Category Archives: Ashram News

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.

My Favorite Pose — Lunge

By TC (Tattvananda) Richards

When I first started doing Svaroopa® yoga poses, I hated Lunge.  Now it’s my cure-all for life.  I use it for every ache and ailment.  I do Lunge when I’m not feeling well and when I’m grouchy.

I actually began Svaroopa® yoga with individual Embodyment® sessions and vichara (guided self-inquiry).  Later, for a home practice, I relied on recorded guidance to do Four on the Floor.  I avoided Lunge — the third pose in the sequence — I just lay in Shavasana instead.  When I attended an asana class, naturally, I would have to do a Lunge.  It did get easier with repeated classes.  Then I took the Foundations of Svaroopa® Yoga course, and everything changed.  I found a love for Lunge.

Because Foundations is a five-day introductory teacher training, you learn to teach the primary poses to others.  Thus, you stay in poses longer and learn more about alignments and propping.  That’s when Lunge became my favorite pose.  With extra support to meet my personal needs, I was able to relax into the pose.  Then I could feel its benefits profoundly.  My legs and spine expanded.  And expansion spread into my heart and mind.

While I did not take Foundations in order to teach, the program was hugely beneficial to me.  I experienced profound opening.  I learned to prop myself in my home practice more effectively.  My feelings for Lunge morphed into love. Overall, I experienced more deeply the transformative effects of releasing spinal tension.  And I learned more about the importance of precise alignment and customized propping to meet my individual tensions.  Lunge as well as other poses in my home practice are delightful now.  It’s amazing to have such reliable tools for living life to the fullest.

Floating in Grace

By Lissa (Yogeshwari) Fountain

l consider myself the queen of self-care.  I can’t remember the last time I needed to take a sick day.  Doing my practices keeps my immune system strong, my spine flexible.  My spirits stay uplifted and steady.  Ujjayi Pranayama, meditation, chanting and asana start my morning.  I offer seva, repeat mantra and try to remember my Guru throughout each day.

Still, I am capable of throwing myself off a deep end, forgetting how to swim!  Swami Nirmalananda’s Teachings article, Assess Your Condition, could not have come at a better time.  Swamiji points out, “While yoga’s tools work better than anything else, you need to pay attention to how you’re feeling and what you need.”

A lot is going on in my life.  My husband is retiring, and we are putting our house on the market.  I’m teaching my classes, travelling and teaching for the Ashram.  I am seeing clients, leading satsangs, writing blogs, etc.  Endings, beginnings and maintenance — it’s all Shiva dancing through form and beyond form.  Yet it is so easy to give into my distracted mind’s demands.  I’m in hurry.  I forget that all is Shiva, being me.  I find myself doing my “wonder woman yogi” routine.  Then it’s time to stop and assess the condition of my body and mind.

I am noticing the four symptoms of a mind distracted from Self.  Rendering Patanjali Yoga Sutras 1.31, Swamiji lists them: pain, despair, nervousness and interrupted breathing.  She reveals that “in addition to the four symptoms, there’s a mystical secret hidden in this sutra.  Patanjali explains their common cause: vik.sepa (vik-SHAY-paw) — distracted mind.  He means your mind is distracted from your deeper essence.”

I find I am most susceptible to interrupted breathing (shvasa-prashvasah).  My mind is fragmented with endless details and plans.  In this busy time, I need a moment-to-moment infusion of Divine Essence.  I need to settle down, and tap in.  Swamiji’s February “quick fix” makes this accessible: “do a few Ujjayi breaths, anywhere and anytime.”

Just today, a yoga buddy could hear the anxiety in my voice.  So, together, we stopped everything and took a few slow, long, easy Ujjayi breaths.  The space between us filled in with Self.  The sound of my breath got me out of my head and into my body.  The space within me filled with my essence and expanded.  It opened me to the still center within.  Shiva!

Swamiji describes that “you hold your breath so you won’t feel the feelings that are surfacing or are just below the surface.”  Until I read this, I had no idea it could be happening to me.  The truth is, I am experiencing a major life transition.  I am trying to dial down the accompanying emotions and dramas.  There are, however, some big feelings to feel, not to repress! Doing a minute of Ujjayi breathing re-centers me.  Divine Essence fills me.  Nothing outside is so urgent.  Perspective returns.  It was just the mind, after all.  When I feel thrown into the deep end, I don’t have to flail my arms.  I don’t even have to swim.  I can breathe, listen to my breath’s sweet sound and soften.  Then I float in Guru’s Grace.

