International Day of Yoga

By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda

“If yoga goes mainstream, I’m going to quit,” a passionate yogini exclaimed to me.  I was representing Yoga Alliance as its first President, traveling to yoga conferences to explain what we were creating — a self-governing body of yoga teachers.  She was more invested in being “alternative” than in doing yoga.  Yet yoga is mainstream now, with meditation becoming more so daily, especially in this pandemic.

Six years ago, the UN declared June 21 as “International Day of Yoga,” with a unanimous vote on a resolution presented by the Prime Minister of India.  They were voting for health and happiness, the benefits that he presented, especially that yoga could reduce their national medical costs and improve people’s lives.  This is not merely mainstreaming yoga, this is now institutional recognition. 

Yet America’s yogis don’t celebrate this event much.  Every year, I search the internet and find many international venues, but few in the USA.  I confess, I have a personal investment in this holiday because I tried to get it going in 1998, more than 20 years ago.  Of course, I didn’t have the clout of the UN behind me, only Yoga Alliance.  I framed it as a much-needed fundraiser at the time, but continued for several years beyond the need for donations to fund Yoga Alliance.  It is well established now, and my humble idea has gone global!

It’s time to celebrate yoga!  Though we may not be able to gather in person, online events are possible, just like online yoga classes.  My own organization is holding several free classes and meditation programs.  I hope your teacher will too! 

We’re celebrating on Sunday June 20, technically the true solstice this year, happening precisely at 5:45 pm EDT.  The celebrations around the world will be different this year; let’s see what creative and joyful ideas people come up with.  And of course, you can simply pick that day to do more yoga.

Thank you to Philly Area Yoga for publishing this blog on their website.

Meditation Club is Changing Me

By Kristine Curran, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

I knew the Meditation Club would hold me to practicing at the same time every day.  That’s why I joined.  It’s been tapas; it’s been hard.  I knew it would be.  And I’m realizing the Meditation Club is chipping away at my resistance in unexpected ways.

Every meditation is different.  The other day, I noticed I was getting pain, which is normal for me.  Usually it’s just one place.  But everything that has ever hurt started hurting.  It was like a multicolored strobe light — this hurts, that hurts, in rapid succession.  I was able to simply observe the pain without getting caught up in it or judging it.  I realized that Kundalini was just doing her work.  Usually I get quite fidgety.  That didn’t happen. 

I have been hitting a lot of my “stuff.”  In the last week, I’ve done three Vichara (guided self-inquiry) sessions.  They have felt deeper than usual.  Meditation Club is helping me get into these deeper inner levels, supporting deeper Vichara results.

I can feel the shakti when meditating with the Meditation Club group.  I am grateful to be getting more support than when I’m meditating alone.  With everyone’s support, I can sit for an hour without getting too antsy, which deepens my practice.

About two weeks after Meditation Club began, I had no resistance when my morning alarm went off.  I said, “It’s time to meditate,” and popped right out of bed.  The night before, I was dreading getting up early and feeling cranky about it.  Then in a moment of Grace, I decided to think about it differently.  I changed my thought: “I get to get up and meditate in the morning!”  Instantly feeling my body soften, I saw the tremendous power of the mind.

The spare room in my house is overwhelmingly full of stuff.  With no available space for anything else, the room is completely non-functional.  For years I’ve been avoiding it.  During Meditation Club several weeks ago, a Durga Puja at the Ashram was live-streamed to us.  Afterward, I walked into my junk room and suddenly decided to deal with it.  I cleared out stuff that has been there for years.  I was able to throw away things I thought I had gotten rid of.  The whole time I was working, it was just easy.  It didn’t feel like the massive, awful chore I had been dreading.  Now the open room has space for me to move, think and breathe.  I keep walking in, sitting, and noticing its very different energy. Even though I can’t yet put words to my internal shifts, I can see the external change in my process with this room.  That wouldn’t have happened if something hadn’t changed inside.  I’ve been trying to make myself take on this project for years.  It reminds me of the mind and vichara.  All the stuff churns and comes back again and again — until you finally just let it go and create more space!  I guess I just need to keep doing more meditation.

Book Review: A Yogic Lifestyle

By Ruth (Rama) Brooke

For Christmas, I gave my 94-year-old mother a copy of Satguru Swami Nirmalananda’s A Yogic Lifestyle.  Slowly but surely, my mother has been reading it.  She commented, “It’s very Christian!” — meant as the highest compliment.  Then she said, “The lady on the cover looks very nice!  How long has she been your teacher?”  I responded, “Since before she became a Swami.”  Mom asked, “How important is that breathing practice you taught me?  Did you get it from her?”

