Author Archives: Svaroopa Vidya Ashram

My Favorite Pose: Halasana (Plow)

Phil MilgromBy Krishna Milgrom

Surprisingly, Googling “plow” gives you the yoga pose as the second definition, along with a fitting example:

…a yoga pose assumed by lying on one’s back and swinging one’s legs over one’s head until the outstretched feet approach or touch the floor.  “positions like plow and headstand can strain the neck”

Further down the page is another pertinent definition:

(especially of a vehicle) [to] move in a fast and uncontrolled manner

These aptly describe how I used to do Plow Pose before Svaroopa® yoga: recklessly!   I plowed into the pose, hurling my legs over my head.  I didn’t settle into asana — I settled into a crash landing.  My whole spine tightened, and I had way too much weight on my head.  The pose was a pain in the neck, but I did it anyway: my yoga books said it’s good for me.

Then came Svaroopa® yoga.  I learned a way to do what was good for me in a way that is good for me.  My Halasana pink handout (October 2004) says:

This is “supposed” to be relaxing, restful.  Do it with less effort!

With blankets to remove pressure from my neck, and blocks or a chair to settle my feet on when the floor was too far away, I could experience the Plow as it is supposed to be.

I am grateful to Swami not only for teaching me this way of doing the pose.  I’m also thankful for her recommendation several years ago that we practice the pose daily.  I plowed right into it, as in another definition on the same Google page:

continue steadily despite difficulties…

180612 SVA Blog-Fav-Pose_Photo SNS approvedWith steady practice, and less effort, Plow has become relaxing and restful.  When I settle into the pose, it becomes blissful.  Following the pink sheet instructions, I come out of the pose gently.  Instead of hurling my legs back to the floor as I used to do, I secure my lower back with my palms and bring one leg at a time to the wall.  With both feet on the wall and knees bent, I lay my arms alongside me as in Shavasana.  Then I slowly roll my back to the floor.  Ahhhhh! What bliss! As each vertebra unfolds one by one, my spine pops and crackles with released energy.  Bliss streams from my tailbone through my heart and into my skull.

I don’t want to move.

Then, as recommended, I do Matsyasana (Fish).  This opens my heart and rib cage in the opposite way from how Plow does.  I need this.  Having worked for decades sitting bent over a keyboard, I find my posture tends to the Neanderthal look.  Matsyasana helps ensure that I stand more erect.

After practice, I feel lighter and more open.  I practice every day.  My body grumbles when I miss a day.

I have not received all the benefits that the pink sheet describes for the Plow.  For example, I still have varicose veins, but they have moved from my lower legs to my neck.  (Just kidding! However, in my legs they are definitely much less noticeable.)  And I am still gray and balding, although my pink sheet suggests the opposite:

“It has been said that it prevents (and even cures) gray hair and baldness.  Who knows?”

Well, I know.  But so what! When you have a heart full of love, a healthy spine, and a skull full of bliss, who needs hair?

Yoga Buddies & Bliss

Marti Monk LBy Marti Monk

I enrolled in Vidyadevi’s workshop in Boise as soon as I heard about it. Thus, on May 12th I was deeply settled into my blankets next to three of my equally deeply contented yoga buddies. For a decade, Theresa, Shan and I have been faithful students of Svaroopa® yoga, through Beginning, Continuing and now Deeper classes. A decade ago, our beloved Deeper Teacher, Betsy Ayers, was a student along with us. In this workshop, she got to be “just a student” again.

While each of us benefit greatly from this practice, the four of us together receive so much more. In this Mandali Travels workshop, Vidyadevi talked about “bliss” and how it’s always deep within. As I listened to her words, I glanced at my three longtime yoga buddies. I realized our practice together has not only bonded us in a deep sisterhood. It has opened each of us to the precious presence of bliss within.

I was 54 years old when I became a yoga student. Soon after my husband died suddenly, I explored jazzercise as well as fast-flow yoga and even astrology. In the midst of turmoil from such a life change, I needed something to settle me down. I found a spiritually oriented yoga studio in Boise, and a teacher who offered a nurturing style. It included classical standing poses as well as twisting into pretzel shapes.

Matrika Gast-Karuna Beaver-Betsy Ayers

After a year or so, that teacher, Matrika Gast, discovered Svaroopa® yoga and took Foundations. Suddenly we were on the floor, learning to align, relax and soften to release spinal tension. Beautiful, thick plaid blankets had replaced our sticky mats. The power of this practice didn’t hit me between the eyes right away. Because I’d been exercising, “opening up” was a new concept. If I opened up, would I fall apart? At the beginning, as my tight muscles released tension, they ached. But my teacher kept me going. Sometimes I thought, “Good grief, will this ever stop?” Yet I never considered walking out, and that phase really didn’t last all that long.

