Still Experiencing the Joy

By Sonya (Sharaddhananda) McNeill
Interviewed by Marlene (Matrika) Gast

The people in Ganeshpuri have this incredible capacity to make you feel welcome.  It seems deeper than general kindness and hospitality.  I first traveled to Ganeshpuri with Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda in 2013.  On the 2017 trip, I was greeted with a personal warmth that made me feel as though I had returned home.  It was as though they had held me in their hearts for four years.  During my stay I was taken care of in a myriad of ways that I could never have anticipated.

Our group stayed at the Fire Mountain Retreat, headed by disciples of Bhagawan Nityananda.  One of their charitable initiatives is training women in impoverished communities in sewing.  They craft beautiful quilts, coiled fabric purses, placemats and various other items.  I had the opportunity to visit their shop. I met the seamstresses and picked out fabric for quilts for my nieces’ Christmas gifts. After a few days, the head seamstress showed me the base square for each quilt.  My nieces cherish the splendid finished quilts —this piece of India that I brought to them.

My most ecstatic memory is two-fold: the yaj~na (Vedic fire ceremony) and receiving my Sanskrit name from Swamiji the next day.  The Brahmin priests lit the fire by wrapping rope around a slender stick, standing in a long wooden tray filled with light cotton fibers.  A priest held both ends of the rope and pulled it back and forth, feet braced against the tray, twisting the upright stick with all his might.  It reminded me of the Shivaratri story of churning the ocean. 

We all chanted mantra as the priests worked ardently to light the sacred fire.  There was a continuous play of process, being present and letting go of outcome and attachment.  All the while, the Brahmin priests, their faces full of joy, were laughing and chanting. 

They playfully challenged each other. The chanting was like a battle of the bands.  They multitasked, arranging flowers, fruit and other offerings for the fire.  They chanted ancient Sanskrit words with specific intonations.  They marked the beat and emphasis of the words with hand gestures.  It was a miraculous blend of cacophony and melody.

Our group participated in the yaj~na, feeding ghee and other offerings to the fire.  I felt like I fed my “small-s self” to the fire.  I was transformed.  The culmination was my exchange with Swamiji when I took my Brahmacharya vow and received my Sanskrit name.  Since our yaj~na, I have felt continuously supported by Grace.  I’m carried in the midst of my life as though seated on an arati tray as an offering to God.  My transformation continues, mentally and spiritually and I am profoundly grateful.

Why I Teach

By Valerie (Dasi) Light Trautlein. Interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

Becoming a Svaroopa® yoga teacher happened to me in stages.  I started practicing yoga at age 20.  In my mid-20s, I had a profound experience that detached me from the world.  I felt there was nothing left.  But I thought, “I’m here, so I’ll serve God.”  Then I realized I wanted to teach yoga. 

I tried all different kinds of yoga and took a Svaroopa® yoga class.  I fell in love with Svaroopa® yoga and wanted to incorporate it into my home practice.  I borrowed The Primary Practice DVD that first day!  First, I went through the whole DVD, doing the poses.  Re-watching the DVD, I paused it many times to take detailed notes on each pose.  Thus, I could practice them after I returned the DVD.

In 2008, I realized that Svaroopa® yoga was what I wanted to teach.  This happened when my mind quieted completely while I lay in Jathara Parivrttanasana (Rotated Stomach Pose).  Less than a month later, I was off to take Foundations of Svaroopa® Yoga.  My local Svaroopa® yoga teachers had opened the door.  Inside was the Guru.  Once I met Swami Nirmalananda (Rama at the time), I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  She had knowledge I wanted.  She had a deeper presence and a capacity to impact so many people so effectively.  In my Foundations course there were 65 people.  She was impacting all of them.

Over the years, I had tried different kinds of work and odd jobs.  I’d kept thinking, “There must be a career for me out there.”  I tried social work in group homes and being a chiropractic assistant and managing the office.  I cashiered and managed a store.  I taught preschool and people with developmental disabilities.  For a time, I was a self-employed healer.  Nothing worked until I gave myself to teaching Svaroopa® yoga.  Teaching Svaroopa® yoga gives me everything I’ve ever wanted, while I’m doing my job.

