A Unique Event

matrikaBy Matrika Gast

“It was really special — we even danced during the night,” says Rijumati (Ursula) Myslinski, recalling last year’s Ashram Shivaratri Retreat in Florida. Shivaratri is always celebrated in February at the dark of the moon. It happens tonight, February 13th. Let Rijumati’s experience, below, give you ideas for a Shivaratri celebration in your own home, even inviting other yogis to join you. This spiritual challenge is for the ultimate purpose of human life: to know your own Self.

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Remembering last year’s Shivaratri Retreat. Rijumati says, “Swami Nirmalananda’s sequencing of everything was superb. Our night included so much: meditation, chanting and sacred stories. We chanted with fervor. It built up slowly, as Swamiji is a master at leading this. Some meditations were short, and she told wonderful stories. The dancing was a surprise she was building up to! If you’re doing it at home, you can even dance if you want to.

“A key ingredient in our ecstasy was the amount of time for our practices and the total focus on what we were doing. We had snacks to fortify us. Swamiji thought of everything. She warned us there would be two obstacles to making it through the night: the mind and the body. The mind was the stronger foe!

Shiva for 180213 blog 1Even with the ecstasy in the dancing, Rijumati was ultimately moved into a “state of peace and quiet”. She says, “It was an uplifting experience. Yogis aged 70 (and over) are cautioned not to stay awake all night. So I did have rest periods, including a two-hour nap. Yet I got up again at 3 am, and engaged fully in the ongoing festivities. With Swamiji’s guidance it was easy. The next day I felt pretty darn good. When I opened my eyes, I realized I could take the state of peace and calm with me, and started my day at the usual time.

“When I returned home, my Shivaratri experience had a lasting effect. As Swami says, the more you do japa, it helps you stay in the state. I do have to make an effort to turn off the radio, to create basic peace and quiet and then access the deeper kind. After the Shivaratri Retreat it was easier to make that decision.”

Shiva for 180213 blog (3)This Night of Shiva offers you the chance of a lifetime. You can become enlightened in this one night. Simply stay up all night for extended meditation practices and don’t fall asleep. It’s not too late to plan. In a cold climate, hunker down in your yoga cave; if your weather is warm, you may want to be outside. Plan for your all-night practices. Include recesses with healthy treats during the night. (If you’re 70 or over, plan naps, too.) Chant, meditate, read the ancient teaching stories about Shiva. Do poses, both to keep awake as well as to make your sitting for meditation better.  Then meditate again. Repeat until sunup — or until as long as you have planned. Decide in advance and apply yourself.

Rijumati recalls, “What was remarkable was a real bonding experience with the other yogis. It happened because of our shared ritual. One always gets closer to yogis in programs. This was a special night together.” Even if you are practicing solo, however, you will be in good company. In India and around the world, Ashrams and Temples will be open all night. This includes our Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram, with an all-night celebration at Downingtown Yoga & Meditation Center.

Ease & Joy

Rosemary (Rudrani) Nogueby Rudrani Nogue, CSYT

“I never thought I would hear that sound come out of your mouth,” exclaimed a regular participant at our yoga philosophy discussion group to another regular. It was a sound of ease and joy. Leola had realized that, though her life had not changed, her reaction to it was gone. Leola repeated the sound several times. Then several in our circle had fun repeating the sound. Group laughter bubbled up at Leola’s wonderful transformation. “Small-s self” melted away in that moment. Clearly coming from the Truth, Leola glowed.

In April 2016, at her granddaughter’s pre-school, Leola had seen an announcement that Swami Nirmalananda would be leading a satsang (meditation program) in the same building. Leola attended. Swami Nirmalananda awoke Leola at a level that she did not yet recognize. Yet a decision arose in the back of her head. She would follow up with yoga classes “down the road.”

