Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

Upliftment is More than Personal Growth

By Swami Nirmalananda

Life makes sure you continue to grow and change whether you want to or not.  Life pushes you through so many lessons you try to avoid.  It’s a karmic truth.  But yogis do it differently.  Yogis are proactive about change, a specific type of change called upliftment.

Many people actively seek out self-improvement through the arts, travel, continuing their education, therapy or introspection, or an ever-expanding circle of people and experiences.  As wonderful as these growth experiences are, they are not the same as upliftment.  The upliftment of your own consciousness is yoga’s promise, even when you are simply doing a few poses to improve your physical condition.  Yoga sneaks up on you.

The physical changes provided by Svaroopa® yoga’s core opening have a profound effect on your body, but also on your mind and psyche.

  • While increased flexibility protects you from injury, even making your tissues healthier and younger, it also makes your mind more flexible, more adaptable and resilient.
  • As your muscles lengthen and become less dense, your mind and heart are becoming more open.
  • Your breathing capacity expands as your core opens up. This physical change makes you feel less contracted as a person, more expansive, even generous and compassionate.
  • As your spine lifts and lengthens, you stand taller in the world, more willing to be authentically you, as well as to speak up for yourself and others.
  • As your rib cage opens, your heart opens. You become more understanding of others and more compassionate, even to those who have hurt you in the past, whether you are in communication with them or not.
  • As your tailbone lengthens, you become free from fear. Anxiety cannot take over your mind anymore, so you have lots of extra energy and enthusiasm for life.  What is there that you cannot do?

When I meet someone new, which often happens on an airplane, they usually ask what I do.  I give them an easy answer, “I teach yoga.”  Thirty years ago they answered me, “Yogurt?”  Now they say, “I should do that.”  They all know they should be doing yoga.  They all know that yoga would be good for their body.  They even know that yoga offers something more, which they prove to me by saying, “Yoga is good for stress, right?  I need to learn how to relax.”

What they don’t know is that yoga is doing more to you, with every yoga-breath and every yoga pose.  It’s a sneaky system:  it will make you spiritual even if you didn’t want to be.  It’s deeply fulfilling.  It makes life worthwhile.

Your religion may be important to you, so you don’t need the spirituality that yoga provides.  How fortunate you are!  Yet yoga will still offer you spiritual benefits, deepening what you get from your church or temple.  Many yogis find their religious background to be unsatisfying, yet they still have the innate human hunger for the experience of the Divine.  Our modern world reinforces nature as a place to go to be touched by God.  Maybe music does it, or maybe for you it’s art that does it, or you get it through visiting ancient sites or monuments.  Yoga does it too.  Yoga specializes in Divinity — yours.  Yoga opens your inner experience of your own Divine Essence, called svaroopa, your own Self.

First published July 2012

The Yoga of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Birth is an extraordinary moment of creation — a new life beginning.  Death is an ending. Everything in-between is called “maintenance,” taking care of yourself, your life, your loved ones and your possessions.  These are three of the five cosmic powers, functioning in your life, even flowing through your own actions.

The fourth of Shiva’s cosmic powers is concealment, hiding your Divine Essence from you.  Revelation is the fifth of these powers, also called Grace.  You may have thought that “grace” meant something graceful, beautiful, flowing and elegant.

More expansively, you may know that you want Divine Grace to make your life easier: finding a new job, a new spouse or a better situation.  Yoga says, as important as these all are, they fall within the third power of God, maintenance — not Grace.  As important as these things are, they are not what Grace is about. Grace is the fifth cosmic power:  the revelation of your own Divinity.

Knowing your own Divinity does, of course, make all the maintenance easier!  That happens because you are coming from a deeper place within.  Being based in your own innermost essence, you are not as reactive.  You are not as superficial. You are not as needy.  You are more compassionate.  You are more able to go with the flow.  Life gets easier, even when it is hard.

Einstein understood revelation.  He would sit in a chair, set a spoon across his knee and stare at it until it fell.  In the time between it leaving his knee and landing on the floor, he saw the structure of the universe.  Yoga calls this pratibha, inner visions or insights.  Consider the length of time between the spoon leaving his knee and landing on the floor.  In that instant, he saw the structure of creation.

His problem was that he didn’t know how to meditate.  He needed a spoon!  In the time between his knee and the floor, he got insights about how the universe worked, then he would write mathematical formulas to try to explain it.  He wasn’t figuring out a formula that would get him to an unknown result. He knew what was there because he had seen it, so he was trying to use mathematics to explain it.  He got it from the same place the ancient sages got it from, in-sight.  Revelation.

His insights were profound and have had a significant effect on our world, but yoga says this is a limited use of your inner vision.  There is so much more to discover inside:  the Divinity of your own Being.  How do you get there?  By quieting your mind, only you don’t need a spoon.

Tadaa dra.s.tu.h svaruupe’vasthaanam — Patanjali Yoga Sutras 1.3

In the moment that your mind becomes still, you are established in your own Divine Self.

