Not a Guided Relaxation

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published January 2014


Relaxation & Awareness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

“Become aware of your toes, all ten toes, all at the same time…”

Your Svaroopa® yoga class begins with these words, while you are reclining in Shavasana.  Your teacher guides you progressively through each area of your body in turn. Yet this is not a body inventory.  We are not doing this so that you will count your toes and fingers, checking that you have every body part.  Also, it is not an analysis of how you look to yourself or others.  It is not even about labeling parts of your body as good/bad, painful/not painful, want/don’t want, etc.   Usually when you look at your body you have some of these types of thoughts:  “How do I look?  How am I doing?”

The Guided Awareness is a consciousness practice.  This means it is a training in consciousness, a training in pure awareness.  Unfortunately when you do a body inventory or analysis, you’re mixing thoughts into your awareness.  Such thoughts are like a stream of pollutants, actually making the inherent power of your own awareness less powerful. In addition, most thoughts are toxic.  Think about it. In fact, I dare you to think a non-toxic thought!

Of course there are many non-toxic thoughts you could think, but the point is that you rarely use your mind this way.  Of course, you may have already mastered this and habitually think non-toxic thoughts, almost of the time.  Unfortunately, non-toxic thoughts are more prevalent. Yet, to be “aware” (without thought) is a whole different thing.  The power of pure awareness.

Vidyadevi shares, “Early on, I discovered that if I was watching TV or my mind was busy, the poses didn’t make my body feel better.  I had to be ‘in it’ for it to work.  Being present makes a difference.”

In fact, this is what yoga is all about — about you being present.  Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way, “The practices make you present in your body and breath; they make you present in your life; they make you present within yourself.  And when you’re present, you’ve got you.”

Published in January 2014

This Path Embraces the Whole of Life

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

Yoga’s practices provide you the experience of your Self as the whole ocean of Consciousness.  Especially with the spinal decompression effects of Svaroopa® yoga poses, these experiences are easier to access and they last for longer periods of time.  To attain the permanent state, your most important practice is meditation.  Yet it is mantra that gives you meditation, so you must repeat mantra.

If you’re interested in improving your body, your most important practice is Ujjayi Pranayama.  If you’re interested in improving your life, seva (volunteering) is the most important practice.  Swamiji says, “So many practices, so little time.”  You must choose which practices to do with your available time.

Of course you can do all of them, but don’t think that the goal is to be doing yoga all the time.  This is not about increasing your yoga time so that you can crowd out the other parts of your life, especially the parts that are painful or uncomfortable.  This is not about using yoga to withdraw from life and relationships.  It’s not even about becoming established in a steady state of all-knowing, ever-blissful Beingness.  If that were the goal, this wouldn’t be a tantric path.  This path embraces the whole of life, the whole of Consciousness, recognizing the Divine in the mundane and the mundane as the Divine.

Svaroopa® yoga practices are tools to open up your inner experience.  They are doorways to finding the whole universe that is within your body.  The promise is that, when you open your eyes, you’ll remain in that profound inner state.  You won’t lose your Self when you go back to your life.  You’ll recognize everything you see and every person you meet as another form of embodied Consciousness, the One Reality in a multiplicity of wonderfully different packages.

Every interaction, whether it’s with a friend or a stranger, becomes a dance of the Divine meeting the Divine, Consciousness playing with Consciousness.  Life will still bring you tough stuff.  You’ll still experience pain.  This is because you’ve got karma.  But you’ll no longer suffer in the midst of painful experiences, nor suffer when you cannot attain pleasurable experiences.  Both pleasure and pain are Consciousness; neither one is more desirable than the other.  Pleasure won’t make you any fuller because you’re already full.  Pain won’t diminish you because nothing can take you away from your Self, because there’s nothing that’s not you.

Swamiji remembers her Guru explaining it so beautifully, that you will find only your own home everywhere you go.  You will see that there is no reason to worry. You will meet only yourself everywhere you go, because there is no one else and nothing else in the universe.  You are the One who has become all that exists.  When you see the world, you are looking into the mirror of your Divinity all the time.

