The Meaning of DIY

By Ellan (Shanti) Catacchio,
interviewed by Marlene (Matrikaa) Gast

Ellan (Shanti) Catacchio enrolled in the Deepen Your Yoga Retreat because it fit her schedule.  The theme was coincidentally “Peace,” which is the meaning of her Sanskrit name, Shanti.  She says, “I would have gone to a retreat no matter the program title.”  A long-time practitioner of Svaroopa® yoga and meditation, she took advantage of some time off from family responsibilities.

She says it was a personal indulgence that “did turn out to be a great gift for me.  Opened to inner peace, I received great support from the program and Gurudevi Nirmalananda. Sitting with my Guru ‘pressed a reset button.’ I gained new insight to bring back to my family. I returned home refreshed in all dimensions of my being.”

Each day begins with chanting and meditation.  Midday sessions feature yoga pose classes and group vichara (guided self-inquiry) sessions.  In the Peace retreat, all the practices were aimed at uncovering the deep peace beyond imagining, the peace that passeth understanding.

Shanti compares her experience of these practices to dying white cloth, making it blue.  “Every time the cloth is dipped in the dye, it’s bluer and bluer,” she explains. “At home I can listen to audio recordings of Gurudevi’s wonderful discourses.  Yet being in retreat at the Ashram elevates the experience. Gurudevi is so generous with her time in these programs. That’s why I went. I get recharged. I’m saturated like a deeply dyed cloth.

“The Ashram lunch was an opportunity to be with the Guru. Always so accessible, Gurudevi’s more casual interactions with us at lunch added to that whole experience. It was a lovely, fulfilling interlude. The vegetarian food was so good!  And chanting the food mantras with Gurudevi and fellow yogis began the meal, blessing the sacred act of feeding our bodies.”  

Shanti also loved the pose classes and vichara sessions.  She recounts, “Vichara is always helpful for me. In this retreat, as a group we inquired into peace. Presented with questions about the things that bring us peace, we journaled our responses and then shared with others.  I found great benefit in thinking about the things that open me to that unshakable inner peace.

“When I left home to attend this retreat, I was facing a low point in a family situation. For me it was a dark time. Yet the Deepen It Yourself Retreat was so powerful that I was able to stay in the inner peace that my experiences had uncovered. I was able to bring the Ashram vibe home.

“How did I change? I settled deeper into my own Self. I was a “deeper blue,” the inner of Consciousness that can be seen inside in meditation. I went home more grounded and better able to support the family. At home, I wrote of my experience:

This is my first morning home from Deepen It Yourself, and I continue to ride the wave of Grace rekindled and deepened during the retreat. I have a new daily asana practice that is serving me very well, reaching into the stuck places in by body to help release the stuck places in my mind.

Discourses from Guruji, anatomy of the spine, asana classes, vichara, chanting, meditation, japa, Ashram lunch and Swami Sunday. I got everything I needed and everything I didn’t know I needed. I am beyond grateful for Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s generosity, grace and teachings. Again and again I bow 🙏

Cooking at Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram

By Lynn (Gurupremananda) Cattafi Heinlein

You can cook Ashram meals yourself!  In 2020, we will be bringing you recipes and menu suggestions based on what we prepare for Ashram residents. All are reviewed and approved by Gurudevi Nirmalananda. Of course, all are vegetarian, meaning no meat, poultry or seafood and no eggs. To meet Ayurvedic nutrition principles, every meal must provide each of the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent (aka spicy) and astringent.  Dairy products are included.  As a whole, each meal must also provide 20 grams of protein per person. 

Each Ashram resident is part of a cooking duo who cook one lunch or breakfast weekly.  Every Monday, I cook lunch with Swami Sahajananda (formerly known as Kusuma). I really enjoy cooking with her because I learn a lot.

Easiest Coconut Curry Tofu is one of my favorite recipes to make.  Everyone loves the flavors.  The creaminess of the coconut and the mild heat of Indian spices feel indulgent.  At the same time, the healthy veggies let you feel very virtuous!  Plus, it is so easy, you can make it in minutes.  We often serve it with an additional side vegetable such as steamed kale or broccoli.


