Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

About Swami Nirmalananda

Serving as the Master Teacher, Swamiji is a teacher of the highest integrity for over 35 years. Formerly known as Rama Berch, she is the originator of Svaroopa® yoga as well as the Founder of Master Yoga and of Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram. In 2009 she was honored with initiation into the ancient order of Saraswati monks. Now wearing the traditional orange, she has openly dedicated her life to serving others. Usually called Swamiji, she makes the highest teachings easily accessible, guiding seekers to the knowledge and experience of their own Divine Essence.

NEW Telecourse:  Leaps & Bounds

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

I remember getting leg pains in my adolescence.  I felt a deep inner ache that had a sharp edge to it.  The doctor called them growing pains.  He offered no treatment, no help whatsoever, saying I’d outgrow the growing pains.  It’s true; I did.  You will outgrow your growing pains, too.

The leg pains are caused by muscular tension.  The bones are growing faster than the muscles.  The muscles are holding tight while the bones attached to them are growing longer, stretching the muscles and tendons to a new length.  

If my childhood doctor had simply recommended some gentle massage, or maybe some yoga, my growing pains would have disappeared.  Nowadays, maybe they even recommend yoga?  Looking back, I can see that it would have helped me grow into myself much more smoothly:  on all levels, body, mind, heart and spirit. 

Everyone wants to get a boost.  Like a child sitting on daddy’s shoulders, you want to see beyond where you’re stuck. You’re hoping to bound into the next level, leaving this one behind.  Of course, you can do things to move that along.  However, your ability to discern what to do, as well as to actually do it, is part of what you’re growing into.  

The biggest boost is Shaktipat, the initiation into Self-Knowingness. Yet Shaktipat doesn’t give you the ability to avoid your growth processes.  Instead, it gives you the clarity of knowing what you need to do, why to do it and where you’ll be when you’ve done it…

What Kind of Karma?

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

No one talks about their karma when life is flowing smoothly, when finances fall together and they’re getting what they want. That’s called “good karma.” But you may complain when things are falling apart and life is hard. That’s called “bad karma.” However, complaining about it does not help. You already know this. It’s like complaining about the weather. No matter what you say, it is what it is.

Where I live, the weather blows in from the Arctic or the Caribbean, sometimes from the Great Plains. Whatever blows through, all I can do is manage myself in the midst of it. Rain gear, snow gear, summery clothes and sunscreen – all are in my repertoire and in my closet.

Similarly, your karma is coming from somewhere – maybe things you did yesterday or last week, perhaps from decades or lifetimes ago. In meditation, I‘ve had clear memories of being a Greek soldier in a prior life. Karma can be nasty stuff! But it’s only if you did nasty stuff in the past. And we all have.

You have also done good things. Big stuff and even little stuff matters. Sometimes when I’m driving, I…

Changing Your Future

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

For weeks, I meditated at a cremation ground in Kashi, the holiest city in India. Liberation is assured for one who departs from this sacred city, so people go there to die. I went daily to the main burning ghat, alongside the divine Ganga (Ganges) River, for sunrise meditations.

On one day, a cremation fire shone brightly, flames leaping higher than I’d ever seen before. My guide said, “This was a good person.” The quality of the fire is determined by the quality of the fuel, even when it is a human body. Yoga’s goal is to make you shine brightly while alive. Yet your luminosity affects your death as well as your life.

Usually we focus on how yoga and meditation improve your life. However, once you’re born, death is certain. In between, quality of life matters. It matters a lot. Yet the quality of your death matters as well. Yoga and meditation help with both.

I went to meditate there because my Guru had repeatedly urged us to contemplate death. In facing death so deeply and tangibly, I became free from fear. And I found the current of life, ever flowing, present within all and beyond all. If you have attended a death, you already know it’s not an ending, but a passageway to another dimension. That’s why we say, “They left.”

While death is inevitable, it’s not predictable. When you truly understand this, you treasure every moment of life. Yet you tend to forget this. In an epic poem from ancient India, a wise king was asked, “What is truly amazing in this world?” He answered:

Every day, thousands of living beings die,
but while living, one foolishly thinks himself immortal
and does not prepare for death.
This is the most amazing thing in the world.

