Monthly Archives: January 2021

Yogis & Their Amazing Powers

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

Many Sanskrit texts describe how a yogi can fly, walk on water, disappear and change the weather as part of the classical ashta-siddhis (eight powers).  Making it through a pandemic is minor compared to these world-changing, life-changing abilities.  Yet your ability to make it through, and not merely to survive but to thrive, comes from the same inner source. 

Yoga is a mystical science, meaning it uncovers the mystery hidden within.  Once you know the Divinity Reality hidden within, nothing is impossible.  How does this work?  A sutra explains it:

Chidvat-tach-chhakti sankochaat malaavrtah samsaarii.  — Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam 9

Though full of divine powers, Consciousness contracts to become the individual, whose divine nature is hidden within.

Your divine nature is hidden within you, for you are Consciousness, masquerading as an individual.  Yoga is the science of discovering what is already there, just like Fleming discovered penicillin.  You are the one who conducts the experiment by following the protocols established by generations of yogis, yoga’s tools that help you look inward.  Of course you have divine powers once you know who you are!

Mastery of the body helps with this by giving you gradual mastery of your mind.  Yet mastery of your mind means you sit still, turning your attention deeper inward to the Consciousness that you are.  Now you’re doing the yoga of the ancient sages.  And now you discover that you need help.  Everyone needs help with their mind.

Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati (Gurudevi)

That’s what drove me to my Guru — the pain that my mind caused me.  He showed me that I didn’t have to wrestle with my mind.  Instead he opened the doorway deeper inside.  He simply uncovered what had been hidden, my own divine nature.  Beyond health, strength, vitality or peace, this is yoga’s greatest gift.  Yes, it even helps with a pandemic.

Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati leads Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram in Downingtown PA.  An American yogi, she is an inspiring teacher with a loving manner and a great sense of humor.  Before becoming a swami (yoga monk), as Rama Berch, she served the yoga community as the founding president of Yoga Alliance.  Traveling and teaching nationally and internationally, she is authorized to initiate people into deep meditation through Shaktipat, as did Swami Muktananda, her own Guru.  The Ashram website features extensive Freebies, including articles and audio recordings on the principles of consciousness as taught by the sages of India, as well as how to apply them in your life today.

Ashram Profile: Moving from 2020 to 2021!

By Lynn (Gurupremananda) Cattafi, SVA Board

In so many ways, 2020 was a banner year.  It was full of hardship as well as joy.  As we enter 2021, Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram is always planning how to best serve the needs of our Svaroopa® Sciences community and seekers beyond.  First looking backward at the closing year is always beneficial.  What changed? What worked?

When the pandemic halted travel to Lokananda, the Ashram created the online Grace Delivery System to bring immersions into our homes.  When pandemic lockdown began in mid-March 2020, Satguru Swami Nirmalananda received the inner command, “Use any means necessary.”  The Ashram’s began to Zoom online programs to our community and to seekers everywhere.  The variety of online offerings allows the choice of dipping in a toe or taking a deep dive.

Freebies, as always, include online chants and publications as well as audios of Gurudevi’s discourses.  Free of charge as well is Gurudevi’s Japa Club, online or by phone.  It’s your opportunity to be led by Gurudevi in the sweet power of mantra repetition twice daily.  She prefaces it with a concise, powerful teaching.  For those who want to go even deeper, SVA Online offers a menu of subscription classes and immersions.

Gurudevi teaching online via Zoom

After a few online programs, I enrolled in the daily Meditation Club.  There is nothing like having to be on time to meditate with Gurudevi and our worldwide community.  It’s so effective in establishing a consistent daily practice.  But more than that, it is being in the flow of Grace with my Guru every morning.  Plus the human connection with all other participants was so supportive.  Now I cannot be without my daily meditation any more than I could do without brushing my teeth.

Skeptical at first, I was amazed at the depth of the online retreats.  I was able to receive Shaktipat via Zoom.  Who would have ever thought it possible?  I attended the online Chant & Meditation Retreat and So’ham Weekend as well.  I was able to sanctify my home with these deep immersions.  I integrated the practices into my life so much more easily.  It worked because I was in my life while also in the retreat. Each pre-retreat orientation provided such loving information about how to eat during the retreat; I received complete meal plans and recipes.  I was guided in how to set up my home for the retreat, and how to manage time between retreat sessions.  It was brilliant.  I felt so cared for right in my own yoga room.

