Thursday, November 22, 2012

Difficulties Strengthen You

inspiration below quoted from Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh India

"Difficulties come to test you and thereby to help you by strengthening your will, patience and power of endurance. Be bold. Be cheerful. Be calm, cool and collected at all times, even in the face of difficulties. There is no spiritual sadhana (practice) completely free from obstacles and difficulties. God sends consolation, encouragement at every step to the sincere aspirant. Defeat and failure have their purpose. Criticism too has its uses.

Be free from depression and irritation. Remain unmoved by criticism or praise. Be steadfast. Stand firm like a rock - unshakable by emotional storms, frustrations and defeats. A spiritual aspirant is backed up by the whole spiritual world. All saints lend their invisible help and support to such a struggler. You are never really left alone. You will get help from saints and yogis internally. Their spiritual vibrations will elevate and inspire you.

Without great patience and perseverance, the spiritual quest becomes an uphill task. No half-measures will do on the spiritual path. Give your whole heart to truth and to sadhana. Have faith. Be firm. Unfold. Attain. All defeats are transitory. All set-backs are needed experiences. Muster up your courage. March forward. Success and victory are yours. Have patience first, second and last! This should be the motto for those seeking the inner light.

Great things have small beginnings. All growth is gradual. To be perfectly unperturbed by anything, in all circumstances, looking upon all things as passing phenomena, ever feeling a distinct, silent witness to all the experiences of life - these are the marks of a spiritual aspirant.

These qualities have to be carefully and consciously cultivated. They do not come in a day. But they do come gradually by faithful practice. An unseen power guides and guards you. Feel his power and presence. He who is endowed with dispassion, compassion, serenity, self-control, and who has given up the desire for this world and the next, and who has control over his mind and senses, is fit to tread the spiritual path."

Be strong. Be courageous. Remember that all of life is a drama, a personal story. Try to avoid being swayed by the waves of life's play. Stand strong in your life, in your service and in your practices. May the blessings abound on your journey.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

3 Types of Asana

Did you know that Yoga scriptures recognize there are three types of asanas?
     1. meditative postures / asanas
     2. relaxation postures / asanas
     3. cultural postures / asanas

Meditative Asanas
The meditative postures are ordinarily used for the practice of meditation and pranayama. While practicing these asanas it is very important to be relaxed. During the meditative asanas, the yogin aims for holding the pose for long periods of time (up to several hours) to encourage and allow prolonged sessions of pranayama and meditation in perfect stillness and comfort. Eventually the yogin transcends the asana, not feeling her/his body, and focusing on the inner, subtle aspects of the practices.

Meditative asanas are cross-legged sitting postures which allow you to sit upright and relaxed for a longer period of time. They provide a stable seat for meditation. The aim is to train your body so you can sit a long time without moving any part of your body. Remember the more the body moves, the more the mind is set into motion. In the Raja Yoga Sutras the asana is defined as a steady, firm, and comfortable posture.

There are five main meditative postures:
  • Padmasana or lotus
  • Siddhasana or half lotus
  • Swastikasana or locked-ankles pose
  • Sukhasana or easy pose
  • Vajrasana for people who cannot sit cross-legged

    Relaxation Asanas

    Asanas for relaxation are designed in a way that there is no need to contract any muscle. It is important to practice them exactly so your body can enter a state of deep relaxation. Each time you allow the body to completely relax during your asana class, you are allowing the prana (vital energy) and blood, to move freely throughout the entire system. Relaxation asanas are a crucial part of all Hatha Yoga practices. 

    There are three main relaxation postures:
    • Savasana or corpse pose
    • Abdominal relaxation pose - lying on your belly with big toes touching
    • Garbhasana / Balasana or child's pose

    Cultural Asanas
    Cultural asanas are practiced with more intensity. While doing asanas the Hatha yogin is aware that there are three main groups of muscles in the body. For each asana, some muscles are relaxing, some are stretching and some are contracting. The art of Hatha Yoga consists in relaxing deeply the first two groups while contracting forcefully the last group. 

    During the practice, the stretched muscles should be lengthened to the limit. The limit is the pain and one should stop the stretching just before feeling any pain. One should feel a good, intense stretch. During the practice the breath should always be kept under control. This aids in focusing the mind.

    The cultural asana group contains the largest amount of asanas. It is said that there are 84 lakhs (8.4 million) yoga postures. Of these, 84 are more important and 12 of them constitute the structure of the Rishikesh India sequence sometimes called Sivananda series or Yoga Vidya series.