I don’t know if Mom’s been doing the Ujjayi Pranayama breathing practice.  But Gurudevi Nirmalananda and yoga’s teachings are now on Mom’s radar since she read the book.  She wasn’t much interested before.  Or perhaps I didn’t know how to effectively talk to her about yoga and “the Guru.”

Recently Mom asked, “What’s that name you call your teacher now?”  I responded, “Gurudevi.”  “Well, I can’t remember that, but you can tell her she can work on me now too!”  I marveled to myself that, by writing A Yogic Lifestyle, Gurudevi has already begun her work on my mother.  The Grace (mystical power of revelation) that flows through this book is abundant and easily accessible, even to my mother.  Several reviewers comment on Gurudevi’s approachableness in the opening pages:

“In this beautifully laid out book Swami Nirmalananda Ma provides us with the most profound teaching presented in the simplest way, universal truths presented with a very personal touch…” – Swami Asokananda, President and Spiritual Director, Integral Yoga Institute of New York

“This concise book is simple, clear and penetrating.  Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati guides you through a wide range of down-to-earth, personal explorations of how to live the yoga teachings…”  – Nayaswami Gyandev, PhD, Director of Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation, Co-Founder of Yoga Alliance

“Informed by her profound knowledge of ancient wisdom… her message is to share the guidance that touches the soul, that leads to living a more enlightened life.”- Yogarupa Rod Stryker, author of The Four Desires, founder of ParaYoga, creator of the app, Sanctuary

By becoming a vratin member of Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram, I took vows to live according to the yogic principles.  Gurudevi beautifully outlines them in A Yogic Lifestyle.  I have studied these teachings and read the articles that this book comprises many times before.  Compiling them in this book, Gurudevi has created an amazing resource.  It is gift to anyone — whether experienced or brand new to yoga — who wishes to delve into these universal principles. Gurudevi Swami Nirmalananda presents profound wisdom based in India’s ancient spiritual legacy.  She offers these teachings succinctly, including personal, inspiring accounts relevant to the Western reader.  She does so in service to her Guru, Swami Muktananda Paramahansa, and to you and to me.  Her great reverence and devotion come across in every Grace-fueled word.

A Most Purposeful Place

By Cayla (Mangala) Allen

Journeying on yoga’s path to enlightenment, I can get in my own way and slow my progress.  Yet I do not have to go far to get up to speed again.  Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram offers teachings and practices for enriching, advancing and renewing spiritual progress.

Satguru Nirmalananda, spiritual head of the Ashram, guides me and other seekers at every twist and turn.  Other swamis also reside and teach at the Ashram, along with the support of many yogis doing seva (karma yoga) and an incredible staff.  All are extraordinarily helpful in making sure you find what you need.  Swami Nirmalananda, whom we affectionately call Gurudevi, knows what I need even when I don’t.  The Ashram provides my lifeline, and my lifeline is Guru’s Grace.

The Sanskrit word ashram translates to a place “that frees you from worldly weariness.”  Since ancient times, an ashram is also the place where the Guru lives.  You come to an ashram to step back from worldly demands and receive spiritual teachings.  You dive inward to your own Divine Essence, your Self. 

Because of the deep yogic practices of Gurudevi and the other residents, you notice a palpable atmosphere of peace when attending Ashram programs.  The Sanskrit word for this energy is shakti.  This sacred energy brought the world and everything in it into existence, says yoga, beginning with the Big Bang.  Gurudevi grounds and nurtures the shakti in her Ashram, sourcing the flow that comes to us through her teachings.  This transmission happens even when her teachings reach you through modern day telephone and Internet technology.

For more than 30 years, Gurudevi has extended her mystical teachings into the world, which are now online for free.  Her purpose is to serve seekers of the Divine.  Her teachings and practices reveal your own inherent Divinity to you, guiding you toward Self-Realization.  When you are seeking enlightenment, having a teacher who has already traversed the path is imperative.  She is able help you understand your experiences along the way and guide you to your next step. 

The number of her programs and free services awes me.  It all begins with Gurudevi.  Well, she would say it all comes from her Baba, Swami Muktananda.  She lived in his Ashrams in India and the US for many years.  From that experience of transformation in her own Guru’s presence, she developed the Svaroopa® practices.  Baba Muktananda, of course, would say it all comes from his Baba, Bhagavan Nityananda.  This lineage has passed the authentic, ancient teachings from generation to generation.  Each has infused the practices with their blessings.

