My Shaktipat Immersion

Gunaratna (Gail) HinchliffeBy Gunaratna (Gail) Hinchliffe

This February, I experienced my second Shaktipat weekend with Swami Nirmalananda in Calgary. The first was in 2014 and the most recent was last February.

For me Shaktipat unfolds a continuing process.  It gives me a different lens through which to see the world. I continue to be the high-energy person I have always been. Yet each time I see Swamiji another veil is pulled away, so I have a new perspective.

As CEO of an elder services organization, I work very full time. Yet I feel no stress in my life. I work with many people and personalities, on many different levels of interaction. the-yoga-of-grace-copy.jpgEach day Guru’s Grace from Swamiji supports my capacity for working through complexities. I do not get caught up in the dramas and emotions. I feel grounded.

Within our February Shaktipat group of 24, I felt the great blessing of being in our GeoCenter. Together, this core group, led by Rudrani Nogue, keeps the Svaroopa® Sciences practices alive and vibrant in Calgary. It was a miraculously wonderful immersion as we shared in the presence of Swamiji. It brought our community even closer, nurturing and deepening the love and respect we already have for each other.

Every Pose is for Your Spine

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

My first yoga teacher told me, “Every pose is for your spine.”  I didn’t understand, but I loved her classes.  I even started doing some poses at home.  After 2 or 3 months of taking her weekly classes, she told me I was ready to teach.  Really?  I was amazed!  This was 1976. The pathway to becoming a yoga teacher was not clearly defined.

spineI didn’t feel ready to teach, so I signed up for a local teacher training program.  It met 2 hours a week for 12 weeks.  The teacher was another wonderful yogini, who said, “Every pose is for your spine.”  She didn’t teach any anatomy, so I didn’t really understand where my spine was or how it was structured, much less how the poses were affecting it.  I began teaching, so I repeated what she said to my own students, like a parrot.  And I knew that I didn’t know.

Then I took another teacher training.  This one was in an Ashram, still in the USA.  The team of teachers took turns parroting the familiar phrase.  It never occurred to me to ask them about it.  But it certainly got my attention.  Mainly it made me feel stupid and inadequate because I didn’t understand what it meant.  Fortunately, by then I’d received Shaktipat from my Guru, so spontaneous yoga poses were moving me through a process every morning in meditation.  I was finding my spine, learning the anatomy from the inside out.

Then I took a teacher training in India.  The morning classes were outside on a cement slab from 4:30-5:30 am, with a final Shavasana during the sunrise.  Ecstatic!  And cold.  When the sun comes up, it generates a breeze.  On the cement slab, with a thin film of sweat coating my skin, that breeze was frigid.  So I learned how to relax into cold.  This wonderful teacher also repeated that every pose was for the spine, but gave no more information than my previous teachers.

I took another teacher training, in the USA.  Well, I began taking another teacher training.  They said, “Every pose is for the spine.”  By then, I’d learned to ask questions.  When I asked how the different poses were for the spine, they couldn’t explain it.  I realized that I knew more than the trainers knew, wonderful people that they were.  After a few weeks, I left the training and asked my Guru for blessings to train teachers.  I’ve been focusing on training teachers ever since, over 30 years now.

24693-501.jpgIn every pose, I tell you what part of the spine is being targeted and how it’s being affected.  I name the muscles involved.  I can also see what you’re doing to your spine, too often tightening and compressing it when you should be getting a lift and opening.  I realign your body so you’ll get the spinal release that every pose is intended to provide.  In every teacher training handout, I detail the spinal effects for every pose.  And I tell you, “Every pose is for your spine.”  Except I know what each pose is doing – and why.

When you get the spinal release that the poses are supposed to provide, you experience the mystical reality of your own Divinity.  Beginning by lengthening your tailbone, then targeting each spinal area in turn, the lift and opening from tail-to-top shows you who you really are.  Yoga is a mystical science.  It uses your body to provide the mystical experiences promised by the sages, again and again, over thousands of years.  Yoga uses body, breath, mind, emotions, words, study, music, worship and mundane daily activities to open the doorway inside.  It’s a comprehensive science of mystical dimensions.  It all begins with your mystical spine.

Join Swami Nirmalananda for her workshop, “The Mystical Spine” on March 25 at Philly Namas Day.


Spring Brings New Ayurvedic Practices

binduBy Bindu Shortt

In springtime the ground thaws, the snow melts and there is a muddy aliveness. With a saturation of water, the earth germinates seeds. Flowers and trees blossom. Fields are ploughed and planted. Ayurveda observes that your body and mind undergo a similar process of clearing and revival in spring.