    The cultural asanas can be divided in seven groups:
    • Dynamic sequences - such as sun salutation
    • Inverted postures - such as headstand, shoulderstand or handstand
    • Forward bending postures - such as sitting forward bend
    • Backward bending postures - such as cobra , locust , or bow poses
    • Twisting postures - such as the half spinal twist
    • Side ward bending postures - such as the triangle pose
    • Standing postures including balancing poses - such as the tree pose, warrior variations, etc.

    Every yoga sequence should contain at least one out of every group listed above. If you take one asana from every group, you will move your spine in every direction and use all the muscles of your body. Depending on the order in which you practice them, you influence the flow of the prana in your body. It is highly recommended to practice from the top down (crown to root) or the bottom up (root to crown).

    ~ Information gathered from the books Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananada and the Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda; both disciples of the great Yogi, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh India.

    8,400,000 Asanas - What?

    During the seven-month intensive that I'm facilitating, each month has a different Yoga topic and focus.  This month was asana. There were a few things that I found fascinating and just had to share with you.

    Swami Satyananada in his book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha says so beautifully "In the yogic scriptures it is said that there were originally 8,400,000 asanas, which represent the 8,400,000 incarnations every individual must pass through before attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death.  These asanas represented a progressive evolution from the simplest form of life to the most complex: that of a fully realized human being.  Down through the ages the great rishis and yogis modified and reduced the number of asanas to the few hundred known today.  Through their practice, it is possible to side-step the karmic process and bypass many evolutionary stages in one lifetimeHatha yoga, therefore, not only strengthens the body and improves health but also activates and awakens the higher centers responsible for the evolution of human consciousness.”

    Isn't that amazing? Just think, asana or more accurately Hatha Yoga, has a direct impact on the evolution of human consciousness? No wonder it has been around for millenniums and is still growing today.

    Now get on your mat and evolve your consciousness!  I know I will.  :)

    Friday, September 28, 2012

    500 Shades of Gray

    A few months ago when I was gathering information about the human eye for the Visual Yoga Certification Course, I came across an interesting fact that has become one of the most influential teachings in my life.

    Did you know the human eye can see over 500 shades of gray? Isn't that something!

    From that fun fact, an inquiry was born...

    If the human eye can see 500 shades of gray, why does it seem like the human mind can only see black and white? Why is it so difficult to accept the diversity, the "gray" in life? Why is it that my perspective is right (white) and yours is wrong (black)? Why do I defend my worldly understanding and give it more merit than yours?

    These questions initiated further investigation... "Do I see 500 shades of gray in my own life? Do I offer others' beliefs, perspectives and opinions the same merit as my own, honoring all shades of gray?"

    The universe is filled with diversity. Our eyes can see a multitude of shapes and colors. Each mind, each understanding, is unique. This we all know. So if this is the case, why can't we acknowledge the "gray" in life?

    Here are a few self-inquiries for you:

    * Do I live with a "500 shades of gray" perspective, allowing others' opinions and views to hold the same merit as my own?

    * Do I see "500 shades of gray" in my own life?

    * How can I begin to apply "500 shades of gray" perspective to my life and my mind?

    Remember, no self-criticisms about the colors you really see after investigating. Accept whatever is the Truth.

    According to the ancient Yogis, the only constant is change. If this is true, then you can and will change how you see the world. It just takes awareness and self discipline to remind yourself of life's diversity.

    Begin today to breathe-in the diversity of life that creates the magnificent rainbow of "gray".

    Thursday, September 13, 2012

    What is Yoga?

    As I was preparing for a seven month intensive that I am facilitating, I wanted to begin with the definition of Yoga. For this, I went to the Bliss Divine by Swami Sivananda. His insight into Yoga's teachings is impeccable. He was a modern day saint, sage and Yogi and he was, and continues to be, a teacher for the masses. Inspired to share his wisdoms, here is what Swami Sivananda has to say about Yoga. I italicized the sentences that really struck me... enjoy the reading and please feel free to share your definition of yoga.

    “To live in God, to commune with God, is Yoga. Life in God brings eternal bliss. Yoga shows you the way. Yoga unites you with God. Yoga makes you immortal. Yoga is complete life. It is a method which overhauls all the sides of the human personality.

    Yoga is a system of integral education, education not only of the body and the mind or the intellect, but also the inner spirit. Yoga shows you the marvelous method of rising from badness to goodness, and from goodness to godliness, and then to eternal divine splendor.

