages create a need for power and control.
  • Anaahata (heart) — at the level of your heart; creates a capacity to love and serve all; blockages create conditional love and clinging.
  • Vishuddha (throat) — at the level of your Adam’s apple; creates a capacity to express the light of consciousness through your words and actions; blockages create manipulative words and actions.
  • Aaj~naa (eyebrow)— in the center of your skull; creates a capacity to see the Divine in the mundane; blockages create doubt and mistrust.

Cakras are not as important as the media would make you think. There are many people who would love to balance your cakras for you, but your cakras don’t need the work. A cakra is a swirl of energy that comes from two or more naa.dis meeting at that point. If one of the naa.dis is not flowing properly, the energy doesn’t swirl properly.  Even if someone opens or balances your cakra for you, without a consistent energy supply from the naa.dis, it will simply shut down again.

Every Svaroopa® yoga class gives you a full naadi treatment, thus balancing all your cakras! From tail-to-top, you open your spine so your life energy is flowing smoothly. Your cakras will stay open and balanced for as long as your naa.dis stay open. Of course, relapse happens – but at least you know the poses to open up your naa.dis and cakras for yourself; you don’t have to rely on someone else to do it for you.

Different yoga styles take different approaches to working with your body, which Swami Nirmalananda honors when she says, “All yoga is good yoga!”  Some are athletic; some are gymnastic; some are aerobic; some are slower paced and self-directed; some have a more methodical approach. Svaroopa® yoga is “laser beam yoga.”  We use poses to target your spine, specifically su”sumnaa naa.di, and clear the blockages.  Your results come from the inside-out.

Even the bliss comes from the inside-out.  Contrast the bliss you experience after exercise or a fast-paced yoga class; that bliss is the bliss of exhaustion, or maybe the bliss of finally relaxing from all the effort you were putting forth, or it could even be the bliss of endorphins. These are wonderful things, but the bliss you experience at the end of a Svaroopa® yoga class is the bliss of Consciousness, an entirely different thing.  An extraordinary thing!

We call this “core opening.”  Grace turns it into a process of inner revelation. Svaroopa® yoga is “revelation yoga:” revealing your own Divinity within yourself.  This has always been the purpose of Svaroopa® yoga.  Core opening does this for every single person who gives it a try — it provides the experience of the bliss of your own Self.  This makes change come from the inside-out.  Do more Svaroopa® yoga.

Previously published July 2014

Relaxation & Stillness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

It is a profound yogic accomplishment to still your body and your mind.  This is actually the purpose of all the poses and breathing practices — to give you the experience of perfect, ease-full stillness.  How peaceful!  How blissful!

In Shavasana, yoga’s relaxation pose, your body lies completely motionless, yet your mind can still be racing and your emotions churning.  We know that the first Shavasana in class is sometimes 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 Svaroopa® yoga.

Originally published January 2014

Krishna Avatar – Part 3

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Though Devaki’s seventh child was presumed dead in her womb, he had been transferred to Rohini’s womb in Vrindavan.  When born, he was called Balarama, Lord Vishnu’s eighth avatar.

Kamsa knew the prophesied eighth child was next.  Thinking that prevention is better than cure, he ordered Vasudeva and Devaki chained to different pillars of the dungeon so that they could not be with one another.  Kamsa was happy with his brilliant plan to stop the birth of the baby.  Vasudeva and Devaki were so heart broken.  They prayed to Lord Vishnu, as they didn’t have any way to bring the eighth child, who would end Kamsa’s tyranny.

By the grace of Lord Vishnu, Devaki became pregnant.  Kamsa was both upset and puzzled as how his plan didn’t work.  With the help of his guards, he’d been monitoring every move of Vasudeva and Devaki.  He was so worried that he ordered extra guards added so that he will be informed as soon as the eighth baby was born.  Thus he could kill that baby too and get rid of the threat that came from the voice from the sky.