Living from the depth of your own embodied Beingness, fully present and engaged in the world that you recognize and celebrate as the same embodied Reality.  This is your future.  Do more yoga (and meditation).

Originally published in May 2014

Embodied Reality

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

If we could be there with you, we could ask you a simple question in a very personal way, “Who are you?”  What’s the first thing that pops into your mind?  Would you say, “I’m a yogi,” or “I’m a wife/husband,” or “I’m a parent?”  Instead, what if your very first thought was, “I am Consciousness.”

The goal is to abide in svaroopa-vidya, the experiential knowing of yourself as Consciousness-itself.  Once you know, you will never not know.  What’s more, you will recognize everyone and everything as an embodiment of the same Divine Reality.  This description of your future comes from a yogic text:

Chidaananda laabhe chetya-maane.svapi.  Chidaikaatmya pratipatti daardhya.m jiivamukti.h.  — Pratyabhijnahrdayam 16

When the bliss of Consciousness is attained, you are established in the permanent identity of Consciousness, while you experience your body and all objects as forms of Consciousness.  This is liberation while alive.

You don’t yet live in that knowingness all the time.  Instead, you get your sense of identity and personal meaning from your body, your relationships, your job, your age, your gender, your skills, etc.  Think of it all in a new way:  you have a body, an age, a job, but these are things you have — not things you are!

All these outer realities are important to you, yet they will inevitably change.  You are the unchangeable capital-R Reality that is hidden at a deeper level within.  Each of your identities is limited compared to who you really are at the deepest level.  The sages describe it like the ocean.  You are the whole ocean, with each identity being a current in the ocean.  When you’re caught up in the stuff of life, you’re caught in a current, buffeted by the waves.  You must dive deeper into your Self, so you know that you are the whole ocean, including the currents and the waves.

Svaroopa® yoga gives you powerful tastes of this deep, calm, peaceful, blissful, expanded state, because your innermost essence opens up when you decompress your spine.  Plus the Shavasana at the beginning and end of your classes settle you deeper within.  In addition, you are used to the halo effect of your practices, the way your yogic state affects how you show up for life:  you are nicer to your family; you take difficult things in stride; your internal pressures lessen or dissolve.  Unfortunately, they come back.  This happens because your state is not yet steady; you are not yet established in svaroopavidya, the experiential knowing of your own Self.

Svaroopa® yoga poses give you a temporary experience of peace and bliss.  When you have this experience, you have stepped into in the beginning stages of enlightenment.  Then you lose it.  So you need to do more yoga, to experience the peace and bliss of your own Self again.  And again.  And again, every time you do core opening poses.

Instead of experiencing peace and bliss, what if you experience yourself as the source of peace and bliss?  This sutra says you can experience this, and that it will be all of the time.  How?  By doing more yoga.  All of yoga’s practices teach you to be a scuba diver, to dive beneath the waves and swim in the vast inner space of consciousness — your own Self.  Swamiji describes the process in an informal sutra:

Again, again and again turns into always.

Originally published May 2014

Krishna Avatar & Mahabharata

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The last of Lord Vishnu’s avatars that have already taken place are the eighth, Balarama (the powerful one) and the ninth, Krishna (the one with dark complexion).  His avatar that will come in the future is Kalki.

As Rama Avatar, Adhishesha incarnated as Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.  He obeyed Rama and spent his entire life to serving him.  Lord Vishnu wanted to return the favor in His next incarnation: to honor Adhishesha’s devotion he made him be one of his Avatars while also making him his elder brother.  Therefore, Balarama Avatar was at the same time of the Krishna Avatar, Krishna being the younger brother of Balarama,

Krishna always obeyed Balarama; Balarama protected Krishna at all costs.  Unlike Krishna, Balarama was fair complexioned.  Otherwise they looked alike in many aspects.  Both these avatars of Lord Vishnu will be written in the same story, which is part of the great epic Mahabharata.

What is the Mahabharata?

The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world.  It consists of numerous branches of stories, with hundreds of characters shaping the story line.  With over 100,000 slokas (a couplet), meaning 200,000 individual verse lines, and long prose passages, it has around 1.8 million total words.  It is about ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, nearly four times the length of the Ramayana.

