Monthly Archives: January 2023

What Are Ashrams?

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda 

An Ashram is a spiritual center where people dedicated to spiritual development live and practice under the direction of an Enlightened Being. The key is the Guru’s generosity, who is willing to share their life with others. This sweet and intimate gift makes the students’ spiritual process move more deeply and quickly.

I first benefitted from Ashram living in the 1970s. I already had figured out that I didn’t get much out of television and other media. I preferred yoga and meditative practices over the social scenes I had tried. It was a big relief to me that there was live music in the evening’s chant and meditation. Better yet, the teacher gave discourses several times weekly. I still love this lifestyle!

There are variations on the main theme. An Ashram might be headed up by an accomplished yogi who is not yet Self-Realized but is working on it. Most often, they have been authorized by their own Guru and are directed and supported in the process. Other Ashrams were founded by a great Master, even decades or hundreds of years ago, with yogis continuing to live the lifestyle as well as to offer the teachings they have learned. 

Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram is my home, which I share with other dedicated seekers. We offer several retreats and trainings each year, with participants staying in our retreat center. Our yoga classes are offered online as well as locally in Downingtown PA. I set up our online Freebies almost ten years ago, then the pandemic opened up new possibilities. Thus you will find many online offerings on our program calendar, including twice-weekly meditation satsangs.

Like ours, the Ashrams you hear about and find in online searches generally offer retreats and trainings. Other Ashrams are closed to the public, allowing few visitors or none. 

I have visited and lived in many Ashrams in North America, Europe and India, both Yoga Ashrams and Buddhist ashrams. In spite of the different practices, different dress codes, and different meals, they share many commonalities. They usually follow a set schedule, with group meditations and other practices as well as group meals. The household tasks are shared by residents, who do the cooking, cleaning, gardening and errand running, just like you do for your own home. 

In my years of residency with my Guru, we began the day at 3:30 with a morning chant followed by meditation. At 5:15 am, we got chai, a sweet-spicy milk tea. Then we chanted until 7 am. Breakfast was optional. Our day alternated between work periods, more chanting and meals, ending with a long chant at night and bedtime by 9 pm. I felt that I was living in heaven on earth!

Some Ashram residents are swamis, yoga monks, while others are in various stages of learning and commitment. Ashrams offering public retreats and trainings welcome guests during those programs but, like us, are closed at other times. Or you may have to meet prerequisites in order to visit. In other words, there’s lots of variations on the theme. There is no central governing body like the Vatican. Each Ashram can set up its own rules and systems, based on the lineage they embody as well as the practicalities for their locale.

One thing is consistent. Wherever a person or group of people do dedicated spiritual practices, that place becomes special. Thus most Ashrams are pilgrimage centers, with people coming to soak up the spiritual vibe that emanates out. That vibe is called Grace.  My life is filled with Grace!

Sukhasana: Settling into Stillness

By Melissa (Yogyananda) Fountain, Yogaratna

My favorite Svaroopa® Yoga pose is Sukhasana, the sweet and easy pose.  While sitting in this level and stable seat, I teach as well as meditate.  When I get propped just right, I experience both sublime comfort and inner stillness.  Inner stillness offers me everything I’ve ever longed for.  I become physically still, and my mind is quiet.  It’s guaranteed.  And then I experience Self: the still center of my own Beingness.

The more I practice Sukhasana, the more I learn about myself.  Its subtle refinements and power have been growing within me for 26 years.  It’s not always been easy.  In chasing down my Deceptive Flexibility, I’ve raised and lowered my blanket stack for my seat many times.  I’ve squirmed my way into what feels comfortable, finding comfort to be elusive. 

To meditate, I’ve even sometimes chosen to sit in a chair instead. But the effects are not the same.  Sukhasana grounds me inside.  I can attune myself to the inner energies that are balancing and flowing up my spine.  It’s reliable, blissful and always informative.

Sukhasana is ever new, never static.  I roll my knee blankets into just the right support my body needs, at that moment.  I alternate my front foot placement, so my muscular patterns stay more fluid.  With my knees’ condyle bones propped, I feel a direct line to my sitbones and into my tailbone.

These small adjustments bring profound results.  It’s like my brain is being rewired, my mind expanded.  The best part is, I feel supported by my spine’s verticality.  I can let go of my internal tensions.  Then like magic, my base is stable; I’m ready to settle into my own Self.  I have found my “Dream Sukhasana.”

You Will Be Assimilated

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda 

Those were scary words when the Borg invaded a world in “Star Trek: Next Generation.” I wondered what made them so scary. The yogic sage Patanjali answered my question. He says that you already know what it is like to be assimilated, because your mind does this to you frequently. How frequently? Anytime you’re not in a state of enlightenment, you’re assimilated into your mind. 

v.rtti-saaruupyam-itaratra. — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.4 

At other times, you are assimilated into your mind’s activities. 

