During this pandemic, all of us are experiencing “quiet time.” It reminds me of a really long snow day, or of the wonderful feeling I have on Christmas morning when everything seems to come to a stop. With no traffic outside, serene quiet settles upon the earth. Now this quiet time is even more universal, cutting across religions, affecting communities near and far. Even the days are rolling into one another, offering an experience of near timelessness.
In Pathways to Bliss, Gurudevi says, “The bliss is inside, but you’ve been looking outside. Thus, having your usual haunts be closed right now is beneficial.”
My meditations are easy and deep. It’s as though the whole earth is supporting and holding a timeout for going deeper within. I am so grateful for this quieter time to rest, reorganize, shake out the rugs, and decide what’s most important. I offer japa (mantra repetition) for the healing of the world, feel gratitude, and do more yoga!
Gurudevi continues, “…in the time you’ll be spending at home, you could learn a new language or to play a musical instrument. Or you could do more yoga, even with online classes and programs. You choose. While learning something new broadens your mind, yoga expands your bliss.”
What a gift is this time to dive deeper! It turns out to be an unexpected pathway to bliss. Except for life-sustaining errands such as food shopping, there’s nowhere we can go. Instead, we can redirect our seeking inside. It turns out that being home-bound is the “trailhead” for trekking inward to bliss.
As Gurudevi quoted in her blog, “when a door closes, another one opens.” There were already so many online articles and phone opportunities through svaroopa.org. Yet, right after stay-at-home orders were issued, Gurudevi sprang into action to provide so many more opportunities for connection — the Japa Club, the Meditation Club, online yoga classes, philosophy discussion group, a satsang subscription program, training for teachers who are offering online classes to their students and much more.
My experience is one of gratitude. But even more than gratitude, of connection. I live alone and far from any other Svaroopa® yoga teachers, classes or communities. Once the magnitude of this pandemic became apparent, I realized that I really needed to “up my game” in terms of my own practices — more asana, more meditation, more Japa. Humm, where have I heard that before??
I am especially grateful for the Japa Club with those ecstatic excerpts from Baba Muktananda’s writings that Gurudevi brings to us. She gives us countless reminders of how to interweave “OM Namah Shivaya” into the moment by moment experiences I am having.
The Meditation Club is helping me “up my game.” Embedded in the opening chant “Jyota se Jyota” is the reality of what happens when we meditate together in this lineage — “Light my inner flame with your flame. Teacher of Truth, awaken my inner light.” Grace flows even stronger whenever we meditate together, even over the phone! That is truly amazing.
At the end of the meditation, we repeat mantra together, offering the benefits of mantra to all those who have been affected by this pandemic. For me, that offering is going to the whole world.
We are all being affected by this pandemic, some more, some less. The big takeaway for me has been that I am not alone. I am connected, not just to family, friends, yoga community and to my Guru, but to the whole world. It is the experience of that connection that is changing me.
A few days after the magnitude of this event began to sink in, at the end of one of our Japa Club calls, I continued to sit for an additional 45 minutes. The experience of inner expansion continued to deepen. I felt bigger, lighter, sweeter and so full. At the end of my sitting, I felt connected to the whole world. I don’t want this feeling to end.
People are saying we’re all in this together, as if it’s a new thing. How were we ever not in this together? We all share the same reality, we’ve all come from the same place. We’ve always all been in this together, but now we know it. That is such a good thing.
I spoke to a dear yogi friend the other day who expressed some guilt about her blissful experiences during this pandemic. It occurs to me that bliss is what completes us, what makes us whole and what we as yogis can offer to the world.
There is a phrase that keeps coming back to me. It is what flight attendants say just before the plane takes off. “Put your own mask on first before assisting others.” It relates to what I said about another yogi who said they feel ecstatic but feel guilty because of what is happening in the world. It’s not necessary to feel guilty about feeling ecstatic. The world needs yogis right now because there is so much fear and death and destruction. The world needs this bliss, this peace, this groundedness that true yogis embody.
