Making Life Meaningful

By Cayla (Mangala) Allen

Chanting filled my ears and filled my heart, as I settled into Kailasa, the Ashram’s meditation hall in Downingtown PA.  I became saturated in the vibrations of “Jyota se Jyota.”  This  bhajan — a devotional song composed for Swami Nirmalananda’s Guru, Swami Muktananda — petitions the Guru: “light my inner flame with your flame.”  Our 2019 New Year’s Retreat had begun.

Three other yogis performed arati, waving candle flames in circles to our Gurus’ photos, the ritual invoking the Grace of our lineage.  As the retreat continued to unfold, I began to melt into my experience.  A long, guided Ujjayi Pranayama (breathing practice) cleared the way for me to receive the teachings I had come to embrace.  Afterward, my meditation was deep and sweet.  Then another arati finished our session.  I can’t imagine a more glorious way to begin the journey into a New Year.

Our retreat meals were twenty minutes of tastiness followed by twenty minutes sitting in Vajrasana (Digestive Pose).  I focused on my food, indulged my senses and appreciated the quietude afterward.  In Vajrasana, I repeated mantra, noticing my pace slowing down.  This allowed me to be more fully present throughout the retreat.  Other asanas (poses) also opened space deeply within my belly.  I could feel my physical digestion improving.

Moreover, throughout our retreat, Swami Nirmalananda’s teachings extended well beyond my physical digestion.  She emphasized that it’s essential to digest thoughts and life experiences as well.  I learned that when I don’t digest it all, tension flourishes, both physically and mentally.  This affects everything!  Vichara (guided self-inquiry) gave me tools to become better at digesting everything.  All her discourses led me to understand how I was living my life.  They clarified how I can choose to bring more meaning into my life.  

On New Year’s Eve, I joined the group in chanting “Chidaananda-roopah, Shivo’ham Shivo’ham.” The translation is, “My nature is the bliss of pure consciousness, I am Shiva. I am Shiva.”  I received Swamiji’s message that I am more than I think I am.  My life is meaningful because I’m in it, supported by an undercurrent running through it.  That inherent flow carries me when I cannot carry myself.  When I invest myself in whatever I am doing, my life becomes more meaningful.

On New Year’s Day, along with the group, I feasted on a scrumptious lunch at Shivaloka (the Ashram residence).  I steeped in the Ashram’s sublime energy.  Later, Swamiji offered an evening Satsang where I pondered the questions she asked: how I want to live? consciously or unconsciously?  Who am I while I do what I do?  Am I able to direct my energy in living consciously?  Or do I direct it into chasing my instincts?  Just having heard these questions shifted something in me.  Continuing to contemplate them helped me delve deeper within.  I have been able to bring the experience of Self into my life.  This shift has continued to work in my life throughout the whole year!

“When you draw from the depths of your being,” said Swamiji, “You will have a capacity for life that gives you the ability to make the most of every day.”  Since the retreat, I have become aware of immersing myself more in whatever I am doing.  I feel fortunate to be able to dive within, discovering something more inside.  Thus, living from the inside out, I find more and more meaning in my life. What unfolded for me in the retreat remains rich and full, affecting me deeply.  As I am more aware of who I am, life becomes sacred.  My actions become sacred. If you have the opportunity, make time to immerse yourself in our 2020 New Year’s Retreat.  You will be forever grateful that you gave yourself this gracious gift.

Blessed by a Mahayoga

By Carolyn (Karuna) Beaver, SVA Board Member

We have the great good fortune to be part of a “mahayoga.”  In Sanskrit, maha means great. We all know that Svaroopa® yoga is great.  But why?  It’s the poses.  They reach right into your spine and open up your body and your breath.  It’s the meditation, with a powerful mantra that opens your Divinity.  It’s the teachings from a lineage of Kundalini masters, including our own Master Teacher, Swami Nirmalananda.  Ours is a mahayoga for all these reasons.