— Mahabharata, Vana-Parva 313.116

Sometimes you just can’t see past your nose. When you’re so focused on the here and now, it’s not cosmic. Unfortunately, you’re focused on your needs and fears, or on your perceived needs and fears. Most yogis live comfortable lives, yet they focus on their discomforts. I’ll call it “being short-sighted.”

When you become farsighted, you can see your own future. And you can see options to change your path. It’s like having a cosmic GPS, showing you the route you’re on as well as some alternative roads. You get to choose the road, which also determines the scenery along the way.

Your future does include death as well as what leads up to it. Death is not what’s scary for most people. What’s scary is the…

Swami Meditation

By Gurudevi (Swami Nirmalananda)

Roshis, Lamas and Swamis – how do they meditate?

These amazing people have dedicated their lives to the ultimate attainment.  Many of them share their wisdom with others, for they serve as teachers within their own traditions.  What does that mean for you?  You have the best meditation when you meditate with an experienced meditator.

So what is a swami’s meditation like?  In some ways, it’s a lot like yours.

First, they sit.  Before sitting, just as recommended, they prepare by doing some yogic breathing or stretches, maybe a chant or some mantras/prayers.  These practices help you with both body and mind.  And if you’re going to be sitting for a while, your body needs some help or preparation. 

But they may not always do a formal preparation.  The good news is that simply sitting for a bit calms the mind so meditation comes easier.  It’s said that a 20-minute meditation is “19 minutes of preparation and 1 minute of meditation.”  So a swami usually wants to meditate longer.

It is easier for a monk to meditate than the average person.  Why?  

One reason is that it hasn’t been very long since their last meditation, probably only hours, maybe a day.  When you go a long time between meditations, you’ve gotten lost and it’s harder to find your way back inside.  Meditating frequently is one of their secrets.

Another reason their meditation is easier is that they really care about their meditation.  It’s a priority for them.  For myself, I’d rather meditate than sleep; I’d rather meditate than eat. When I’m not meditating, my mind sometimes looks at the clock to figure out how long it will be before my next meditation period comes.

Why? Because of the bliss, the peace, the depth, the enlivenment, the awarenesses and insights that make life easier.  Meditation is profoundly nourishing. My tantric tradition describes it as a way to bathe mind and body in the energy of Consciousness (chiti-shakti).

Everyone gets these benefits, not just monks.  Still, it’s easier for the monks.  Why?  

Because when they are not meditating, their mind is focused on different things than most people.  Most people are focused on their reactions, desires and fears.  Monks are focused on serving others while being based in the inner depths.  That’s another secret.

It means their mind is not as likely to be churning over what happened or over what didn’t happen.  And even if it does, they know how to steer it toward Consciousness.

Want one more secret?  They all have a teacher, an authorized leader within their meditative tradition – one who has attained the heights of Consciousness.  Their teacher helps them along the way.  

Sometimes it’s a hint or a word that helps them refine their understanding.  Other times it is a transmission of the energy of the lineage.  It’s like getting a boost over the fence. 

You need a teacher who knows more than you, or they cannot teach you.  You need a teacher who is more deeply established in Consciousness, or they can’t boost you there.  I know because I got a boost.  

I got so much out of my first boost that I went back for another and another.  I got Shaktipat from my Guru over 200 times.  It worked!

Words Matter

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda 

What you say to others affects them, as you already know.  But your words affect you as well.  When you are harsh to someone, you have the experience of being harsh or mean. It does not contribute to your happiness. Worse, you end up treating yourself the same way you treated them.  What is the tone of voice you use on yourself inside your head? 

It also works the other way around.  What you say to yourself affects you, no surprise.  But it affects others as well.  Even if you never tell anyone what you’re saying to yourself, it affects your facial expression, your breathing, your skin tone and your response to them.  It shows.  Worse, your brain chemicals are affected, along with your digestion and immune system.

Words matter.  The sutras tell us that words underlie the structure of the universe.  In other words, the universe is made out of God’s thoughts.  God thought you into being, along with everyone and everything else.  That Divine impulse underlying everything that exists is described in this sutra:

J~naanaa-dhishthaana.m maat.rkaa. – Shiva Sutras 1.4

The experience of limited individuality comes from the cosmic vibrations that produce sounds and the words they become.

The cosmic vibration is OM, aka the primordial sound.  This is the vibration of the One Divine Reality, vibrating within himself. In yoga, we call the One by the name Shiva, meaning Beingness.  When Shiva is vibrating, we call the vibration by the name Shakti, meaning Divine Energy.