In the Indian tradition Mahabharata is sometimes called the fifth Veda, after the well-known four, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.  In the Mahabharata, unlike Rama in the Ramayana, Krishna uses some of his divine powers to get things done, steering the way through the evil he is trying to overcome.

Through all of Lord Vishnu’s avatars, there is a progression in where good and evil reside.  In the first few avatars, they were far apart in different worlds. Then in Vamana and Parashurama Avatars, they came into the same world.  In Rama Avatar they came to the same area in the planet.  In Krishna Avatar. Good and evil came into the same family.

Now, we are in Kali Yuga, with good and evil residing in the same person.  The yugas (ages) have progressed, from Satya Yuga to Treta Yuga, to Dvapara Yuga and now to Kali Yuga.  In this cosmic timeline, the state of affairs has degraded from all good to mostly evil.  With this progression, who can predict what Lord Vishnu will have to do and what powers he will have to use in his final avatar, Kalki?

The Mahabharata is divided into 18 sections or books, with many sub-stories supporting the main story line.  The main story line revolves around two groups of cousins, the Kaurava and the Panḍava princes, and the war between them, the Kurukshetra War.

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Bhagavad Gita was given to the world by Krishna as a teaching to Arjuna, one of the Pandava cousins in the war.  The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important texts of ancient India.  The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about dharma, theistic bhakti and the yogic paths to liberation or self-realization.  It talks about four paths to spirituality: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga.

Known as the “Father of the India,” Mahatma Gandhi referred to the Bhagavad Gita as his “spiritual dictionary.”  He used it as a guide in leading the Liberation Movement of India, helping gain independence from the British without a war, through upholding ahimsa (non-harming).

While Krishna and Balarama are the third set of cousins in the Mahabharata, Krishna is the center of all the drama that takes place.  He directs everything to perfection, teaching humans about what evil can bring about in the world.  In contrast to Rama Avatar, where Lord Vishnu as Rama shows the world how a person should live, in Krishna Avatar he shows how people should not live.

Vyasa (often called Veda Vyasa) is the author of this great epic.  He is credited with classifying the Vedas, writing the eighteen Puranas, writing the Yoga Bhasya (a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), and composing the Mahabharata, among other things.

It is mentioned in the first section of The Mahabharata, that Lord Ganesha wrote down the text as Veda Vyasa dictated it.  As per the legend, Vyasa wanted to compose the Mahabharata.  For this he needed a very intelligent person to write it down.  So he prayed to Lord Brahma to help him find such a person.  Brahma said that the only one capable of handling such a task would be none other than Lord Ganesha.  Vyasa prayed to Lord Ganesha, requesting him to help.

With a smile, Lord Ganesha agreed to Vyasa’s request but under one condition.  Ganesha will not stop writing once he starts the work and, if at any point Vyasa lags, then Ganesha would stop writing and Vyasa would need to find someone else.  Vyasa agreed to the condition and made one of his own.  He requested that Lord Ganesha needs to understand each sloka before writing it down.  This bought Vyasa some time to in order compose the following sloka.

The writing of the Mahabharata began; Lord Ganesha was writing and Vyasa was dictating.  Halfway through, Lord Ganesha’s pen broke.  As he had given his word that he would not stop writing, he broke off one of his tusks in order to continue writing.  This is one of the many legends regarding Lord Ganesha’s one broken tusk.

Vyasa, son of Rishi Parasara, gave the Mahabharata to his son, Sukha Muni and his other disciples.  The sage Narada gave this knowledge to the devas, and Sukar gave it to the gandharvas, yakshas and the rakshasas.  Sage Vaisampayana gave this knowledge to the earthlings at a great yaj~na performed by Janamejaya, the great grandson of the Pandava prince Arjuna.  This knowledge was also shared by Suthar to all the rishis lived in the Naimisaranya forest.  This is how the Mahabharata reached our modern times.

We are concentrating on Krishna’s and Balarama’s life story, with the Mahabharata in the background.  In other words, if focused on the Mahabharata as the story, the start and progress of the story line would be different.  Yet the entire plot will be covered.