You don’t merely have a mind with thoughts in it, your experience is “I am my mind!” If your thoughts are about happy things, you say, “I am happy.” If your thoughts are about sad things, you say, “I am sad.” You don’t say, “I’m thinking sad thoughts.” Instead, you become sadness itself. 

Fortunately this only happens when you’re not in a state of enlightenment. Unfortunately, your experiences of enlightenment are too few and far between. You have already experienced enlightenment, or at least a taste of it. Everyone has these peak experiences, first researched by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. This is all explained in the sutras preceding the one we’re focusing on. 

These great moments in your life happen when you allow everything to fall away from you and you stand in your glory, with your Inherent Divinity shining through. You might have experienced such a moment when standing on a mountain peak, or when you did something amazing and wonderful. For me, it was my wedding day. As I walked down the aisle, I was filled by God. I knew I was being filled by God. And I realized that it was the only way I wanted to live. 

Yoga says you are filled by God from the inside-out, for God is inside. When you clear your mind of the unnecessary chatter (and how much of it is necessary?), your Divine Essence shines through.  

But the rest of the time, as Patanjali says, your mind takes over. You get lost in your mind’s obsessions. It probably has many of them. But Patanjali doesn’t leave us stuck here. He continues on to explain what the mind does and how to get out of the trap it lays for you.  

The rest of his text is yogic techniques and teachings for how to transform your mind so it no longer harasses you. Yoga poses are included, but the bulk of his teachings are about managing your mind differently than you have been.  

The ultimate practice for managing your mind — better yet, for transforming your mind, is meditation. In yoga-based meditation, you don’t let your mind wander all over the cosmos. You harness the power of your mind and steer it inward so you discover your own Self, your own is-ness. Once you’ve found your way inside, you can live from that Essence and Beingness, always filled from the inside-out.

Gurudevi’s Light 

By Soraya (Sudevi) Pereira, Yogaratna 

Every time I participate in a Shaktipat Retreat, Gurudevi transforms my unknowingness into knowingness. I experience Gurudevi’s light shining into a different blind spot concerning my experience of my own Self.  

My September 2022 Shaktipat Retreat was no different. During our first meditation, I experienced lots of Kundalini movements, some familiar and some new. My left shoulder felt tight and painful. Those Kundalini movements seemed to focus on my neck and shoulder area. So I wondered whether they were really Kundalini movements. Or were they simply my own attempts to address my shoulder pain? 

After that meditation session, Swami Prajñananda delivered a talk comparing our spiritual journey to a road trip. She mentioned the benefit of road signs along the way. She said Kundalini movements are road signs, as they show us the right direction. She also said that the road signs are NOT the destination itself. She urged us to not “hug the road sign thinking you have arrived. Keep going.” 

Great talk, I thought, but didn’t feel a personal connection to it ― yet. 

In my next meditation, I rested in a deep, delicious quiet. My shoulder discomfort remained. Kundalini started to move me exactly as before. However, within me at that moment was only the awareness of the sacredness of each movement. All movement was Hers. I no longer nitpicked or judged Kundalini’s movements. I no longer hugged the road sign. I experienced how awareness, my own true Self, validates and affirms the worth and sacredness of everything. 

This experience is still with me. It has drawn me closer to the mantra, swadhyaya (study of the sacred texts) and meditation. 

My gratitude to Gurudevi for shining her revelatory light and to Swami Prajñananda for prompting my recognition!

Two Yoga Miracles

By Katharine Raczkowski

My yoga student Kris and I are both aircraft mechanics, building planes for an aerospace company.  I am also a Svaroopa® yoga teacher.

Spring 2020, I noticed Kris wasn’t breathing.  That is, he was hunched over his workbench, and his belly didn’t move. One day, I lightheartedly asked, “Are you breathing?  Do you have room for your lungs?”  Later he responded, “You asked me if I was breathing.  So I sort of wondered about that.”

Kris had noticed that when work required standing, I stood with my feet side by side and parallel.  When he asked me generally what I did, I asked, “Can I show you something?” I taught him Slow Motion Dive and Crook’t Leg in the Chair and later showed him Tadasana.  I was amazed at how quickly Kris’s spine elongated.  Right away, he had to adjust his car seat as well as rearview and side mirrors.