    Yoga is the art of right living. The Yogin who has learnt the art of right living is happy, harmonious, and peaceful. He is free from tension. 

    Yoga is a science perfected by ancient seers of India, not of India merely, but of humanity as a whole. It is an exact science. It is a perfect, practical system of self-culture.”

    Yoga is not Physical Exercise

    “The idea of the novice that Yoga constitutes physical exercises or mere asana and pranayama etc is a terrible error. Yogasana, pranayama, bandhas, mudras and kriyas have nothing to do with real Yoga. They are considered to be aids in Yoga practice.

    Most people do not have access to Yoga beyond its physical level, because true yoga needs intensive personal discipline couple with intense thinking under the guidance of an able teacher. Yoga promises super-physical and spiritual blessing. It becomes unattractive to a common man who clamors for immediate fruits and worldly possession."

    Yoga is Universal

    Yoga is for all. Yoga is universal. It is not a sectarian affair. It is a way to God and not a creed. The practice of Yoga is not opposed to any religion or any sacred church. It is purely spiritual and universal. It does not contradict any one’s sincere faith. Yoga is not a religion, but an aid to the practice of the basic spiritual truths in all religions. Yoga can be practiced by a Christian, or a Buddhist, a Parsee, a Mohammedan, a Sufi or an atheist.

    To be a Yogin means to abide continuously in God and to live at peace with people. Yoga is union with God. Yoga is union with all, God dwells in all.”

    A Way of Life

    “Yoga does not want a turning away from life. It demands spiritualization of life. Yoga is primarily a way of life, not something which is divorced from life. Yoga is not forsaking of action, but is efficient performance in the right spirit. Yoga is not running away from home and human habitation, but a process of moulding one’s attitude to home and society with a new understanding.”

    May we all find a new spiritual understanding in our own lives. Happy Yoga-ing...

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Unity in Diversity

    On my way to the Sivananda Ashram in New York I'm sitting on the bus as a silent passerby to the miles and miles of forest that line the highway. Allowing my mind to wander, I notice the variations in natural colors and shapes. What appears to be a collage of wooded land, is quite simply a multitude of names and forms that are living harmoniously together... appearing as one.

    In this moment of observation my mind is sweetly reminded of one of Swami Vishnudevananda's main teachings "Unity in Diversity."

    Why is it that we, as a human species, can so easily fall in love with the forest, embracing its diversity, yet become so separate in our views with regards to another? When did we as a species begin to classify, judge and defend? Why do we put so much effort into cultivating uniformity and degrading uniqueness? Why should we all look, talk and dress the same? Why should we have only one religion? Why can't we accept others views and give them equal credit as our own?

    It seems strange to me that as a human, we can accept the diversity in nature but not in our own lives.

    Our practice for the week...

    Try seeing all the various names and forms that come before you as ONE living, breathing organism. Try seeing all things as a part of the whole; no different than equally accepting all the various names and forms of the forest.

    Merge into the diversity. Breathe in the diversity. Fully accept another's opinion. Support another's perspective. Thrive in life's natural diversity and bear witness to the unification which is its result.

    Thank you Swamiji for such an amazing teaching!

    Monday, July 23, 2012

    10 Yoga Tips to Stay Cool this Summer

    As Mother Earth continues Her summer for just a couple more months, here are a few Ayurveduc suggestions on how to remain cool during the warmest time of year. Remember, if everything is reflective, than the rising external heat is reflective of the rising internal heat. Follow these 10 simple yoga tips on how to stay cool this summer and keep the inner fire at bay.

    10 Yoga Tips to Stay Cool

    1. Encourage yourself to surrender more deeply in your asana practice; allow more time for each asana, creating a deeper, calmer inner atmosphere. This approach to asana helps cool the inner fire.

    2. Perform all asana in a way that is non-competitive, nurturing and enjoyable. Try to practice either early morning or early evening when the temperature begins to cool. Even though you will probably practice in a climate controlled environment, for increased energetic benefits it is highly suggested to practice outside, in the cooler hours of day.

    3. Emphasize a cooling breath by making your exhalation longer than inhalation. After you exhale all the air out, retain the breath as a powerful effect to focus the mind and stabilize the agni, or fire. The retention should be just a few seconds or less.