This is why Svaroopa® yogis love Shavasana.  Just as Einstein discovered, that the instant your mind settles, your own Divinity is revealed to you.  Even a moment of that experience heals all the wounds, dissolves the memories and frees you from old patterns that keep you limited.  It takes only an instant to have an experience of your own Self.

It’s like lighting a match.  How do you light a match slowly?  You can’t.  It flares in an instant.  Svaroopa® yoga is not stair-step yoga.  Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace; it is the yoga of revelation.  Grace gives you your own Self.  To receive this Grace, do more Svaroopa® yoga.

You may have thought that “grace” meant something graceful, beautiful, flowing and elegant.  More expansively, you may know that you want Divine Grace to make your life easier: finding a new job, a new spouse or a better situation.  Yoga says, as important as these all are, they fall within the third power of God, maintenance — not Grace.  Let’s look at it again.

Rama Avatar, part 3

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Rama and his new wife, Sita, along with the other newlyweds, traveled to their capital city of Ayodhya.  On their return, the whole kingdom joyfully welcomed Rama and his three brothers, all with their new wives, with great devotion and respect.  Ayodhya was flourishing more than ever, after the arrival of the princes with their consorts.

A few years passed, and there was a message from Ashwapati, Kaikeyi’s father.  He wanted his grandson Bharata to stay with him in the Kekeya kingdom for some time, as his health was not good.  Dasharatha and Kaikeyi immediately sent Bharata and his wife Mandavi there to help.  Ashwapati was very happy to have his grandson with him in his last days.  Though Bharata was Dasaratha’s eldest son, thus the heir to the throne, he extended his stay in his grandfather’s Kekeya kingdom.

After a few more years passed, the aging King Dasaratha wanted to name the Crown Prince.  He decided to crown his son Rama at the Pattabishekham ceremony at the earliest possibility.  He assembled his ministers and all the elders to announce his decision.  All of them liked and agreed to Rama as Crown Prince.  Dasaratha felt that his time was running out, so he planned the Pattabishekham for the following day, especially since the next auspicious day was a few months away.

Manthara, a close personal maid of the Queen Kaikeyi, was secretly listening to this conversation and was not happy.  She remembered that Rama, as a young boy, accidentally struck her with a mud ball; she was still angry about it.  She ran to Kaikeyi with the news of Rama’s Pattabishekham on the next day.  Kaikeyi leapt out of her chair with great joy and gave Manthara the gold necklace she was wearing as a gift for bearing the happy news.

Manthara threw the necklace to the ground, asking Kaikeyi why she was so happy, “Is it because your own son, Bharatha, is not getting the crown?”  Kaikeyi replied, “No.  Rama is like a son to me; my son Rama is going to ascend the throne!”  Manthara sat with Kaikeyi and told her negative things that might happen if Rama was crowned, slowly poisoning her mind.  Manthara warned that Queen Kaushalya would be the Queen Mother, while Kaikeyi herself would be under her.  Sita, as Janaka’s daughter, might influence Rama to conquer the Kekeya kingdom, especially because Janaka and Ashwapati were not in good terms.

By the end, Kaikeyi had been convinced that her son Bharata should be the next king of Ayodhya.  But she didn’t know how to stop Rama’s Pattabishekham.  She knew her husband would not change his mind as he loved Rama so much.  Manthara slowly reminded Kaikeyi about the two boons that Dasaratha had granted her, urging her to finally use them: the first one for the Pattabishekham to be done to Bharata, the second one to send Rama into exile for fourteen years, because Bharata would not be able to serve as their real king due to the people’s great love for Rama.  Manthara also plotted with Kaikeyi about how to act when Dasaratha came to give her the news.

While Manthara was poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind, the news of Rama’s Pattabishekham spread like wildfire.  The whole of Ayodhya was singing and dancing in joy.  The people were decorating the whole kingdom in preparation for the Pattabishekham.

The king brought the news to Kaushalya and her son Rama.  Though Rama agreed to become Crown Prince, he was unhappy that Bharata was absent, so he asked for the Pattabishekham to be postponed.  Dasaratha refused, saying it needed to happen the next day.

Then Dasaratha came to Kaikeyi, thinking Kaikeyi would be the happiest of all since she was the closest to Rama.  Dasaratha was in a very happy and joyful mode when he entered Kaikeyi’s palace, but found Kaikeyi lying on the floor.  Her jewelry was thrown all around, her hair undone and she was miserably clothed like a poor person.  Manthara had been a great tutor.   Shocked, Dasaratha sat next to where Kaikeyi was lying and asked what had happened.  Was she ill; should he call for a doctor?  Liftin her head slowly, Kaikeyi said she was not ill and there was no need for a doctor.

Dasaratha helped her to a nearby chair and asked why she had such a dreadful look in her eyes.  Kaikeyi said she wanted her son, Bharata, to become the next king, and that Rama should be sent into exile for fourteen years.  This was the greatest shock of his life for Dasaratha.  He fell to his knees, asking Kaikeyi to reconsider her requests, remembering that Dasaratha had a special place in his heart for Kaikeyi.