Teaching makes my own path easier.  My understanding of the teachings increases.  I understand now that when Swami Nirmalanandaji repeats something it’s really important.  Teaching deepens my experience of the importance of releasing tension around the spine.  And More — teaching brings me closer to my Guru.  The Grace of the lineage is flowing through me as I’m teaching.

But, bottom line, I teach Svaroopa® yoga because I have been blessed with Sadguru Nirmalanandaji as my teacher.  As my Guru, she opens me teaching in a deeply rooted, spiritual lineage.  In Yoga, Sweat and Mysticism, she writes:

…if you read the ancient yogic sages, they say yoga is about who you are, deep inside…  This is yoga — pure mysticism, meaning it is about the mystery of life, the mystery that is hidden inside every human heart and being.

Svaroopa® yoga offers upliftment, freedom and choice.  You learn how to live in a new way.  You honor yourself and your own Divine Self (svaroopa), inherent within you.

Living in the “AND”

By Ruth (Rama) Brooke

“Yoga” can be defined as ‘and’,” explained Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda in a recent Shaktipat Retreat.  This definition is my favorite takeaway from that weekend.  It led me to realize how I’d been living for so long in the “either/or.”

I would berate myself for slipping out of yoga (capital-S Self) and into life (small-s self).  Then I would retreat from life (self) back to yoga (Self) to recover.  I felt like a hamster on a wheel, never getting anywhere.  With all the yoga I do, I thought I shouldn’t experience intense emotional pain.  I shouldn’t have a bothersome, busy mind.  I would become frustrated.  I didn’t know it was possible to live in the “AND.”  The Shaktipat Retreat gave me a whole new perspective.

Swami Nirmalananda gives intentional shaktipat three times during a Shaktipat Retreat.  Other time is spent in blissful preparation, with discourses, meditations and chanting.  Meal breaks nourish the body with blessed food.  Our Guru designs the menus.  The whole experience is thus prasad, Guru’s sacred gift.

On Saturday, Swamiji leads us in the pre-dawn Sri Guru Gita chant and meditation.  After breakfast, as well as a discourse and ecstatic preparation chants, Swamiji gives the first intentional shaktipat.  Although there are three levels of shaktipat — mild, medium and intense — she always gives intense shaktipat.  What a recipient gets depends on their ability to receive. 

At first, I thought that not much was happening for me.  I knew that meant I needed to make myself more available, more vulnerable.  I needed to let go of anticipation and judgment.  As soon as I did, I began to feel the familiar power of Grace.  I felt the shakti rippling through the room and Kundalini rippling through me.

In repeated Shaktipat Retreats, I have learned to let go of expectations.  I’ve experienced similarities and differences in my shaktipat experiences.  I’ve stopped comparing my experiences to that of others.  Shaktipat gives us just what we need.  Our individual experience is customized.

For me, shaktipat is more about what happens when I return to daily life.  Integrating my shaktipat experience there, I am more reliable and more present.  This happens because shaktipat has cleared internal blockages.  My inner knowing of Self deepens.  I feel more secure and stable, even during tumultuous times.  Storms swirling around me do not change who I am on the inside.  I can be in the discomfort that life sometimes puts forth, AND experience my Self simultaneously.

My mind can be busy, even multi-tasking to accomplish what needs doing.  AND I can be present and aware.  My priorities are clearer.  I dive deep and do more yoga.  AND, at the same time, I fit life (and my many small-s selves) in around my Self.  When I notice the disturbances in the atmosphere around me, I know to look inward.  The answers are within. I am grateful beyond words for the power of shaktipat, revelation, Grace and the great Being in our midst, Sadguru Nirmalananda Saraswati.  They are all the One, who shines the light upon us so that we may see the light that we are.

A Yoga Intervention

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Sometimes people need help but don’t know they need it.  When it’s gone to an extreme, an intervention might be called for.  Interventions are designed to help then see how bad it is as well as show them they have other options to choose from and people who will help.  It’s a gut-wrenching, heart-opening experience whether you’re intervening or being targeted with such love.  Yoga is much the same.