Seva Shifts

By Ellan (Shanti) Catacchio
Interviewed by Marlene (Matrika) Gast

I confused seva with volunteering.  I know now, however, that seva is yoga because it puts me in my stuff.  That inner experience triggers spiritual growth.  In volunteering, I just focused on getting the job done.  In offering seva, I look at the effects of the process on me.  I used to say I work better under pressure.  Then I realized I only worked under pressure.  Seva has helped me change that.

My first seva involved updating contact information.  The three-part process included calling, emailing and finally sending snail mail.  I learned a bit about how to navigate an online communications system.  All the while, I had to push myself through resistance and a deeply engrained habit of procrastination.  I kept telling myself it was seva.  You just do it.  Humbly.  In my case, grumbly.

Liberation came in the form of my next seva: transcribing Swamiji’s recorded talks.  Heaven.  I actually asked Swamiji if it was still seva if I enjoyed it.  Thus, I was treated to one of her wholehearted laughs.  I was confusing seva with tapas.  I loved that this new seva took information from my ears to my fingers and then to my eyes to review what I had transcribed.  It required a lot of going back and listening again and again.  How sweet that was.  But nothing lasts.  We transcribers were far ahead of the editors.  So, then, I was asked to do editing.

I confessed up front that editing was not my best skill set.  Yet I stuck it out for a time.  I got books for help but was not effectively contributing to the final product.  Still, this seva was full of the Grace of revelation.  It threw me into some very old stuff from school days.  I recognized that gap couldn’t be closed and other sevites had that skill.  I was able to release the editing seva without my small-s self being devastated.

My current sevas include labeling and organizing our photos in an online app.  I also send letters to non-cash donors, providing documentation for tax purposes, and I send notes to honorees who have been named in cash donations. Through seva I’ve learned to recognize old identities and bad habits I need to shed.  I’ve learned humility in doing what I am told when I don’t want to.  I’ve learned to trust in a process I don’t fully understand.  I have cultivated willingness to learn new things and the capacity to step out of my comfort zone.  Doing seva is doing more yoga; doing more yoga reveals our true Divinity.  In the meantime, it gets stuff done.  How great is that!

Benefits for Every Body

By Evy (Kalyani) Zavolas, Interviewed by
Margie (Maitreyi) Wilsman

“The best part of the Yoga Therapy Intensive Retreat is that I do not feel rushed,” declares Evy (Kalyani) Zavolas.  “Delicious downtime and rest allow my body and mind to integrate the therapeutic benefits.  I experience inner renewal.”  Since it was first offered, Kalyani has taken this healing retreat four times.

Early morning includes chanting with Swami Nirmalananda or a yoga class before meditation .  After a leisurely breakfast, you receive Yoga Therapy or a vichara (guided self-inquiry) session.  The Ashram yoga therapists customize your sessions to your particular needs.  Afternoons feature talks about the yogic healing process along with another private therapy session, and you chant and meditate before bed.

Kalyani describes, “At home again, information from the talks supports me when I have pain.  I stay calm, take care of myself and apply my yoga practices.  I remember that 80% of pain is determined by how you handle it, depending on your mind-set.  Studies show that there are cultural differences.  Some will feel pain and have an incredibly strong emotion.  Others handle pain differently, so the intensity is less.  I also value the talk on spontaneous healing.  While it has been poo-pooed in the past, textbooks now report examples of spontaneous healing.”

Kalyani also appreciates that the retreat has no prerequisites for enrollment.  It’s open to everyone, whether experienced yogi or non-practitioner.  Kalyani has been doing Svaroopa® yoga and teaching for 19 years.  

William, her husband, attends a class occasionally or rests in Shavasana when possible. Even so, William accompanied Kalyani to the retreat in 2016.  She shares, “He had just finished law school and was dealing with his father’s impending death.  Yoga therapy and rest helped William recover, center himself, and deal with loss.  Swamiji’s talk on the history of medicine’s approach to pain was illuminating.  He found it interesting that prayer was once a significant part of medicine.  Studies are now showing that how a doctor treats the patient really does matter.  The spiritual aspect is being returned in some cases.” 