We will start with Krishna’s and Balarama’s birth, their growth, the Krishna leelas (mischiefs), their young age, Radha and Krishna, Kamsa’s (Krishna’s uncle’s) end, entering into adulthood, Balarama’s wedding and Krishna and Rukmini.  Then we will move on to the Pandava and Kaurava brothers’ ancestors, Pandavas’ and Kauravas’ birth, their growth, the conflict between these cousins, the dice game, Pandava brothers’ twelve years of exile and year incognito, the peace talks, the Bhagavadgita and Kurukshetra War.  Also we will covering Jaya and Vijaya’s liberation from their curse, due to their third human birth as Shishupala and Dantavakra, enemies of Krishna Avatar.

Balarama is usually depicted in blue garments, wearing bracelets and armlets.  His weapons are the plow (hala) and the mace (gadaa).  His hair is tied in a topknot, showing his strength, the reason for his name.

Krishna is often depicted wearing a peacock feather on his wreath/crown.  Playing the flute, he is usually shown standing with one leg bent in front of the other.  He is sometimes shown with cows or calves, which symbolizes the divine herdsman, herding the souls.

The story begins in the next installment.

Yoga & the Power of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

When you are becoming embodied in your own body, grounding and rooting into individuality (small-s self), you expand into your Self (capital-S Self).  People think grounding and rooting are limiting, but being spacey is what is limiting.  Being out of your body is completely limiting.

When you get present in your body, you get expanded when Guru’s Grace is part of the equation.  Without Grace, grounding into your self (small-s self) makes you feel small, lonely, needy, anxious and inadequate.  It’s Grace that turns the inward way into an expansive way.  In meditation, you invoke Grace when you repeat mantra and meditate on your own Self.  In poses, you invoke Grace when you lengthen your tailbone and open your spine.

This means that, as you become more embodied, you discover that Self (capital-S Self) is found in your own self (small-s self).  You come to know, “Oh, I am I!”  Most people think enlightenment is going to be, “Oh! I am something other than what I always was.”  In fact, the moment of recognition is, “I am I.”

Look at it from the other way around:  you won’t realize your Self (capital-S Self) by running away from your self (small-s self).  When you lengthen your tailbone, it is like lightning striking the earth from the sky, coming all the way down and grounding into being you.  This is the Self (capital-S Self) grounded in the self (small-s self).

Try explaining it to yourself it this way:

  • When I get present in my self (small-s self), I am
  • When I am present, I am
  • When I am aware, I am awareness — I am Self (capital-S Self).

Vidyadevi shares a recent meditation that showed her this.  “I was repeating mantra and easing back into my Self.  Then I felt a thin sheet of almost-liquid come down.  It was clearly Nityananda’s[1] presence.  At that point my awareness deepened even more.  I was behind my mind; I experienced bliss.  When my meditation period ended and I opened my eyes, I was still in bliss and behind my mind.  From a deeper place inside I was looking through my mind into the world.  I was still self (small-s self) but grounded in Self (capital-S Self).”

This means that Self (capital “S” Self) is found in self, revealed through Grace, as Nityananda did for her.  Yoga defines grace as one of the five Divine powers, specifically the power of revelation, meaning — Grace Reveals.  Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.  Swami Nirmalananda explains, “It all comes from the initiation Nityananda gave to Muktananda, who gave it to me, and now I make that available to you. The blessing flows from one generation to the next, including straight to you.”  The lineage is like a riverbed, which concentrates the flow of water to make it accessible to all.  By doing any Svaroopa® yoga or Svaroopa® meditation practices, you step into the river, so you get wet.  You position yourself to get drenched with Grace.

The flow of Grace is concentrated in a person.  That’s the Guru, the one who carries it to the next generation.  A river without a riverbed is a flood; you need a riverbed to concentrate the water and make it safe and usable.  The Guru is the person who serves as the riverbed, so that the Grace can flow through.  Technically, it is the flow of Grace that is honored by the Sanskrit word “guru.”  The Guru is not a body make of flesh and blood.  The Guru is not a man or a woman.  The Guru is not an individual being or personality.  “Guru” is a function:  the bestowal of Grace.  That job is given to a person, who is acknowledged by the title denoting what they do, “Guru.”