At the same time, in Gokul, Yashoda was also pregnant.  Nanda and Yashoda were jubilant about expecting a child, as they had been childless for a very long time.  As planned by Lord Vishnu, he himself was growing in Devaki’s womb while Yoga Maya was growing in Yashoda’s womb.  Vasudeva and Devaki were worried, not only for their baby’s safety, but for the greater good of their kingdom.

As she got closer to delivery, Lord Vishnu appeared to them, affirming he will be born as their eighth child.  He also revealed that this is the third time he is being born to them, according to their wishes from a previous birth.  He told them to take the baby to Gokul and switch him with Vasudeva’s friend’s (Nanda’s) baby.  Then he disappeared.

This brought great peace and joy to Vasudeva and Devaki.  Yet they wondered how to switch the babies while they were chained in the dungeon with all the added security around them.  Everyone has to have something to worry about at all times!

He was born on the eighth day of the waning moon, called the Krishna Paksha (dark side) Ashtami (eighth), in the lunar month of Shraavana (August-September), with the constellation of Rohini in the ascendant.  Late in the evening, the sky was dark due to it raining heavily with thunder and lightning.  Just before Devaki went into labor, all the guards fell asleep.

Devaki gave birth to a beautiful divine baby boy, who was as dark as the clouded sky and with beautiful curly hair.  As soon as this divine baby was born, the chains binding Vasudeva gave way and fell on the ground.  What a miracle!  The guards were asleep and Vasudeva was free.

Though they didn’t want to part with the baby, Lord Vishnu’s command to switch the babies had to be obeyed.  With tears in her eyes, Devaki handed the baby over to Vasudeva.  As soon as he took the baby into his arms, the dungeon doors opened.  Putting the baby in a basket, he carried the basket on his head, right out of the dungeon.  He found the castle doors open.

It was so dark that Vasudeva couldn’t see the direction to go.  He looked up to the sky and another miracle occurred.  The clouds gave way for the moonlight to guide him, even in the midst of the thunderstorm.  Adhishesha, the five-headed serpent, immediately appeared and spread his hood over the basket, protecting the baby and Vasudeva from the gusty wind and heavy rain, doing his seva to his beloved Lord.

Vasudeva walked as fast as he could towards Gokul.  He came to the banks of the river Yamuna, flooded and flowing wildly due to the rain.  Vasudeva had to cross it.  Stepping into the river, he started across.  The water level rose higher and higher, up to Vasudeva’s nose, as though the river Yamuna was eager to touch the baby.  The baby put one of his feet out of the basket and touched the water; instantly the water level subsided.  The river Yamuna gave way, giving clear ground for Vasudeva to cross.

After walking for hours, Vasudeva reached Gokul.  When Vasudeva entered Gokul, everything stopped.  Nothing moved.  It was as though the universe had come to a standstill.  Vasudeva walked to Nanda and Yashoda’s home.  A baby girl lay next to Yashoda, who had been born at the same time Devaki had given birth.

Vasudeva switched the babies and carried Yashoda’s baby the same way he’d carried his own, on his head in the basket.  As soon as he left Gokul, everything was back to normal movement.  He was able to return to the dungeon before daybreak.  The doors remained open and the guards were still asleep.

As soon as he entered the dungeon, all the doors shut themselves.  Vasudeva gave Yashoda’s baby to Devaki.  The chains grabbed on to Vasudeva again.  Nothing looked changed.  All of what happened was incomprehensible to Vasudeva and Devaki, but they knew it was all Lord Vishnu’s doing.  They had a moment of relief when the baby started crying, which woke up the guards, startled from their slumber.  Not knowing what had transpired, one of them ran to Kamsa to inform him of the birth of Devaki’s eighth baby.

Kamsa jumped up from his bed and rushed to the dungeon.  He saw the baby next to his sister, Devaki.  Devaki screamed, begging for mercy, saying that it is a girl and not to kill her.  Neglecting Devaki, Kamsa picked the baby up by its leg as usual, laughing arrogantly.

When Kamsa swung around to throw the baby into the dungeon wall, the baby (Yoga Maya) slipped out of his hands and appeared as a bright light in the sky.  With derisive laughter, she said, “Fool, you will not be able to kill me and even if you did, what is the use?  The one to kill you is safe elsewhere not too far from here.  You cannot escape from him, however mighty you may think you are!  The only reason I’m not killing you now, is due to you touching my feet.  Thus I bless you that the Lord himself will kill you.  It is so great to have the chance for this blessing!”

After saying this, Yoga Maya disappeared.  Kamsa was shaken to his core, unable to understand what had happened.  He returned to the castle, hearing his sister say that he cannot alter his fate however much he tries.  These words, reverberating in his ears, piercing his heart with guilt and sorrow, for torturing his sister and her husband.  Yet his arrogant mind won him over.

The whole town of Gokul was in joy, especially the delighted parents, Nanda and Yashoda.  No one knew how, what they thought was a baby girl the previous night, is actually a baby boy in the morning.  But no one cared and didn’t have the time to think about it, as the baby was with a smiley face, attractive radiant eyes and dark mesmerizing divine look.  For the dark complexion, the baby was named Krishna (Krishna = dark in Sanskrit).

The people in Gokul were cowherds.  Nanda was their leader.  They were so happy that their leader had a child to continue leading them.  They decorated the whole of Gokul with garlands and celebrated Krishna’s birth on a large scale.  From that day onward, the life of all the Gopiis (milkmaids) and Gopalas (cowherd boys) started revolving around Krishna, the divine baby.

Kamsa was very upset that he had been unable to kill Devaki’s eighth child.  He devised a plan to kill all the newborn babies who had been born in the month of Shraavana, so that Devaki’s son also will be killed.  He called upon a demoness called Putana to implement his plan.  Putana started her work, disguising herself as a noble lady, going around and poisoning all the babies born in the month of Shraavana.

This dreadful news reached Vasudeva’s ears.  Nanda, as one of the chiefs in Kamsa’s kingdom, came to pay his taxes in Mathura, the capital city.  Vasudeva took advantage of this opportunity to meet his dear friend Nanda.  After congratulating Nanda about his newborn, he also inquired about Balarama growing up in Gokul.  Then Vasudeva succeeded in warning Nanda about the danger to his newborn baby.  Hearing this, Nanda rushed back to Gokul right away, fearing for the safety of his beloved son.

Meanwhile, Putana entered Gokul.  It was the tenth day her search.  She heard about Nanda’s son, who perfectly fit the profile of who she needed to kill.  Looking to be a beautiful and charming lady, Putana comes to Yashoda’s house as a guest.  Yashoda and the other women in the house let her be in their midst.

Putana saw this most attractive, radiant baby in the cradle.  She started getting caught up in Krishna’s beauty when she remembered the orders of the cruel king, Kamsa.  Putana had come prepared, with poison to apply to her breasts in order to kill the baby.  This technique had worked on hundreds of babies around the area for the past ten days.

She took baby Krishna in her hands, kissing him, and put him to her breast.  Krishna suckled her life out of her.  Putana fell dead on the floor, revealing her true form as a demoness.  Her body was so huge, yet Krishna was smiling and playing on her lap.

The elder Gopiis immediately picked Krishna up from Putana’s lap, everyone amazed to see what had happened.  Nanda returned from Mathura just in time to see Putana’s body.  All thus knew that she was the rumored child-poisoning woman, roaming in the area and killing all the newborns.  They didn’t know how Putana was killed, but everyone was thankful and prayed to Lord Vishnu the savior for protecting their little Krishna.  They definitely knew that Krishna was not an ordinary child.

The people of Gokul cut Putana’s body into pieces and cremated it in a wood fire so that no one would know she’d died in Gokul.  She died at the hands of Krishna, so she was freed from her sins, completely purified.  The burning of her body parts produced an incense fragrance, as opposed to what everyone expected the smell to be.

Putana was missing in action, and Kamsa didn’t know what had happened.  He waited for her return for weeks, finally realizing she is no more and that his plan had failed.  Not knowing how and where Putana died, he was unable to find the eighth baby.  He continued with his atrocious activities against all the people, devising further plans to hunt and kill the eighth child of his sister.

Krishna with Mother Yashodha

More to come…