    4. Increase your meditation practice as it is known to have a cooling, calming effect on the mind.

    5. Eat cooling, sweet, bitter and astringent foods (coconut, cucumber, watermelon, all the fresh fruit in season, steamed greens, multicolored salads, watercress, endives, mung beans, basmati rice, etc) and avoid spicy and fried foods.

    6. Add cilantro, cucumber, or mint to your water for a refreshing beverage that will cool you down.

    7. Enjoy rose, sandalwood, jasmine or lavender essential oils to relax (and cool) the senses. Wonderful cooling summer tip... Add a few drops of rose essential oil to a clean spray bottle filled with purified water. Store in the fridge to keep cool. Spritz a few times directly on the face, neck, arms and body for an instant sense of feeling refreshed and cool.

    8. Using coconut oil, give yourself a full body massage. Wait 20-30 minutes in meditation, then rinse off in a cool to warm shower. Avoid hot water as this increases heat.

    9. Wear light colored clothing, loose cotton, linen, natural fibers etc (ex. white, blue, green) so air can circulate between your clothes and your skin. Natural fibers are also beneficial in allowing the prana, or energy, to circulate and flow too.

    10. Spend time in nature; swim, hike, camp, retreat and enjoy the moonlight.

    Stay cool and enjoy all that this beautiful season has to offer you!

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    5 Tips to a Slower Paced Life

    Modern society is running at a pace few are able to sustain. It's as if our own bodies are now vibrating at speeds similar to jet planes, bullet trains and even our own 80mph automobiles. Life is speeding by like the passing trees and buildings on our daily commutes.

    Do you take time to notice the details instead of only seeing a blur? Are you feeling fulfilled in your life?

    These are certainly two very tough questions that can initiate an honest view of your pace today.

    But how can one begin to step out of this rat-race and begin to mosey, or slow down?

    Here are 5 Tips to a Slower Paced Life

    1. Choose to walk, bicycle or take the bus instead of driving. One way to greet the world around you is to slow down. If you are going down the street (within a mile or so), choose to take slower forms of transportation. Have you ever noticed how many "hello's" greet you on the sidewalk, than on the freeway? This will give you more time to appreciate all that surrounds you. If you are traveling further than a few miles hop on the local bus where you can simply sit down and enjoy the ride and scenery.

    2. Go for a stroll in nature. Walking in a forest is a sure-fire way to remind you just how small you are and yet, how you are a part of the whole. Also, if you consciously observe the pace of nature you can be sweetly reminded of how to sway with the breezes of life, work as a whole organism and revert to the simplicity of life.

    3. Simply Sit. All too often we think that our lives are so busy that we cannot take the time to sit down and be still. This is an all-too-often play of the ego. You do have time. You are able to sit and be still. So... simply do it. Sit down, breathe and embrace the Life that is within, and around, you.

    4. Add your Self to your to-do list. By adding yourself to your daily to-do list, you can more easily carve out time to spend with your Self (spirit) as well as your family / friends. Remember, what appears soooo important is just that... an appearance. You set the priority. Dedicate time for Self-reflection, Self-communion and Self-expression. You are worth it!

    5. Take moments throughout the day for conscious breathing. Conscious breathing is the easiest and quickest way to slow down; plus its only need is that you remember to practice it. A simple suggestion is to make a few sticky notes and post them in random places within your life... on the computer, the refrigerator, in your bathroom, and even in your car. The more places you can be reminded, the better.

    Take the Wine out of Yoga

    Om Namah Sivaya Beloved Aspirants,

    Happy day to you! A new concept in the yoga community has recently made its way into my consciousness... actually leaving me a little perplexed as to how it came to fruition. For nearly two decades I have witnessed the ancient Yoga traditions slowly lose their richness due to our western culture and lifestyle. I'm not commenting on whether this is a good or bad thing, these days I'm remaining more neutral about such occurrences, remembering to embrace it all; especially since it's all the Divine Shakti anyways.  :)

    However, this new yoga craze is deeply calling me to stand up and voice my opinion. Studios across America are adding wine to their event calendars.

    My first reaction was "Really?" (with a big eye-roll), but then I decided that I could approach this in a more balanced way... by presenting facts from the Yoga perspective regarding alcohol, allowing each yogin to decide for herself / himself.

    After sitting in contemplation about this concept, here are some of the reasons I invite you to reconsider having wine in yoga studios:

    1. Alcohol itself is a depressant, this we have known for decades regardless of the recent studies stating that wine has potential health benefits. Many things have potential benefits that may not be good for the psyche. Consuming meat is one of those examples. This is one of the reasons yogis choose to eat a plant-based diet; to honor the practice of ahimsa, or non-violence on the physical, mental and emotional levels of the psyche.

