From the Inside-Out

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

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

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

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

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

Madhya vikaasaac cidaananda laabha.h — Pratyabhijnahrdayam 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previously published July 2014

Relaxation & Stillness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

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

In Shavasana, yoga’s relaxation pose, your body lies completely motionless, yet your mind can still be racing and your emotions churning.  We know that the first Shavasana in class is sometimes the hardest pose of your whole class.  You could be lying physically still because you don’t want to disturb your neighbors, but inside there is no stillness.  You have brought your body to a halt yet your inner speed continues.

From time to time this happens for anyone. Yet yoga says that if you just keep your body in stillness, your mind is going to slow down.

Sthira sukham aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

The (yoga) pose is motionless and easy.

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

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

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

Being aware of your whole body…

or being aware of awareness itself…

or follow awareness into its source…

Rest in That.

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

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

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

Originally published January 2014

Krishna Avatar – Part 3

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

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

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

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

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

ishtadevata.com

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

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

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

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

instazu.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ishtadevata.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

krishnasmercy.com

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

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

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

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

Krishna with Mother Yashodha

More to come…

Opening Your Heart

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Some yoga poses are called “heart openers,” making people expect that they will become emotional.  Instead, when the pose is aligned and propped effectively, you get an inner opening to your deeper essence, called yoga’s heart.  Similarly, mantra repetition, chanting, sutra study and meditation do this work in you, especially once you have received Shaktipat.

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

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

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

Yet this sutra is not talking about heart opener poses.  This sutra promises that you can use your body to get to your own essence, but the pose you need is the seated pose.  This is a very important pose!  Your teacher emphasizes your ability to sit in a steady pose with a comfortably upright spine because, when you simply sit, you settle easily into your heart, svaroopa.  You sit in your own Self deeply.

This sutra says you don’t merely have an experience, like a glimpse of your Self, but that you become immersed in your heart.  It is not like you’ve gotten a little wet while walking in a rainstorm, so you come inside to get dry.  When you get “immersed,” it means you are always wet — saturated with your own essence, svaroopa.

Heart-full experiences are essential to life.  Without them, life has no meaning. You want to have the feeling of your heart being full in two ways, both being filled by others as well as overflowing with what you have to give.  The danger is that emotional fulfillment can become slavery’s ball and chain, or goad and whip — the ways that people try to limit and control others.  You already know what it is like to have others try to limit and control you, and you have returned the favor.  The problem is that you’ve been looking for the “filling up” or the “overflowing out.” Mistakenly, you call that love, when the inner reservoir is where the love is; the infinity of your own svaroopa is made of love – and more.

Vidyadevi tells of a longtime friend who got married, having already decided she did not want to have children.  Within her first year of marriage, she accidentally became pregnant.  She was deeply worried as she could not imagine how she was going to love this child, but of course she found that she had plenty of love.  A couple of years later, she found herself pregnant again.  When they talked, her friend shared that she loved her first child so much she didn’t think she had any more love to give.  Well, she found out that she could love both of her children fully.  A couple more years passed and she became pregnant with her third child.  Again she found that she could love all three with so much love.   Her love was endless for her children.  Consider, what if she had one or three more – could she love all of them?  What is the capacity of the human heart and where does this capacity come from?

“Hrade” in our sutra comes from the Sanskrit word “h.rd” meaning heart.  In this sutra, “heart” refers to the ocean of your own immortality.  Your heart doesn’t need filling.  It is already the ocean:  the ocean of your own immortality.  When you realize what is there in the core of your being you will recognize:

  1. That ocean is not yours: it is not yours to own, not yours to keep, not yours to control
  2. You are the beneficiary: the one that benefits the most is you, even when you draw from the bottomless depths to overflow onto others
  3. It will always be there: the fullness of that ocean will always be there, for you are the ocean of immortality.  You will always be there.  This is your own Self.

Perhaps now you can see that the amount that flows in and out is merely a trickle compared to what is already there.  Most people are measuring the flow and calling it love, but yoga shifts your attention to sitting in the presence and beingness of your own Self, which is the fullness of your own heart.   Your heart is everything you think it is, yet it is so much much more.  To explore the more, do more yoga.

Originally published February 2014

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Exploring Your Own Heart

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each one is a human being.

Each one matters.

There is something in every human.

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published February 2014

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Relaxing Your Body & Mind

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

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

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

Sthira sukham aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

The (yoga) pose is motionless and easy.

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

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

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

Being aware of your whole body…

or being aware of awareness itself…

or follow awareness into its source…

Rest in That.

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

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

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

Published January 2014

Krishna Avatar – Part 2

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a Guided Relaxation

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published January 2014

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/relax–its-good-for-you-20090819-eqlo.html

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