We can’t give to someone else what we don’t have. So, put your own mask on first. It’s almost like a natural law. How can you help other people if you have nothing to give them? It comes back to working on the inside, discovering what is in us. That absolutely has an effect on what is happening on the outside around us.
The lessons that are available from this global event are truly encyclopedic. Am I allowing that information to sink in? How can I absorb it all? Gurudevi has given us a way. All we have to do is use it.
My yoga therapy client Robin experienced small miracles for a couple of years. Then her most recent yoga therapy miracle took an unexpected form. She began in 2018, coming in with pain in her ribs and neck. Her ribs hurt her every afternoon; her neck was so stiff she couldn’t move it. She also had a tremor in her right hand. She took my Svaroopa® yoga class, where her hand visibly trembled in every Seated Side Stretch when she extended her right arm.
I started her with Ujjayi Pranayama. I continued to start every session with at least a brief Ujjayi experience after she established the breathing practice at home. Ujjayi is a wonderfully portable practice that alleviates a multitude of problems. I encourage my clients to make it a habit, because “wherever you go, you can take it with you.”
And with regular practice, small miracles happen. Sometime during her first year of therapy, I noticed Robin no longer had the tremor in her right hand. I exclaimed, “Robin, you don’t have your tremor!” Since she hadn’t come to yoga therapy for that problem, she didn’t even notice its absence. It seemed she’d forgotten she ever had a tremor.
Our culture’s “move it or lose it” exercise focus keeps Robin active with hiking and kayaking. When she comes for a session afterward, she says, “My body hurts.” I explain that her strenuous activities tighten spinal muscles. Just as she didn’t notice the healing of her hand tremor, she doesn’t take in that her hiking and kayaking cause neck and shoulder pain. After completing the Svaroopa® Yoga Therapy training for Neck & Shoulders, I focused on those protocols in Robin’s sessions. I also encouraged her to do poses after her exercise. At the end of a September 2019 session, Robin said, with pleasure, “I have a happy neck. It hasn’t felt this good in a long time.” Ah, another small miracle!
However, later in the fall, I became aware that Robin still didn’t “get” the unique, profound power of yoga therapy. I’d recently completed the Spine, Knees & Feet therapy training when she began to complain of knee pain. I was eager to apply the new protocols. Sure enough, I would measure the significant improvements in her knee alignments after each session. And Robin would report freedom from the pain she’d brought into her session. Over the winter, she also reported, “Yoga therapy is helping me not have that down feeling.”
Even with another couple of small miracles, Robin decided to have knee surgery. Many of her friends were having knee surgeries. She was sold on this cultural trend among Baby Boomers. It was after her surgery that the unexpected miracle unfolded.
Once Robin could drive, she was eager to come in for a session — just because she loves them. I did not want to put her into poses yet since her replaced knee was in question. So I gave her an Embodyment® yoga therapy session, during which she merely lay in Shavasana. With the first session, the swelling in her knee was reduced and her low back felt better. As well, the release of shoulder tension spread into her neck. I told her, “You did nothing, yet look at what these therapeutic protocols did for you.” In her second Embodyment® session, Robin had a deep, transformative experience. After her first side, Robin said, “I see colors, and I’m more relaxed.” When I asked what she noticed as she rested at the end, she described, “I’m aware of everything outside and inside. I can feel something flowing through my whole spine.” She experienced the promised miracle of this mystical lineage: the awakening of the primordial energy of creation flowing up her spine. What could be more healing?
I learned about undercurrents in the Pacific Ocean when I was a teen. I loved to go into the surf and paddle around for a while, but found that I was nowhere near my beach towel when I came out. I had to walk north in order to find it. The undercurrent there moves you southward without you realizing it. It was always quite a trudge through the hot sand to get back to where I wanted to be. That’s happening now.