In September 2016, Leola phoned me to ask about yoga classes. I could hear deep stress in her voice. She was helping her daughters by taking care of grandkids daily, a one-year-old and a five-year-old. This was overwhelming, tiring work for Leola, with overactive young children. She had sleep apnea, tight muscles and aching knees. She wanted more flexibility and peace. She cried as I suggested in yoga class she would learn ways to care for herself. Finding time to come, however, was a roadblock. She said she would think about it and get back to me. A few days later she phoned to say “yes.” She registered for an upcoming session to claim an evening when she could get away.

This first step set Leola on a life changing pattern of “doing more yoga.” Leola consistently attends yoga class and has committed to taking care of herself. She is consistent in every yoga practice she has taken up in the 18 months since beginning. This is even changing her reaction to life as she abides more and more in Self.

Lunge YogaLeola began with spinal release poses at home in the morning before starting her day. In class, she reported on her progress. After about five months, her early morning home practice included all the poses she’d learned in class. Her body — particularly her knees — and her mind were opening.

Because she liked how yoga was helping her, she also joined my yoga philosophy discussion groups and satsangs. In these discussion groups, yogis bond deeply. In this safe community, they share the personal meaning they get from Swami Nirmalananda’s monthly contemplation articles. Leola learned principles of yoga philosophy, applied them in her life and connected with other yogis. Along the way, she often shared her yogic progress as well as her continuing, mostly frustrating, daily challenge with childcare. From attending the satsangs, she added meditation to her daily morning practice.

In June 2017, Leola attended my three-class “Learn to Mediate” series. She went even deeper into “capital-S Self,” and understood even more about the “More” that Svaroopa® yoga provides. She understood that she was in the concentrated flow of Grace that comes from Swami Nirmalananda. Now knowing that Grace was supporting her, Leola added japa to her practices. When the time is right, she plans to add chanting before she meditates.

Experience Shavasana & Ujjayi PranayamaAnother Svaroopa® yoga teacher suggested Leola start Ujjayi Pranayama. Leola started waking earlier so she could do 20 minutes of Ujjayi Pranayama, as well as her meditation and poses before the kids would wake. She started noticing her days were getting easier with the kids. She has progressed to doing Ujjayi breathing for 20 minutes both morning and night. She prioritizes her weekly yoga class, going to another teacher when I am away or not teaching. Leola takes advantage of any “extras” that are available, so she is registered for our upcoming Weekend Workshop with an Ashram faculty member.

Recently, Leola reported that her yearly medical visit to monitor the sleep apnea revealed positive changes. The amount of air needed from her machine reduced from 11 to 7. This was big news. She is heading toward getting off the machine.

At our last satsang, Leola clearly blossomed forth in a big way. All group members gladly shared in her audible expression of ease and joy in her life. Even though the challenges of her family and babysitting have not changed, Leola is in joy when caring for her grandkids rather than being overwhelmed. The wonderful acknowledgement of Leola’s many positive changes from our group was heartwarming and fun! Clearly, Leola keeps expanding into Self through her yoga practices and into the flow of Grace day by day. It is a beautiful opening I am privileged to witness. I cherish the big smile on her face.

Transformation through Community

matrikaBy Matrika Gast

In college I hated to talk in classes.  Preferring to take notes in a lecture or write essays, I felt discussion was a barrier to my learning.  Back then, I didn’t learn the importance of speaking up and listening in community.  Decades later, our Ashram community has changed me.  I am transformed from a lone-wolf yogi into a grateful member of the pack!

Karuna Beaver, our Boise Meditation Group Leader, always invites us to describe our experience.  She gently encourages us with a question, “Who else can you share this stuff with?” For me, this triggers another question, ‘Why would I want to share my experience?’ Now I know the answer: because communicating in community is a major component of true learning.

A community is comprised of individuals who share common interests, values and goals — and who talk with each other.  Each speaks the same language.  Our Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram community is a virtual assembly of seekers who engage in the Svaroopa® Sciences practices.  There are many practices, so many of us have entered through different doors.  Yet we all speak the same language, communicating our experiences of the Svaroopa® Sciences practices.