Gradually, I developed a personal Svaroopa® yoga practice, and it became a part of me. I looked forward to it every morning. The night before, I would wonder: What poses will I do? As I began to experience more and more physical core opening, my heart opened as well. I reached out to classmates, they became yoga buddies, and we developed closeness. We bonded in workshops and immersions as well. This process never happened in any other groups that I joined.

JP Yoga 1I’ve taken Foundations, the five-day immersion training, twice. As this yoga continues to transform my heart, I feel better in a way that I can’t fully explain. And I don’t quite yet know the value of this change. In the world of my brain that’s skilled in writing grant proposals, “bliss” means happiness and satisfaction. But the experience of Bliss found through Svaroopa® yoga is something more. When we talked about Bliss with Vidyadevi in the May workshop, I and my three yoga buddies had just been (with about 8 other classmates) in Rotated Stomach Pose. So I was remembering that, on one side, I had sensed Theresa’s hand next to mine. On the other side, Betsy patted my hand. As we talked about Bliss, Shan, who seldom speaks in discussion, described Bliss as what she was experiencing in the workshop: “Beyond all the details, there’s the sense of Oneness.”

Vidyadevi’s workshop opened me to an experience of deeper knowing. I realized that I am living a life that’s interwoven with powerful yoga. Bliss for me is a sense of recognition. I see in a yoga buddy that big-S Self that I am finding within as my own Self. I recognize in her the same Self as in you — and in everyone.

I am grateful to be living a life interwoven with yoga, thanks to all my Svaroopa® yoga experiences.

Pitta Season

binduBy Bindu Shortt

In the US, pitta season runs from July through October.  According to Ayurveda, pitta qualities are mostly heat and moisture.  Think humidity.  These qualities can accumulate and express in you as skin conditions, irritability, sour or acid stomach, or loose bowels.  To soothe your pitta energies, apply the principle of opposites.

Avoid foods that are themselves heating, such as coffee, alcohol and meat as well as fried and spicy foods.  Favor seasonal veggies and fruits that are cooling.  Summer is the only season in which the cooling qualities of melons are beneficial.  How wonderful that nature gives us the foods needed to keep us balanced in each season!

Because digestion itself is warm, Ayurveda still recommends eating most of your foods cooked during pitta season.  This allows for strong digestion and maximum energy from your food.  Salads may be eaten a few times a week, when used as a condiment rather than your main dish.  Fruits also are still better eaten cooked (grilled peaches, blueberry cobblers).  Most people, however, can tolerate raw fruit a few times a week.


Drink cooling beverages including room temperature water with mint, cucumber, lemon or lime.  Or try coconut water, purchased at the store.  Homemade lassi in the summer can include some rose water and cilantro for extra pitta relief.

In your daily self-massage either switch to all coconut oil or do half and half with your regular oil.  This will cool your body from the outside in.  In addition to your yoga, swimming is a wonderful for summer activity as it does not overheat.  If you do another activity, do it in the cooler morning or evening hours.

Saffron is an exotic spice that has been used throughout history for its scent, its color, and its medicinal properties.  Ayurveda prizes saffron as a pitta balancing herb, since it is both bitter and astringent, two tastes that pacify pitta.  Just 1 to 5 strands of saffron is all you need to receive its benefits.  The following saffron rice recipe goes well with any dahl (lentil or bean dish) or with summer steamed veggies.  Its simplicity is appropriate for summer cooking:



1 cup white basmati rice, washed

5 strands of saffron

3 cups water

½ teaspoon salt

  1. Wash and rinse the rice. You can soak it for 30 minutes to make it more digestible.
  2. Dry roast the saffron in a medium saucepan. This brings out its flavor.
  3. Add the rice, water and salt and cook, covered, over a low heat for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft.

Gratitude for Transformation

vibhuti-2Participants Interviewed by Varadananda King

I came to the January Yoga Therapy Intensive Retreat in a lot of pain from a recent injury that hadn’t fully healed,” says Eric Gibbons. “What I experienced is nothing short of miraculous. I watched the pain in my back shift, and then disappear altogether. I am very grateful for my time in this immersion, and for the support from the teachers and fellow participants.”