So we have Divine Beingness vibrating within his own Beingness.  You can perceive this vibration as a subtle sound which pervades all that exists, for everything that exists comes from it.  This vibration is the Divine Energy that condenses down into matter.

We approximate this sound when we chant OM.  We come close, however we have to stop and breathe periodically.  OM continues without interruption. Shiva delights in being the vibration that is being the OM.  And Shiva decides to play some variations on the theme, much like a jazz musician does.  

Thus the one sound becomes multiple sounds, each one with a different vibratory energy.  These different sounds are called “bij mantras,” the root sounds that are the syllables which combine to become words.  Then you use the words to tie yourself up into knots.

The words you use on yourself matter.  They matter the most, for you wouldn’t use words on other people unless you first ran them through your mind.  Ah, your mind! It needs some help.  Fortunately, all of yoga’s practices are for your mind.

Here are two practices to help with your words.  They are a great beginning point for working with your mind:

 1. Speak only truth.  This is satya, the second of yoga’s lifestyle practices (yamas).  In this practice, all your words must be truthful, while they are also non-harming (ahimsa, the first yama).   

I’ll rephrase it.  Maybe your mother told you this, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Even if your negative reaction is true, don’t say it if it is hurtful.  Or find a way to say it that can be helpful, even contributing to an improvement in the situation or the relationship. 

Yes, this is a big deal.  It means you’re thinking before you speak, and you’re assessing the value of the words you’re about to use.  You’re starting to live more consciously.  It’s a process and you’ve decided to work on it. 

Not only will it improve your life and relationships, it will improve your internal environment.  That’s the most important result. 

2. A more powerful option is to pour your mental energy into mantra. First you have to get a mantra from an authorized teacher. Getting a mantra from a book or website is like eating a picture of lasagna. You won’t get filled up that way.

But when you get an enlivened mantra, something happens on a whole different level. I know because it happened to me and because I see it happening for people every time I teach. The enlivened mantra dials up your level of Consciousness inside.

It’s like you’ve got your hand on a rheostat, a light switch that lets you dim and brighten the lights. Except it is happening inside.

When you repeat your mantra, the light of your own Beingness gets brighter inside. Now your mind functions in a whole new way. Compassion and generosity arise from within, as well as the desire to help others. You’re on your way to living an illuminated life.

Making a Difference

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda 

When I became a swami, I was surprised to feel a startlingly powerful impulse arising within — I wanted to feed people. Having been kitchen-averse for decades, it was a shock to me that I actually enjoyed cooking for others. I soon realized it’s because of the sutra:

J~naanam annam — Shiva Sutras 2.9 / True knowledge is food.

It means that a seeker hungers to know the Truth of their own Beingness. One who knows and shares that knowing is truly feeding you. Pure knowledge is the only real nourishment, that which gives satisfaction.

I remember giving a discourse on sutras where one yogini cried all the way through. She never sobbed, but tears ran down her face the whole time, more than an hour. I paused a couple of times to check in with her, but she waved me off.  When finished, I asked her, “What are the tears?” She answered, “I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear these words. I feel fed for the first time in my life.”

This is truly what I want to give, that which nourishes you at a level that mere foodstuffs cannot reach. But when you allow me to give you a meal or snack, I pump it full of Divine energy so it feeds you on both the physical and subtle levels. 

I live a dedicated life. A consecrated life. This is a sacred way of living, where every breath is holy. Every thought comes from God and is put into words or actions that serve God. That’s what a swami strives for, to be a light unto the world. That’s what everyone wants, even if they don’t yet admit it to themselves.  That’s why we love the children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine.”

The first step is to find your own light. Then you can shine into the world. Ah, but there’s a catch here…

Yogic Nutrition with Gurudevi 

Online beginning March 29

What does a yogi eat?  To achieve health as well as pleasure and (most importantly) spiritual development, yogis feed themselves consciously.  

Drawing on yoga, Ayurveda and scientific nutritional guidelines, Gurudevi gives you easy ways to improve your nutritional profile.  

As these principles begin working for you, you’ll notice a change in your digestion, assimilation and elimination. 

Taste is also important, especially as it contributes to your nutrition as well as your quality of life.  Each class includes a tasting session with discussion.  Enrollment is limited, so everyone can participate in the discussions as well as get personalized support and recommendations from Gurudevi.