Ingredients for this recipe give the six tastes: rice and coconut milk for sweet; tomatoes for sour; roasted- salted cashews and soy sauce for salty; chili paste and onions for pungent; tofu and basil for astringent; baby bok choy for bitter.  The recipe below is family sized, for 4.  To feed Ashram residents and guests, we triple it (or more as needed).  Each serving provides 16.5 grams of protein.  How do we get the other 3.5 grams of protein?  The side dishes have protein as well, and then there’s the option of my famous chocolate pudding!  For now, however, let’s stick with the main dish.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

2 bunches green onions

2 (14 ounce) cans coconut milk (use one, and then add more as needed)

1/4 cup soy sauce, divided

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons chili paste (or to taste if you like more, or less, heat)

1 pound of extra firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 cup matchstick carrots

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

4 cups chopped baby bok choy

1 cup frozen peas

salt to taste

Roasted salted cashews for garnish


Start the rice:

We suggest basmati ginger rice: 1 cup basmati to 2 cups of water, with salt, ghee and grated ginger to taste.  (Of course, plain rice, of any variety works well, too.)

Rinse the raw rice to remove excess starch.

In a separate pot, add 1 cup washed rice, 2 cups of water, a little ghee (clarified butter), salt and grated ginger. Bring all to a boil.  Then simmer covered on low heat until water is absorbed.

Remove from the heat. Add a little more water if needed, and leave the pot covered until serving.

Prepare the curry:

Separate each onion’s white bulb from its green top. Finely chop the white onion bulbs.  Slice green tops into two-inch pieces.

In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, mix 1 can of coconut milk, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, brown sugar, curry powder, ginger and chili paste. Bring to a boil.

Stir tomatoes, yellow pepper, carrots, and finely chopped bulbs of the green onions into the skillet. Cover, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mix in tofu, basil and baby bok choy and finely chopped onion bulbs plus the sliced green tops.  Add more coconut milk and seasoning as needed.

Continue cooking 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender yet still crisp. Add the frozen peas, and continue to simmer them until they’re cooked.


Serve the curry over the cooked rice. Garnish with roasted salted cashews.

It All Begins with Shaktipat

By Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain

In her February Teachings: Slow or Fast, Hard or Easy, Gurudevi Nirmalananda asks, “Since life is going to change you anyway (over the course of time), which path do you want to take?” I wouldn’t have been drawn to a teacher like Gurudevi were I not a little inclined to go “pedal to the medal.”  Yet I know how to apply the brakes as well. 

I am also learning to ease into an inner support that is vast and deep.  I feel more anchored in the midst of life.  Guru’s Grace bestows this gift.  The truth is, I was never satisfied to simply let life wear me down, repeating the same mistakes endlessly.  I guess that is what makes me a spiritual seeker.  I’ve never truly been satisfied with the “slow track.”  Gurudevi helps me see why:

The good news is that there’s a fast track.  Instead of the gradual wearing away of the rock-like density blocking access to your inner light, you can opt for the cosmic breakthrough of Shaktipat.

From my first class, I knew that Gurudevi’s teaching is profoundly different.  I was ready for a “cosmic breakthrough.”  Nothing I’d tried gave me lasting relief from my tight spine and crazy mind.  I knew how to keep doing and doing, but I wasn’t comfortable with being.  No one had ever directed me inside, to my own spine, and deeper — to my own Divine Essence.  Yet, hidden within the recesses of my heart, I knew I wanted more. When I met Gurudevi, that was it.  I wanted to know what she knew, experience what she was experiencing, and bring my authenticity into the world.  Though hadn’t found the words yet, I wanted to live in the Self.  And like so many Svaroopa® yogis, I’ve never looked back.  As a way for us to identify our own progress, Gurudevi shares her own cosmic breakthrough:

Muktananda’s gift of Shaktipat changed everything for me. When Kundalini climbed my spine the first time, I had a powerful sense that this was what I had been looking for, even over lifetimes.