Kaikeyi’s mind had been poisoned by Manthara so much that she said these are not simply requests.  These are the boons that she had postponed from earlier, so Dasaratha had no choice but to give them to her.  Dasaratha fell to the floor with a very heavy heart.  He spent the whole night trying to pursue Kaikeyi to change her mind, but she didn’t budge an inch.  As nothing could be done, Dasaratha agreed to her request and fainted on the floor.  While this was going on in Kaikeyi’s palace, the rest of Ayodhya was getting ready for Rama’s Pattabishekham the next day.

The next morning, the ministers came to fetch Dasaratha, but Kaikeyi refused to allow them to enter.  She asked them to send Rama to her palace so his father could speak to him.  She was thinking that Rama would throw a tantrum when he heard the new decisions, so Kaikeyi prepared herself to be strong.  Rama came at once, obedient as always.

With a stern voice, Kaikeyi told Rama that, on her request, his father had ordered him into exile for fourteen years, and that Bharata would be installed in the Pattabishekham ceremony right away.  To Kaikeyi’s astonishment, without the least change smile, Rama told Kaikeyi “Oh, dear Mother!  I will go to the forest immediately.  You could have sent me a message to go to the forest and I would have done it wholeheartedly, simply because it is my dear loving mother’s wish.  I thank you for giving me this opportunity to be with the sages who are rooted in dharma.  Please inform my father that I am taking leave.”

He returned to his residence to prepare for the exile.  Upon telling Sita that he must go, and that she should stay in the palace until he returns, she outright refused.  She started getting ready to join him, saying, “Where Rama is, is the Ayodhya for me!”  Lakshmana found out what had happened.  Always short tempered, he was enraged, so Rama had help him bring his temper down.  Lakshmana would never part from Rama, so he joined Rama as his brother and personal attendant.  Rama, Sita and Lakshmana said their goodbyes to their mothers and started their journey by foot to the forest.

The news of Rama’s exile spread like wildfire.  The people of Ayodhya were following Rama to the forest, saying they had no reason to remain in the kingdom without Rama.  No matter how much convincing Rama tried to do, it didn’t work, so he let them follow him to the forest.

When everyone fell asleep that night, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana sneaked deeper into the forest.  He asked the Chief Minister Sumantra to take everyone back to Ayodhya.  The next morning, with Rama missing, they returned to Ayodhya with a heavy heart, as commanded by Sumantra.

Meanwhile in Ayodhya, Dasaratha came to his senses after fainting the previous night, but found Rama gone.  He told Kaikeyi that she got her boons at the price of her husband’s life, and will live as a widow for the rest of her life.  He went into unbearable grief, suffering from the separation from Rama.  Not able to bear his son’s departure, remembering the curse from his early years, Dasaratha died with the same fate as that of Shravan’s blind parents.

Immediately Bharata was sent for.  Learning what led to such a catastrophe in the family, due to his own mother’s greed, Bharata looked at his mother severely, uttering very harsh words, “O!  Enemy of mine, in the guise of my mother!  You should enter the cremation fire or disappear into the Dandaka forest.  No other fate befits you.  I am no longer your son; neither are you my mother!  I can’t imagine, of all people, that you who loved Rama the most, can exile my dearest loving brother to the forest.  I will go to him, beg his forgiveness and bring him back with me to Ayodhya.  Or else I will join him in his path.  Do not ever come in my presence again, my demon-personified mother!”  Hearing these words, Kaikeyi realized the atrocity she had caused by her actions.

Bharata performed the funeral rites of his father.  As always, followed by his brother Shatrugna, Bharata gathered a large company of soldiers, preceptors, elders and the leaders of Ayodhya.  They went to the forest to search for Rama.

Meanwhile, in the forest, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walked to the banks of the holy river Ganga.  There, Rama met Guha, the leader of the boatmen, who cordially served them well.  Rama, Sita and Lakshmana stayed one night with Guha, then got his help to reach the other bank of Ganga.  Extremely pleased with Guha, Rama declared he had gained a brother, so there are now five brothers in total.  Guha was overjoyed by Rama’s words, yet he had to goodbye.  Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walked slowly through the jungle, enjoying its splendor, to reach Sage Bharadwaja’s hermitage near Chitrakoot.  Invited by Sage Bharadwaja, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana decided to stay in Chitrakoot for a while.  Lakshmana made a beautiful hut for them; they started their life in exile.

After a long and hard search, and with the help of Guha, Bharata and his entourage came to Sage Bharadwaja’s hermitage.  Bharadwaja first advised Bharata not to get emotional, telling him that what happened was not caused by a single human being, but was fulfilling a Divine Purpose.

Sage Bharadwaja then helped Bharata to find Rama.  Bharata rushed towards Rama’s hermitage.  The short tempered Lakshmana thought Bharata was there to fight Rama, and leapt up with his bow and arrow, ready to fight.  Lakshmana had to be pacified by Rama once again.

Bharata reached Rama and fell at his feet, not able to speak a word due to sobbing uncontrollably.  Bharata was wearing the same ascetic’s rags as Rama had adopted.  At once, Rama helped Bharata to rise/  Embracing Bharata, Rama asked why he was in such attire, since he was the King of Ayodhya.  Rama went on asking about their father and their mothers.