Swami Nityananda (note 1) was asked by a member of the local legislature to define “Guru’s Grace” (guru-k.rpa).  He responded with the following questions: “Where is your hometown?  How long does it take to get there by road?  By sea? By rail?”  After the man replied, Nityananda asked how long it would take by air.  The legislator said that it would take less than 30 minutes.  “Guru’s Grace is like air travel,” Nityananda said, “providing the shortest and fastest way to the place of our origin — in the Infinite.”

How many lifetimes do you want to do, before you discover that the Self (capital-S Self) is found in your own self (small-s self)?  People go round and round in circles for lifetimes, focusing on distractions and mistaken goals.  Yoga’s ultimate goal is to give you your own Self.  Life’s ultimate goal is the discovery and ongoing experience of the bliss of your own Self, in your own self.

When you use Svaroopa® yoga to align your spine, you place yourself in that flow of Grace. Nirmalananda’s studies and dedication to Muktananda guarantees it. This is why Svaroopa® yoga works so quickly, deeply and profoundly — this is a path of Grace.  Get drenched and hop on the airplane!  Do More Yoga!

[1] Swami Nityananda was the Guru of Swami Nirmalananda’s Guru, Swami Muktananda

Infinity in a Body

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

In 1905, Einstein shifted science’s paradigm in his article declaring matter is made of energy, summarized in his famous formula, E=MC2.  This includes everything that appears solid: your body, your yoga blankets, every rock and every springtime daffodil.  They are all made of concentrated energy.  This is now well known and accepted.

The physicists find words to describe their discoveries by quoting the ancient sages of India.

Every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction….without end…

For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomenon.  — Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics

Physicists dedicate themselves to an outer exploration of this universe, down to the atoms and subatomic particles, yet they are finding common ground with poets and yogis, whose own exploration is an inner one.  Our yogic tradition, Kashmiri Shaivism, explains how it is that the scientists, poets and yogis can arrive at the same place:

citi samkocaatmaa cetano’pi sa.mkucita vi”sva-maya.h

— Pratyabhijnahrdayam 4

Consciousness willingly takes on contraction, in order to become both the universe and the individuals, who have the universe as their bodies in a contracted form.

Consciousness (another name for Shiva) is choosing to manifest into form; the formless blissfully dancing into form.  Shiva is concentrating the energy of His own Being into matter, outside and inside, being a grain of sand, being a wildflower and being you. Infinite Reality is taking on all the forms in the universe in order to experience being the forms.  Shiva is being you in order to experience being you. You are the One, the divine, scintillating light of consciousness, in individualized form.

As a human being you have the unique ability to know the whole of Consciousness.  In a Shaktipat (initiation) tradition like ours, these inner experiences open up so easily, which is the point of all the Svaroopa® sciences.

When you start at your tailbone, to release your spinal tensions, you also begin the inner opening that leads to spontaneous Shaktipat.  When you attend a Shaktipat Retreat, you receive intentional Shaktipat, an initiation that opens up the Infinity of your own Divinity.

Or you can simply lie down in Shavasana and listen to Swamiji’s Guided Awareness CD.  Or sit to do japa and meditate.  Turn your attention inward, so you find and know that you are infinity in a body; you are the formless in a form.  Do more yoga.

Originally published April 2014

Finding Infinity in Your Body

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

— William Blake, “Augeries of Innocence,” 1807

William Blake’s ecstatic poem is widely quoted because it speaks to a truth that you know deep inside but usually forget. Consider for a moment, if the world is in a grain of sand, what is in you?  Yoga says you are the whole of infinity in an individualized form, and promises that you can know this by exploring within.

It’s easy to feel like your body is just a body: skin encasing muscles, organs and bones.  You wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and, instead of seeing infinity in your eyes, you see bed-head and teeth that need brushing.  Perceiving your body in this mundane, material way is normal.  It’s a scientific perspective.