The Ashram’s online yoga classes are a Godsend for me.  Thanks to Zoom, I am finally able to take asana class every day.  I am doing more yoga through the pandemic than any other time in my life.

One of our online teaching setups at Downingtown Yoga and Meditation Center

I know that Gurudevi always sees the big picture.  Along with other Board members, I’m being guided to plan for the year ahead and beyond.  Gurudevi always has her eyes and heart on what will serve all of us best in the next steps of personal growth.  Here is to a growth-filled 2021, together!

What do Yoga Warriors Do?

By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda

Jesus taught that you should turn the other cheek.  Krishna told Arjuna to go kill his family members.  What is a yogi supposed to do in times like these? 

Yoga makes you more peaceful, one of its greatest benefits.  Yet yoga is a warrior tradition.  The power of such deep inner peace is that it makes you able to face the challenges in your life without internal turmoil.  Thus you are able to see clearly and determine what you can do to make a difference without fear or self-doubt.  Some situations call for you to pull out your sword and go in swinging; others mean you should withdraw.  How do you know which is which?  The answer is found in an inner knowing, what I call a message from God.  Anandamayima called it her “kheyyal,” meaning a divine inner prompting.  But you cannot hear it if your mind is churning.

Recent events have been overwhelming, especially after months of pandemic, economic difficulties and racial tensions.  Your impulse might be to duck and cover, like the bomb drills they had us doing in school in the 1950s.  But ducking under our schoolroom desk was not going to protect us from the nuclear bomb they warned us about.  We even knew that back then, proving once again that the adults didn’t really have a clue about how to meet the challenges of the time.  But yogis do.

You might decide to demonstrate in support of your political perspective, or merely send money to those you believe can lead us in the right direction.  But if you do nothing, you’re not a yogi.  You’re a wimp.  I know that you care, so show it.  Act on it.

We’ve been diagnosed with “pandemic fatigue,” that people are unable to sustain their necessary vigilance.  Yet you must.  Mask.  Social distance.  Sanitize your hands.  Shelter in place.  But you don’t have to panic.  Panic leads to paralysis, like a deer in the headlights.  You have skills that you didn’t have last year.  You know how to mask, social distance and sanitize.  You can connect through technology and in other meaningful ways.  I loved the birthday parade going through my neighborhood a few days ago, with cars decorated and horns blaring.  So much love!  So much joy!

And yes, this is a time to do more yoga.  The more you do — whether poses, breathing practices, chanting, meditation, study of the texts — the deeper your inner peace becomes and the more clarity you have.  Then you can decide what to do with yourself during this time.  You can even decide what to do with the rest of your life!  There’s so much possibility there.  What are you doing with it?

Pandemic, Panic & Paralysis

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

You could say you’ve got a reason to panic:  there’s a pandemic going on.  Especially if you’re in a high-risk group, the warning signs are clear, as are the instructions for how to protect yourself.  You’ve already developed some new skills, especially social distancing along with how to breathe and talk while wearing a mask.  You’ve even learned how to simplify your life to greater or lesser degree as well as how to spend more time at home.

Of course, panic is totally unnecessary.  All these actions are intelligent, meaning you do them simply because you make clear-headed decisions and follow through on them.  However, if you’ve previously perfected living in constant anxiety, you may not know how to pay attention unless your anxiety increases.  Thus your panic can be productive in a bizarre sort of way.

Ice Age: The Meltdown, 2006

Studies have proven that human beings go into fight or flight mode just like animals.  But there’s another instinctual response to panic — to freeze.  We call it “playing opossum.”  Opossums aren’t simply “playing dead,” they’re in a catatonic state.  Similarly, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits freeze in fear, even some species of shark.  At this point in the pandemic, you may be like a deer in the headlights, frozen in place.  At least it’s a safe place, where you will need to shelter for some time to come. 

What’s the difference between panic-induced immobility and a deep yogic immersion?  You can use this time to make powerful spiritual progress with more meditation and yogic practices, or you can simply retreat from the world, and maybe never come out again.  I’ll ask the same question another way:  Are you retreating FROM something or retreating TO something?

Retreating from danger is a smart move.  With the danger persisting for so long, your world gets smaller and smaller.  Even walking a block or two on the street where you live can feel adventurous!  As your personal space shrinks, the tumultuous events on the news can add to your conviction that you need to hide.  One yogi said, “I don’t need to hear the sound of the human voice anymore.”  She’s been alone too long.  How will she step into the world again?

