Learning to Practice the Yamas


By Janaki Murray

Aparigraha, non-greediness, is the most challenging yama for Westerners. I find that it infiltrates all areas of my life in some way, bringing up “subterranean mental and emotional stuff.”

Monopoly Greed


I live in a society that has so much and constantly attempts to cultivate desire for more and more — and yet more. There sometimes seems no end to greed. I see my mind grasping for things I don’t need. I already know I won’t be satisfied when I have them. I’ll just move on to the next thing.  It is made even clearer to me when I leave the city and live out in the countryside for periods of time. Life becomes simpler and my desires and accompanying greediness plummet to zero (well, almost). Aparigraha is so much easier there. I am truly affected by location.

When I read Transcendent Morality, I realize I really need to work on this yama.  And I am grateful for the reminder to cultivate the opposite when my mind is grasping and churning. Swamiji and Vidyadevi recommend this practice as described by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.33: “When your mind is disturbed by improper thoughts, remedy it by cultivating the opposite.”

So how did it go for me? Unsurprisingly, it worked – really well and easier than I expected.

Firstly, I realized I am not as greedy as I thought. I had a long held, irrational belief that went something like: “I have a lot; therefore I must be greedy.” It was important for me to recognize that I am not necessarily exercising greed. I realized that I usually don’t act greedily even given many opportunities. I seldom overeat. I have a modest wardrobe and very little jewelry. I rarely go shopping. I have an ordinary ten year old car. I realized I am having many greedy impulses that I am not acting on. I realize I have been applying myself to this yama for a long time, and I am being too hard on myself. In Just Don’t, the February Teachings article, Swamiji and Rukmini caution us not to be too hard on ourselves while learning to practice the yamas.

Piglet and Pooh Gratitude


I recognize that guilt is the “subterranean mental and emotional stuff” that aparigraha stirs up in me. I feel guilt because I have so much and others do not. It was, and is, easy for me to cultivate the opposite to my feelings of greed and guilt, as advised by Patanjali. I decided their opposites are respectively contentment and gratitude. The effect is instant and complete; calming and quieting my mind and bringing me back to my own Self. As I have grappled with aparigraha, I’ve found much peace in this simple formula. I have gained in capacity to apply this yama in the way the Great Vow intends: with everyone, everywhere, any time and in every situation.

Yet I also have to remember to not be too hard on myself!

Shaktipat Experiences

vibhuti-2Reported by Varadananda King

“Things begin to change from the moment I have the intention, ‘I think I will go to Shaktipat,’” reports Devananda (David) King.  “Swami Nirmalananda begins her work in me. Next, I sign up and make travel plans, and things really start to heat up. I feel more aware of the presence of Grace in my life. With my recent Shaktipat Retreat, I began to feel a slow inner heat as the date approached.

Devananda 4“At the opening session Friday night, I felt great anticipation as our weekend schedule was laid out. By mid-morning Saturday, we were in full swing with arati, chanting, the first Shaktipat and the anticipation of an Ashram lunch. I felt myself lighten, my eyes widened, everything looked clearer and brighter, and we were just getting started.”

Natesh (Nick) Vassiliadis traveled with Devananda to attend the February Shaktipat Retreat.  “Walking into the retreat I was nervous, unsure, afraid, and full of questions. This was my first time ever doing any meditation practice. Mostly everyone else there were veterans. I felt like I was walking into the Amazon rain forest without any gear.

Nirmalananda in India (3)“Pushing my anxiety aside, I made friends and talked with a lot of the other yogis. Everyone was very nice, so I began to feel that nothing could go wrong. I expected that if I had an issue I would be smothered in help and support. Seeing Swami Nirmalananda was amazing. Her demeanor was captivating, her voice laced with wisdom and profundity. I wanted to ask her about my personal problems, but had little chance to do so.”

Devananda continues, “The weekend was artfully crafted to give yogis of all experience levels entry into Divine introspection and Self-awareness.  We had live performances on harmonium and drum, and chanted Sri Guru Gita each morning. Swamiji gave us the teachings of our lineage as only she can deliver, with lots of love, laughter and peacock feathers.

