Monthly Archives: July 2018

Calming a Busy Mind

JanakiBy Janaki Murray

Shopping, watching TV, even talking and listening a lot in social situations draw my mind outward.  However, I’m also aware that I pursue the opposite these days.  I spend more time in activities that quiet my mind.  They allow me to draw my senses inward more easily.  In our July Contemplation, Delving Inward, Vidyadevi mentions a few: listening to music, being in nature, daydreaming.  Of course, many Svaroopa® yoga practices are included.

I realise my mind is thus becoming more and more inclined towards Consciousness.  These changes have been gradual and incremental.  I don’t even notice them sometimes.  Consequently, the yoga philosophy in our Contemplation Articles is so helpful.  It brings awareness to where I’ve come from, where I am and where I’m headed.


My husband and I are very fond of chocolate (who isn’t?).  A box in our fridge holds a wide variety of chocolate.  We like to choose!  Two or three times a year, I have a chocolate-free month to practice tapas.  It so happens that this July is one.  Last evening, my husband sat next to me munching away.  Yet, I felt no desire for chocolate.  This is the first time I have not had that craving during a chocolate-free month.  This really did give me a sense of freedom, just like Vidyadevi’s experience of losing her desire for an apple fritter and coffee.

My mind was quiet, no longer harassing me with a chocolate craving.  In fact, I didn’t feel the need for anything.  I was content.  What a stark contrast to the effect of “pursuing my senses.” Then my mind is hanging onto a thought or to a desire, not letting go.  It is unsettling, disturbing, even annoying.  I used to live like that all the time.  No wonder I had such a busy mind!

MeditationVidyadevi & Swamiji said, “When a desire arises, don’t indulge it.  Channel that energy into your quest for Consciousness.  Consciousness is reliable.”  I am grateful for this coaching on the practice of pratyahara (withdrawing the senses).  I don’t find it easy, but it helps me deal with desires.  It helps quiet my mind and facilitates my inward journey.

I also find a two-way street in operation here.  It is meditation that really gives me my daily “dip in the ocean” of Consciousness.  That is where I find my own Self.  It is the inner experience of my own Self that flows into my life making all things easier – including the practice of pratyahara.

The Perfection of the Guru

Swamiji India 1By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I didn’t know.  I’d never met an enlightened being before.  How was I supposed to tell?  And even if I could tell, what was I supposed to do with him?

As I took my seat on the floor in front of Baba, along with 250 others of us who’d just arrived in India, I wondered all these things.  Except that I wasn’t thinking coherently, so I didn’t really have the words I’m using now.  I was feeling joy and deep peace, mixed with gratitude and unexplainable love.  It was very confusing, especially since I’d never actually met him before.

We Westerners lack the basic training.  Growing up in India, you imbibe basic information from childhood about realized beings and the human capacity to know Consciousness.  Fortunately, my Baba explained about Self-Realization, both so we could see it in him as well as find it in ourselves.  One of the Sanskrit texts we chanted daily says:

“sruti.h pratyak.sam aitihyam

anumaana”s catu.s.tayam,

yasya caatmatapo veda

de”sika.m ca sadaa smaret.”—Srii Guru Gita 65

You must decide the Guru’s worth

by the four sources of knowledge:

the Vedas, sacred histories,

your inspection and inference.

Mango Orchard

That morning, as I sat in the courtyard under the mango trees with the sun rising, I was using inspection and inference.  But I didn’t know the Vedas or sacred histories.  I had no yardstick to measure him against.  Yet something was happening to me, something I liked, something I had longed for all my life — or longer.  As I sat there, my inner pain was lessening, ebbing away.

Peace arose within me, even bliss, every time I sat under the mango trees with him.  I went back every day after that first time.  I understood it only when he explained, “You measure the value of the Guru by the change in you.”  Duh!  That change was obvious to me.

Yoga’s ancient writings describe the characteristics of a Guru clearly and carefully:

A qualified Guru is knowledgeable in the texts,

a devotee of God, free from jealousy,

an expert in yoga, does yoga practices,

is always in a pure yogic state.

He is devoted to his own Guru

and is a knower of the Self.

Only one with these qualifications may properly serve as Guru.

Advaya Taraka Upanishad 14-15

(rendered by Swami Nirmalananda)

MuktanandaAn impressive list of qualifications — this is what makes a Guru worth meeting or spending time and studying with.  Their teachings must be consistent with the ancient sources, yet they teach from their own experience as well as intellectual knowledge.  Thus, they are not teaching mere theory, nor are they making it up.  Also, the Guru is devoted to his own Guru, which means he had a Guru — no self-appointed teachers.  His inner state must be steady, the attainment promised by all the yogic texts.