You would think that sheltering at home would put you in your “safe place,” and that you’d be enjoying it even more without all the pressures of daily life. Unfortunately, it puts you in your stuff. Here you are, but without all the distractions of daily life, so there’s nowhere to hide from yourself.
You need to dive deeper. It’s another lesson I learned in the ocean. Paddling around in the surf, sometimes a bigger wave would come along. It could be quite scary. More than once I was tumbled so much that I didn’t know which way was up. Then a surfer taught me to dive under the wave and come up on the other side of it. I’ve been doing it ever since, but I do it with yoga.
Your psychological undercurrents are fueled by fear. In this scary time, threats are coming from every direction. Yet here you sit, relatively comfortable at home, with no one pounding on your door or pushing you around. So you’re stuck with the inner fears, a constant undercurrent of anxiety. It’s valuable to recognize that the undercurrent of anxiety was there before the pandemic started. You’ve made too many of your decision out of fear and lived too much of your life in anxiety.
Medicating your anxiety doesn’t end it. Drugs and liquor are like putting a bandaid on a broken heart. They don’t help. You need to look and see why your heart is broken. That’s really the problem, you know, that your heart feels empty. And that’s scary. Your underlying anxiety has always come from a deeper inner feeling, a feeling of emptiness and loneliness. Yoga calls it “avidya,” the not-knowing of your own essence.
The sages of India describe this as the human condition, caused by the five “kleshas.” You get trapped in these five “root bindings,” inner levels of contraction that hide your innermost essence from yourself. Your innermost essence is your mystical heart, not an emotional level of being, but a deeper essence — the only thing that really makes you feel full and whole inside.
You can work on unraveling the root bindings, as Patanjali describes in his Yoga Sutras. Or you can dive beneath them and experience the depth and expanse of your own inner infinity. Svaroopa® yoga is about the deep dive. Yet I’ll describe the kleshas so you know what you are diving under.
Not-knowing, identification, desire, aversion and fear of death are the five root bindings.
The sage lists the bindings from the root upward but we’ll look at it from the top down. On the surface of the wave, you paddle around in fear (abhinivesha). Everything in life is scary right now, but it’s scary because you’re afraid you could die. This fear is realistic for those with compromised health, but even fear of economic repercussions is fear of death. While there are very real dangers, worry doesn’t help you avoid them. Strategic planning and careful implementation can, but these are inaccessible when you’re overcome by fear.
So peek in and see what’s under the fear. You are averse (dvesha) to experiencing illness, hunger, loss, need, pain, grief, etc. Naturally you want to avoid these things. You know what you’d like to experience instead, so you desire (raaga) things that keep you healthy, well fed and happy, as well as maintaining your lifestyle as you have become accustomed to it.
When you peek under aversion and desire, you find identification. You get your sense of identity (asmitaa) from where you live, what you do and who you know. You may identify with being an artist, an athlete, a gourmet cook, gardener or yogi. These are all wonderful things, but the problem is that you want them to make you feel wonderful. You rely on these external things to make you feel good about yourself. Why?
Left to your own devices, with nothing to do and no one to turn to, you discover that you don’t feel so good about yourself. Your mind runs a constant litany of self-deprecation, “not good enough,” and “just not enough.” This is because you don’t know the deeper dimension within yourself. It’s hidden by avidya, the not knowing of your own divinity. It’s like a dark heavy storm cloud that obscures your ability to see or feel your way inside.
Yoga specializes in getting you deeper, past the storm cloud, to the experiential knowing of your deeper essence. Your deeper essence is the light of Consciousness, which is shining even when the storm cloud obscures your ability to see it. Yogic specializes in ways to get you in there. This is why is remind you so often, “Do more yoga.” I’m not telling you to exercise more, as beneficial as that is. I’m telling you to dive deeper within. This is Svaroopa® yoga’s specialty. It will take you there, even in your very first meditation or very first yoga class. You cannot get distracted by thinking you’re exercising or managing your body or mind; the Svaroopa® Sciences are all about opening up the mystical dimensions inside. See for yourself.