Ayurveda recognizes spring as the “kapha” (kap-ha) season. According to Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, your physical body, mind and emotions are formed of three “bioenergies,” which are made up of nature’s five elements. These bioenergies are called doshas. Vata is constituted of air and space, water and fire constitute pitta, and water and earth constitute the kapha dosha.

In Sanskrit, “kapha” means to bind or hold together. Kapha governs the structure of the body, giving you stability, strength and endurance. Your capacity for love, compassion, nurturing, empathy, loyalty, patience and forgiveness stem from kapha. You exhibit these qualities when you are kapha-balanced.

kapha-2Ayurveda observes that “like increases like.” Thus, the qualities of spring on the outside increase those same qualities inside you. After winter, kapha thaws, accumulates and moves your bodily fluids. Kapha makes its home mostly in your chest, stomach, body fat, bones and lymph. So in spring you may experience colds, sinus problems, allergies or hay fever. Your kapha dosha moisturizes you with mucus, usually in response to the buildup of drying vata over the winter.

Just as the spring thaw cleanses the land, the movement of your inner fluids cleanses your body. As the earth thaws, the first plants to come up are the tender little sprouts and then some berries. Animals seek them out for their natural cleansing properties. Like the animals, you may find that you want lighter foods such as sprouts and berries. Your innate Ayurvedic wisdom knows they support your inner spring cleaning. Those heavy winter stews of potatoes, parsnips and carrots can be replaced by lighter springtime soups made with seasonal veggies such as asparagus or broccoli. Your taste for grains may run lighter to white basmati rice, quinoa or millet. You may find you want a little salad a couple of times a week as well as more cooked greens, steamed now rather than sautéed.


photo credit: Banyan Botanicals

To nurture yourself in sync with Ayurvedic wisdom, observe the six flavors. Favor the bitter, astringent and pungent tastes. These foods help to thin and move excess mucus. Grains are bitter; lentils and beans are astringent. For pungent, use green chilies, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric and lots of black pepper. All strengthen your agni — your digestive fire in this cool, damp season.

Keep your veggies and fruits steamed or boiled. For fruits, favor seasonal berries and cherries. In addition to leafy greens, green veggies include peas, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, sprouts, celery, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Minimize your dairy intake if you tend towards the spring imbalances of colds, sinus problems, allergies or hay fever.

Keep doing your daily oil massage before bathing or showering. If your individual constitution is kapha predominant, add another layer to this ritual. First give yourself a dry massage. Use either nubby exfoliating gloves from the pharmacy, or Ayurvedic silk self-massage gloves, found online. This dry massage helps to get your lymph moving, as part of your systemic spring cleaning.

circadian-rhythms-istl-comIn your daily life, ride the waves of natural energy. As we have more light each day, you might find it easier to be up before 6 am. That lets you ride vata — the wave of light, pristine energy from 2 to 6 am. It will support your entry into the heavier kapha energy wave from 6 to 10 am. This practice will keep your physical and mental energy higher and clearer. Take that clarity into your day to support your natural internal cleansing.

Spring is your time to ride the waves of outer and inner renewal. Revel in it!

Thanks, Mom!

karunaBy Karuna (Carolyn) Beaver

When my sisters and I came running to our mother with a scraped knee growing up, we were likely to be sent in search of a band aid. We had to take care of our wounds ourselves. We were unlikely to be coddled by her kissing our “boo-boos.” This is not to say our mother didn’t take care of us. She absolutely did. If we were really ill, she was right there with chicken soup, baby aspirin and all the time in the world. Still, part of me wanted to be coddled all the time.  My mother taught me a lot about the duality of the world, as mothers can. She loved me and pushed me hard. But it felt like she was either “nice” Mom or “mean” Mom.

In the February contemplation “It’s All for You!”, Swami Nirmalananda and Rukmini explain the sages’ two-fold map of duality. Duality makes you feel separate from everyone else. That sense of separation makes you feel small.  It’s there in childhood, which is not as idyllic as everyone thinks it should be.  As a child, I experienced the world’s opposites: good/bad, black/white, me/you. I felt that smallness when I didn’t get what I wanted or what I thought I needed to feel safe and loved.

Even as an adult, I much prefer it when everything seems to go my way. I don’t like pain and suffering. Who does? But my mother taught me a valuable lesson. I have figured out my mother was loving and pushing me for a purpose. It was so I could learn to take care of myself. It’s not about what happens to you or even necessarily what you do about it. It’s about who you are in the midst of whatever is occurring in life.

thank-you-lotusI’m still learning this lesson, sometimes daily. I imagine you are too. Family members know you best, and they’re experts at pushing you past your limitations. Swami and Rukmini say, “They want you to be a saint and they are doing their best to help you get there.” In fact, the contemplation article says my mother was pushing me right into enlightenment. Thanks, Mom!