In the midst of sobs, Bharata broke the news that their father was gone.  At this, Rama lost his steadiness, then slowly regained his composure after a few minutes.  Then Bharata pled his case, begging for forgiveness for what his mother had done, and begging Rama to return to Ayodhya in order to rule the kingdom.  Rama replied that he had given his word and could only return only after fourteen years.

After a lot of hesitation and pushback, Bharata agreed to be the guardian of the kingdom, as the representative of Rama, until Rama’s return.  He set the condition that, if Rama is even a day late at the end of the fourteenth year, Bharata would take his own life.

He requested Rama’s sandals, so he could place them on the throne so that he doesn’t deviate from dharma.  Agreeing, Rama gave his sandals to Bharata.  Bharata carried them on his head all the way back to Ayodhya.  He ruled the kingdom as a guardian and representative, but not living in the palace.  He lived and ruled from a place called Nandigram, located in the outskirts of the city of Ayodhya.  More to come…

The Power of Revelation

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

There are so many wonderful things about Shavasana, especially when you have the props that make it possible for your spine to relax.  But the real reason you love it is because you dive in deeper.  What is deeper?  Deeper is the experience of your own Self.

Shavasana is not a nap.  If your head stays in the middle, you’re not sleeping.  You’re experiencing your own Self, your Divine Essence.  If your head turns to one side, even slightly, you do fall asleep; you are not experiencing the Self.  Check it out.  In a Shavasana, turn your head toward one side a little bit and remain in the pose for the same amount of time.  You can tell that it’s not the same. The nap makes you feel a little tired as you are getting up.  Instead, with your head in the middle during your Shavasana, you experience a profound deep immersion into Self.

The physical improvements you get from Svaroopa® yoga are amazingly easy.  It works from the inside-out; we call it core opening.  This spinal decompression provides physical benefits, plus it creates a deeper opening, into your Self.  It becomes easy to explore who you are at the innermost level.

Deeper than your body, deeper than your mind and heart — who and what are you?  You find your answer by finding your Self, “svaroopa,” which is your Divine Essence.  Knowing your own Self is the real purpose of Svaroopa® yoga, the mystical secret hidden in the seemingly simple physical processes.

Your body is a living body because the energy of enlivenment flows through your spine.  Named “chi” in Chinese, Sanskrit calls this energy “prana.”  As your core opening increases, your pranic flow opens up, making you progressively healthier, more alive and even younger.

Once you get enough opening at your tailbone, the Grace of Svaroopa® yoga ignites a more powerful current: the enlivening and enlightening power named “Kundalini.” This is your own inner force of upliftment, working within you to reveal your own Self to you.  This is Shaktipat, the specialty of Svaroopa® yoga.  This is why Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.

Grace is a technical term in yoga, classified as the fifth of Shiva’s Divine Powers, clearly described in the Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam:

Aabhaasana-rakti-vimar”sana-biijaa-vasthaapana-vilaapana-tastaani.  — Sutra 11

Shiva performs the five processes on the cosmic level [as well as on the individual level]:  manifesting, sustaining, ending, concealing and revealing.

Shiva is the name we use for Ultimate Reality, the “who” that brings these powers into being and uses them to create the world and to become you.  As an individual, you use all five of these powers, though in a more limited way because you don’t yet know you are Shiva.   These five powers are:

  • Manifesting: Shiva creates the universe and all that is in it, including you. As an individual, you create a family, music, a beautiful meal, a garden, etc.
  • Sustaining: Shiva maintains the universe, keeping it going, including continuing to be you. As an individual, you maintain your relationships, your home, your car, your job, and more.
  • Ending: Shiva is the destroyer as well, bringing about endings every day. A tree falls in the forest.  A beloved person or pet dies.  Everything that was created reaches an ending point.  As an individual, you destroy things:  even relationships, jobs, or a place where you live (when you move).  Sometimes endings are thrust upon you; sometimes you choose them.
  • Concealment: Shiva conceals His own Presence within each being, each object and each atom of the universe, including you. As an individual, you hide your feelings, you hide parts of your life from others, and you hide your mistakes or your ability to do things well.  The power of concealment means a hidden dimension is there in everything, including the Divinity hidden within you.
  • Revelation (Grace): Shiva reveals His own Presence within all that exists. Grace is the power of revelation. The ultimate revelation is your own Divinity — Shiva is revealed as your own Self.  As an individual, you also reveal things.  You show someone an easy way to do something, you say something that sheds light on the situation, or you do something uplifting for others or for yourself.

Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace, meaning it is the yoga of revelation.

swami-hands-cropped-65OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

excerpt from article published June 2013

Rama Avatar, part 2

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

We return to Lord Ram’s story, seeing he and his three brothers growing quickly.  Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable, as were Bharata and Shatrugna.  The pairs did everything together: eating, playing and studying together.  They were well-educated, both in the Vedic lore as well as a king’s martial arts.  Sage Vasishtha, Dasharatha’s kula (clan) Guru taught them everything they needed in life and to rule the kingdom well, when their time would come, after their father.  Soon they grew into young men.