Yet, primarily, ours is a mahayoga because it offers something decidedly different than most other yoga in the West today.  Our Sadguru offers the initiation of Shaktipat, both formally through retreats and informally through the yoga practices.  Shaktipat is the Kundalini awakening that lights your inner fire.  It shines the light on who and what you really are. You are Consciousness Itself, the One Reality being all.  You are a Divine being.  You are more than you think you are.

I vividly remember the first time I received Shaktipat.  I was taking Foundations of Svaroopa® Yoga.  Swamiji, then Rama Berch, was leading the training.  In rotated stomach pose, my head slid back of its own accord.  Then, my spine began to untangle and realign.  “What is this?” I wondered.  I asked Swamiji at the next break.  She smiled at me and said, “You have received the gift of Kundalini awakening.”  Then she took the time to explain to me what a gift it was.

Now I am able to give a gift to the one who made Shaktipat available to me.  I am so grateful for all I have learned from Swamiji and from all my Svaroopa® teachers.  I am so grateful for the changes in my body, my mind and my Self.  Because of the teachings and the teachers, I have been set on the path to Self-Realization.  What greater gift could I receive?  It’s the gift that keeps giving.

That is why, during our current Fundraiser, I am financially supporting the organization and the teachers who support me.  I am paying it forward, to help keep the lights on and the teachings flowing from the Ashram so others can benefit as well.  I encourage you to open your heart as well as your wallet and do the same.

I’m sure you too have a life changing Svaroopa® story or a Shaktipat story to tell.  The Ashram Board is encouraging you to share how your life has changed as a result of this mahayoga.  Post your story on the Ashram Facebook page, or on Swamiji’s Facebook page.  Or send your story to  And, while you’re at it, send your donation too!  You can donate on the Ashram Facebook page or on the SVA webpage.  Or give us a call at 610-644-7555. Thank you for your deep practices and dedication.  You’ve received the gift that keeps giving.  Giving back is just as important.  Thank you for all that you are and all that you give!

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Lynn (Gurupremananda) Cattafi, President, SVA Board

Most of us have “Svaroopa® miracle stories.” You’ve likely had one or more experiences of healing, transformation and/or illumination.  It happened in a Svaroopa® yoga class, your personal Svaroopa® practices, a teacher training or retreat.  You encountered the deeper dimension of your own being, called “svaroopa” in Sanskrit.  You were infused with Divine Grace, which revealed your Own Self to you. 

Since then life has been different.  Perhaps you feel better in your body or have more clarity and ease in your life.  Or perhaps you even understand the deeper purpose of your life.  The Svaroopa® practices keep bringing you back — back to your Own Self.  The gift of these practices is the gift that keeps on giving.

I felt this the moment I walked into my first retreat with Swamiji, then Rama Berch.  I had completed Foundations the month before.  Even though that course was totally life changing, I really didn’t comprehend the power of this path.  I was told “Rama is coming down next month for a meditation retreat.  You HAVE to meet her.”  Looking back now with a deeper understanding, I know I received Shaktipat that first day.  I couldn’t put words to what I felt.  Yet I knew I was home. 

But by the third day, I was in emotional agony, curled up in the corner weeping for no reason.  She asked me, “Why the tears, Dear One?”  I explained my distress.  She smiled and said, “Good, you’re burning karma.  This is very good.”  I stayed and sat in it.  Once that layer of emotional trauma cleared from my being, I knew I was different.  I felt lighter, freer, joyful.  I knew the source of my transformation came through her.  And it just keeps getting better.

Now, I want only two things: to serve and to keep going deeper inside.  I want to be able to live in that freedom and joy all the time.  That is what Swamiji gives to me.  She gives it to all of you who have that inner impulse to know your Own Self.  That is what Baba Muktananda gave to her.  That is what Nityananda gave to Baba.  That is what Nityananda received from his Guru, and so on, back thousands of years.