It stems from the Renaissance, when Western science began developing logical analysis and systemic observations of the human body and the world. Previously the body was thought to be something that housed the spirit.  It changed in the 16th century, when scientists studied cadavers to understand the human body and learn its secrets, while considering the body to be material — nothing spiritual at all.

Now scientists study living bodies, using x-rays and other types of imaging, but they still consider it to be merely material.  There is a lot more to be found by studying a living body than a dead one, so science has developed incredible and valuable understandings of your body. Yet exploring your physical body is still a limited exploration.

Yoga honors your body as a divine body, while offering you tools and opportunities to cultivate a deeper knowing.  Yoga makes it easy for you to dive inside and find that you are more than you ever dreamed of, that your self is THE Self, the whole of Consciousness.

The Guided Awareness that begins and ends your Svaroopa®  yoga class is one of yoga’s tools.  Resting in Shavasana, a pose recognized as the most important of all the physical practices, you are guided to bring your awareness to each area of your body in turn, “outside and inside.” It can seem like ‘’inside” is an instruction to explore the inner physical reality of your body. Another Teacher Training student in one of Rukmini’s trainings described that she “went ‘inside’ during a long Shavasana, and found herself like Jacques Cousteau, whizzing through her circulatory system, as tiny as a blood cell, on a grand adventure in her body.”

Swamiji had a student in his sixties who enjoyed the opening and closing Shavasanas in every weekly class, but he didn’t talk much.  One day, she talked about “outside and inside” being more, that “inside” is not just bones and muscles.   He shared that he’d thought he was supposed to be developing his ability to see inside his body, to see his muscles and organs and bones, like he would have x-ray vision.

While yogis do develop an awareness of their body that other people don’t have, the Guided Awareness is about much more.  It is about the deeper dimensions of your being.  When you go “inside,” you’re not just going into skin, muscles and bones; you can keep going, into the energy they’re made of.  This energy is conscious.  In fact it is consciousness, which is swirling as energy in order to manifest as you.  When you track it to its source, you discover the One Infinite Reality that is its own source, which yoga names as Shiva. You just have to look a little deeper.

Originally published April 2014

Embodied Awareness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

“At the end of a class, I had the students roll to their sides after their final Shavasana,” says Vidyadevi.  “One man didn’t move.  I looked over at him.  Honestly, he looked dead.  His skin was pale and I couldn’t see his breath moving.  I got up, came over and squeezed his foot several times before he opened his eyes.  For some reason I asked, ‘Where were you?’  He said, ‘Oh, I was at the beach.’”  I said, ‘You need to get into your body!’”

Unfortunately, most people float around outside their body most of the time.  They are a little above and a little in front of their body, which looks half dead — pale, dry and shriveled up.  No wonder zombie movies are so popular!

Svaroopa® yoga classes start with the Guided Awareness in Shavasana.  For the first few weeks or months, you track with the words all the way up to your knees or hips, then you lose the outer sounds, including your teacher’s words.  Have you yet gotten to the point where you can follow the whole Guided Awareness yet?  Being aware of each area of your body that is named, being aware through each of your body parts in turn, and being aware of your whole body all at the same time?  It’s an amazing experience!

As you continue to practice Shavasana and the Guided Awareness, your ability to be embodied increases.  This means that Shavasana is very important. As your ability to hear every word improves, you’re hearing the words without working at it. This is because the Guided Awareness is an “awareness practice,” not a body oriented practice.

Awareness is one of the technical terms of yoga, describing the true nature of your own being.  You have the inherent capacity to be aware without thought, without efforting, and without the doingness associated with your usual mode of perception. In the beginning of your yoga studies, you go unconscious at such profound inner depths, but your Shavasana practice makes you able to be very deep within yourself, yet aware while you are in there. It is not yet the fully empowered awareness that is your own Divine Essence, but it is the beginning of your inner discovery.

