Monthly Archives: December 2016

New Year Ritual

By Swami Nirmalananda

We’re instituting a ritual at the Ashram for the new year — out with the old and in with the new. Having just posted the “Yoga Holy Days” on our website, I am adding celebrations of Western holidays to our Ashram events. Though they are rarely treated as holy-days, the sacred is present in everything, so let’s uncover it!

new-year-ritual-1New Year’s Eve is a night of lights, music, connecting with other people and ushering out the old. It’s supposed to presage your resolutions for the new year as well. Our Ashram resident event includes all of the above, both the night before and the morning of the new year.

New Year’s Eve — review and honor the year

We are beginning with arati (candle flame ceremony) to Nityananda and to Muktananda, as we do every evening. For Nityananda, we chant Jaya Jaya Arati Nityananda, which is on Honored Guru Gita (available in our shop or on iTunes). For Muktananda, we chant Jyota se Jyota, which is available here.

For our New Year’s Eve ritual, we’ll use birthday cake candles with lots of different colors to choose from. Taking turns, we will each describe an event or experience from 2016 that we’d like to honor, lighting a candle for it. Depending on the number of people, you might need to limit the descriptions.

We will place each candle on an arati tray by dripping a drop of wax on the stainless steel tray and then holding the base of the candle in the wax until the candle stays in place. This tray will be placed in front of Nityananda.

Then we’ll chant mantra for 20 minutes or more, followed by meditation. The candles will burn out during the chant & meditation.

At the end, we ring the gong three times and end with OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h.

New Year’s Morning

new-year-ritual-2Baba always said that what you do on the morning of the new year sets the tone for the whole year. Thus, we are beginning with an abhishek, the formal ritual bath of our Nityananda murti.

As part of that ceremony, we’ll also light personal candles, one per person, to set an intention or plan for the new year. A “Resolution,” you might say. Each one will hold their candle as they state their resolution. Then each uses their candle to do arati, as we all chant to Nityananda and wave our flames together. The candles will be offered to Nityananda, again placing them on the arati tray and letting them burn down on their own.

Please join us in our ritual from your home or with others who share your practices. Click here to send us reports of your experience of this ritual!

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Ayurveda: Making the Most of Winter

binduBy Bindu (Maureen) Shortt

With seasonal changes, nature’s energies shift, both outside as well as inside us. We are healthiest, clearest and most content when we are living in harmony with the flow of nature’s energies season to season.  As yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda makes this easy to understand through the three doshas (embodied energies):  vata, pitta and kapha.  Each dosha is a blend of the energies found in nature, in a formula that are unique to each person.

From November through February, the northern hemisphere puts us in the vata season. Nature slows down as plants become dormant and animals hibernate. We have less invigorating sunshine and more calming darkness. Winter’s qualities of cold, light and drying make it a vata season. Think of those chapped lips you get.

Being the wind energy, vata moves in quickly, so mostly everyone has vata imbalances. They become worse during winter. You may find these qualities accumulating in your body and mind as insomnia or anxiety, dry skin, constipation and a spacey feeling. Perhaps you can’t get or stay warm. You may feel overly stimulated. It’s not just from the holidays! The remedy is to create a seasonal routine that is adaptive to the winter energies. You will find that this will keep you in balance with fewer colds and influenza, and or return you to a state of Ayurvedic balance.

australia-retreat-photo-4To balance a season’s qualities, it is important that your daily routine includes their opposites. Thus, you incorporate warming, heavy and moisturizing qualities into your daily lifestyle (dinacharya). Let your food choices gravitate toward soups, stews, cooked veggies and fruits, hot cereals and teas. Avoid salads, raw foods, ice cream and cold drinks. Nuts and seeds, with their warming oils, are good winter foods. They provide the extra protein that our metabolism needs to keep us warm. Cook with warming spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper combine effectively for winter foods and beverages. Think chai (India-spice tea).

In the rest of your life, use this season to cultivate the warmth of friendship and family. And keep your body warm, especially your neck and head. I invite you to join the wear-a-scarf-everyday-in-the-winter club, of which I am a dedicated member!

A daily self-massage with sesame oil can help your nervous system as well as keep you warmer. Heavy, sweet scents like geranium, frankincense and vanilla balance vata. Listen to soft, mellow music. Guitar, harmonium melodies or even singing bowls can comfort vata. Practice stillness, letting go of the vata impulse to do, do, do.