In this season of gratitude, I offer unending gratitude to Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati. She has dedicated her life to serving those who want to experience their own Divinity.  My gratitude extends to the practice of dakshina, a Sanskrit word meaning a donation to the revered teacher.  Dakshina is motivated by a pure internal impulse. When you give financially from gratitude and love for your yoga, there is nothing to be gained.  Nothing, that is, except your own Self. What a gift!

This is why, in our Ashram’s fall fundraiser, “The Gift that Keeps Giving,” I am making a generous donation to the organization that helps so many reach their full potential – their own Self.  Swamiji’s presence and teachings, so generously given, take us ever closer to living in the ever-expanding joy of our own inner light.  She provides a multitude of doorways to your own Self:  yoga, meditation and more.

That MORE is Shaktipat — a rare, precious and eternal gift.  Truly, it is the gift that keeps giving.  Your Svaroopa® practices are infused with it.  We have all been receiving Shaktipat informally since the beginning of Swamiji’s teaching.  Now, as a Sadguru, she gives formal Shaktipat initiation.  In whatever way you have received Shaktipat, we want to hear YOUR Svaroopa® story!

Your experiences inspire others.  In the coming days, we will be reaching out by phone to hear as many stories as possible.  If we miss you, and you don’t have a chance to tell your story on a phone call, please write to me at I look forward to your Svaroopa® yoga story by phone or by email!  Let your Svaroopa® story inspire you to open your heart while you open your wallet.  As a non-profit organization, our Ashram relies on dakshina to keep the lights on and the teachings flowing.  Your gratitude and your love of yoga helps your light shine.  Share your light, love and financial resources with the organization that lit the flame within you.

Getting Closer to Enlightenment

By Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain

Life offers me many opportunities to test my inner equanimity.  It’s like my mind sits on a perch, ready to swoop down and rattle my cage with the littlest irritation.  Yoga rightfully calls these “opportunities” nothing more than “experiences.”  The more experiences you have, the more opportunities you get to work on your enlightenment.

In her October 2019 Teachings: The Experience and Experiencer, Swami Nirmalananda offers a profound, yet obvious, quick fix to settle back into Self.  In the midst of activity, or even in the middle of a thought stream, ask yourself, “Who is the one having the experience?”  Well, that would be me, of course!

But who’s “Me”?  The experience can be so captivating, I can get lost in it.  Continually pondering this question leaves me very little wiggle room: am I my mind or the Self?  Would I rather be trapped in identifying with my experience, good or bad?  Or would I rather recognize that I am the Self while having the experience?  I decided to stay in the question, as often as possible, for a couple of days.

While making supper, I asked myself, “Who’s the one experiencing this?” Immediately, my field of awareness expanded beyond what I was doing, into who I’m being: Shiva, while chopping vegetables.  I know in theory that the Self, Shiva, is closer than my own breath, but asking the question opened me to the experience.  My breathing shifted inside and I felt more grounded, more embodied.

Recently, I looked at my son’s face while he was talking with me.  In the past, I would have had my story, featuring an identity for me to “become” — “concerned Mom.”   Instead, I questioned, “Who’s the one looking through my eyes, and his, while having this experience of being together?”  I settled into a sweet spaciousness.  There was only the One: Shiva, manifesting in a multiplicity of forms, in order to have the experience of Self while being each and both of us.  What a divine play!  I know who I am, while having the experience.  In this way, the outcome of any experience hardly matters.

Swamiji describes, “This practice makes you able to distinguish between mind and Self.  Your mind is the servant of the Self.”  It’s not the other way around.  Of course, it can feel that way when my mind is bothering me.  My mind gets distracted, or easily bored, and tries to figure stuff out.  I suppose my mind is trying to help me.  Instead, it sure makes things harder, especially in meditation. 

In meditation this week, I was able to question my mind: “Who’s the one having the experience of meditation?”  I clarified, “Not the one who is trying, but the one Being, while in the meditation?”  Shiva.  Immediately, I deepened inward.  I became the experiencer, and my mind receded into the background of my awareness.  Om Namah Shivaaya reverberated as if on its own.  Instead of “doing my meditation,” I experienced That which is always being me.