It was time for them to be married.  Dasharatha had begun talking with Sage Vasishtha about their readiness to marry when Sage Vishvamitra visited.  The king respectfully welcomed Vishvamitra with all formalities, asking what grace brought him to the palace.  Sage Vishvamitra explained that his sacred yaj~nas (fire ceremonies), performed for the happiness and prosperity of the world, were frequently disturbed by rakshasas (forest spirits).  He asked Dasharatha’s to send Rama to protect Vishvamitra’s forest ashram.

Feeling protective towards his children, especially Rama, Dasharatha begged Sage Vishvamitra to let Rama be.  Instead Dasharatha himself would come to protect the ashram.  But Sage Vishvamitra knew who Rama really was, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The sage refused Dasharatha’s offer, even saying he doubted Dasharatha’s promise to protect the sages in his kingdom.  Sage Vasishtha convinced Dasharatha to send Rama.  As always, a package deal, Lakshmana joined Rama on the adventure.   On the way to the forest, Vishvamitra taught Rama and Lakshmana several mantras of warfare, including incantations and astras (energetic weapons).

On reaching the hermitage, Vishvamitra instructed the princes to safeguard the yaj~na from rakshasas trying to disturb the proceedings.  A rakshasi named Tataka was the first to try.  In the fierce battle between Tataka and Rama, following the advice of Vishvamitra, Rama killed her, though it was against kshatriya (warrior) principles to kill a woman.  Next Subahu was killed by Rama.  The third was Maaricha, whom Rama dropped in the sea near Sri Lanka by using an astra arrow.  Vishvamitra successfully completed his yaj~na, very happy that Rama and Lakshmana helped him in this effort for the world’s benefit.

Vishvamitra then took the boys to a few places, describing the importance and history of each.  During their walk through the forest, Rama stopped and placed his foot on a small rock, to everyone’s astonishment, the rock turned into a beautiful woman.  She bowed to Rama and introduced herself as Ahalya, thanking him for lifting the curse placed upon her by her husband, Rishi Gautama.  A daughter of Lord Brahma, Ahalya was cursed due to an unfortunate incident involving Indra’s (the King of Devas) lust for Ahalya.  Ahalya, now freed from the curse, became even more purified by the touch of Rama’s foot, and returned to the heavens.

Continuing onward, Sage Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshmana arrived in the kingdom of Mithila.  They found out that a big event was happening soon, a svayamvara — a contest to win the princess Sita’s hand in marriage.  She was the daughter of King Janaka, of the Videha dynasty, a great philosopher-king.  His capital city, Janakpuri, was a dominant political and cultural center as well as a hub for the sages, including Janaka’s Guru, Yaj~navalkya.

Who is Sita?  King Janaka, like Dasharatha, didn’t have any children.  He constantly prayed to Lord Shiva for a child.  One day, as he was getting the ground plowed and prepared for a yaj~na, he unearthed a golden casket.  In the casket he found a beautiful baby girl.  He took the baby as a gift from the Gods, naming her Sita, meaning “from the furrow.”  Sita is therefore known as the child of Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth’s child).  She was an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, coming to assist Lord Rama with his task on earth.

Sita was brought up as the adopted daughter of Janaka and his wife Sunaina, raised as a princess of Mithila.  Sita is also called “Janaki” (beloved by her adopted father), “Vaidehi” (a princess of the Videha dynasty) and “Maithili” (a princess of the Mithila Kingdom).

Sage Vishvamitra took the boys to watch the svayamvara.  Walking by the palace, Rama looked up and saw a beautiful girl in one of the balconies.  She too saw him.  Their eyes met; dare we call it “love at first sight?”  Yet they must proceed to the svayamvara.

Whomever could lift Pinaka (Lord Shiva’s bow), string it and shoot an arrow from it, would win Sita’s hand in marriage.  Many princes of great strength and valor were present at the svayamvara.  One by one, each tried but failed miserably.  Not one was able even to lift the bow, let alone launch an arrow.  Then, in the midst of high protests, some of them got together to try lifting it, but couldn’t budge the bow even an inch.  All the princes told Janaka that his challenge was too hard and that his daughter would die unmarried.  Though heartbroken, Janaka couldn’t change the rules of the svayamvara once they were established.

When all the others gave up, Sage Vishvamitra winked at Rama to go to the stage and launch the arrow.  Rama went near Shiva’s bow, bowed to it and worshiped it, praying to Lord Shiva for his blessings.  To everyone’s astonishment, Rama then lifted the bow with just one hand, strung it and shot an arrow from it.  It made the bow break in half with a thundering sound, heard by everyone in all the corners of the earth!

Sita came out with a garland and placed it on Rama’s neck.  Rama was delighted to find the girl he had seen on the balcony, now garlanding him.  On her part, Sita was pleased to be garlanding the handsome man she had seen from her balcony.