We are fortunate to have Gurudevi guiding us through these ancient teachings now.  She keeps them alive in a way we can understand them.  We see how to apply them to our lives in this modern world.  The practices she offers provide an experiential knowing of your innermost Self, Shiva.  When you know this inside, then you look into the world and know this Self is the same in everyone and everything.  This blessing is especially fortunate during the current pandemic.  Gurudevi says, “I cannot treat the Coronavirus, nor help you with your increased hygiene during this time of Social Distancing.  But I can help you with your anxiety and feeling of separation.”

The Freebies on our website offers decades of articles to read and audios to listen to.  During this time of “staying home” for public safety, the Ashram also offers subscriptions to Online Services.  They include online yoga, meditation classes and even home healing retreats via Zoom.  In the Meditation Club you meditate with Gurudevi, other Ashram residents and yogis worldwide.  Thus, her Ashram is a place of powerful spiritual teachings serving seekers everywhere.  They support the Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram’s sacred mission:

We provide yoga and meditation programs and services,

teacher training and a vowed order.

As a conduit of Grace in an ancient yogic lineage,

we serve seekers of Self-Realization.

Taking Care of Your Body is Not Enough

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

Staying home in these times is a way of protecting your body.  The face masks, other protective gear and hand-washing is to protect your body as well as others’, so they’re not exposed to the virus.  These rituals are becoming more normal, which is good because they’re going to continue for quite a while.  Yet this quiet time has proven that merely taking care of your body is not enough.  You get antsy, even feel depressed because you cannot have all that you want.  You want more.

Yoga’s ancient sages knew this about humans.  Mere physical satisfaction is not, ahem, satisfying.  Our mental capacities and need for relationship are as important as physical needs, often more important.  Fortunately yoga’s physical practices empower you to use your body to improve the condition of both your mind and heart — and even more importantly, to open access to your innermost spiritual dimensions. 

Yet it can be confusing. You might think that mastering the poses will make you enlightened.  Nope, it doesn’t work that way.  Working with your body and breath can help you heal traumas that prevented you from being fully present in life.  But that’s not the same as getting enlightened; I call it getting enlivened.

You might think that doing more poses will give you more mental clarity or make you smarter.  Nope, but the physical practice does make you more focused, so you can use your mental capabilities more fully.  Still, it’s not the same as getting enlightened; I call it getting grounded.

Don’t confuse physical and emotional fulfillment with spiritual progress.  For example, your body and heart are fully involved when you fall in love, which can be tremendously exhilarating, but it’s not spiritually uplifting.  A modern-day sage, Ken Wilbur, calls this the “pre-trans fallacy” — that you pursue pre-rational goals but you hope for transcendent fulfillment.  It doesn’t pay off.

Svaroopa® yogis can get stuck in the body, thinking they are fulfilling the goal of life when they trigger a few minutes of bliss every day.  Svaroopa® yoga excels as a way access bliss.  However it is the Bliss of Consciousness, not mere physical bliss.  When you confuse the two, you remain in the pre-rational state that Wilbur warns about:  like an adolescent or like an animal who lacks rational thinking.

How can you tell if you’re using yoga to stay stuck in your body and emotions?  One litmus test is a simple question:  Do you believe anyone can get enlightened in this day and age?  It’s curious that many practicing a spiritual discipline cannot imagine that it delivers on its promise. 

In my years with my Guru, I saw people around him becoming more and more brilliant, shining with the light of Consciousness.  They didn’t parade around with a special hairdo or button that said, “Look at me!”  But how could you not notice their light?  The yogi who cannot see another’s upliftment misses out, not only overlooking others’ brilliance, but also losing out on having a role model who leads the way.

Worst of all, such a yogi doesn’t imagine their own future as being radiant with light.  If you cannot see that someone else can get enlightened, how can you imagine you getting there?  That means your future is limited to getting more of what you’ve already got.  Please reconsider what choices you are pursuing so intently!  Yoga offers you more, so much more.  I recommend you focus on enlightenment.  Your own Self is so close to you — closer than your breath.

Don’t Slacken Now

By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda

Long ago, a king invited a drama company to come perform a play. As the king was known to be stingy, the head actor and his wife were concerned about getting paid.  They put on the play but, as they were near the end, the wife began to falter, despairing about getting paid. 

Her husband, playing a character opposite her, said quietly to her, “Don’t slacken now,” even though it was not a line in the play. The king’s daughter took off a jeweled bracelet and tossed it on the stage as a gift to the players.  

A little later, the wife again lost her focus. Her husband turned to her and said, “Don’t slacken now.”  The king’s son was affected by it.  He took off a ring encrusted with many gems and threw it onto the stage. 