You cannot open your heart when your tailbone is tucked under. Just like a scared puppy, when your tail is tucked, you cannot see straight or even breathe properly. Your first priority is, understandably, your own safety as well as those closest to you. That’s where the pandemic started people off, just a couple of weeks ago.
By now you’re getting used to the drill: staying at home, disinfecting your grocery bags and boxes, washing your hands and letting your nose itch. Here at the Ashram, we had a mask sewing party, with some interesting fabric options — lots of orange, of course.
There is a gradual lessening of fear, being replace by intelligent action. It’s a huge improvement. This lessening of fear is why I cried when I saw New Yorkers clapping for their medical personnel. They (meaning we) are beginning to be able to see others. The panic is beginning to subside. It’s important because you cannot function intelligently when you’re in panic mode. Worse, you’re not yourself.
Caring about others is one of the best ways to free yourself from being self-obsessed. This is one of the reasons that my Guru emphasized seva, selfless service, as an essential practice for Westerners. When you prioritize others’ needs over your own, you open your heart. You also discover you don’t need as many things as you thought you did. Opening your heart and becoming free from neediness – wow!
Living with an open heart is so much easier than what you’ve been trying to do. Paired with freedom from neediness, you discover an inner steadiness that supports you in every moment. Delving inward to explore that steadiness, you discover your own Self, your Divine Essence. Serving others gets your mind out of the way, which opens up your ability to see all the way inward.
Meditation has the same goal: the inner exploration of who you are at the deepest level within. But you withdraw from the world to meditate, even if only for an hour at a time, so you can explore the subtle inner dimensions. By doing seva, you draw from that inner depth while you are in the midst of activity. Your seva makes a difference for others, but it also makes a difference in you.
Right now, you cannot do some of the things we’re used to doing to serve others. You cannot cook food and drop it off at their home. You cannot babysit or elder-sit. Even chatting over the back fence requires a little bit of shouting. But you can clap for health care workers. You can open your heart and care.
When you care, you reach out to those who matter to you. Technology makes it so easy to connect. But while you’re connecting, and hopefully connecting often, look at the reason why. Are you reaching out because you’re bored, anxious or lonely? Then your reaching out is full of neediness. Of course, if you have need, please please please do your best to take care of it.
Yet you could reach out for other reasons. Do you want to know how they are doing? Maybe you have a funny story to tell, something that would cheer them up. You could share a recipe or photos of your spring blooms. I recently shared a photo of homemade pie, even though the recipients of the photo could neither smell nor taste it. So we laughed about that.
You do care. It’s built into being human. You care about the health care workers, on the front lines of this battle against death. You care about your family, friends, neighbors. Even the people on the other side of the globe, you care about them. What about people you disagree with, even politicians on the other side of your dotted line, do you care about them?
Everyone matters. Everyone counts. The virus doesn’t see any differences between us, why should we? When you open your heart that wide and that deep, the one who gets the most benefit is you. You’re halfway to enlightenment when the whole world fits inside your heart.
By Peter Czeck, interviewed by Marlene (Matrikaa) Gast
“My Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation practice is a work in progress,” says Peter Czeck. He and his wife began with Meditation 101 in June 2019. Since then they’ve been regular students in weekly Svaroopa® yoga and meditation classes at Downingtown Yoga & Meditation Center (DYMC). In his mid-seventies and retired from teaching high school English, Peter explains meditation is part of his strategy for “conscious elderhood.”
“Before taking DYMC classes,” Peter describes, “I’d read about meditation. I experimented with audio-recorded guided relaxations and focus on the breath with background music. But it was hard to get past my brain. My experience did not meet my expectations of peace and serenity.”
A workshop on embracing conscious elderhood had piqued Peter’s interest in meditation. He says, “It was transformative. I realized I don’t want to waste the 20 years of life that I have left. I don’t want to take each day just letting things happen. That approach to elderhood is just putting in time. In youth we do more, in aging we become more. Two pillars of conscious elderhood vividly stand out for me. I must let go of the past, and I must live with purpose. Without a purpose, you’re just putting in time.