Yoga makes you stronger and healthier.  It heals your mind and emotions.  Knowing when to reach out and connect with other people is another sign of intelligence.  Yet, as a yogi, you have to avoid using other people for entertainment or escapism. 

My first yoga retreat was when I went to study with my Guru.  More than merely escaping from the world, I was retreating to a spiritual paradise.  Every day revealed more and more of the inner mystery, both because of the Ashram’s daily practices as well as the power of my Guru’s presence.  I knew I was there for a reason, to fulfill the purpose of human life — the inner knowing of my own Divinity.  That time away from the bustle of the world was essential for me, like time in an incubator.  The chants and meditations opened up an inner depth that reshaped my sense of self from the inside-outward. 

Swami Muktananda’s Ashram, Shree Gurudev Ashram (later called Gurudev Siddha Peeth)
Image source:

You have that same opportunity now.  As a Svaroopi, especially if you’ve received Shaktipat, your life is already full of Grace.  Now you have time to marinate in it, to luxuriate in it, to deepen into it more fully.  But you’re not paralyzed by fear.  There’s no reason to panic.  You may need help to get through this time, so ask for it.  And, once you’re safe, turn this time into a precious time, a sweet and deep dive inward.  Do more yoga.

Swimming in Grace

By Sonya (Shraddhananda) McNeill, interviewed by Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain

Sonya McNeill’s life hasn’t been the same since she met Gurudevi 16 years ago.  Now called Shraddhananda, she’d been meditating since childhood.  By 2002 she was experiencing unusual meditation movements and visions.  In January 2004 she reached out to her old friend Swami Samvidaananda (then Maria Abbruzzi), whom she hadn’t seen in a decade.

Samvid said, “Come to Rehoboth Beach Yoga. My teacher is offering ‘Meditation Made Easy.’”  Shraddhananda recounts, “Despite an ailing back, I crawled up the steep staircase to the yoga studio, dragging my walker with me.  Once there, I was supported by Grace.  It took three chairs and — I always jokingly say — 32 blankets to make me comfortable in meditation.  After the second meditation, I asked Gurudevi,  “Who is the brown guy with the long fingers?  He keeps putting his hand on my shoulder.  And everything was blue, and I felt like I was swaying side to side?”  To which Gurudevi replied, “Everything is blue and you were swaying.  And that was my Baba’s Baba, Nityananda putting his hand on your shoulder.”

Shraddhananda continues, “Before I knew what a Guru was, I wanted her.  I had always followed Jesus.  But it became clear that Jesus sent me to Nityananda.  Nityananda brought me to Gurudevi, to learn this aspect of Being.  He knew I needed a Great Being in a body to learn what I needed to know.  Even though Gurudevi was five years away from taking her Sannyas vows, I recognized who she was.  It didn’t matter what she was called.  Being in relationship with her changed my life.”

In 2009, the Ashram opened the Ashram.  Shraddhananda began a nine-year part-time residency.  She commuted from her home in Virginia, later in Maryland, to bask in the joy of personal seva (service) to the Guru.  “She altered my soul,” shares Shraddhananda. “Once I met her, there was no going anywhere else.  No one else had the answers to my questions.  Gurudevi became the bow of my boat.  Periodically, she’d be the rudder, reminding me I was veering off, and she’d move me.”

“While I was a part-time resident, Gurudevi never got in my way.  She gave me freedom to express who I was.  While expressing my small-s self in new and creative ways, I was supported by Gurudevi in finding my capital-S self.  For example, I wasn’t a confident baker or cook, yet was asked to make a vegan birthday cake for Baba!  At first, I was scared.  Yet the cake turned out great.  And my inner artist, once insecure, has been given wonderful art projects to accomplish.  Truly, the Guru helps us get past our small-s self’s limitations.”

Shraddhananda describes the revelatory power of Grace that is in fact, the Guru.  “My soul and mind are now satisfied with what is, and what my part is in each moment,” describes Shraddhananda.  “Gurudevi’s teachings and our relationship has freed me to the point I now rely on Grace.  Grace will always provide the answers.  I never doubt it.  My life has been soaked in it.  I am swimming in an ocean of Grace, 24/7.”