King Janaka sent a messenger to inform King Dasharatha about the svayamvara and, with due respects, to propose the marriage of Sita to Rama.  It was also decided that the three brothers of Rama would marry the sister and cousins of Sita:  Sita’s cousin Mandavi to marry Bharatha, Sita’s younger sister Urmila to marry Lakshmana, and Sita’s other cousin Shrutakirti to marry Satruguna.  The weddings were performed in Janakapuri with great gaiety and splendor, befitting the kings of both kingdoms.  The four brothers with their wives started back to Ayodhya with their parents.

The thundering sound from the breaking of Shiva’s bow, Pinaka, had reached all the corners of the earth.  It also reached the ears of Parashurama, another incarnation of Vishnu, who was meditating atop the Mahendra Mountains.  He knew what that sound was; he had given Pinaka to King Janaka!  Parashurama was enraged.  He called a challenge out to Rama.  Everyone was terrified, as they knew who Parashurama was.

Rama proved to be equal to Parashurama in all the weapons.  Parashurama got suspicious, so he asked Rama to string Sharanga (Lord Vishnu’s bow).  Rama did it in the blink of an eye.  The warrior-sage Parashurama realized he was looking at his own subsequent reincarnation.  He gave Sharanga Rama and blessed Sita, then retired for his meditations on Mount Mahendra.

The wedding party continued to Ayodhya.  On their return, the whole kingdom joyfully welcomed the new couples with great devotion and respect.  Ayodhya was flourishing more than ever, after the arrival of the princes with their consorts.  More to come…

Rama Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is well known because his incredible story was passed through the generations of oral tradition and written down by the Sage Valmiki.  One of the oldest, largest and most ancient epics in world literature, The Ramayana (RAWM-AAW-yuh-NAW), it has been adapted or translated into approximately 300 other languages.  It is presented in ballets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Philippines.  I grew up with Ramavataram, by Kavi Kambar, in the Tamil language.  The compelling details of Lord Ram’s story is presented in seven kandas or parts.  Let us begin!

One day in Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu was in his “Anatha Sayana,” blissful sleep on Adishesha, his five-headed cobra which personifies the energy that becomes the universe.  Feeling someone holding both of his legs very tight, he woke to see Goddess Lakshmi, his consort.  He asked why she was holding his legs so tightly.  She replied that it is to keep him from leaving Vaikuntha, as it has become a ritual of him leaving so often to take different incarnations to save the universe, always leaving her alone in Vaikuntha.

With his usual smile, Lord Vishnu said it is his duty to go on such journeys to protect Brahma’s creation.  He continued, “My next incarnation is to show how a man should live in the world.  If you want, I will take you with me.”  In joy, Shree Lakshmi says, “I will show the universe how a woman should live!”

Adishesha hissed, saying, “O Lord, when you were going on these journeys, the only satisfaction I had was in keeping my Goddess safe.  But now you both are leaving me here alone.  What have I done to deserve this type of punishment?”  As Lord Vishnu began to reply, “Okay, I…” he was interrupted.  Panchajanya, the conch in his left hand, and Sudarshana Chakra, the spinning disk-like weapon in his right hand, softly said, “What about us, then?”  Smiling again, the Lord said, “Alright, I will take all three of you with me to be my brothers.”  All were happy.

Lord Vishnu added, “I need to give the opportunity for my dear gate keepers, Jaya and Vijaya, to return to me as well.  This will be their second, out of the three births they need to take because of the curse by the four sons of Lord Brahma.”

Dasharatha was the crown prince of beautiful capital city Ayodhya of the kingdom of Kosala. He was the son of King Aja, of the Kosala kingdom.  Married to Princess Indumati of Vidarbha, they named their son Nemi, but he was widely known as Dasharatha, the one with a chariot that moves in all ten (das) directions, as the name describes.

Dasharatha was a supreme archer, able to hit his target by merely hearing the sound of movement.  On a dark rainy evening, hunting near the banks of the Saryu river, he heard the sound of a deer drinking water.  Without hesitation, he shot his arrow in the direction of the sound.  The arrow found its target, but Dasharatha was shocked to hear a human cry.  Devastated, he ran to find a young boy lying on the river bank with an arrow in his chest.

The boy, in unbearable pain, said that he was Shravan Kumara, who lived in a nearby hut, taking care of his blind parents.  He had been collecting water from the river in a pitcher, which created a sound like a deer drinking water.  He asked the prince to take the water to his parents and tell them what had happened.  Then he asked Dasharatha to pull the arrow out of his chest, to liberate him from the miserable pain and to let him die.  With great regret, Dasharatha pulled the arrow from Shravan’s heart.  Shravan died.

Dasharatha, with a very heavy heart, took the water pitcher to Shravan’s blind parents.  The old couple, eagerly waiting for their son, learned what had happened and that their son is no more.  The devastated couple cursed Dasharatha, “Just as we are dying due to the unbearable separation from our dear son, you will also have the same fate!”  This made Dasharatha miserable for a long time but, as time passed, he lost that painful memory.