“I knew that meditation would be a tool in this strategy. When I found Svaroopa® yoga and meditation, the practices fit what I knew I needed. I don’t yet have an established daily practice. Still, I’m working on it. I know that it will evolve as does any new habit. The Ujjayi Pranayama breathing practice and the mantra clear my head. They support me on my journey to inner awareness, and I do find the serenity and peace within that I’m seeking. I know I’m on the right path.
“I’m looking for ‘the More’ in a broad sense. For me this means connecting the heart, the body and the mind. I never thought about that in youth. With my purpose of continuing to grow – working on what I can become – meditation gives me a chance of attaining ‘the More.’ It’s interesting, provocative and engaging. When I meditate, I honor my capital-S Self. “I have no idea where this practice will take me, but it can’t be a bad place. I am experiencing peace, serenity and awareness. This experience, my DYMC meditation teachers say, is my Own Self — the One Self Being All. A great destination!”
Standing in front of my closet door, I was trying to pick out what to wear to school, a highly stressful moment in a 15-year-old girl’s life. I realized that my hands were pressing on my low back, which made me notice that my back hurt. I was surprised, not because of the pain, which I recognized was not new, but I was surprised that I even noticed it. Somehow it meant another possibility existed, that pain was not inevitable. Then a thought that was imbued with a completely different quality arose within, “I should know how to fix that.” I was astounded! Inside, I answered myself back, “How could I know? I’m only 15.” I never forgot this inner dialogue, brief as it was. Off and on, I continued to wonder about it for another 15 years before I learned how to end back pain. It was one of the many gifts I received from my Guru.
I learned anatomy from the inside-out. When I received the gift of Shaktipat from my Baba, the inner arising of meditative energy moved me through spontaneous yoga poses every time I meditated. Incredibly blissful and profoundly transformative, I looked forward to my daily meditations, learning more about how the human body works every time. Though I had already trained as a yoga teacher, Kundalini became my teacher, the Divine Energy of the Universe having been awakened by my Guru. After living and studying with him for years, I returned to mainstream America and to teaching yoga.
I could see that my students were not getting the blissful and transformative openings I had been blessed with, so I moved them into pose variations that would work. I remember the first class in which I introduced a variation. It worked so well that every single one of the 16 students stopped to talk with me individually after class. Each one said, in their own way, “What was that!? I feel so different.” I continued week by week, moving them through a process of spinal decompression that I called “core opening.”
A visiting Sanskrit teacher told me I must name this profoundly different approach to the poses. I was resistant but he threatened me, “If you don’t give it a name, they’ll name it after you.” To forestall that, I named it after you: “svaroopa” is a name for Self, your own Divine Essence. Why? The poses provide deep spinal release, which reliably opens up the inner bliss and experience of your own Self. Along the way, they also make you pain-free.
As I continued teaching classes and offering private yoga therapy sessions, my students and clients pressed me to teach them how to offer the sessions and classes. I created our Professional Yoga Therapist Training for them, along with multiple levels of Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Training. Having now trained thousands of teachers and therapists, I know this stuff works no matter who’s teaching it. It’s simple, yet powerful. It works because your spine is the key to your whole body and mind, as well as the deeper dimension of your own cosmic beingness.
Now in my eighth decade of life, I am pain-free. I do Svaroopa® yoga daily, to take care of my body and provide an excellent quality of life. Yet more importantly, I now understand the source of those inner voices dialoguing inside me at age 15. The inner arising was the voice of Self, revealing the course and direction of my life, as well as the inner source of the knowledge I would share with so many. This is ultimately the purpose of all yoga, empowering you to delve into your own knowingness, the source of bliss and love, the wellspring of aliveness itself. The goal and purpose of Svaroopa® Yoga is promised in the name, the yoga that gives you svaroopa, your own Self. And it makes you pain-free. What a way to live!