Below is a simple chai recipe. Vata loves to play, so do play with the amounts of the spices to your heart’s content:

  1. teaBoil 2 cups of water with a few whole peppercorns, slices of fresh ginger, cardamom seeds, cloves, and a cinnamon stick for 10 minutes.
  2. Lower the heat to a simmer.
  3. Add cow’s milk or another type such as almond or rice and a decaf black tea bag.
  4. Simmer the brew for 5 minutes.
  5. Sweeten to taste and strain into a cup.

Just eyeball the amounts of spices without the need to measure everything. Doing so makes this vata-satisfying recipe easy to enjoy daily.

Every Day Is a Holy Day

yogeshwaree up to dateYogeshwari Fountain

Holidays are filled with family memories and traditions, interwoven into the fabric of who we are. This month’s contemplation article, “Celebrating Light,” by Swamiji and Rukmini made me contemplate the most meaningful for me: the Christmas Eve lighting of the candles.

Around midnight the church deacons dim all the lights and the angelic voices of the choir begin singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Then, from one end of the pew to the other, each person lights another’s candle. As the sanctuary slowly fills with light, our voices join together in tender melody. From the time I was a little girl, the magic of this moment filled my heart. To this day, it still does, yet there’s a difference.

As a yogi, I expect every day to be filled with the light of that newborn babe: Consciousness born, over and over again, in every moment, in every heart, no matter what is happening on the outside.

This does not describe religion. This is mysticism: the ability to see the Divine in All; to experience the hidden mystery of your own inner Self. With this understanding, a yogi can love and respect all religions.

Sutra 8 of the Pratyabhijinahrdayam explains: “Consciousness becomes many different traditions to meet the needs of so many different people.”

We are all unique expressions of the one Divine Reality. Knowing this makes every day a holy day.

candleWhen you are not feeling the sacred in your everyday, you’ve lost the Self. You feel “empty, needy and incomplete.” Then, when the holiday hoopla kicks in, you’re more easily seduced by the excesses and false promises of the season. But yoga gives you independent bliss — an ever-arising fountain of joy that overflows into your life and into every relationship. Now you can give from a place of fullness, needing nothing in return. Such is the freedom of the Self! In this way, you could see celebrations as a Marker Pose, to see how far you’re coming along in your inner and outer journey.

Christmas Eve is one of those sacred moments when my Christian roots merge with my mystical life as a yogi. The passing of the candle flame has an even deeper significance for me as well. Verse 109 of the Guru Gita describes the gift of the Guru:

Nityam brahma nirakarm nirgunam bodhayet param

Just as one lamp lights another lamp, the Guru imparts the knowledge that everything is Brahman (God).  — rendered by Swami Nirmalananda

CIMG9902.jpgWhere can you go that God is not? Without the Guru lighting my inner lamp with her Cosmic Light, I would still be stumbling around in the shadows of my small “s” self. I’d still be looking for others to fill me up. But Swamiji has given me my Self, revealing a rich dimensionality to whatever I am experiencing. The carol “Silent Night” describes this inner state perfectly: “All is calm, all is bright.” Being attuned to my innermost essence, while being open to everything around me, makes every moment, in every day, a holy day.

Om svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

In Gratitude for Sacred Ground

amala-photoBy Amala Cattafi, SVA Board President

I deeply thank each of you who have so generously and graciously committed yourselves to the ongoing financial health of your Ashram. Your practice of dakshina, supporting your Guru and her Ashram financially, moves me deeply. Clearly your contributions are an outpouring of love. Practically speaking, of course, this love-in-action means so much to our continuing operations, making Ashram services and programs possible.

Your love is also an essential element in the upliftment that infuses all of us on this path. It’s easy to see how Swamiji and our whole lineage make the Ashram into sacred ground. Yet, so do you! Through your Svaroopa® practices, and your deep inner experiences, everything you touch becomes sacred.

I recently visited the World Trade Center in New York City. While I had been to the original Twin Towers many times and even stood at Ground Zero just days after the attacks, this was my first trip to the memorial.  My family and I were very aware that this was sacred ground, born of tragedy and loss. By the time we reached the observation deck at the building’s top, all of the sadness and focus on the past, present in the memorial and felt in our hearts, completely dissolved. Renewal, hope and a deep joy filled our hearts. It happened in that moment when the elevator doors swung open so we could see for miles and miles. We viewed the vast world from this higher perspective. How yogic!

amala warriorHere in the closing days of 2016, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your participation in the Ashram.  Together we create the sacred space of the Ashram, not created from grief or pain but arising from the clarity, love and grace of the Guru, made available to all who seek to know their own Self.  I wish you all a new year filled with that higher perspective that allows you to see all that is sacred in your life and being.