“How the science of awakening manifested in each of us was most important. The flow of events masterfully primed everyone and maximized their capacity to receive. I could see that the new people were visibly changed. The regulars deepened and became more established and composed. I personally felt a new avenue of relationship open up with Swamiji and the world around me. Anything can happen at the feet of the Guru. That is why I am forever grateful for what she has given me and all she has to offer our community.”

shaktipat-retreat.jpg“The Shaktipats were crazy!” exclaims Natesh. “The first one was simple. Although I didn’t feel much, my meditation was very peaceful. The second one was way better. I had a profound realization while meditating. That night I felt lifted up to a higher awareness, closer to Consciousness than ever before. The last Shaktipat was the craziest of them all. The energy was intense. During that meditation I felt expanded, and I felt Oneness. Toward the end, I realized all the questions I had on the first night had been answered — by my Self. I felt complete, at the end of a maze. There was no looking back. It was truly one of the best weekends of my life.”

Ayurveda Practices for Spring

binduBy Bindu Shortt

Aaahhh, spring — bulbs push through the thawing soil, trees and bushes bud, and the sun shines longer each day. Seeking to refresh and renew, all of nature is awakening from winter’s hibernation. In Ayurveda, spring season is called “kapha.” It derives from two Sanskrit words that mean “water” and “flourish” or “nourish.” Qualities of water increase, both in nature outside us and in nature inside us, to nourish new growth.

Our yoga-buddies in the southern hemisphere are enjoying the beginning of fall, explained in a recent blog.   In the northern hemisphere, we are coming out of winter, which is vata season. Inside, we have accumulated vata energies of dryness, cold or feeling vapid-and spacey. In reaction to these excesses, your body may be producing more mucous, in the form of colds, flu or allergies now. You may be holding extra weight from the winter or find that your digestion is really sluggish. As we switch to kapha season, your body-mind wants to clear out the excess qualities from winter to be able to live harmoniously with those of spring. This means a nurturing time of renewed energy, vitality and cleansing.

Ayurveda offers some ways to clean and nourish in springtime. These simple lifestyle practices support your body’s innate capabilities to do both. First, eat your biggest meal midday. At this time the fire of digestion burns hottest. It will also maximize cleansing at a cellular level. Keep breakfast and dinner lighter. For example, eat cooked fruits and grains for breakfast, and soups and light breads for dinner.  Favor the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. Americans are more familiar with the other three tastes — sweet, sour and salty — which pacify vata during winter. In spring, however, we need the other tastes for cleansing.

All leafy greens are bitter, and are best cooked. Asparagus, beets and fennel are also considered bitter. For herbs and spices, bitter turmeric, cumin, and fenugreek all help the body to cleanse from within. Pungent includes the tastes of onions and garlic as well as black pepper, cloves, mustard seeds, and ginger. Along with these pungent ingredients, include the astringent taste. It is found in pomegranates, lentils and beans, quinoa, spinach, apples and pears, avocadoes, and sesame seeds as well as the spices fennel, coriander, and parsley. These foods help to dry up excessive mucous. Throughout spring, use these foods liberally, still keeping most of your meals cooked (not raw).

Begin to rise earlier, just as the sun is doing. Being up by 6 am will help you ride the 6 to 10 am kapha waves of energy, rather than sink into them, accumulating sluggishness and lethargy. Resist the temptation to nap during the day. If you do need to nap, do so sitting propped up, which will keep your body from going into a false sense of nighttime cleansing. Lying down to nap during the day will only leave you more toxic when you wake up.

Keep your daily self-massage going. Even add a second layer to it. Do dry massage first, to deeply stimulate your lymph system to move toxins on through. You can buy a pair of dry massage gloves at the pharmacy. Then you will be ready for the oil massage.

In Ayurveda wisdom, spring is a season of both cleansing and nourishing. Spring Asparagus Kitchari will give you both, helping to release any spring fluid buildup in your tissues and joints.  It’s nice with papadum or homemade chapatti, and serves 4:


1 pound fresh asparagus, rinsed and cut into ½ inch pieces

½ cup rice

½ cup split mung dal

Pinch of saffron

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons ghee


Rinse together the ½ cup rice and the ½ cup split mung dal, soak for at least 30 minutes and then drain.

Dry-roast a good pinch of saffron.

To the roasted saffron, add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, 1½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, and 2 tablespoons of ghee. Sauté until the cumin gives off an aroma.

Add 1/4 cup chopped onion to the spices and ghee, and sauté until soft.

Add the soaked, drained rice and dal plus 6 cups of water or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to medium, and cook for about 45 minutes.

Add 1 pound of rinsed fresh asparagus, cut into ½ inch pieces. Stir gently. Cook another 15 minutes.