It is just as the yogic sage Patanjali says, “The purpose of the world is solely for the sake of the Self,” your own Self. Everything in the world, seen and unseen, is for you to discover svaroopa, your own Divine Essence. This even applies to taking care of your own “boo-boos,” especially from an expansive and deep place within.

Living this world view can be difficult in the midst of hardship or conflict. Do you give in to the small-s self or dive deep into your Self — to soar past your limitations? I hear Swami’s familiar phrase, “do more yoga.” My yoga practice and Swami’s teachings help me choose to let go of my desires and fear. I tap into my deeper essence; I am reminded of who I really am. I am Consciousness. The world is providing me the experience I need in order to know that, more consistently. Thanks, Swamiji!

This Stuff Really Works!

dasiBy Dasi Trautlein

Since I completed the Treating Pain training last year, all of my clients have had less pain. That is, when they do the practices I recommend! My 68-year-old client Karen has had the most remarkable results.

She came to me with over 50 years of chronic pain, affecting knees, hips, lower and upper back, and shoulders. She also suffered from headaches, sinus congestion and insomnia. Karen explained that her muscles were very tight. When she turned quickly, she would lose her balance and experience vertigo. She had shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat. She was under tremendous stress at home. When she filled out her intake form, she marked eight spots on her body. On a scale of 0–10, her pain level in every spot was between 3 and 9. With tears in her eyes, she said coming to see me was “her last hope to avoid living on pain medications.”

After her first session, her body hurt in only three spots. Their highest pain level was 5 & 6. After her second session, again three spots hurt, but their pain level was 2. During her third session, she recognized that during the session she had two minutes of no pain at all.

She completed an 18-session Overlap Healing series; at the end she had no pain to report. She was just tired from all the activity she had enjoyed the day before. Karen became able to play with her granddaughter, participate in family adventures and help with home projects. After her series, she eagerly attended yoga class to learn new ways of using her body. That keeps her from reinjuring herself. She also comes in for weekly yoga therapy sessions. And she is so committed to her weekly class that she quit her book club. Karen says her yoga is “more of a priority.”


photo credit:

With the pain treatment protocols, I have also been able to work with a client who winced with pain when touched. When she first came in, I could not even give her Shavasana adjustments. The protocols soothed her mind, as well as helping her body. Now she is able to let go and open to the healing possibilities that Svaroopa® yoga therapy offers. I did not have to try to convince her, or explain why. I simply applied the tools that I was given, and they worked.

ATT 262 also taught me how to deal with my reactions to a client’s pain, as well as my desires for Svaroopa® protocols to work. I learned how to rest deeper into my Self, to serve from this place while engaging with someone in pain, fear and doubt. The training increased my confidence in offering and recommending these amazingly powerful practices. The sutra studies helped my mind let go of fear of pain. The sutras led me to understand how pain works in the body and mind. Someone who is gripped by pain, even when Western medicine cannot solve it, can receive lasting change from our simple, deep and incredibly effective Svaroopa® yoga practices.

rukminiWhen I could offer only Embodyment® sessions, my clients would experience change, but it wouldn’t last. This outcome confused me. But the Treating Pain course taught me why and how I could really help clients maintain their openings. What I have learned has translated to all my clients and students. I have also benefitted.  Using these treating pain protocols on myself, I have become a healthier, happier and more energized teacher. As I have changed, my current students are more inspired and motivated.

Having also attracted more students, I have more income and look forward to more trainings. It has been satisfying to serve in this way, and I am so grateful for these tools. I look forward to deepening my skills even more with the yoga therapy trainings for neck and shoulders, and for spine, knees and feet.

True Seva

binduBy Bindu Shortt

When I was growing up, we always had a mother cat and some kittens in the house, plenty to share among seven children. I loved to take a cat into bed with me and pet it. I remember exactly the moment when I was scratching a cat under the chin and thought, “Who is giving here and who is receiving?” I had thought I was giving by scratching the cat. But I realized that the cat was giving me something also.


photo credit:

Now I won’t go so far as to call petting a cat seva. It’s more a story about the disappearing of the lines between giving and receiving. Seva does this, while it is also a deeper process. The Sanskrit word translates into “selfless service” or “actions taken without thought of reward or payment.” True seva contributes to your spiritual awakening, through your contributing to the Guru.  True seva makes the lines between giving and receiving disappear.