My own first kundalini experience happened while resting my legs up the wall in Viparita Karani.  Slowly a snake-like movement began to spontaneously undulate through my spine.  As I surrendered into Her flow, lifetimes of tension and fear  melted away.  Tears of joy and relief filled my eyes.  Instead of drips of water slowly wearing away my rock-like density, I was in the middle of a cascading waterfall!  I wanted to shout from the rooftops, free at last!  It wasn’t long before I realized this release was just the tip of the iceberg. 

Swami Nirmalananda giving Shaktipat

My life’s improvements, of years ago, however blissful, weren’t enough.  This realization was a natural outgrowth of my continuing relationship with a Great Being. The Guru specializes in pointing out our blind spots.  Then she helps us get past them.  So as soon as Gurudevi was appointed a Shaktipat Guru, I chose an even faster track.  It was inevitable.  Maha Shaktipat Diksha is the initiation that awakens your Kundalini for the highest purpose of human life: the knowing of your own Self.  What used to be mundane “ah ha” moments are now infused with deeper, more profound perceptions.  Gurudevi calls this understanding “The mystical revelation of your inherent Divinity.”  Everything becomes an opportunity to move you toward enlightenment. Slow or fast, hard or easy?  It is a personal choice as to how fast or slow one wants to track spiritual progress.  We each have free will.  Maybe you’re ready to dive in, or need to sit back and rest a while on the riverbank of Grace.  It’s all good, because Grace never stops flowing.  Where is there to go that the Self is not?  Yet I know I must put forth effort.  So I continue the practices that attune me to Consciousness.  Meditation and mantra work with my mind.  Asana sustains my body, and seva opens my heart.  Always, Guru’s Grace lights the way.  It all begins with Shaktipat, and never, ever ends.

A Holy Night

By Swami Prajñananda

It was the first Shivaratri, the Night of Shiva. All the asuras (demons) and devas (gods) stayed up with Shiva through the night. Only a few hours earlier, Shiva had consumed the deadly halaahala poison.  Had it had fallen on the earth, it would have destroyed the entire universe.  To save the world, Shiva drank it.  Although Shiva, who is being the universe and beyond the universe, could never die, the asuras and devas stayed up all night with him just to make sure.  

This year, February 21 marks the holy day of Shavaratri; technically, it is the night that is holy.  The sacredness of Shavaratri is not just due to the world being saved.  It is also a night dedicated to God.

In the ancient story, the Demons and Gods alike turned their minds and hearts to Shiva.  That they were enemies did not matter.  They came together, chanted and extolled the praises of the One Divine Reality, in the form of Shiva.  This story relates to us personally, as described in the Bhagavadgita: for every human being contains a unique combination of divine and demonic qualities.  Some of those qualities named by Krishna include:

  • Divine Qualities: humble; forgiving; compassionate; focused; peaceful; free of need, greed & fear
  • Demonic Qualities: prideful; full of anger; selfish; deluded; hateful; lost in need, greed & fear

You may recognize qualities from both lists in yourself.  Yet, as you continue with your yoga, you will notice that your Divine Qualities shine through more brightly, while your Demonic Qualities fall away. This is a day-to-day, yoga-class-by-yoga-class process.

A good Marker Pose is how you drive.  Perhaps, since you started yoga, you notice that you don’t speed as much.  Perhaps you are more patient and generous in letting people come into your lane.  Perhaps you see the difference at the grocery store or a family function.  Yoga is working on you from the inside out.  Every yoga class and every meditation smooths your edges.  You shine brighter and brighter.

In the ancient story of the first Shivaratri night, it did not matter whether an attending being was a Demon or a God.  All stayed up with Shiva.  In the same way, no matter your current combination of divine and demonic qualities, you too can turn your focus to Shiva.  Who is Shiva?  Shiva is your own Self.

Of course, your yoga practices transform you from the inside out.  Yet do not think the goal of yoga is merely about being a better person.  It isn’t about “making” yourself more Divine by cultivating Divine Qualities.  You already are Divine, even when your inner light isn’t shining through perfectly.  It’s already there — full, whole and complete within.  Nothing you do or don’t do can make you any less Shiva.

However, how do you know it?  That is what yoga is cultivating: your ability to know who you are.  On the holy night of Shivaratri, your ability to know Shiva is magnified.  Choose to ride the energy of this holy night!  Stay up doing practices.  Who knows?  You could even become enlightened.

Om svaroopa svasvabhavah namo nama.h

How to Smile and Laugh More

By Heather Wong Ken; Interviewed by Margie (Maitreyi) Wilsman

Having been a Svaroopa® yoga student for more than a decade, Heather Wong Ken knew there’d be big changes from taking a Shaktipat Retreat with Gurudevi Nirmalananda.  She was a little bit afraid of it; yet when one was scheduled for Calgary, she signed up.  She says, “It was a no-brainer. It was where I live and the right time to take it.

“The whole weekend was a powerful experience.  Even though intense, it was also blissful and so deep.  I felt like I was on a vacation.”  Surprisingly, Heather’s sense of being on vacation happened in the meditation room with Gurudevi rather than on the recesses and meal breaks.  In the meditation room with Gurudevi, Heather powerfully felt she “wanted to be there.”

The Shaktipat Retreat deepened Heather’s yoga practice.  Now in everyday life, she feels a deeper sense of inner connection with Self, seeing Shiva in everybody and in everything.  She feels so much more grounded and more confident.

She describes, “This new feeling is deeper than when I feel grounded by practicing asana (poses).  I carry the feeling of Self-within even into the simple things of everyday life.  I feel that I have more time.  I have less need for distractions.  Now, rather than watch TV at night to unwind, I do yoga and meditate.”

Heather went to the Shaktipat Retreat sensing something big would happen.  Changes range wonderfully across an emotional spectrum.  She feels underlying happiness.  At times, arising anger and sadness surprise her.  In the past her habit was to keep such emotions hidden.  Now she is letting them be what they are, and they leave. Heather shares, “I was always a more serious person, even as a baby.  Now I smile and laugh more.  My interactions with other people feel more authentic.  And my yoga practices have continued to deepen.”

How Much Yoga?

by Gurudevi Nirmalananda Saraswati

When you decide how much yoga you are going to do, you are deciding two things:  (1) what to do with some available time (a simple thing), and (2) what your goal in life is (a really big deal!).  You are really choosing —do you want to be happy or do you want to be bliss-full?  These are very different things.  Are you using yoga to help you pursue success, to improve yourself or to delve into consciousness?

In the name of success, you try to manage the people and things in your life, or you try to acquire more of both.  Whether you are handling a car repair or maneuvering to buy a new car, you are achieving a goal.  When you are handling the relationship with your spouse or child, or maybe trying to acquire one of each, your pursuit of success is through relationship.  Success happens when other people are doing what you want, and the things in your life match your current list of desires.  If you are able to manage everything, then you can finally be happy. 

You run into a few hurdles.  This is because other people have their own agendas.  Cars, children, gardens and other things all have their own process of growth or decay.  Happiness through attaining success is possible, but just barely.  Along the way, it is very stressful.  You can do yoga just to recover from the strain; it balances out the rest of your life.

Patanjali explains this:

mrdu-madhy-aadhimaatratvaat tato’pi visheshah. —Yoga Sutras 1.22

Your rate of progress is affected by the amount of practice you do:

mild, medium or intense. 

Mild practice is described above:  to balance out the stress that comes from your pursuit of the perfect life.  Your weekly yoga class clears tensions from your muscles and stress hormones from your blood, so you can go back to the endeavors that will create success in the more significant parts of your life.

To live in the inner peace that arises from doing yoga, you need to do more practice — a medium amount.  You also need to include meditation in your practice.  Your practices keep you progressing into more inner openness or you will find that you are backsliding into fixity.  Using yoga to create personal transformation is a beautiful and powerful practice. 

Yet yoga is for the purpose of transcending your idea of who you are, not merely transforming it.  You know this from the best Shavasana, from even a few moments of sitting perfectly still in a seated pose, or after a twist.  The vastness of your own inner essence becomes undeniable. 