    2. Yoga increases and elevates consciousness. Wine veils and masks consciousness. This we know when we've had too much wine and can't remember the night before or when we think we are clear or have a grand idea when in fact it is quite the opposite.

    3. Alcohol, from a Yoga perspective, is considered tamasic. Tamoguna, another name for tamas, is  the veiling power that lies within nature. A few of its qualities are: ignorance (can't see Divine Spirit within), darkness, inertia, intoxication, destructiveness, carelessness, negativity, heaviness, etc.

    4. Yoga studios are known to uplift and heal people. Alcohol is known to bring people down.

    Now, am I saying that you should avoid alcohol under all conditions?  No.
    I believe the choice is yours and should be made without any inner or outer judgements.

    However, I am saying this...

    We have an abundance of opportunities to access alcohol; home consumption, restaurants, movies, bars, social gatherings, etc. So, why do we have to bring it into our sacred Yoga spaces? We all know one of the main benefits of our Yoga practice is an increase of Sattva guna, or purity. If this is the case, why do double work? Why increase sattva by practicing yogasana then immediately cultivate tamas by partaking in a wine-down, or happy hour gathering at the studio?

    Don't we have enough distractions in our lives that veil our consciousness? Isn't it hard enough to not only "wake up" but to remain awake moment after moment?

    This is my plea and prayer.

    "I pray we keep our Yoga studios sattvic and sacred, continuing to cultivate a safe place for us to retreat from the rajas and tamas of life. May we welcome the beauty of sobriety and greet its powerful shakti with an open heart and open mind. May we maintain a higher vibration in our yoga spaces, helping to illumine our own Divine Nature. And may we choose to leave the wine out of our Yoga studios, allowing the sacred space to reflect the self-discipline necessary to consciously evolve and annihilate the Ego, illuminating the Divine Self."

    Om and Pranams,

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Calming Spring's Rajas

    Well even in the midwest, spring has sprung. Nature is welcoming rajo guna into it's evolutionary process and we too are emerging into a state of action. Since all of nature is connected, I'm sure you may have noticed a bit more rajas (excitement, action) in your life. Perhaps a little more 'spring' in your step, a feeling of increased energy as you come out of winter's tamas (inertia). 

    Without discipline, rajas can cause havoc in our mind's. A rajasic mind is said have a strong pull towards control and power and often indulges in objects of the senses. It is said to be filled with judgements, lust, passion, etc. It is reflected as a distracted mind, where it is difficult to focus. If you have noticed any of these qualities within, you are not alone as it is the predominant guna of the season.  :)

    Thankfully, sattva (purity, peace) more easily culminates from the fire of rajas than the mud of tamas.

    Here are three basic tips to calming the fire of rajas and increasing the peaceful ways of sattva:

    1. Increase your asana and pranayama practice by 15-30 minutes each day you practice. If you do not have the time to increase, then shorten your practice but aim for every day. Remember 10 minutes a day is better than 3 hours once a week. Suggested practice? At least 60 minutes daily of asana, pranayama, and meditation, in this order. Focus on cooling asanas like moon salutations, simple back bends and spinal twists. Embody calmness, serenity and peacefulness.

    2. Try to be in bed before 10pm, the beginning time for rajo guna. While lying down on your back in bed take 5-10 deep, slow conscious breaths. This calms the central nervous system and cools rajas, encouraging deeper rest. Be sure to surrender, let go. Breathe in "let" and breathe out "go." Then just rest in the silence and stillness.

    3. Eat more natural, organic and whole foods. Reduce consumption of spicy, fried, processed foods, especially those containing onions and garlic. Increase cooling foods like cucumbers, steamed greens, mung beans and basmati rice.

    If you would like to learn more about the universal cosmic energies "Three Gunas" (sattva, rajas, tamas) please read this article written by my Guru, Swami Sivananda. While surfing the web, I also found this informational articleTo learn more about calming rajas (or pitta), visit the Ayurvedic Rejuvenation Center's amazing website.

    Blessings on your journey towards wholeness.

    Are you a Thief or a Saint?

    This past month, a group of aspirants and I have been reading and studying the ancient Yoga scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. This month reminded me just how precious these sacred teachings are and how they so sweetly sing to your heart and spirit. As we are exploring the teachings I came across an insightful message I'd like to share as an inner contemplation for you.