Yoga Laughter

By Swami Nirmalananda 

The yoga of laughter is a pranayama, a breathing technique.  It works because it gets your breath moving, aerating deeply into your lungs as you get your laugh going.  Everyone thinks they feel better because they mimicked being happy, but it really works because you’re breathing deeply.  Better yet, your breath emphasizes the pause after each exhale breath.

This practice works best in a group.  In the beginning, you force a laugh, maybe a “ha-ha” or a little titter.  Then you do it again.  Hearing others also make these somewhat phony laughs, it’s so silly that it actually makes you want to laugh.  Soon your laugh is not forced.

The yogic science of breath is so profound!  Your stairstep exhalation has a delightful effect on your mind, for each time your breath stops, your mind stops.  This is the real secret to pranayama – using the quiet spaces in between breaths to quiet your mind.

Tasmin sati “svaasa-pra”svaasayor gati-viccheda.h praa.naayaama.h. 

– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.49

By sitting in stillness, pranayama naturally follows, which is the cessation of breath movement.

This tells the secret of using breath to master your mind – that your mind becomes still because you’re sitting quietly and your breath settles.  This happens naturally when you’re sitting in your garden or, for me, watching the ocean.  I love to sit and watch the waves.  

The wave forms from underneath, the water pushing upward from the ocean floor.  The wave crests and then tips over and crashes down.  It’s mesmerizing for your mind.

Then you see the wave wash up the sandy shore.  At the top, it stops.  It becomes motionless for a moment. That’s the best!  The moment of stillness, an moment of eternity. Then the wave glides back down the slope to merge into the sea again.  

Your breath does the same thing. You don’t have to force it because it happens with every breath, whether you’re paying attention or not.  Your breath comes in and then, for a brief moment, it stops in an internal pause.  Then your breath goes out and again pauses briefly.  The inner pause is called antara kumbhaka; the outer is bahya kumbhaka.  These pauses are already there.  They are happening right now.

When you sit for a while, your body eases into stillness.  So does your breath.  Your natural pause naturally lengthens.  Your mind now settles into stillness.  In meditation, it happens too —  usually easier and for longer pauses.

When your body needs breath, it moves another breath spontaneously.  And your mind starts up again.  Yogis do pranayama, breathing practices so they can build up pranic reserves to make it easy to linger in the pause longer.  It is an entry point into the blissful Beingness that is hidden in the deeper dimensions of your own being.

Once you dive deeper within, your breath can move without disturbing your mind.  This is how your meditation can lengthen.  This is how a Meditation Master lives, based in the deeper dimensionality within, even while they use their mind to participate in the world.

So when you do yoga laughter, you’re getting little bits of this.  With each “ha,” your breath stops momentarily, giving you a glimpse of the doorway inside.  Then you “ha” again.  Lots of little peeks add up to a sense of what is hidden within.  It’s like watching a train go by, you can see what’s on the other side in the little peeks between the moving cars.  And when the train is gone, you can really see what’s there.

With yoga laughter, you get happy.  You’re happy because you got a glimpse of the deeper dimensions of your own being.  With pranayama and meditation, you get to enter into those deeper dimensions.  It is mystical, not merely happy. 

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

I loved this song when I was growing up, for I wanted to fly. I wanted to fly free, like the bluebirds in the song:

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow

Why, oh, why can’t I?

My multiple attempts to get beyond the rainbow led me to living with a Guru in India.  It worked out really well, for he gave me yogic freedom.  It is freedom without escapism. It is both “freedom from” and “freedom to.”

“Freedom from” is freedom from pain, freedom from fear and freedom from the self-doubt that paralyzes you.  “Freedom to” is the freedom to love, to create and to give with generosity.  This yogic freedom comes from its inner source, described powerfully in a yogic text: 

Caitanyam-aatmaa — Shiva Sutras 1.1

Your own Self is Consciousness-Itself, 

imbued with freedom of knowledge and action

When you describe yourself by age and gender, by profession or relationship status – you’re describing what you do, not who you are.  These change, but you are still you.  Your size and shape, along with the color of your hair or skin are simply physical characteristics.  Your body changes over time, while your essence remains unchanged.