This Stuff Works!

Swami - blue chairBy Swami Nirmalananda

I love when new students come in with pain!  Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional pain, and even most medical diagnoses, Svaroopa® yoga helps.  A recent group of Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) students reported that Svaroopa® yoga has helped them with numerous conditions:

  • Sciatica
  • Swayback
  • Mental Clarity
  • Low Energy
  • Overall Wellbeing!
  • Carpal Tunnel
  • Left Knee
  • Energy Level Increase
  • Arthritis In Lower Back
  • Sciatica
  • TMJ Disorder

Yoga Therapy Intensive Adjustment 1Do we give each student different poses for their different conditions?  No.  Of course, we have therapeutic protocols, which we can apply one-on-one to speed the healing process, but in classes we work with the basics:  breath, spinal decompression and the inner immersion into Source.  It’s both simple and profound at the same time.

This same group added in their personal stories:

“I have a great deal of anxiety which svaroopa has helped me with a great deal.”

“I had trouble with pre-rheumatoid arthritis which stays in control with turmeric, diet, yoga, and rest.”

“Svaroopa has helped me with many conditions but mostly chronic pain and anxiety.”

“it has helped with severe back pain significantly and prevented a major surgery.”

“Gosh, I got hooked on Svaroopa yoga because it helped with back pain and anxiety.”

“It continues to change every aspect of my being in a positive way.”

Heroes Post Seated Yoga 1How does it change all these conditions at the same time?  Simply by working on their common cause.  When you decompress your spine, everything in your body, mind and heart responds — positively, quickly, powerfully.  Every chiropractor and osteopath will agree and loves to help you with it.  In Svaroopa® yoga classes, we teach you how to do it for yourself.

But you have to do it!  If you know how, and you don’t do it, it doesn’t help you.  Why are the YTT students reporting such amazing results?  The reason is that they do more yoga than most of their students.

Do more yoga.

Knowing My Self

vibhuti-2Reported by Varadananda King

“The Year-Long Programme gave me so much more than I had hoped for,” says Dana Clark. “It has helped me to understand all the changes I have been experiencing are a result of my practices.  They are the unfolding of who I really am. I’ve learned to not be fearful when those changes are sometimes difficult.

“I find now a different sort of peace — deeper and more lasting. I rest in the knowledge that I am OK. That allows me to express who I am as I follow my dharma. I am excited and look forward to discovering the more that Swamiji shows us is there.”

Frances Amery notes, “In last year’s Year-Long Programme (YLP), Swamiji’s teachings helped me to understand some of the events that had been happening in my meditations as well as in my day-to-day life. The tools Swamiji gave, such as the litany, were most helpful in sorting through the inevitable ups and downs. Having taken several YLPs previously, I find that the flow of Grace is tangible from the very moment I register. Each year, I find the YLP profoundly nourishing on so many levels that I would hate to miss one. Deep gratitude to my dear Guru and fellow yogis who travel this path with me!”

“How to vocalize OM was one of the many powerful takeaways,” says Antaraj~na (Deborah) Mandel. “Swamiji taught us how to properly form the word.  In a meditation with Muktananda’s OM Namah Shivaya playing in the background, I was with Muktananda and singing with him. His mouth opened as he formed OM and a perfect bindu came forth. Once released, it became the Universe. I was One with Muktananda and with the creation of the Universe.”

Describing her profound experiences as a Year-Long Programme student, Brenda Benna recalls, “Each time has been a revelation of the mysteries of things, not explained anywhere else, neither in my education nor in my Christian upbringing. I begin to get a taste of my true nature. It is the Self, I’m told. Regardless of what it is called, it sustains me through the good and the bad of life. It anchors me and supports my journey. When the programme is over, I begin to feel a sense of loss and can’t wait for the next program. The articles and recordings from Swamiji keep me in the flow.

Swami Enlightenment in the Midst of Life“Because I am not able to be with Swamiji in person, the distance learning approach serves me well. I read her articles, listen to her recordings and participate in the conference call discussions with other yogis. This gives me access to the teachings that are the gift Swamiji gives of her Self. The vastness of her knowledge and the truth that she shares so freely is amazing. She opens the portal to the mysteries of life, and allows me access to my true nature. I see the bigger picture. Because she is so thoroughly knowledgeable of the ancient teachings, I don’t need to look anywhere else. She educates me and opens doors that I can easily walk through to uncover what is just a breath away.”