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You’re not asked to believe anything.  You are given practices, and the practices give you experiences.  You come to knowledge from articulating your own experience, and from listening to what others say about theirs.  Yoga is experiential learning.

In Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Training (YTT), a partner-pairing process teaches us how to apply what we have seen in demonstrations and have on our pose handouts.  But it’s in the communication between a pair of partners that experiential learning happens.  Receiving a pose alignment from our partner, we describe our own experience of it, complimenting and coaching as appropriate.  We team-teach our practicum classes, giving compliments and coaching to each other, while receiving both from our supervisor as well.

180130 blog possible graphic (6)Swami Nirmalananda shares, “When I served as the President of the San Diego yoga teachers association, I was surprised to hear a comment from a teacher of another style.  She said, ‘The teachers you train know how to work together, in a classroom and outside.  None of the rest of us do.’”

Returning home from Teacher Training, many of us keep in touch with each other and reconnect in future trainings.  We ask questions, compare notes and encourage, continuing to learn and evolve together.  Thus we form relationships that continue across distance and through time, creating community.  The conversation revolves around the teachings of Swami Nirmalananda, delivered by her as well as by our Teacher Trainers whom she has taught and certified.

Swamiji’s Yoga of Food phone course gave me an even deeper learning in community.  She didn’t tell us what to eat.  On each phone call, she gave us practices.  One was simply to sit before your food, look at it, smell it and get to know it.  On the next call, she asked us to describe our experience.  I felt timid.  Yet I went ahead and said, “I felt a sense of love flowing from my meal.”

Swamiji replied that ancient yogic texts talk about flowers blooming and plants producing fruits and vegetables out of love for humanity.  When I remember this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Swamiji’s response to my description gave me a sense of the Love of God outside and inside.

Some Shishyas (disciples of Swami Nirmalananda) joined the Ashram community by coming into relationship with Swamiji directly.  They immediately recognized her as a revered teacher on their spiritual path.  Some resonated with an Ashram ad in a yoga magazine, and found Swamiji’s online Freebies (writings and recorded satsangs).  Others became Shishyas gradually over time and others are in the process of deciding how much they want.

180130 blog possible graphic (1)No matter the entry door, all of us community members come into relationship with Swamiji as well as with each other.  We talk, formally in programs and casually anywhere, anytime.  Many of us take on seva (selfless service).  In serving others, and serving with others in our particular seva, we talk.  We communicate about our experiences and develop enduring relationships.  These connections weave the tapestry of community.  It is a container in which together we deepen and expand our experiences of opening more and more to Self.

I have learned that communication in community is transformative.  I must speak out loud about my experience to those who are really listening.  And I as I listen to them, I hear of something I never imagined and am inspired.  Or I hear my own experience in their words and am affirmed.  Only then do I grasp what I am coming to know.  Being listened to by my Guru and my fellow Svaroopis makes it Real.

I sense their presence — their Presence — as Consciousness-ItSelf.  The verbal interchange in the context of Conscious communication is transformative.  It gives a glimpse of Self-Realization, the goal of the practices, even before the mind can understand it.

Lunge Is My Favorite Pose

Deena RotchesBy Deena Rotches

It just works! While I meditate every morning, I am not a person who can wake up at 4 am and immediately sit for meditation. Without first doing my asana practice, including Lunge, I would just be meditating on my aches and pains. Doing my asana practice settles me into my Self, with a quieter mind. Then I can effectively meditate on my Self, the focus of Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation.

My dedication to daily yoga and meditation practice comes from having herniated three spinal discs 20 years ago. I never want to do that again. It’s either continue my daily asana practice or be in pain. So I start my day by at least releasing lower spine tension and compression. That means I do a tailbone pose, a sacrum pose and Lunge, which opens my spine through the waist area. But if I could do only one pose, I would do Lunge.

Lunge YogaI discovered that Lunge was “the one” a decade ago, returning home from a long drive to visit my mother. My total drive time was about four hours. If I went to bed without doing a Lunge, I wouldn’t get any sleep. If I did a Lunge, I was OK. I learned to release my tailbone, sacrum and spinal waist area all at once by doing Lunge very slowly.