Om svaroopa svasvabhava namo namah

In loving service,
Amala Cattafi

Grateful for the Journey

gayatri-2By Gayatri Hess, SVA Board Member

As a young child and teen, I felt much longing, yet uncertainty about what life was all about. When I tried to make sense of the world around me, I created a life of fear, dissolution, doubt and manipulation. I created many walls and barriers in attempting “self-preservation.” I grew older, got married and began having children. With these relationships, the walls began to crumble a bit, yet my longing was still acute.

One day, my family was hiking up a beautiful winding path to my husband’s favorite vista.  He carried our son on his shoulders, and I held our daughter’s hand. We took frequent stops, since I was also pregnant with our third child. We talked about what we saw and heard. My daughter repeatedly asked if we were there yet. I explained it was not about the “getting there” but the journey along the way. When we did make it to the look out, she exclaimed, “The journey was good. But WOW, it sure is great when you get here too!”

Her statement touched me deeply, creating an opening deep within. I recognized my life is the journey, and the longing is a guidepost directing me to something that I had grown to trust is for my highest good. I had spent many years trying to squash or fix the longing. At this moment, I knew it was time to try something different and maybe lean into the longing.

a-sublime-path-1That led me to Swamiji, Svaroopa® yoga, our Ashram and, most recently, becoming a Board member. What Grace fuels my journey! How blessed and honored I am to be part of this kula, this sacred community. What fertile ground Swamiji has created for each of us. It gives us so many opportunities to deepen into Self. How blessed I am to have found my Guru in this lifetime. To come back in human life is sacred, and to be willing to “lean into the longing” and find my Guru is such a gift.

This realization leads me to ask, “What can I do to give back or to support more?” The more yoga I do, the deeper I go.  Doing more yoga deepens my understanding of the practices. That, in turn, fuels my desire to do the practices more, and with gratitude and intention. I also become aware of a deepening gratitude and reverence for Swamiji and what she gives so freely. I want to support this and my growing kula.

What a gift the practice of dakshina is! My gratitude can flow through this energy of money. I gratefully gift through dakshina in order to support Swamiji and our Ashram. Monthly donations support her in serving as our Guru, Spiritual Teacher and Svaroopa® Yoga Master Teacher. Just as props support me in my asana practice and give me more release, dakshina supports Swami Nirmalananda, Svaroopa® Yoga & Meditation, our Teacher Trainers and all of our programs.  Click here to donate monthly, increase your monthly donation or give a one-time amount, of any size.

Gratitude & Giving

Peter

By Peter Gallagher, SVA Board Member

Since the US Presidential Election, I am even more grateful for Svaroopa® Sciences practices. I feel a strong impulse to do more yoga! I know the Svaroopa® Sciences have given me a pathway to my Self, where I really belong. The ability to be in the Self is standing in a place of eternal safety, no matter what is spinning around us on the outside. What a tremendous gift!

As a young child, I stood on dunes overlooking the ocean in the eye of a hurricane. While in the center of a mighty force of nature, I had a sense of safety. It was late August 1954, on Fire Island NY. Hurricane Carol had moved up from Cape Hatteras overnight. Boats were washed up on walkways, but for the time that the eye of the storm passed over us, the sky was blue and the breeze was gentle. Then the other side of hurricane approached. The wind came up again, and the ocean erupted in 30–40 foot waves. I didn’t need to be told to run fast, back to the safety of my grandparents’ house.

With our recent election, I feel a wind rising. Yet being in the Self is standing in the eye of the storm. Following the path defined by our Svaroopa® Sciences, we can always find our way inward to the infinite peace of our own Self. My gratitude for this gift is immense. Maybe that’s why Thanksgiving is still on my mind. Swami Nirmalananda’s recent 70th birthday is still on my mind as well. These two celebrations continue to stir my thoughts about gratitude and giving.

Most folks think of Thanksgiving Day as a holiday for giving gratitude. But I was born on Thanksgiving Day, so I think of it as receiving gifts as well. Of course, Thanksgiving doesn’t always fall on the actual date of my birth. But over the years, my birthday was always observed within a wider family celebration, including my grandparents, aunts and uncles along with 13 cousins. As a kid I used to say that my mother got me instead of a turkey! And I got plenty of birthday presents.

8-copySwamiji’s birthday was celebrated far and wide by Svaroopis. In Downingtown at Lokananda, local Svaroopis enjoyed dinner and homemade carrot cake followed by an evening Satsang. Devapriyaa (Denise) Hills shared, “To celebrate I did Arati, chanted with Baba, Meditated and lit some candles on cake. What a blessing that Swamiji was born to be a Guru in my lifetime.”