“I am in love with this retreat,” says Kalyani Zavolas-Wallis, who has enrolled “every time it has been offered, except once.” She continues, “I was sad about having to miss the one, as I wanted perfect attendance. This retreat is so incredibly rejuvenating — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. While it is complete and full, yet there is still enough ‘down time’ to make it feel like a true retreat. I was able to nap, and to take a bath.

“I love the daily Vichara, which brings up and unravels whatever my mind is churning. Together, yoga therapy and morning classes open my spine more deeply. The chanting and meditations bring me closer to God. All this along with Swamiji’s talks/lectures create a wonderful retreat for those of us looking for deep healing, a deepening of spiritual practices, knowledge about healing, and REST.”

Kushala (Kat) Conner responds, “When I think about why I chose to come to the yoga therapy intensive this past January, a stanza from William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” comes to mind:

There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,

The earth and every common sight

Did seem to me

Appareled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

“Many moments in my life, particularly when practicing yoga, there was a vitality, a freshness and a longing for something more. The longing for something more felt alive — enlivened — ‘light.’ Also resonating with Wordsworth, I have often felt as if I have been living in and playing out a dream:

It is not now as it hath been of yore.

Turn whereso’er I may,

By night or day,

The light which I have seen

I now can see no more.

“I chose the Yoga Therapy Intensive as a gift to myself, to step away from the dream of my life, to be inspired by practices to help me find my way back to that place of aliveness within myself.

“The experience I encountered was a weaving together of chanting, meditation, conversation and practices to help me uncover those places within myself still stuck in the dream — in the deadness. The retreat offered me time to practice and reflect on where I am today with support on practices tailored to my specific needs. I’m very grateful for the time and awareness of Swamiji, Vidyadevi and Kusuma that worked with me to start unlocking those tight spots in my being.”

Feeling honored to have assisted, Tirtha Hale, says, “This retreat occurred during the time when Lokananda was undergoing remodeling with new rooms being added, floors being laid, and apartments being built. Even with construction, hammering and power tools sounding off, I felt enormous Grace flowing. It’s always here! What a lovely way to experience this truth, that deep healing and Grace are always available regardless of what’s happening on the outside.

YT Room 2A“Now, all the upgrades are finished! When you come to a future Yoga Therapy Retreat, it will hold you in a blessed cocoon of transformation, and you will emerge shining brightly from this metamorphosis of healing. Every day offers chanting and meditation; a series of Vichara and yoga therapy sessions, asana class and special small group Swami time with discourses on healing. You will be nourished with good food, and you’ll enjoy rest and recovery from all that ails you. After just a few days, the change was splendidly visible in those who participated. Pure radiance!”

My Experience of Breath & Beyond

aanandi-annie-rossBy Aanandi Ross

After her first meditation in “Learn to Meditate,” one student said she’s normally a very shallow breather.  Indicating her upper chest, she said she always breathed “up here.”  During meditation, her breaths were much deeper and full, down to her belly.  This had never happened to her before.  The next day she emailed that she would be practicing meditation faithfully every day.

How can something so simple have so much effect?  Yet it does.  Arriving irritable and distant, avoiding eye contact, a client came to learn Ujjayi Pranayama in a private session with me.  She announced she was already familiar with Ujjayi Pranayama.  As we proceeded, she learned Swami Nirmalananda’s protocol for Ujjayi Pranayama.  Of course, she had a wonderful rest in Shavasana.  She yawned and yawned, obviously releasing tensions.  Afterwards she reported less stress, more relaxation, no more mid-body pain.  Most dramatically, she left smiling, eyes bright, inspired.

I practice many forms of yoga — seva, cleaning (doing what needs to be done), study of ancient texts, chanting, asana, japa and meditation.  All move me ever deeper into Self.  It’s reliable!  Mental cobwebs dissolve, allowing the light of capital-S Self to illuminate inner aspects of my small-s self.  Regular Ujjayi Pranayama practice opens me inward to this deeper awareness.