In Deeper Classes, I learned to go into the Lunge, come back all the way and then go in halfway to get a more thorough spinal release. And I learned other Deeper self-adjustments from my teacher who had gone to ATT. For these powerful, advanced self-adjustments, you have to have a teacher trained in them. I have also been fortunate to receive such adjustments from Swami Nirmalananda herself in immersions at Lokananda in Downingtown.

Shaktipat SwamiAfter my recent Shaktipat Retreat with Swamiji, another student remarked on how faithfully I adhere to daily, 4 am yoga routine. I explained to her that it prepares me for the Sri Guru Gita chant and opens me to my Self. Consequently, I now experience a sense of my Self, beyond thought, that I never expected. This has been the blessing of my life, as I sense the Light expanding. Even in the midst of constant news about crises in our country and worldwide, I feel profound expansion within our Grace-full community. The world needs our presence, as we clear and cultivate it through our practices.

A Yogic Lifestyle?

yogeshwariBy Yogeshwari Fountain

As 2018 unfolds, each teachings article will explore one of yoga’s eight limbs as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  In “Self-Effort & Grace,” Swamiji and Vidyadevi Stillman describe the “self-effort”  practices as the limbs of a great tree.  Each branch supports you on your journey, beginning with external practices and evolving into ever more inward expansion.  The eight limbs include:

  • yamas and niyamas (restraints and observances)
  • asana (poses)
  • pranayama (breathing practices as in Ujjayi Pranayama)
  • pratyahara (turning your attention inward)
  • dharana (focusing inward)
  • dhyana (meditation)
  • samadhi (deep inner absorption).

8LimbsYogaI recently re-read my 1998 notes on Sutra 2.29.  It was clear that I had my work cut out for me even then.  Scribbled on the page’s margin was encouragement like “Just say no!”  or “You must restrain yourself from these things.”  I struggled with the question “How do you live a yogic life 24 hours a day?”  It all seemed beyond my grasp.  My mind was so busy, I had no idea where to begin.  You see, I didn’t understand Grace, the wind that has always been beneath my wings, even before I knew it.

I was surprised to find all the ways yoga started to change my life from the inside out.  Old habits no longer had the same hold.  An “untruth” fell less easily off my tongue, and I stayed in awareness instead of obsession.  Now I would rather meditate than watch TV!  Self-Effort & Grace tells us that these are signs of spiritual progress, “cleaning up your act.”

Swamiji and Vidyadevi assure us that no matter where you start your climb, you’re going to experience all eight limbs: “It’s like climbing a tree: you can skip some limbs and still get to the top.”  When I started on this path, I loved doing Svaroopa® yoga poses.  Little did I know that starting with the asana branch would develop into a love of chanting, meditating and writing blogs on the ancient sutras.  Swami reassures us, “You don’t have to do the limbs in order.”

Some of my students don’t want the lifestyle change yoga’s limbs provide.  Thus, they do actually do less yoga in order to stay in their “comfort zone.”  I understand their choice and honor the limb they want to hang out on.  Yet yoga is not about happiness or comfort.  It is about Self-Realization, the knowing of your inherent Divinity.  If you’re yearning for this, you have to still your mind.  The eight limbs of yoga specialize in this.

Swami - blue chairGuru’s Grace is the shortcut to the knowing of your Divinity, your own Self.  Swami Nirmalananda awakens the arising of your own inner spiritual energy.  She describes it this way, “Patanjali teaches you how to dissolve the clouds.  By contrast, my Guru simply gave me the sky.”  She is comparing the practices you learn from Patanjali with Guru’s Grace.

Still, you need Self-Effort.  You have to do the hard stuff.  Whatever limb you choose to begin with, know that the whole tree is rooted in the Grace of our Svaroopa® Vidya lineage.  Baba Muktananda said, “The Self is already attained.”  You get to choose how to apply yourself to the process.  I started with asana, but I now focus on mantra.  What will your focus be in 2018?