My Baba hit the mark on every count.  After years with him, I had the yardstick and could evaluate the Gurus I later met, so many of them available in America.  But while Muktananda was alive, there was nowhere else I wanted to go.  There was nothing else I needed.

His fullness overflowed into me.  His inner perfection triggered mine to arise within me.  I followed him, not because of him, but because of what happened inside me.  That’s the only true test, one validated by the root text of Kashmiri Shaivism:

yo’ vipastho — Shiva Sutras 3.29

Only one with mastery over Kundalini is competent to enlighten others.

(rendered by Swami Nirmalananda)

How can you tell if a Guru is worth their salt?  In our tradition, the pivotal point is whether or not he can give Shaktipat.  This inner awakening is the beginning of your Self-Realization.  Once awakened, Kundalini is the fuel that carries your rocket ship all the way to God.  Only a Guru who can awaken Kundalini is fully qualified.  I studied with such a Guru and am privileged to bring His blessings to you.

Happy Guru Purnima!

On this full moon, dedicated to the Guru, again and again I bow.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

My Favorite Pose: Halasana (Plow)

Phil MilgromBy Krishna Milgrom

Surprisingly, Googling “plow” gives you the yoga pose as the second definition, along with a fitting example:

…a yoga pose assumed by lying on one’s back and swinging one’s legs over one’s head until the outstretched feet approach or touch the floor.  “positions like plow and headstand can strain the neck”

Further down the page is another pertinent definition:

(especially of a vehicle) [to] move in a fast and uncontrolled manner

These aptly describe how I used to do Plow Pose before Svaroopa® yoga: recklessly!   I plowed into the pose, hurling my legs over my head.  I didn’t settle into asana — I settled into a crash landing.  My whole spine tightened, and I had way too much weight on my head.  The pose was a pain in the neck, but I did it anyway: my yoga books said it’s good for me.

Then came Svaroopa® yoga.  I learned a way to do what was good for me in a way that is good for me.  My Halasana pink handout (October 2004) says:

This is “supposed” to be relaxing, restful.  Do it with less effort!

With blankets to remove pressure from my neck, and blocks or a chair to settle my feet on when the floor was too far away, I could experience the Plow as it is supposed to be.

I am grateful to Swami not only for teaching me this way of doing the pose.  I’m also thankful for her recommendation several years ago that we practice the pose daily.  I plowed right into it, as in another definition on the same Google page:

continue steadily despite difficulties…

180612 SVA Blog-Fav-Pose_Photo SNS approvedWith steady practice, and less effort, Plow has become relaxing and restful.  When I settle into the pose, it becomes blissful.  Following the pink sheet instructions, I come out of the pose gently.  Instead of hurling my legs back to the floor as I used to do, I secure my lower back with my palms and bring one leg at a time to the wall.  With both feet on the wall and knees bent, I lay my arms alongside me as in Shavasana.  Then I slowly roll my back to the floor.  Ahhhhh! What bliss! As each vertebra unfolds one by one, my spine pops and crackles with released energy.  Bliss streams from my tailbone through my heart and into my skull.

I don’t want to move.

Then, as recommended, I do Matsyasana (Fish).  This opens my heart and rib cage in the opposite way from how Plow does.  I need this.  Having worked for decades sitting bent over a keyboard, I find my posture tends to the Neanderthal look.  Matsyasana helps ensure that I stand more erect.

After practice, I feel lighter and more open.  I practice every day.  My body grumbles when I miss a day.

I have not received all the benefits that the pink sheet describes for the Plow.  For example, I still have varicose veins, but they have moved from my lower legs to my neck.  (Just kidding! However, in my legs they are definitely much less noticeable.)  And I am still gray and balding, although my pink sheet suggests the opposite:

“It has been said that it prevents (and even cures) gray hair and baldness.  Who knows?”

Well, I know.  But so what! When you have a heart full of love, a healthy spine, and a skull full of bliss, who needs hair?

Yoga Buddies & Bliss

Marti Monk LBy Marti Monk

I enrolled in Vidyadevi’s workshop in Boise as soon as I heard about it. Thus, on May 12th I was deeply settled into my blankets next to three of my equally deeply contented yoga buddies. For a decade, Theresa, Shan and I have been faithful students of Svaroopa® yoga, through Beginning, Continuing and now Deeper classes. A decade ago, our beloved Deeper Teacher, Betsy Ayers, was a student along with us. In this workshop, she got to be “just a student” again.

While each of us benefit greatly from this practice, the four of us together receive so much more. In this Mandali Travels workshop, Vidyadevi talked about “bliss” and how it’s always deep within. As I listened to her words, I glanced at my three longtime yoga buddies. I realized our practice together has not only bonded us in a deep sisterhood. It has opened each of us to the precious presence of bliss within.