In time, succeeding his father Aja, Dasharatha ascended the throne of Ayodhya.  He was such a great warrior such that he even helped Indra, the King of Devas (Gods), to fight Asuras (Demons).  A mighty king, he was considerate to all his citizens, ruling the country justly, leaving no room for criticism.

Dasharatha married Kausalya, a princess of Kosala.  Though they were happily married, Kaushalya was unable to bear any children for the Ikshvaku dynasty.  Dasharatha then married Kaikeyi, from the Kekeya kingdom, promising her father Ashwapati that his grandson will be the heir to the throne.  Again with no luck having children, he then married Sumitra from the Magadha kingdom.

Out of the three wives, Dasharatha was very fond of Kaikeyi; it is said that he loved her the most.  This may have been due to the support she gave him during wars.  Kaikeyi accompanied her husband in most of his battles.  She had the heart of a warrior and performed better in battle than most men could.  On one occasion, Dasharatha was injured badly in a war in the Dandaka forest.  Kaikeyi saved him by driving his chariot away from the war, then mending his wounds and taking care of him until he regained his strength.  Praising her devotion and strength, Dasharatha promised to fulfill two wishes for her.  As Kaikeyi didn’t have anything to request, she said that she will use the boons when she needed them.

Time passed, but they had no children.  Dasharatha was anxious to produce an heir to the throne, so he performed the Putra-Kameshti Yaj~na (a fire ceremony for the purpose of having a son).  Lord Agni, God of fire, was delighted by the sacrifice.  He appeared from the fire and gave Dasaratha a pot of “payasam” (rice porridge), to be consumed by his wives so that they would bear children.

The righteous King Dasharatha first gave the payasam to his eldest queen, Kausalya; she ate half of it.  Then he passed it to Sumitra, who ate a quarter of it.  Then he gave the rest to Kaikeyi, but she ate only half of the remainder and gave the rest to Sumitra, who finished it.  As promised by Lord Agni, all three of them were blessed with children — four boys: Rama to Kausalya, Bharata to Kaikeyi, and the twins Lakshmana and Shatrugna to Sumitra as she ate from the payasam twice.  Dasharatha was in eternal joy.  Rama is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Bharata the Sudarshana Chakra, Lakshmana is the incarnation of Adishesha and Shatrugna the Panchajanya conch.

The four children grew day by day.  Kaikeyi was so fond of Rama, sometimes she would take care of Rama’s needs before taking care of herself or her own son Bharata.  Everyone saw Kaikeyi with Rama even more than with his own mother, Kausalya.  Dasharatha was very happy about this, as he was worried about the promise he made to Kaikeyi’s father when he married her.

Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable, as were Bharata and Shatrugna.  The pairs did everything together:  eating, playing and studying together.   They were well educated, both in the Vedic lore as well as a king’s martial arts.  Sage Vasishtha, Dasharatha’s kula (clan) Guru taught them everything they needed in life and to rule the kingdom well, when their time would come, after their father.  Soon they grew into young men.

To be continued…

How Important is Your Spine?

By Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda

In embryonic development, the spine forms first.  The whole rest of your body, including your brain, formed after your spine.  Swami Nirmalananda explains yoga’s perspective on this, “Consciousness manifests everything in this universe.  Consciousness used your spine to direct your embryonic development as well as to empower everything afterward.”

Your brain blossoms forth on one end of your spinal cord.  Most people think their spinal cord is a tail on their brain, but it’s actually the other way around.  Your brain is the mushroom cap on the top end of your spinal cord.  Your brain does not control your whole body, your spine does!

While Svaroopa® Yoga’s core opening poses give you more prana (energy) to fuel you through your day and through your life, there is more.  Once you get enough lengthening of your tailbone, Grace ignites an inner fire — the enlivening and enlightening power called Kundalini.  This is your own personal power of upliftment, working within you to show you your own Divine Essence.  In yoga, Grace is defined as the blessing of the ancient sages, carried into our modern day by those who dedicate their life to discovering, and then sharing, these ancient mysteries.

What this means is that Svaroopa® yoga is “Kundalini yoga.” Swami Nirmalananda has been doing this work quietly for years, not publicizing this information for several reasons.  One is that few know what Kundalini is, so hearing that Svaroopa® yoga awakens Kundalini wouldn’t mean anything to them.  In addition, others unfortunately suffer from widespread misinformation that makes Kundalini sound terribly scary.  The greatest blessing a human being can receive in their life is the awakening of this inner force of radiance, but the media makes it sound terrifying.  It’s not.

Another reason that we don’t publicize Svaroopa® yoga as Kundalini yoga is because another style of yoga practice that uses that name.  We choose to be respectful and not to create confusion.  You may have done some Kundalini Yoga classes, which usually feature pumping your breath in rhythm with repetitive movements.  Swami Nirmalananda says, “While, from my perspective, it’s spinal tightening, it is also ecstatic.  They pump enough prana that the bliss pushes past the knots in their spine.  In Svaroopa® yoga, we don’t pump the prana because we dissolve the knots in your spine and let the prana flow of its own accord, 24/7.”  We allow Grace to awaken Kundalini so the whole interior process takes place naturally, organically, smoothly and grace-fully.  We call this “Alignment with Grace.”

Once your own Kundalini is awakened, most yogis get a feeling of physical warmth or inner spaciousness.  Within a short time it may become a periodic surge of energy, while you are doing poses or meditating, which further dissolves the blocks you carefully installed, probably even lifetimes ago.  As you open more, this inner current becomes a reliable flow that expands your knowing of your own Being and makes you able to see the world in a whole new way.

Each stage along the way offers profound transformations, which help to uncover your deeper identity as Consciousness-Itself.  This is Self, svaroopa.  This is the inner blossoming of your own Divine Essence.  Vidyadevi describes, “At first, waves of bliss would move up my spine in meditation. As my spine became more open, I had a stronger experience of that bliss.  In meditation, it was like a geyser was flowing through, not made of water, but of pure bliss.  It was so powerful, so wonderful.  I know now what Sage Shankaracharya describes in the Vivekachudamani — ‘ever expanding ecstasy.’  It is always flowing through your spine.  It is there to be experienced and so much more… your own Self.”  Do more yoga.  Do more Svaroopa® Yoga.

Originally published in May 2013

Your Spine: Anatomy, Energy & Consciousness

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Everything physical is made of atoms, including you.  Atoms are made up of subatomic particles, which are tiny bits of contracted energy swirling around in seemingly-empty space.  The subatomic particles that make up your Svaroopa® blankets and that make up the floor and the air that you breathe aren’t any different than the subatomic particles that make up your body. Everything is made of protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks, muons and other things the average person doesn’t really understand.  Everything is made of these same “building blocks,” yet everything is different.  The difference arises from the patterns in which the particles swirl. Different patterns create different objects, including you.

There is an energetic pattern for the human body — a template.  We all have two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, two legs, etc.  The ancient yogis mapped the energy patterns of the template, an atomic map of the human body. Their map is the foundation for acupuncture as well as many of yoga’s practices.  Acupuncture calls these energy flows meridians. Yoga calls them nadis.

Thousands of years ago, yogis mapped all of the 720 million nadis in the human body.  All of them branch out from the core flow, in middle — your spine.  Your nervous system is the physical equivalent of the nadis with all your nerves branching off from your spinal cord.  If scientists designed an instrument to detect these energy flows in the human body, they would find the template the yogis describe, and tell you that your spine and nervous system hold the highest concentration of energy in your whole body.   Unfortunately this means that your spinal tensions have not only physical effects, but they also block the flow of the energy that keeps you alive.  Svaroopa® yoga specializes in core opening, which is the decompression of your spine, both physically and energetically.

When you begin Svaroopa® yoga, you get rapid, almost miraculous improvement in your physical condition.  From foot and knee pain, through digestive imbalances, to neck or jaw pain and even headaches, core opening helps all of them, even all at the same time.  Chiropractors and osteopaths explain how this works, a familiar paradigm.  Yet yoga describes more:  the energy that makes your body’s energy grid work, called prana in Sanskrit, is the power of your own presence enlivening your own body.  Decompressing your spine is like getting the kinks out of a garden hose, so your whole body becomes more fully alive, enlivened by you, from your spine outward.

When we use a particular pose to release tension in muscles connected to your tailbone or another part of your spine, we are working on your physical anatomy.  Your body feels more open and free, which creates an instantaneous effect on your mind.    Yet more is going on, whether you’ve been able to identify it or not yet.  Simultaneously, the angles of all the poses are opening up subtle energetic levels.  Yoga describes that the fullest potential of a human being becomes available through this inner opening, specifically through your spine.

Madhya vikaasaach chidaananda laabhah

Pratyabhijnahrdayam Sutra 17

By means of the middle channel (your spine),

you attain the bliss of consciousness.

Swami Nirmalananda describes your spine as the “conduit of consciousness.” What is consciousness? Consciousness is beingness, the pure Is-ness that has always existed, and existed before anything existed.  Consciousness also moves and flows, being the energy that materializes this world out of nothing.  Your body is one of the things being materialized.  In your body, a current of energy flows through your spine, keeping you alive and giving you the unique capacities of a human being. One of those capacities is something that few people have interest in exploring – an inner potentiality.  Most people explore the world outside of them, but yoga says your greatest potentiality lies within.

Once you get a certain amount of core opening, the prana (life-energy) in your spine is amped up by a higher frequency moving through.  Swami Nirmalananda’s presence and teaching assures these reliable effects of core opening:  the release beginning at your tailbone provides:

  1. Profound physical benefits
  2. Transformative changes that improve how you feel in your life, and
  3. The awakening of a profound energy flow through your spine, assuring you access to your own Divinity.

Alignment with Grace is core opening — the spinal release that opens up what was hidden inside you; opening and aligning your spine opens a profound doorway to experiencing your own Self.  Do more yoga.  Do more Svaroopa® Yoga.

Originally published May 2013

A Path of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previously Published, April 2013

Svaroopa® Yoga is Different!

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarize, hatha has two meanings:

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

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

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