Enlightenment in the Midst of Life, Swamiji’s 2018 Year-Long Programme, begins soon.  Click here to register for the Free Intro Call on February 28th.

Just Do the Practice


By Aanandi Ross

“Just Don’t,” our February Teachings from Swami Nirmalananda and Rukmini Abbruzzi, inspires me to rededicate myself to practicing yoga’s yamas — uplifting lifestyle practices.  I feel the richness of these five practices.  They offer huge possibilities for me; for every human being.  Some have been more up front in my life at different times.  Some have evolved through different stages.  What shall I return to first?

Ahimsa, first on the list, means do no harm to others.  I think of the many spiders I’ve encountered in my life.  I’ve slipped a cup over them, slid a card underneath and carried it all out the door.  It’s never really bothered me too much, except for one time when there was a very big spider, large and thick.  It stopped me right in my tracks.  For a moment I stood in the middle of the kitchen, before remembering to breathe.

Finding my inner warrior, I mustered up the courage to help him or her get back outside.  It felt good to have helped the spider.  Of course, I continue to work on my aggressive impulses when they arise.  My driving habits, however, still offer me something to work on.  Sometimes I still speed, which could be harmful.  Maybe after publicly disclosing this, I won’t anymore.

Practicing satya requires that you speak only truth.  I find speaking only truth so much easier.  Have you noticed this?  It is a practice, and it takes practice.  Yet it is freeing as it simplifies life.  The words flow out so much more easily, even when it’s challenging to tell a truth.  It feels “right” in my gut.

Asteya means don’t steal.  The article reminded me that I caught myself stealing a while back.  At the dentist’s tea table, I had just poured myself a cup of spice tea when I saw another choice — an organic, chocolate mint tea — a flavor I had not seen before.  Oh, how delightful to try later, I thought.  It is not my habit to take extra free goodies.  Doing so on this occasion obviously bothered me on some level because I remembered the incident.  Next time I go to the dentist, I will bring a teabag to leave there.  It’s in my calendar.

Regarding brahmacharya, celibacy, I recall a time in my early twenties when this practice was in the forefront of my life.  I had already discovered that using the vehicle of a persona with a sexual flair was only causing pain and suffering.  I cut my hair short and gained more than a few pounds.  I had a yearning to know who I was beneath and beyond the needs and identities entangled in sexuality.  A quote from Swamiji comes to mind,  ”Work with your strengths and work on your weaknesses.”

Currently, I’m enjoying the practice of aparigraha, no more greediness.  With a shift in my financial situation, I am practicing much more earnestly restraining myself from “grasping for things I don’t need.”  It feels wonderful, putting things in perspective, helping me to re-organize my life.

Practicing yoga’s yamas, offers so much.  They give you great ways to uplift yourself and keep your mind from pulling you out of Consciousness.  In every moment there is choice.  The yamas make this very clear.  Practice the yamas.  Just do.

FAQs about Enlightenment

Swami Enlightenment in the Midst of LifeBy Swami Nirmalananda

Will Enlightenment Improve My Life?

Yes, enlightenment will improve your life, but you’re going to get more than that.  Enlightenment will improve the “you” that is living “your” life.  In Kashmiri Shaivism, enlightenment is called “Self-Realization,” meaning it is about you being more you while you are in your life.  In other words, your life is about you — not about who you know, where you go or what you do.

Will I Have a Life After I Am Enlightened?

Yes, probably the same life you have now, unless (of course) you want to make changes.  It’s easier to identify what changes you want as well as how to make them when you’re enlightened.  But it is also easier to live in the real world, share your life with imperfect people and do things that matter to you.  Why?  You’re less confused, more loving and accepting, better able to speak up for yourself and overall happier (regardless of what is happening).  In other words, enlightenment will improve your life?:

Do I Have to Leave My Life to Get Enlightened?

No.  in fact, everything and everyone in your life is working on you.  They’ll all be much happier when you’re enlightened.  To get there, you do have to prioritize it, which means you cultivate a different perspective, even in the midst of the same things.  As you deepen into your own inner center, your perspective gives you a new way to live as well as a new way to make choices.  Even though there are hard parts along the way, life gets easer and easier.  Of course, there are hard parts in life even when you’re not working on enlightenment, so you may as well go for the gold.

How Do I Learn More? 

Join my 2018 multi-media study programme, Enlightenment in the Midst of Life, which begins in March.  Find out more in my FREE Intro Phone Call on February 28.