As Swamiji describes, “This practice makes you able to distinguish between mind and Self. Your mind is the servant of the Self.” Whatever the experience, when my mind is serving my Own Self, it feels neutral, open to possibilities.  I am less caught up in good, bad or even challenging.  It just is, because I just am.  I am the One Self, being all, even when I forget!  Swamiji has often given the guidance to “experience the experience you’re experiencing while you’re experiencing it.”  Now I add, “Who’s the one having the experience?”  Then I know myself as embodied divinity.  I become present in my own Presence.  I get that much closer to enlightenment.

Ayurveda for Oral Health

By Maureen (Bindu) Shortt

Paying attention to the hygiene of your mouth is important.  Of course, you’ve been trained since childhood to brush your teeth and floss daily.  You see your dental hygienist for cleaning and polishing twice-yearly.  You get regular check-ups by your dentist.  Yet from the viewpoint of Ayurveda, there is more to your oral health than cavity-free teeth.

Your gut starts at your mouth.  The “tube” of your digestive tract, your gut supports about six cups of bacteria.  These bacteria work to keep your immune system strong.  They participate in digestion and detoxing.  They also produce energy and mood balancing substances.  Your mouth has its share of bacteria.  These bacteria are exposed to air moving through; food being chewed; liquids passing through.  What goes on with the bacteria in your mouth sets the stage for the health through the rest of your digestive tract.  And its health is vital to overall wellbeing (see my June 2019 blog).

Oil pulling is a popular Ayurvedic home practice for healthy mouth bacteria.  This ancient practice, however, is somewhat misunderstood today.  Most people are doing oil pulling are thinking they are killing the “bad” bacteria that would cause gum disease, receding gums, bad breath, tooth discoloration and cavities.  Oil pulling does not kill bad bacteria.  Oil pulling feeds good bacteria.  And it is the good bacteria that keep the “bad” in check.

There is a simple way to do oil pulling.  Before or after brushing your teeth, flossing and scraping your tongue, swish one tablespoon of a good quality sesame oil (plain, not toasted) around in your mouth, squishing it between your teeth, for about five minutes.  While you swish, you can do other activities such as shower and get dressed.  Then spit the oil out in a waste bin.  Avoid spitting oil down the sink or toilet, because it can clog your plumbing.  Do not swallow it, because it is now full of dead bad bacteria.  Rinse your mouth with warm water.  Then take a large sip of room temperature or warm water to dilute and flush any residual bacteria.

Make the practice of oil pulling enjoyable, not prescriptive.  Daily is good, while even three times a week is effective.  

As we are entering the vata season in the northern hemisphere, oil pulling can prepare you for winter.  It can be a beneficial winter practice for stronger digestion and immunity.  Plus, your oral cavity joins the tissues of your nose, ears and sinuses.  Oil pulling benefits them all in the colder months.

Now that you know how to keep your mouth healthy, delight it with energy date balls:


1 cup walnuts

½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1 cup of dates, pitted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt


  1. Spin the walnuts and coconut together in a food processor until just crumbly, not oily.
  2. Add the dates and vanilla and salt and mix again until the batter is uniform.
  3. Roll into balls.  You can then roll them in more coconut or more chopped walnuts or some cocoa powder — or all three!
  4. Store your energy date balls in closed container in the refrigerator.

The Promise Continues to Expand

By Rukmini Abbruzzi, interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

Teaching Svaroopa® yoga and meditation is an incredible gift.  I am delighted, honored and humbled to be able to offer it to people.

It was the gift of a Svaroopa® yoga class that took me to my first class.  During the final Shavasana, I experienced incredible bliss.  It felt like a promise.  I was amazed.  I had never felt that before.  I felt like I had come home.