Why I Teach

Rajni (Chelsea) King 1By Raj~ni King

Teaching Svaroopa® yoga has kept me on this Divine path.  To start, I didn’t think I was going to teach Svaroopa® yoga.  I took Foundations to learn some tools for myself since I didn’t live near a teacher.  Before I knew it, I was taking YTT Level 1.  Grace was guiding me before I even knew what Grace was.  The total immersion of the teacher trainings was so powerful.  Then, having to teach others what I learned deepened my experience of the Svaroopa® Sciences.  Being a student in a weekly class just wouldn’t have done it.  I needed to be knocked in the head with the frying pan of Consciousness!

MeditationWhen I took Meditation Teacher Training, I had to write and teach about Consciousness.  This helped me to understand and more tangibly experience what I had been getting all along.  The yoga process and the purpose of asana was so clear.  It is spiritual upliftment, rather than just the reliable physical, mental and emotional improvement that begins the process.  Knowing and more fully experiencing the purpose of practicing asana shifted my teaching profoundly.  Even though I was saying the same words and teaching the same asanas, my understanding of the goal shifted.

My teaching experience made my understanding and experience of Consciousness real.  If I hadn’t taught, I doubt I would be able to hold onto the full, rich, deep experiences of trainings and retreats.  Every class I teach, whether asana or meditation, is an experience of being conscious in Consciousness.  It’s great practice for the rest of my life.  There, functioning in the knowing of my own Self doesn’t come as easy.

Holding Candle AratiWhen I go into the studio to teach, I light a candle and do arati to the Gurus from our lineage.  Then, because the space is shared, I always do a round of incense with the mantra to clear the energy.  These practices help me to settle into my Self before I teach.  The clearing also opens the way to the inflow of Grace from our lineage.  It becomes tangible, not only for me, but my students as well.  They know that they’re different when they leave.  At the end of class this week, a new student exclaimed that she felt like a whole new person.  She was glowing; they were all glowing.

Being able to offer the practices and begin able to facilitate that shift for people is a precious gift.  I feel such gratitude for what Swami Nirmalananda has given to me.  I cannot imagine my life without practicing Svaroopa® yoga and meditation nor without teaching those practices.  It’s a deep part of my inner process and spiritual growth.  And if I can make a difference along the way in how other people feel in their lives and their spiritual process, then that’s an even greater gift.  It’s a Divine seva.

2018 – A Yoga Year!

mangalaBy Mangala Allen

“The purpose of life is two-fold, like the two sides of a coin: 1) to have experiences and 2) to discover who you are,”  Swami Nirmalananda began her New Year’s Retreat in Atlanta with this teaching.  Being in her presence extended the sweet space between the old year and the new.  Grace flowed as she led me into reviewing where I have been and where I am going.

I listened intently as Swamiji spoke about being, “present in your own presence.” She explained how it makes a difference in your experience of life.  Yoga specializes in cultivating the ability to “live from the place that is un-disturb-able,” she said.

Mantra is the most important practice in getting there:  “Every repetition of the mantra takes you deeper, so you can experience your experiences from the timeless eternal reality that is your own Self.”  How do you want to live?  The guided vichara (guided self inquiry) helped me understand where I have been and where I am choosing to go.  I choose to follow Swamiji’s suggestion and resolve to make decisions that will take me toward the Self. new year new you

Then we all made New Year’s resolutions — a single word, a quality we would like to cultivate.  Our New Year’s Day began with Sri Guru Gita and a talk by Swamiji, while we were joined by Shishya Members via conference call.

During the retreat’s three days, Swamiji and we were supported by Ashram sevites, with Rukmini Abbruzzi serving as chef and Karuna Beaver teaching asana and managing the program.  We learned a set of poses for our home practice that will propel us into applying ourselves to our resolve.  What a wonderful way to begin a new year, a year that promises to be a wonderful new year – full of yoga!