In Vermont, Rama (Ruth) Brooke and fellow Svaroopis at her studio celebrated with birthday tea and carrot cupcake prasad after their morning yoga class. In San Diego, Carole Balcombe and Jean Glover shared a birthday message, “Happy Birthday Swamiji. Thank you for the Svaroopa® Sciences.”

Yet instead of receiving presents, Swamiji gave us Svaroopis a new website as a source of yoga’s mystical teachings: www.yogamysticism.today. In announcing it to the SVA Board, blog-photoSwamiji said, “It’s my birthday present to the community.”

Swamiji’s birthday gift to us gave me an idea. While I still get birthday gifts, they are smaller and absolutely practical. As you get older, you’ve got enough stuff. You don’t need or want more. My mother-in-law typically gives me a gift certificate. It’s enough for a nice new robe, or similar items that wear out and need to be replaced. Inspired by Swamiji’s birthday gift to us, I had an idea about how to pass on my “gift certificate” present to the Ashram.

While I do have an established monthly donation, I will give an extra gift to the Ashram — the money I would have spent on the new robe my mother-in-law’s gift certificate provided. Much as Swami has done on her birthday, I feel the impulse to celebrate the gift of my own life and, more recently, the gift of the Svaroopa® Sciences bestowed on all of us by Swamiji.

As our major gift-giving holidays approach, you too might want to open to this practice. For every gift that you receive that comforts or delights you, consider giving the Ashram what you would have spent had you bought it for yourself. When gratitude arises within us, that expansion makes us want to give back. Consider what you receive and figure out how to pass that on.

If you are not a monthly donor, consider becoming one. If you are a monthly donor, consider increasing your donation in an amount that fits your current budget. Or perhaps give the Ashram a celebratory one-time gift just to say “thank you.”

When you do so, you engage in dakshina to support Swami Nirmalananda, Svaroopa® Yoga & Meditation, our teacher trainers and all of our programs. Click here to make your donation, just for the joy of giving back in response to all you receive.

Mundane Pilgrimages

kristineBy Kristine Freeman, SVA Board Member

Dragging my suitcase up Lokananda’s steep stairs, I feel abundant joy. I am arriving on sacred ground. How happy I feel is just crazy! Swami Nirmalananda explains, “People travel great distances on pilgrimage to many famous places including Mecca, the River Ganga, Jerusalem, Rome, the Pyramids, Ayers Rock in Australia, and more. Whatever you find there is simply a finding of the sacred inside yourself.”

stairs-1At Lokananda I am steeped in bliss as well as Swami Nirmalananda’s teachings. This experience increases my capacity to find the sacred within myself even when I am in everyday spaces and places. On my daily walk in the woods, I turn my phone off and no longer listen to music or use a step counter. Having eliminated these distractions, I see the Divine and sacredness all around — and as my own Self within. With my attention turned inward, the sights and sounds of the outer world register in me differently. I can hear and see sacredness in birds, a deer, the river and trees. I experience the joy in them. That’s a direct result of having been at Lokananda. The lasting power of true pilgrimage is to imprint Divine Consciousness on your mind.

Of course, I find myself in plenty of situations where the Divine can seem far away. For example, grocery shopping can be a challenging trial. You navigate a maze of distractions in a buzz of activity, dodging other shoppers’ carts and finally interacting with a hyper-focused, stressed cashier. How about standing on sacred ground as you wait in line at the post office? It’s so easy to tune into your own sacred Self at Lokananda with its light-filled spaces, and saturated with the Grace and Shakti of our Guru. It takes an advanced state to find that sacred ground at the grocery store or post office. I’m not there yet. Yet now I am aware of not being there.

IMG_20160205_205505 - CopyThe awareness itself is priceless. It shows me the value of regular practice of yoga asana, meditation, seva, and dakshina — “giving back.” They all support me in an ongoing, transformative process. They outfit me for the daily journey wherever it takes me. Inside, the yearning to know my Self pulls me ever deeper within even as I move forward. I am grateful that Swami Nirmalananda makes the sacred teachings so available at Lokananda, in satsangs there and in local communities, and via her free audio recordings of discourses and contemplations.

No matter where I am, through her teachings, I stand on sacred ground. I can perceive the Truth in everything — it’s all Consciousness. The Divine is never far away. Everyday life was always sacred, I just couldn’t see it that way. What a gift to be able to appreciate the sacredness in everyday life.

In gratitude, I practice dakshina, contributing financially to the Ashram regularly. Offering dakshina changes you, just as do the other yogic practices. The amount of money does not matter. Any amount is beneficial to the Ashram in spreading the teachings widely. Giving back in gratitude for the gifts you have received feels just wonderful! You honor your own Self as you allow yourself to act from your generous nature. Click here to donate.