The play continued.  Near the end, again the actor spoke to his wife, to draw her more deeply into her role, “Don’t slacken now.”  The queen took off a pair of emerald earrings, put them together in one hand and tossed them onto the stage. 

The players completed the story to rounds of applause. Then they came over to bow before the king who offered them paltry gifts, just as they had expected. The king said, “There were times you seemed to be faltering, but you said, ‘Don’t slacken now,’ and everybody picked up again.  You managed that very well.  But I don’t understand why my family members were affected so much that they gave such valuable gifts.“

He asked his daughter, “Why did you throw them that expensive bracelet?”  She replied, “I must tell the truth, father.  You won’t arrange a marriage for me because you’re too cheap to give the dowry.  So I was thinking of eloping with somebody. When the actor said, ‘Don’t slacken now,’ I thought, ‘I can wait. I can wait. I can sustain myself a little longer.’  I threw him the bracelet out of gratitude.”

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The king asked his son, “Why did you throw them that ring?” The son said, “You’re never going to give me any power. You keep me under your thumb. I cannot lie.  I was thinking of leading a revolt against you. But you’re my father, I don’t want to do that. So when he said, ‘Don’t slacken now,’ I thought, ‘I can wait. My father is an old man.  He’ll die soon.  I can wait.’  I threw the ring as a gift.”

The king also asked his wife.  She said, “This is the first time you have ever asked me how I felt.  I must tell you true.  You have shown me no compassion or love in our many years together. So my head is turned toward another man. But I have not yet stepped fully into that possibility. I have not taken a lover. I remain true to you, though you don’t make it easy.  When he said, ‘Don’t slacken now,’ I threw them my earrings as a thank you.”

Now is the time to remind yourself: “Don’t slacken now.  Yes, seclusion is hard, even scary, but necessary.  Don’t slacken now.”  Yet there’s a deeper level of teaching in the story: “Your own Divine Essence is so close within, closer than your breath. You don’t ‘become’ Consciousness.  You discover who you already are by looking inward, to the deepest level within.  Meditate!  Don’t slacken now.”  While you have more time available (if you do), this is the time to do more yoga.

Why I Need a Guru

By Sandra (Mukti) Carter, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

I don’t always know I need a Guru,” says Sandra (Mukti) Carter, “and that’s why I need a Guru!”  Stating this paradox, Mukti is direct and clear.  “Sometimes I think I can travel it alone.  I think, ‘Why do I need a Guru?  Kundalini is working inside me.  I can do it alone.’  It’s resistance, of course.  It always comes back to that.  In vichara (guided self-inquiry), I can think I’m starting on something in another galaxy.  Before long, however, there I am, right back in the same place — resistance.

“Being in resistance, and feeling myself pushing Gurudevi Nirmalananda away, is when I need her most.  That’s when I get in front of my puja to pray for help and support.  I struggle with completely surrendering my guard to her.  I also have a sense of not being worthy to ask for her time and attention.  Sometimes I don’t feel I’m fitting into the Vowed Community.  Do I really need to be a vratin (one who is vowed)?  Am I really her disciple?  When I’m resisting, I ask myself whether I really need a Guru.  Yet I have an inner knowing that I do need a Guru.  I crave her deeper teachings.  In Gurudevi’s presence, something amazing always happens, even if only for a fraction of a second.

“Last November’s Shaktipat Retreat was deep and magical.  The February Healing Retreat was extraordinary.  Gurudevi gave me my own set of home practice poses.  They have been so effective.  Yet, I admit, Gurudevi’s guidance and clarity can be hard to take sometimes.  It’s very direct.  Sometimes it might not feel loving and compassionate.  Still, I know it’s coming from a place of intense love.  She wants to get you to Self-Realization faster.”

Reflecting on Gurudevi as a human form of Shiva-ness, Mukti talks more about the disciple-Guru relationship.  “It’s not like I’m hiding anything from her.  She knows everything.  So honesty isn’t about being honest with her.  It’s about being honest with myself.  She knows.  When I try to make stuff sweet and sugary, I’m not fully owning what I’m experiencing.  That, itself, is a block.  I used to try to say the right thing instead of being honest.  Being deeply honest is a big change for me.

“I need a Guru because I want to experience Beingness and Self-Knowingness in this lifetime.  In this moment, I know that.  I know Gurudevi is there.  She has traversed the terrain.  She’s the real deal.  There are lots of teachers out there who are on the path, but she’s arrived.  She is already way beyond where I am hoping to be.  And I know her experience is continuing to deepen. “Gurudevi is my Buzz Lightyear.  To infinity and beyond!”