Recently, in the midst of a dental extraction, I thought of my childhood.  Although I was treated with much genuine love and care, certain things happened that affect my adult life and still need attention.  I asked myself, why do I need this extraction? The answer came: I am ready.  Some of these issues, I’ve both purposefully and unknowingly avoided looking at them for my entire life.  How freeing it is, even though difficult, to face them now at age 64.  Regarding Ujjayi Pranayama and its power, our June Teachings Article describes:

UjjayiUjjayi Pranayama heals your body, mind and heart, while it opens up profound dimensions of spiritual experience, its true purpose… Ujjayi Pranayama prepares you for the mystical experience that opens up in the pause between your breaths… “When you’re in that momentary suspension, an easy place of profound stillness, you’re ready to explore within.”  — Breath & Beyond by Swami Nirmalananda & Rukmini Abbruzzi

Looking at the hard stuff I’ve avoided so long, I hear Swami’s words, “Awareness is the first step towards change.” Thus, I was driving along yesterday, feeling fully blissful — in a place so much deeper than the interior swirl of small-s stuff.  Marveling at the burst of green and aliveness in nature, I felt the limitless, infinite reality of the universe.  Loving all that is manifest, I felt the bliss of my own being.  I understood how I become freer with every practice.  I felt my life force expanding more fully.  I resonated with how Breath & Beyond explains this “beyond” that our breathing practice opens us to:

The Sanskrit word “pranayama” does not mean “breath” or “breathing practice.”  A compound word, “prana” (life force) and “ayama” (to free, to liberate), it names the purpose of the practice — freeing your life force to expand fully.

What joy! I’ll keep doing more yoga.

No Words for My Gratitude

amala-photoBy Gurupremananda Lynn Cattafi, SVA Board President

The words I use to thank our donors never seem enough.  None can fully convey the deep gratitude I have for all of you. I see our charitable organization becoming a true community from your stepping up, reaching out and supporting our beloved Swamiji, her work and your fellow yogis. You are traversing this path with commitment and devotion.

PrintWe have reached our fundraising goal. Your donations, especially in the last few days, have matched the Board’s generous gifts.  Your $22,000 has been doubled, giving the Ashram the ability to offer you so much.  Thank you for your part in making this possible.

Giving is never about the amount; it is about the intent. When your pure love and generosity fuel the impulse for you to give, it moves mountains. The beauty of your investment in your Ashram is that you see and experience the tangible results for yourself and your whole community.

The next time you read an article or hear the opening mantra at the start of a phone call or one of Swamiji’s online audios, know that your donation helped her bring that to you and your fellow yogis.  The next time you are snuggling into a cozy bed at Lokananda after a day of blissful immersion, know that your donation helped create and support your room.  When you are being lovingly supported by one of the Ashram staff or Teacher Trainers, know that your donation supports them.  By your gift, know that you are bringing daily support to your Guru so that she may give you your Self.

Invest-in-Your-Ashram-logo_v2.1So, with words that are never enough, I thank you for reaching inside to find the ability to take care of your Guru, bu investing in your Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram and supporting your community. If you would like to add a last minute year-end donation to our campaign, please click here. Your investment is the gift that keeps on giving.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Invest in Your Ashram – and Your Self

Peter GallagherBy Peter Gallagher, SVA Board Member

Recently, I decided that doing more yoga was in order. In my Inbox, I had found the request that SVA Board Members match the community’s donations in our current fundraiser. I inferred that I would need to make a larger contribution than the donation I’d originally planned. Over the next several hours, my mind left and returned to this request many times. I just noticed that my mind continued to fluctuate without doing anything about it. At some point, the request resurfaced and my mind was still. Then decisions to make a matching contribution and the amount to contribute were effortless. I was calm, focused and tranquil before and after these decisions. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that even as financial market volatility increased a week later, my decision was unaffected. In some subtle way, my relationship to my retirement nest egg had become healthier and more stable.

Wealth: Abundance & More teaches, “When you put your energy into your work and you get paid, that money is your energy in a tangible form. When you give out money, buying something or giving to a person or charity, you are giving your energy out.” My prior donations to the Ashram were given in gratitude for what I had already received. I wanted to support the programs that we offer and the staff who make them possible and to help to spread Swamiji’s teachings to more people. I saw my donations as an investment in the change I want to see in the world. I saw my donations to the Ashram as investing in benefits to others.

Pre-retirement, I had often advised my tax and investment clients to invest in yourself first. I had to shift my perspective to understand that my donations to the Ashram are investments in my Self. I had not really considered that the act of giving would benefit me directly. Now I understand that my giving increases my receptivity to Grace.

Invest-in-Your-Ashram-logo_v2.1We Board Members together have now pledged $22,000 in matching donations. When you donate to the Ashram during this fundraiser, you double your investment in your Own Self. The return to you on this investment is priceless. Our matching donation enables us Board members to join with your offering to the One Self Being All.

Challenge yourself to grow. Challenge yourself to open your heart and your wallet. Then challenge yourself to be aware of how your support, your investment, comes back to you.

Click here to read more about Investing in Your Ashram.

Click here to get your donation doubled.