The ancient sage Patanjali defined yoga as an intervention for your mind.  His second sutra is a “definition sutra,” yoga is the quieting of your mind.  All of yoga’s practices are for the purpose of quieting your mind, including poses, breathing practices, chanting, study, devotions and more.  As an intervention, yoga is supremely effective.  Do a little yoga and your mind is more peaceful.  Do more yoga and your mind settles into a deeper dimension.  It’s a doorway to meditation.

Hopefully you catch yourself before you’re lost in the extremes of what your mind can do to you.  The mind’s capacity to harass you is already proven.  Taken to an extreme, a true intervention might be called for.  But yoga pulls you back from the self-created precipice, providing not only health and beauty, but a new perspective on life that gives you sanity.  The most powerful of yoga’s tools for this purpose are things you do to work with your mind directly, the meditative practices.

To understand the importance of yoga’s intervention, simply try to meditate after a busy day.  Your mind keeps going even though your body has come to a halt, seated in your meditation pose.  Buddhist meditative systems have you watch your mind or breath.  Yogic systems have you intervene with your mind and direct its attention inward. 

It’s mystical, seeing how easily this works, especially when you’re doing it with someone who has been trained and authorized to move you through the process.  I learned from a great Meditation Master from India.  He trained me how to help you get past your mind to the deeper dimension within.  He also authorized me to share this ancient system with you, so you don’t get trapped in your mind any more.

More Than One-Per-Second

By Annie (Aanandi) Ross

Being driven to my dentist, I was feeling anxious.  A filling had fallen out of a tooth.  I didn’t know whether it could be repaired or whether it would be extracted.  I had just read Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda’s March Teachings: Elevate Your State.  I needed to elevate my state, so I took her “quick fix challenge”:

Your quick fix for the month is to do two minutes of mantra repetition.  Stop whatever you are doing and apply your mind to mantra.  Watch the clock. See if you can repeat more mantras than one-per-second!

I closed my eyes and started repeating mantra out loud, very fast — very, very fast.  Well, I never thought of going so fast.  I began to feel a sensation.  My chest vibrated, both in the front and in the back.  Inside, I felt joy, bliss, delight and laughter well up.  I knew I was the one All-Beingness.  I was both the One-All, and the One being me, in my individual form, simultaneously.  It was ecstatic.

This elevated state reminded me of a similar experience the day before.  I had visited a beautiful Hindu Temple, tucked away in a small corner room of a Dartmouth College chapel.  I go there sometimes to share in their nightly evening puja.  On the evening of March 4th, I had attended their Maha Shivaratri Puja.  During it, abhishek (a holy bath) was performed for Shiva. 

For the congregation, worshiping — in ways our Sadguru teaches us — is second nature.  Their chanting was continuous.  In this sacred space, fragrances were intoxicating.  Many candles blazed.  Near the end, bells rang and rang, from the front and back of the room.  The ringing vibrated in my ears, on and on.  I felt vibration in my chest.  I felt that everything was All One, and being all, at the same time.  I felt the vibration of Beingness.

The Maha Shivaratri Puja elevated my state.  So did my two-minute, fast repetition of the mantra I have received from Sadguru Nirmalananda.  I experienced what she describes in her March Teachings:

All-Beingness becomes pure vibration, which splinters itself into many individual vibrations.  These vibrations are mantras…

To know the “more” that you already are… you need an enlivened mantra, one passed down through the generations of yoga Masters.  Such a mantra gives you your “capital-S Self,” the experiential knowing of your own Divinity. In delight, I understand experientially.  Thank you, Swamiji.

DIY Experiences

By Marlene (Matrikaa) Gast

DIY usually means “Do It Yourself” but, at the Ashram, it’s about how you “Deepen It Yourself.”  Each DIY long weekend cultivates your mastery of the practices that make the biggest difference.  Students describe their experiences below, to give you a look at the many DIY benefits:

All my DIY experiences have been wonderful.  These programs are exquisitely crafted and executed, designed for maximum results.  The teachings, the asana, the home program practice, and the follow-up phone calls.  Perfect. — Connie M.

Poses are taught and taken apart so that I could understand the subtle nuances.  The pose handouts describe each pose from beginning to end. — Deena R.