I was 54 years old when I became a yoga student. Soon after my husband died suddenly, I explored jazzercise as well as fast-flow yoga and even astrology. In the midst of turmoil from such a life change, I needed something to settle me down. I found a spiritually oriented yoga studio in Boise, and a teacher who offered a nurturing style. It included classical standing poses as well as twisting into pretzel shapes.

Matrika Gast-Karuna Beaver-Betsy Ayers

After a year or so, that teacher, Matrika Gast, discovered Svaroopa® yoga and took Foundations. Suddenly we were on the floor, learning to align, relax and soften to release spinal tension. Beautiful, thick plaid blankets had replaced our sticky mats. The power of this practice didn’t hit me between the eyes right away. Because I’d been exercising, “opening up” was a new concept. If I opened up, would I fall apart? At the beginning, as my tight muscles released tension, they ached. But my teacher kept me going. Sometimes I thought, “Good grief, will this ever stop?” Yet I never considered walking out, and that phase really didn’t last all that long.

Gradually, I developed a personal Svaroopa® yoga practice, and it became a part of me. I looked forward to it every morning. The night before, I would wonder: What poses will I do? As I began to experience more and more physical core opening, my heart opened as well. I reached out to classmates, they became yoga buddies, and we developed closeness. We bonded in workshops and immersions as well. This process never happened in any other groups that I joined.

JP Yoga 1I’ve taken Foundations, the five-day immersion training, twice. As this yoga continues to transform my heart, I feel better in a way that I can’t fully explain. And I don’t quite yet know the value of this change. In the world of my brain that’s skilled in writing grant proposals, “bliss” means happiness and satisfaction. But the experience of Bliss found through Svaroopa® yoga is something more. When we talked about Bliss with Vidyadevi in the May workshop, I and my three yoga buddies had just been (with about 8 other classmates) in Rotated Stomach Pose. So I was remembering that, on one side, I had sensed Theresa’s hand next to mine. On the other side, Betsy patted my hand. As we talked about Bliss, Shan, who seldom speaks in discussion, described Bliss as what she was experiencing in the workshop: “Beyond all the details, there’s the sense of Oneness.”

Vidyadevi’s workshop opened me to an experience of deeper knowing. I realized that I am living a life that’s interwoven with powerful yoga. Bliss for me is a sense of recognition. I see in a yoga buddy that big-S Self that I am finding within as my own Self. I recognize in her the same Self as in you — and in everyone.

I am grateful to be living a life interwoven with yoga, thanks to all my Svaroopa® yoga experiences.

Pitta Season

binduBy Bindu Shortt

In the US, pitta season runs from July through October.  According to Ayurveda, pitta qualities are mostly heat and moisture.  Think humidity.  These qualities can accumulate and express in you as skin conditions, irritability, sour or acid stomach, or loose bowels.  To soothe your pitta energies, apply the principle of opposites.

Avoid foods that are themselves heating, such as coffee, alcohol and meat as well as fried and spicy foods.  Favor seasonal veggies and fruits that are cooling.  Summer is the only season in which the cooling qualities of melons are beneficial.  How wonderful that nature gives us the foods needed to keep us balanced in each season!

Because digestion itself is warm, Ayurveda still recommends eating most of your foods cooked during pitta season.  This allows for strong digestion and maximum energy from your food.  Salads may be eaten a few times a week, when used as a condiment rather than your main dish.  Fruits also are still better eaten cooked (grilled peaches, blueberry cobblers).  Most people, however, can tolerate raw fruit a few times a week.


Drink cooling beverages including room temperature water with mint, cucumber, lemon or lime.  Or try coconut water, purchased at the store.  Homemade lassi in the summer can include some rose water and cilantro for extra pitta relief.

In your daily self-massage either switch to all coconut oil or do half and half with your regular oil.  This will cool your body from the outside in.  In addition to your yoga, swimming is a wonderful for summer activity as it does not overheat.  If you do another activity, do it in the cooler morning or evening hours.

Saffron is an exotic spice that has been used throughout history for its scent, its color, and its medicinal properties.  Ayurveda prizes saffron as a pitta balancing herb, since it is both bitter and astringent, two tastes that pacify pitta.  Just 1 to 5 strands of saffron is all you need to receive its benefits.  The following saffron rice recipe goes well with any dahl (lentil or bean dish) or with summer steamed veggies.  Its simplicity is appropriate for summer cooking:



1 cup white basmati rice, washed

5 strands of saffron

3 cups water

½ teaspoon salt

  1. Wash and rinse the rice. You can soak it for 30 minutes to make it more digestible.
  2. Dry roast the saffron in a medium saucepan. This brings out its flavor.
  3. Add the rice, water and salt and cook, covered, over a low heat for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft.