Category Archives: Ashram News

Golden Meditations

By Fred Hess 

Interviewed by Marlene (Matrikaa) Gast, Yogaratna 

Over New Year’s weekend at the Ashram, I immersed in my fifth Shaktipat Retreat with Gurudevi.  In the first session, Gurudevi gave Shaktipat by touch to us assembled in Lokananda.  She also gave Shaktipat by will to all attending online as well as in person.  From Gurudevi’s hands-on Shaktipat, I felt warmth in my low back.  I got even more in Gurudevi’s second session as she gave Shaktipat by will again.  I felt successive flows of warmth shooting up my spine. 

In my first Shaktipat Retreat, some years ago, I felt somewhat discombobulated afterward.  But with every Shaktipat Retreat since, my meditations have progressively deepened.  Back home now, I meditate in the morning with Gurudevi’s online Meditation Club.  Afterward, I am at ease with my thoughts.  My steady state endures throughout the day.  I meditate again later in the day as well.  And I have no concern about thoughts disturbing my inner focus. 

Each day, I go into meditation deeper and faster, sitting for the whole hour.  My meditations are golden and beautiful.  In morning Meditation Club, I surface only when Gurudevi sounds the gong to signal our closing.  My deep meditations support me in daily life.  I can do things in a spiritual way. 

Attending Shaktipat with my wife and our longtime friend, new to meditation, was a plus.  My friend works in a helping profession.  I’ve always recognized his spiritual capacity.  It was great to see him fulfilled, smiling and happy after our retreat.  Being with loved ones was beautiful! 

I am ready to keep going with this practice, and look forward to Gurudevi’s next Shaktipat Retreat.  I know that Gurudevi’s gift of Kundalini awakening will open us to inner greatness once again.  Speaking from my heart, I would like to see more of the world receive Gurudevi’s gift of Shaktipat.

It Went Away Miraculously

By TC (Tattvananda) Richards

Interviewed by Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain, Yogaratna

It says online, “You cannot get rid of plantar fasciitis without medical intervention.” For my work, I stand on my feet all day long. The pain in my heel got worse and worse. And everyone had advice: “Roll your foot on a ball” or ”you’ll need an injection.” Yet because of my Svaroopa® yoga practices, the pain went away miraculously ― amazingly, never to return.

When I mentioned my condition to one of the Ashram swamis, she recommended I try Embodyment® Yoga Therapy sessions or at least one hour a day of Ujjayi Pranayama. Because of my schedule, I chose to commit myself to my Ujjayi breathing practice. To stay conscious the whole hour, I set a timer for every 20 minutes. It worked! The pain started to lesson.

The real turnaround happened when I changed my daily yoga routine. I learned I had not been sequencing my spine effectively. Swamiji gave me a more therapeutic pose practice. This released my tailbone tensions and reached into all the tight spots I’d been missing.

I also gave myself more time in the poses. By slowing down, I felt my body relaxing. In the pauses between poses, I could perceive the inner shifts. To feel complete, I always included a beginning and closing Shavasana.

Now I get up in the morning with no pain. And I know I have to keep up with the practices. I think of it as cooperating with the flow of Grace!

I Needed the Shavasana Course

By Andrea (Arya) Perry

Interviewed by Lori (Priya) Kenney

When the Shavasana Course was offered last year, I knew I needed to take it.  My goal is to live in and from the state of Self all the time.  On an ongoing basis, I note how deeply I am seated in Self.  Yet I vacillate, moving up and down like waves.  Sometimes I’m deep and sometimes I’m barely touching the water.  I live in the future a lot and I’m constantly planning.  I try to figure out what I’m going to do and how to do it.  In Meditation Teacher Training I learned a key question: “Is your mind with your body?”

I needed body and breath practices to get my mind with my body.  Gurudevi confirmed this:  “…you use Anavopaya, starting with body and breath steadily weaving yourself back into a whole again.  That wholeness becomes a profound feeling of holiness, the sanctity of our own Self.” (Freedom – July 2022 Teachings Article)

She further confirmed my need for the Shavasana Course.  She wrote about how you get lost in your mind and senses, and that yoga says to stay in your body (Perception & Action – September 2022 Teachings Article).  I knew the Shavasana Course would help me settle into my body and my own Self. 

The Shavasana Course delivered just what I needed.  It had been a long time since I had been that deep from physical practices.  It got my mind back into my body and infinitely more.  We had six continuous days of two and a half hours, including various Shavasanas along with meditation.  The course embodied and enlivened me.  

It was the Amazing Grace of Kundalini that dissolved my tensions, created openings and enlivened my body.  I felt gratitude for Kundalini’s generous gifts.  I felt more open physically and multi-dimensionally.  I experienced the bliss of being, lying on my back.  I experienced deeply resting in Self.

I returned to my busy life and long list of to-do’s.  This message arose in my mind: “Be Shiva doing the doing!  Focus on your Shiva-ness instead of on the doing.  When grounded in your Shiva-ness, there is no need for constant, overwhelming mental activity.  Things needing to get done will get done with efficiency and ease.”

I feel blessed for the gift of so many practices and tools that help me toward my goal.  And I feel blessed that Gurudevi guides me. 

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.”

Choosing Your State

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

Whatever happens, you get to choose your response. You’ve got options. Let’s say you have a flat tire. You could be frustrated because it is happening when you’re busy. Or you could be relieved that it didn’t happen when you were driving at 70 miles per hour. Another option is that you feel virtuous, for you have a membership to an auto service that will make the whole process easy for you.

You might feel guilty because you knew there was a problem with that tire, but you didn’t take care of it. Maybe you are grateful to a friend or passing stranger who helps you with it. Or you use your intelligence to search for an online video that will help you with DIY.

You are even capable of having multiple reactions simultaneously. The feeling on which you choose to focus determines what happens next. If frustration makes you curse and kick the tire, you could end up with a broken toe along with a flat tire. If you focus on feeling relieved or grateful, then you feel blessed. You also become generous and helpful to others.

You’re not an automaton, running the same program over and over. When you face a familiar problem, you can respond differently because (hopefully) you learned something from it last time. If you’re a yogi, your response comes from a new level of compassion and clarity compared to last time, simply because you’ve opened up your inner reservoir more deeply.

Yogis learn from the inside as well as from the outside. On the outside, life gives you lessons. Are you getting them? If not, life will serve up the same menu as before, so you have another chance to get it. When you get it, you are changed. Learning from the outside changes you on the inside.

A yogi does it in a different order. A yogi gets it on the inside first. Then the same menu doesn’t need to be served up again. And even if it does, your inner transformation makes your outer response easy. Clarity and compassion support you, even if the answer you give is “No.”

This is tantra, the interweaving of the Divine into the mundane. Yoga makes you able to find the Divine within, your essence effulging forth like a blossoming flower. You bring it with you into everything outside of you, into the seemingly mundane world. Every other being and…

GPS:  God Positioning System 

By Swami Prajñananda

I wished I could stop time.  In the dark of the night, I used to wake up terrified, remembering that one day I would die.  I was only a child, but my looming death weighed heavily on me.  I wished for time to stop, but I could feel it still ticking steadily onward.  During the day, it was easy to forget about death.  But, in those quiet moments in the dark, I couldn’t push the thoughts away.

Part of the reason it was so scary was that I wasn’t experiencing God.  I had some basic training in religion growing up, but I wasn’t actually having the experience.  So, death felt like the end — absolute oblivion.  

This nihilistic belief system continued for me until I met Gurudevi Nirmalananda.  Being in her presence and receiving her teachings, I experienced that there is more to me than I thought.  Sitting for meditation and turning inward, I would feel a sense of eternity.  This eternality would fill me from the inside.  Meditation after meditation gave me this inner fullness without start or end.  

Each day, I would look forward to my daily meditation.  I was finding that “something” that I had been missing and looking for, for so long.  My usual inner feeling of emptiness was replaced by expansive fullness.  Over time, I realized the eternality I was finding inside was in fact God.  God is eternal, Existence-Itself.  God has no beginning or end.  God is all-pervasive.  This means God is being this entire world, including me.  

I hadn’t been successful at reaching for God on the outside. However, thanks to Gurudevi, I was having major success at finding God on the inside.  Gurudevi explains this more:

For a yogi, reaching to God is an inward reach, turning your attention, turning your mind and heart to the sacred space inside, finding the Divine dimension that is yoga’s focus and yoga’s specialty.

— Gurudevi Nirmalananda, “You’re in the Holidays,” December 4, 2022

Yes! Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation excels at this.  While I am sharing my personal experience with you, it is not a rare or unique experience in this tradition.  When you meditate with Gurudevi, you will discover the same, even in your first meditation.  This is because everyone has the same sacred space inside.  It is God’s space.  It is your space.  You simply need someone to guide you there.  

Gurudevi is a Meditation Master who serves as your spiritual GPS.  Your usual worldly GPS rivets your attention outside of yourself.  Focused on your relationships and what you see and do, you lose track of your own Divine Essence.  When you replace your worldly GPS with a spiritual one, your attention is directed inside.  I call it a God Positioning System, for it places you right where God is.  Right here.  Right now.  Right inside. 

How? Through meditation. 

Gurudevi’s own depth, coming from the lineage of Masters who precede her, gives you an inner boost.  In meditation, you are glided inward, past the pitfalls and snags of your mind.  You are guided all the way to the deepest dimension of your being.  You experience God inside.  When you open your eyes, you can see God outside too.  And at the same time, you are the one being both.  Inside and outside, all at the same time.  To discover this for yourself, meditate with a Master.

Gurudevi Is Teaching at SYTAR

On Saturday, June 15, Gurudevi is teaching a workshop Entitled “Ending Back Pain,”at the conference of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). This is their annual event titled SYTAR — Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research. 

Gurudevi’s experiential workshop demonstrates how Svaroopa® Yoga Therapy works, through spinal decompression.  She describes that she is “putting the pathway to healing in the hands of the one who needs it — the patient/client.”

Participants will experience Svaroopa® Yoga therapeutic tools for relieving back pain.  In supervised partner-pairs, they will also learn how to give a Svaroopa® Yoga therapeutic technique.  In addition, Gurudevi will addresses the multiple roots of back pain from a tantric perspective, as a model for how healing must address the person’s multiple dimensions, interweaving them into wholeness.  This is a tantric therapeutic paradigm.  The individual is restored to their essential wholeness, and empowered to navigate whatever arises in their life.

Workshop attendance is limited to 40.  Thus, Gurudevi’s workshop is not for those already trained as Svaroopa® yoga teachers.  However, attending the conference is highly recommended.  If you already teach Svaroopa® yoga and/or offer sessions, SYTAR will expand your perspective.  Through the other workshops and classes, you can explore the latest trends in yoga therapy.  Moreover, attending lets you know where you stand in the growing yoga therapist profession.  Gurudevi says, “The biggest boost is seeing how much you know.  You hear about the struggle of others figuring out how to do therapeutic yoga.”

The location is the Hyatt Reston in Virginia — convenient to Washington DC and Dulles International Airport.  Learn More.

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!

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!