If this is your goal, meditation is your most important practice.  If the inner experience is your priority, meditation becomes the cornerstone of your daily practice.  Each time your mind is imprinted by the Self, your mind becomes more and more clear — so you can see through it to the Self.  Your entire life becomes the conduit of consciousness.  For this goal, Patanjali recommends intense practice.  Your maximum is three hours per day — as long as you have your work and your relationships, this maximum will work well for you. At this point, you might be thinking that three hours of yoga and meditation a day is pure craziness, while others are thinking that anyone who tries to get by on once a week is crazy.  The important part is your goal.  If your priority is success, then you should not do three hours of yoga a day — you will be supported in achieving success by doing a weekly class.  If you want transformation or if you want to know consciousness, you have to make a different choice.  You do decide, every day, how much yoga you will do and what your goal is.  Even if you decide not to decide, you have made a choice.  For my choice – I always say, “Do more yoga!”

Originally published on

Experiencing My Self

By Barbara (Girijananda) Hess

Both my husband and I are seekers, yearning for a deeper relationship with God.  Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s 2019 Year-Long Programme, “Leaps & Bounds,” lived up to its title.  I’ve taken every YLP since the beginning, and my husband as well enrolled this year.  He is also enrolled in a Christian Ministerial School, and we both consider Gurudevi to be our Guru.  Our yearning motivated us to immerse in our Guru’s year-long studies.  We participated in all four program options: articles, audios, discussion conference calls and the weekend retreat at Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram. 

Gurudevi’s monthly, in-depth articles expound on the yogic principles that underlie the Svaroopa® Vidya path.  Her timing of articles let me fit the reading of them into my busy life.  I always find that re-reading deepens my experience even more.  Then what follows is I have great anticipation for the monthly discourse audio.  I go deeper as Gurudevi’s talk focuses and expands on selected points from the article.  The sound of her voice fills me with Grace.  This opens me to greater understanding of the teachings.  Then I re-read the articles.

Her articles and audios lead me on a journey inward.  I contemplate whatever stands out for me.  It’s as though Gurudevi has created a path along which I can walk, pausing to contemplate amazing inner vistas.  This lets me enjoy and absorb her information and spiritual guidance.

The monthly discussion calls help integrate spiritual principles into my life day by day. These conference calls create community.  When I hear another person share an experience that reflects my personal experience or understanding, I feel validated.  Yet when another yogi expresses a different perspective, my understanding expands.  In our final weekend retreat, attended by those who had enrolled for Option 4, we all dive even deeper together. 

This past year, discussion with my husband about what we were hearing, learning and experiencing was a delightful bonus.  Our home time is structured around the ancient Svaroopa® Vidya principles and practices.  Gurudevi emphasizes that meditation and japa (out loud mantra repetition) are essential practices.  They open you to the knowing of your own Divine Essence — your own capital-S Self.  They attune you to the reality of Divine Essence within everyone and everything.  Thus, my husband and I meditate rather than fill evenings with TV.  Mantra plays throughout our house, even as we catch up on chores and other work.  Preparing to eat, I ask myself, “Would I put this food into God’s body?”  Is my house appropriately clean as the place of my sadhana (spiritual practice)?  Given Gurudevi’s 2019 YLP teachings, our home is unfolding as a sacred space.

Our final YLP discussion call anchored me into the practice of japa.  Gurudevi suggested doing japa for 20 minutes morning, noon and night.  I’m consistently doing japa and meditation at night and in the morning.  Noontime — at work — cannot be perfectly consistent.  Yet I repeat mantra whenever possible throughout the day.  Thus, I practice japa for more and more time.  I used to be mindful of time while doing japa.  Now I go into a timeless place and fall in love with myself.  I experience a deeper love for who I am as a person.  I sense that my capital-S Self is loving my small-s self.

Year after year, Gurudevi’s YLP teachings empower me to know that everyone is a form of the formless — Divine Essence.  My perceptions of the presence of God within me strengthen.  Direct access to my Divine Essence within deepens.  It extends into every area of my life.  Gurudevi’s delivery of ancient yogic teachings for modern seekers reliably propels my spiritual progress.  By the end of Gurudevi’s 2019 programme, my husband and I felt that we had truly moved forward on our spiritual paths with leaps and bounds!