This happens because you are already Divine.  The innermost dimensions of your own existence are Consciousness-Itself, as clearly described in one of the Kashmiri Shaivite texts:

Chiti sa.mkochaatmaa chetano’pi sa.mkuchita vi”svamaya.h

– Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam Sutra 4

Consciousness-Itself assumes contraction to become both the universe and the individuals…

This sutra begins with “Chiti,” meaning “Consciousness-Itself,” naming the Reality which contracts to become the whole universe, and specifically points out that Consciousness becomes you. This means that you are pure consciousness, contracted into an individualized form. Consciousness doesn’t lose anything in the process; Consciousness is not diminished in any way.

Swami Nirmalananda uses a metaphor to make it clear:  do you remember running a foot race with a child, and letting them win the race?  Vidyadevi’s nephew wanted to run a foot race around the block to see who could run faster. They ran neck-and-neck all the way, yet at the very end, she let him win.  Did this mean that she was never going to have the capacity to run fast again? No.  It can even be fun to pretend to be small, but you don’t lose your greatness in the process.  Neither does Chiti.

The paradox is that Consciousness is grounding and rooting at the same time that Consciousness is expanding.  By grounding and rooting into self (small-s self), Consciousness is grounding into individuality; yet Consciousness is expanding into multiplicity at the same time.  It’s cosmic; it’s huge.  It is also totally personal.

Originally published Oct 2013

Sanskrit — The Language of Yoga

By Sadguru Nirmalananda Saraswati

The oldest known language, Sanskrit is called the language of the gods.  It even has a verb conjugation you use only when speaking to God.  “Devanagari” is the name of the alphabet, like Cyrillic is the name of the script used for the Russian language.  Deva (देव) means god, while naga (नाग) means snake, referring to the coiled energy that brings the universe into existence.  Of course, it also names the coiled Kundalini, which certain Sanskrit mantras are designed to activate or awaken.

Svaroopa® yoga teachers often say your pose names in Sanskrit as well as English.  The English name helps you learn how to do the pose, but the Sanskrit name helps you go farther into it.  It’s easy to try.  Stand up and lean your torso forward, bending at your hips for a simple Uttanasana, letting your arms hang toward the floor.   Repeat “Standing Forward Bend” for 45 seconds.  Stay in the pose and say “Uttanasana” (oot-awn-AAW-saw-naw) for 45 seconds.  See what happens.  You’ll prove how powerful Sanskrit really is.

The shape of each Sanskrit letter maps the way its sound reverberates in your head, awakening the thousand-petaled lotus at the top.  Learning to use your mouth, tongue and breath to enunciate the words properly is a lesson in ecstasy.  I’ve been chanting in Sanskrit for over 40 years and know how Grace-filled this yoga practice is.  I got it from one who knows, the great yogi who gave me everything, and who empowered me to give it all to you.  Yoga is so much more than poses!

Baba always emphasized chanting in Sanskrit rather than learning the language.  Of course, I’ve picked up technical terminology along the way, just like you learn important words in other languages (i.e. burrito and lasagna).  My little joke has truth in it, for the important Sanskrit terms are about you being fed on a spiritual level (i.e. shaktipat and darshan).

Many words have no direct translation into English, like svaroopa and ahamkara.  Self is the word used to translate them both, distinguished by a “capital-S” or a “small-s” to clarify which level of personhood is being described.  But that doesn’t work well when speaking, or even at the beginning of a sentence.

Svaroopa is your “true form,” meaning your inherent Divinity.  Your body and mind are merely the outer levels of the multiple dimensions of your being.  The science of yoga gives you tools to explore the depths and vastness within.  Svaroopa® yoga specializes in this, from a powerfully different way of doing the poses to an easy and deep meditation technology.

Ahamkara means “I am what I do.”  It is how you construct a superficial sense of self, constantly judging yourself compared to others, hopefully feeling self-respect and a sense of self-worth.  It is an activity of your mind, which keeps your mind very very busy.

When you know your own svaroopa, you still do things in the world, but you’re not looking for them to give you a sense of self.  It’s like going to an ATM.  When you want your relationships and actions to build up your ahamkara (small-s self), you’re trying to withdraw money from the machine.  When you base your sense of self in svaroopa (capital-S Self), you’re making a deposit.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.