In September 2020, a fall down a flight of stairs seriously injured my hips.  I had to use two hiking sticks to walk.  Fortunately, my Embodyment® therapist is close to my work.  So I could conveniently have sessions before starting the second-shift.  When I would arrive for work, Kris noticed I was no longer using the hiking sticks nor limping.  “You don’t look at all like you’ve fallen!”  This was the big kick for Kris to schedule a class at his home for himself and his wife.  Plus, since Embodyment® healed my hips, I canceled the hip surgery my doctor had recommended.

Early 2021, Kris had another class.  He learned some Foundations poses and Ujjayi Pranayama to do at home.  In October 2021, I enrolled in Foundations Review, YTT 1 and Embodyment® training.  After that Ashram immersion, I returned home in a whole different place.  Kris scheduled a private class in December.

Now he is working through YTT 1 poses in his home practice.  Before Svaroopa® yoga, Kris couldn’t raise his shoulders much and one arm only 30 degrees.  He no longer protects that arm now, and his joints move together fluidly.  Last week he asked to review Seated Side Stretch.  He explained, “I just love the movement.  It feels great.  But there are a lot of steps.”

Early on, I measured his height at 5’8”; it’s now 6’1”.  His blood pressure came down 20 points in 6 months; medication is no longer needed.  He gave up snacks and went from 220 to 175 pounds.

In a session, he released traumatic memories.  His level of worry and “spinning” has decreased, a change evident to his wife and daughter.  He used to write about his spinning.  Now he’s writing a children’s book about dragons learning how to use their fire appropriately.  He is excited about moving forward and dropping his past.

Online Therapeutic Yoga

By Swami Nirmalananda 

You’ve got choices. Do you want private yoga therapy sessions online? Each one-hour session is dedicated to your needs and gives you immediate improvement in your condition.

Would a semi-private class work better for you? You join in with one or two others who are also in need of healing. You share the teacher’s attention, which means there is less focus on your needs, while you have the support of others who are in the process. Also, it is less expensive because there are more of you sharing the cost.

You may find that our regular online classes work well for you, as Svaroopa® yoga is a therapeutically oriented yoga. Everything we do is about healing and upliftment. 

How do you choose? The best approach is to talk with one of our yoga therapists. She will do an informal assessment of your needs and steer you toward your best option.

If you want to make the choice on your own, use this easy guideline:

If you have a medical diagnosis, start with a private yoga therapy session.

If you don’t have a diagnosis, try out a class.

I used to think that yoga therapy couldn’t be done online, but then doctors started using TeleHealth. It was very empowering. Now we have done hundreds of yoga therapy sessions online, throughout the pandemic and continuing onward.

Many of the therapeutic tools we use are easy to implement over Zoom. You must have your video and audio on as we need to see you in order to help you.

If you are able to come in-person, we are able to do more. Being able to physically align you in your pose, even adding customized props and adjustments makes a big difference.  In addition to our yoga studio in Downingtown PA, we have many trained therapists around the country, even multiple countries. Check out our Teacher Directory.

The only way you’ll find out if Svaroopa® yoga therapy will help you is to give it a try. 

Being a Yogi in the World 

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda  

Yogis of yore left the world, the iconic yogis living in Himalayan caves since thousands of years ago. Their approach was to get rid of all possessions, leave their relationships and cease performing actions. They sought freedom. However, they discovered they could carry all that stuff in their mind, especially reactions to what happened in the past. Thus, in their solitude, they realized they had to work on clearing their mind. 

Clearing your mind gives you a moment of peace. More than mere peace, they strove to open inner access to the deeper levels of their own being. It’s like the sage Patanjali promised: 

Tadaa dra.s.tu.h svaruupe ‘vasthaanam. — Yoga Sutras 1.3 

In the moment your mind is still, you are established in your own Divine Essence.  

The rest of his text is about how to quiet your mind, including using yoga poses, yogic breathing, lifestyle changes and meditation techniques. Yet these are not exclusive to yoga. Everyone has their own little tricks for quieting their mind. One of my early favorites was to look at the sky. Something happens when your mind takes on the shape of the sky – blue, expansive and extending into infinity. 

When I began studying sutras, I wondered: If the goal is stillness of mind, then how do you manage your life? You have to use your mind to manage relationships, to pay bills and even to drive from one location to another. Patanjali’s students didn’t have that problem… 

Meditate with a Master Every Sunday 

Join Gurudevi Nirmalananda for her Swami Sunday meditation program.  She supports you in the process of learning to live in the recognition of your own Divinity. With her as your teacher, the inner process is deep and easy.   

Our traditional satsang format prepares you for a deep and easy meditation. Gurudevi includes chanting, sutras and teachings from the ancient tradition as well as meditation instruction. Know your own Self better by the end of the morning. 

Attending Swami Sunday is the fast track to Self-Realization. In an hour-and-a-half, I am transmuted: every cell, realigned. — Madelyn J.