Peggy came to me in her 80s, wanting yoga therapy to make her able to walk freely again. She didn’t like using her cane.  It took about 5 sessions for her to throw away her cane.  Then she confessed she wanted more.  She didn’t want merely to walk.  She wanted to dance, to sprint and to turn cartwheels like she did as a kid.

She looked straight at me with her startling blue eyes and said, “Inside, I’m still 5 years old.”  It was true.  I could see the timelessness of her innermost being shining from inside.  It was just her body that was old, not her being.

Your being is that same Beingness that she showed me. My being is that same Beingness as well, for there is only One Beingness.  That One is being all, including you and including me.  When you feel your own essence, your own Beingness filling you from within, you know something that you always wanted to know.  You know your own Self.  And once you have your own Self, you are free.

In such freedom, nothing and no one can bind you. You can stay or go, it’s simply a choice.  Most peoples’ choices are made out of fear or clinging, trying to avoid something or trying to get something.  Without fear or clinging, how do you choose?

Your choice comes from freedom that is imbued with knowledge and action.  I call it intelligence, that you can use your mind to assess the probable outcomes of different options, then choose one wisely.  You can even choose to do nothing.  Yet your own deep sense of Self arises within, bring creative options as well as the sheer joy of sharing, moving you into giving generously.

One who knows Self is one who cares and shares. This type of enlightenment is engaged, contributing to the world, but from a place of Knowingness and Beingness. Best of all is the bliss…

Hatha Yoga

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda 

Hatha yoga is described in the yogic texts as efforting practice, a way to apply yourself physically.  However, you’re working on enlightenment, not on perfecting your body. The point is that your physical mastery gives you mental fortitude, so you can apply your mind to more subtle and interior practices.

In India, the land of yoga’s origin, the poses are only 10% of yoga’s technology. The other 90% is about your mind and getting beyond your mind, so you can experience svaroopa, your ever-blissful Divine Essence. Body-centered practice goes by the generic hatha yoga. The West offers many brand names, including our own Svaroopa® yoga.

By contrast, 90% of the yogis in India are sitting.  They are sitting to listen to their Guru expound on the teachings, sitting to contemplate the teachings they’ve heard, sitting in meditation.  They sit to watch the sunrise or sunset, sit as they participate in Vedic ceremonies, and they sit and wait for their own Divinity to fill into the stillness they’ve created in their mind. 

Hatha yogis don’t sit and watch the sunrise; they do Sun Salutations. They don’t listen to teachings or contemplate them; they do poses and try to make their body measure up. They don’t regulate their breath in order to quiet their mind; they pump their breath in order to sustain continual movement. They don’t still their mind; they keep moving while looking for a quiet inner center. 

Yoga has been growing in the West since 1893, so much that yogis now compete for championships and even Gold Medals. Google it: yoga is a sport. This is a different direction than the sages intended. 

Hatha has a second translation: the mystical meaning that is found in every Sanskrit word. The syllables ha and tha name the energies that flow along the two sides of your spine: ha — along the right side of your spine; tha — along your left. When you open and balance these two flows, the energy shifts and flows through the center of your spine. This is a profound inner opening that deepens with practice, especially with the guidance and blessings of an authorized Master.

To summarize, hatha yoga has two approaches: one is a path of self-effort and the other is a path of Grace – two radically different paths. Svaroopa® yoga is a path of Grace. Everyone else is on the other path, as wonderfully arduous as it can be.

After my Guru sent me back to America, I could see that my yoga students were not getting the openings that the poses are meant to provide. So I taught them variations, using carefully aligned angles to target their spinal tensions, providing the spinal release that is now named Svaroopa® yoga. It surprised me when people started getting Shaktipat awakening. Now I realize that I was carrying my Guru’s gift of Grace to the next generation. 

Svaroopa® yoga is a hatha yoga, with self-effort involved. This is a path of both self-effort and Grace. Self-effort is very important: you must apply yourself to the practices. Yet, on a path of Grace, you have to remember to make space for something more to happen. 

Svaroopa® yoga is unique, a hatha yoga that’s full of Grace. You put forth effort. You make time to attend a class or have a private session. Or you do your own practices. Yet Grace supports you every step of the way. 

But where are you going? There’s really nowhere to go. You’re not travelling to your Self because you already ARE the Self. You already ARE Consciousness-itself, svaroopa. This is why it is named “Svaroopa® yoga.”