My first Svaroopa® seva was at my Foundations training. We each pulled tasks out of a hat.  I pulled the job of cleaning out the refrigerator. At first I grumbled. I had seen the stuff left from the prior students, and it wasn’t a pretty sight or smell. But as I put my awareness solely on cleaning the fridge, I was able to land in the moment and be fully present with the task. As I yielded to the simplicity of the doing in the moment, I could feel myself relax and — dare I say it — enjoy the process of doing, as service.

When I decide to do seva I am not thinking about how it will advance me spiritually. In fact, that seems antithetical to what seva really is. I’m not so sure I’m “thinking” at all. I’m not weighing the gains against the effort. Choosing to do seva is simply a matter of “what is.” It is a natural process. The sun shines because that’s what it does. The wind blows, the water flows. Similarly, gardeners garden, editors edit, computer people do computer stuff (can you tell computers are NOT my seva?). Yogis give.

Some years ago I heard Swamiji say, “When you are Self Realized, all you do is give.” At the time I thought that sounded exhausting. I was thinking of it as a one-way street. I was very familiar with that old martyrdom identity of “I just give and give and give.” I depleted myself trying to construct an identity of being a “giving” person.

But now I understand Swamiji’s words differently, through my own experience of seva. There is a joy in doing, in giving, unfettered by a personal agenda. Seva as a practice is part of this mystical Svaroopa® Science.

the-yoga-of-grace-copyI can’t explain how seva works. I only know that by offering seva my capacity expands. It’s like my pot that holds Grace and Truth and Self becomes bigger. I become free-er. Free-er to do more, to give more. The flowing of giving from this free place affects me as it flows out through me, as me. If seva is “selfless service,” then there is no small ‘s’ self-involved. And the “service” is given to Self.

Certainly in our Svaroopa® community it is easy to see that the actions of many are needed to sustain and move our community forward in its evolution. To be one of those included in this process is a privilege. As I immerse myself in my seva — whether it is gardening at the Ashram, emceeing a Swami Sunday, or offering Ayurvedic guidance to staff — I am immersed more deeply in the flow of the Grace of this lineage. So much has been given to me, such amazing abundance of Grace and gifts, that my seva is my sincere expression of my gratitude and giving back. Ironically, seva is another way of expressing my Divinity out into the world.

New Year’s Ritual

It All Melted into a River Of Wax

Priya KenneyBy Priya Kenney

I’m deeply grateful that Swamiji offered the Ashram’s New Year’s ritual for us in our own homes. It was powerful and profound. I want to do it every year. My husband joined me for parts of it. New Year’s morning we lit candles and set our goals, he sat with me while I chanted Jaya Jaya Arati Nityananda.

On New Year’s Eve, what stood out for me was a line from Guru Gita verse 32: “Guru brings an end to all things.” Everything comes to an end.  I really felt that. By placing the tray full of candles by Nityananda’s photo, all of it was dissolving — all the events, large and small, difficult and joyful, scary and not scary. In the end, they were all just events, just experiences. All burned down into the same river of wax. All were the same. As will be the experiences of this year. Now, to remember that.

ny-ritualWe used Crayola candles because that was what we had in the house. The colorful river of Crayola wax reminded me that it’s all a play of consciousness.  There was no fear, no need for things to be a certain way. It is all just a palette of experiences for us to play in as we remember who we are, the Self.

I loved knowing that the Guru, Ashram residents, and svaroopis all over the world were doing this ritual for New Year’s eve and morning . It was so uniting. All borders fell away and everything was one big play of consciousness.

A Tidal Wave of Shakti

sue-ciley-copyBy Shuchi Cilley

Oh my gosh, shaktipat for New Year’s eve — at home, no travel. What an astounding surprise! What a gift! What a celebration — bliss bubbles and beyond. What better way to end one year and start another? We’re already grateful for so much, now I thank Swamiji yet again!

We didn’t read the Shishya email until late, so there was a bit of last minute chasing around to find birthday candles and concoct a suitable tray.  First we chanted Jaya Jaya Arati Nityananda, then chanting Jyota se Jyota to Baba, and then offering our own candles and experiences, followed by chanting Om Namah Shivaaya.

Grace poured in. A veritable explosion, a tidal wave, of Shakti visibly poured from all three photos, immediately saturating everything. It’s the last thing I remember — Guru’s Grace nityanandapropelling us so deeply inside that we were still established there days later. Dare I call it a hangover? (I am not looking for an antidote, hee hee.)

“From the timelessness of her own beingness, the Guru gives with joyful and unbounded generosity.”
— Rukmini Abbruzzi

Again and again and again I bow. Thank you.