At the time, I was a young mom with kids.  I knew I was supposed to be doing something other than being a mom.  One day, I said to God, “Ok God, I know I have been asking this question, but I have not been listening.  I’m ready to listen.  In addition to being a mom, what am I supposed to be doing?”  The answer was immediate and clear: “Teach yoga.” 

Soon after that, my Svaroopa® yoga teacher brought Swami Nirmalananda (then Rama Berch) to my area.  Attending her workshops, I immediately knew she was my teacher.  It felt like a calling.  I began training to teach Svaroopa® yoga with Foundations in 1999.  Now, besides being a yoga teacher, I serve Swami in many ways, as her full-time Teachings Manager.  I serve in any way that she asks me to!  It’s all Guruseva, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.  

I have just finished teaching my first 12-week series of a new yoga and meditation class.  It’s so beautiful!  A lot of the students are very new.  In a combined asana (pose) and meditation class, the purpose of the poses is particularly clear.  Their purpose is to make you able to sit for meditation and go deeper.

One of the most wonderful things about Svaroopa® yoga and meditation is the depth and support of the lineage.  We just do a small part by using our bodies, our minds and our words.  We say, “Pull your knee toward your chest,” and amazing things happen!  People experience their Own Self.  That’s Swami.  That’s Baba.  That’s Nityananda.  So much is offered, and it all comes from the Grace of this incredible lineage. 

That promise I felt during my very first Shavasana continues to fulfill me beyond my mind’s understanding.  There is no end to the bliss and the promise.  It just keeps expanding.  The more I do and the more I learn, the more I can offer.  And then I realize how much more there is to learn.  There is so much wonder and joy in the process of teaching.

Strengthening Through Shaktipat

By Kim Zikmund

I honestly didn’t know what to expect in the Shaktipat Day component of my Level 2 Yoga Teacher Training (YTT).  I was inexperienced, both as a student and as a teacher.  I didn’t even recognize the profound changes that were happening within me.

A year later, I again received Shaktipat from Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda in YTT Level 4.  From her teachings throughout the four levels of Svaroopa® YTT, I had a better understanding of the physical and mental changes that need to happen within me.  I welcomed those changes. 

I knew that I wanted to stop looking externally for things to make me happy, whole and complete.  I yearned for the teachings, the chanting and the physical changes.  I knew deepening these personal practices would bring me to know my own Divine essence.  I just couldn’t get enough.  My second Shaktipat experience was a profound one, making me realize all I needed was right there inside of me.  I didn’t need to look any further.  Rather, I simply needed some help to go deeper.

I received that help a few months later by attending a full weekend Shaktipat Retreat.  From many other students, I’d heard about the beneficial effects of Shaktipat.  I was overwhelmed with excitement to attend, and the retreat exceeded my expectations.  It helped me delve deeper into my Self.  It was a rich, fulfilling experience that made me realize I’d changed.  Yet I didn’t actually change.  I was just reacquainted with ME!  This lovely revelation presented itself at the opportune time.  I left that retreat knowing who I was and how that flow of Grace is always there for me anytime I need it.

Two weeks after leaving the retreat, my father became very ill.  He has a chronic disease, and I truly thought this was his time to leave this earth.  I didn’t have the opportunity to savor that Shaktipat flow of Grace.  I was thrown into long driving trips, early mornings and late nights.  I was supporting my parents, emotionally, physically and spiritually in any way that I could.  During this time, however, I noticed how I was just floating through the crisis.  Not attaching emotion to everything happening around me, I became present in every moment.  I was fully aware and watching things through a very different lens.  I was tapping into an inner source of strength.  It flowed from within and gave me the opportunity to be there for my parents when they needed me the most.  That flow of Grace didn’t need to be savored.  It was there, and I tapped into it.

“When I say, DO MORE YOGA, I mean that your yoga doesn’t stop when class ends.  Yoga pervades life.  Life becomes yoga.”  This is one of my favorite quotations from Swamiji.  With deep gratitude I thank her for helping me on my journey and look forward to attending many more retreats.