The poses, gorgeous chanting, vichara (guided self-inquiry), meditations and discourses — all conspire to take you to that unshakable depth.  And the luxury of time with Swami throughout the weekend was a great, great gift. — Deborah W.

It enlivened me on many levels: body, mind and spirit.  As a result, I am now able to practice asana and meditation daily.  I experienced the “Peace that Passeth Understanding” in a profound way and got tools to continue doing so. — Barbara B.

The balance of poses, chanting, meditation and Swami’s discourses all leads you inward to Self.  Each one builds on the next, creating “aha’s” as well as “aaaaaaaa-hhhhhhhhhh’s.” —Ellan C.

This exceptional program is well created to open you up to all levels of your being: physically, emotionally and most important spiritually.  You are carefully guided into a deeper level of consciousness, your own Self. — Loretta F.

In this immersion retreat, we spend so much delicious time with Swamiji; these programs are very personal.  These retreats are gems. — Belle M.

It was so transformational.  It has deepened my practice and my life. — Marilyn A.

Grace flows through the whole program like a river.  The more I swim in this river of Grace, the more I abide in Grace. — Judith K.

Amazing integration of Svaroopa® yoga practices and lovely interactive time with Swami. Great integration for return home.  I’m so blessed to have had this time with other dedicated yogis and the depth and length of time with Swami. — Barbara H.

Ayurveda for Kapha Season

By Maureen (Bindu) Shortt

The three Ayurveda seasons roughly follow cultivation cycles.  This means the Ayurveda seasons vary among different geographies.  In the USA, we look at Kapha season running from March through June.  This is when the earth awakens from her winter slumber.  She sends out tender shoots, which the animals eat for cleansing.  Most crop planting happens during this time.  It is a season of heavy cold moistness, both in the fields and in your body.

During winter, November through February, we eat to support the warmth and immunity needed to make it through cold months.  Winter’s cold dryness can prompt your body and mind to compensate by over-producing mucus.  It can settle in your digestive tract as ama or toxicity.  In spring, your body and mind want to clear out any accumulated ama and rejuvenate through all levels of tissues.

Your digestive tract runs from your mouth through your esophagus to your stomach and small and large intestines.  The organs that support digestion also can get congested.  These include your liver, gall bladder and your sinuses.  (Yes, your sinuses!)  Digestion is meant to contribute eighty percent of your daily energy.  Your digestion can be so compromised that it depletes eighty percent of your daily energy.  Unfortunately, this is the case for most people.

Season of renewal and growth, spring is a great time to clean out and strengthen digestion.  Agni is the Ayurvedic word for the digestive element, likened to fire.  This fire transforms food into tissues and energy.  Agni is also considered the fire of intelligence.  Certainly, your digestive system has its own innate intelligence whereby the thousands of processes happen.  In this way agni is a bridge between our physical and non-physical selves.  It ultimately digests and transforms all our experiences.  Hence the importance of keeping it running strong.  This also explains why, in Ayurveda, digestion is called “the gateway to your health.”

To support your digestion, and thus your health, stoke your agni with four simple steps:

  1. Eat your meals at about the same time each day. When you do, your digestion will start to produce its enzymes about 20 to 30 minutes before your next meal.
  2. Eat only at meals. If you snack between meals or chew gum, digestion becomes strained as it tries to produce digestive juices it was not anticipating.
  3. Choose foods that support strong digestion. Cold foods and beverages, leftovers, fried foods, heavy combinations of two or more proteins, drinking a lot with meals — all inhibit the fire of digestion. Warm, cooked meals of grains, beans, fruits and veggies are all easily and completely digested.
  4. Cultivate your digestive consciousness. Don’t read or use technology while eating. Sit still and give awareness to your digestion as divine intelligence.

To help with digestive strengthening and cleansing this spring, try Turmeric Black Pepper Tea:

Bring to a boil 2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of turmeric and ¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper.

Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Then it’s your choice whether you strain the tea through cheesecloth or, like I do, just pour it in the cup.

You can add a little sweetener such as honey. This tea is also a great anti-inflammatory drink. Once you’ve made it once and tasted it you will know if you want to adjust the turmeric for more or less bitterness and the pepper for more or less pungency.