As a teacher, Kalyani knows the power of Svaroopa® yoga handle pain.  She emphasizes, “The Yoga Therapy Intensive Retreat is a user-friendly five days.  You don’t have to be someone who does Svaroopa® yoga daily to benefit.  For everyone it’s a great way to heal and renew.  As with any Svaroopa® yoga program, when I return home, I am ready to deepen my physical practices.  Spiritually, I am uplifted and revel in easier access inward to Self.  I can use all the help I can get!”

Living from Big-S Self

By Belle (Bhavani) Mann

I used to feel I needed to keep my distance from the world.  I thought that my life would be easier, that everything would go more smoothly.  This way, I thought, I could live more fully in the Self.  I thought this was enlightenment. 

However, our 2018 Year-Long Programme, Enlightenment in the Midst of Life, showed me otherwise.  Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda’s took us through powerful monthly teachings.  She showed us that withdrawing from the world won’t free us from petty thoughts and desires. Nor will withdrawing make life smoother or easier. Articles, audio discourses, conference calls and the final in-person retreat opened me to a different understanding.  Enlightenment will not change the events and conditions of my life.  When I am enlightened, I will be a different person experiencing them.

Through Swamiji’s teachings about enlightenment, I have deeper access to my own Self — the One Self Being All.  Swamiji’s teachings reach into my own life in the world.  As a Self-Realized Master, she knows firsthand the journey as well as the landscape of enlightenment.  This past year her teachings propelled me to deeper practice.  She explained that if you’re not working on being enlightened, life will push you toward it anyway. However, when you’re working consciously, you can manage your process.

Attaining enlightenment is not about leaving the world.  It’s about being in the world and doing the same things you would be doing.  Yet your actions are coming from a different perspective.  You make different decisions and the effects are different.  Enlightenment will not make your life easier; it won’t change what happens to you. Your life is different because who you are is different.

There were so many eye-openers over this past year.  Swamiji’s teachings showed me where I’ve been and where I am.  They showed me the promise of where I am going.  Swamiji assured us, “Every situation in our lives is designed to push us into transformation.”  When a situation is difficult, will I retreat and feel sorry for myself?  Or will I accept the difficulty, step forward and learn the lesson? 

I’ve come to see that the things we grumble about just push us forward.  Every situation, especially the ones that we resist and complain about, is designed to push our buttons.  Then I know, “Oh, I have more growth to do, and this situation is showing me what it is.”  With this understanding, I am less resistant to what happens in my life.  I am more present.

Swamiji emphasizes mantra and seva as most important for enlightenment in the midst of life.  Now mantra repetition often starts up in the background of my mind spontaneously.  It’s very comforting, very quieting, continuing underneath everything.  It reminds me that Kundalini is running things.  She realigns my body.  She wakes me up at 3 am to meditate.  She tells me when I need to stop my activity. She says, “You have to do Ujjayi now or you won’t be good for anything.”  And I love seva.  I find that whenever I am involved in seva it aligns me with Self.

In 2010, I took The Shiva Course, Swamiji’s first Year-Long Programme.  I have enrolled in every one since.  The conference calls as well as the in-person retreats have been very important.  These deep experiences have propelled me forward faster than any other experience.  Swamiji begins the group’s closing retreat at a much deeper level than any other retreat.  She says she can do this because of our shared learning throughout the year.

Sharing my experiences with others shows me when and how I am holding myself back.  At this last retreat, I noticed I was reluctant to give up an old anger.  I saw clearly that I was unwilling to release this pain.  Then I knew it was ridiculous.  The resulting re-direction to Self was delicious.  Ultimately, I learned that I am happier and more effective when I let Self take charge.  I tell my mind what I have heard before from Swamiji.  She quotes Baba Muktananda: “Be a servant to the Self; don’t try to be the boss.” I am looking forward to February 24.  That’s the date for the Free Intro Phone Call for the 2019 Year-Long Programme.  Give yourself a treat, and register for this call, too.