    It is found in Chapter 3, Sloka 12 (3:12). Below I have quoted a synopsis of chapters one and two from Swami Satchidananda's Living Gita as well as his commentary on sloka 3:12.

    Swami Satchidananda says, "Up to now we have seen something of the philosophy about the [Immortal] Self or Atman and touched on the practical side of Karma Yoga, which helps us go about realizing the Atman. We also covered the qualifications of the realized person whom the Gita calls one of steady wisdom. In this chapter, The Yoga of Action, we'll learn the secret of action."

    This 'secret' explains that one who moves through life free from desires and unattached to the actions, or the fruits of the actions, is a true yogi or saint. It speaks of the importance of living a Selfless life in remembrance of the very Source that is animating all of existence. It teaches you how to be a Divine vessel, allowing the Higher Self, or Source to flow through you and nourish all Creation.

    Although this sounds lovely in concept, it is very difficult to master. "To do" something and have no identification to the action or the results of the action, is nearly impossible. To be rooted in no desires is even more challenging.

    Luckily, the Gita gives us a tool to measure our Selflessness; asking us to inquire how much we take and how much we give. It also reminds us that we are already saintly and that everlasting peace is achievable in this very birth.

    Sloka 3:12 explains, "Cherished by your spirit of sacrifice, the gods give you everything you want. (But remember) whoever receives gifts from the gods without offering anything back is a thief."

    The Gita gives name to the five types of 'giving' and 'taking'. They are:

                                   Take    |    Give
    Thief                       100%           0%
    Debtor                    100%         50%
    Good Business
    Person                    100%        100%
    Righteous Person    50%         100%
    Yogi / Saint             0%     1% - 100%

    So I ask you... which are you? A thief ? A saint? Somewhere in between?

    Swami Satchidananda explains, "We should always examine our transactions and discover in which category we put ourselves: one, thief; two, debtor; three, business person; four, righteous person; or five, a saint. And if you're already 'one,' try to be 'two.' If you're already 'two,' try to promote yourself to 'three.' Stop not until the fifth category is reached."

    He continues, "It's nice to keep this information handy. Yajna [selfless offering] is so beautiful. So much could be said about it. The whole life is an offering."

    Let this be our practice, let this be our life. May we all radiate Saintliness in this very birth.

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    The Power of a Guru

    Guru traditionally means one who dispels or removes darkness caused by ignorance, or avidya, and is one of the most important aspects to your spiritual evolution. In today's western world however, we have sadly diluted this meaning. We seem more concerned about becoming a guru than listening or studying from some of the Great Gurus that have come before us and sharing their wisdoms. We even call our asana teacher a guru or anyone who is experienced in a specific field. This common, yet improper use of the word weakens its true meaning and because of this I decided to write this blog and share Guru insights from one of the most famous modern eastern Yoga Gurus, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh India (pictured above).

    In his book Bliss Divine Swami Sivananda states "The Guru is God Himself [Herself*] manifesting in the personal form to guide the aspirant. Grace of God takes the form of the Guru. To see the Guru is to see God. The Guru is united with God. He inspires devotion in others. His presence purifies all. The Guru is verily the link between the individual and the Immortal. He is a being who has raised himself from this to That, and thus has free and unhampered access into both the realms. He stands, as it were, upon the threshold of immortality; and, bending down he raises the struggling individuals with his one hand and with the other lifts them up into the imperium of everlasting joy and infinite Truth-Consciousness."

    As Swami Sivananda continues explaining the definition and need for a Guru, I found this next section to be very interesting... and slightly contradictory to our western viewpoint of a Guru. We are often taught to think for ourselves, to be our own guru, to not follow any one path. Swami Sivanandaji simply professes, "Some teachers mislead their aspirants. They say unto all: 'Think for yourself. Do not surrender yourself to an Guru.' When one says, 'Do not follow any Guru!' he intends to be the listerners' Guru himself. Do not approach such pseudo-Gurus. Do not hear their lectures."

    "The scriptures are like a forest. There are ambiguous passages. There are passages which are apparently contradictory. There are passages which have esoteric meanings, diverse significance and hidden explanations. There are cross-references. You are in need of a Guru or Preceptor who will explain to you the right meaning, who will remove doubts and ambiguities, who will place before you the essence of the teachings."

    Now to get even more specific there are two kinds of Gurus, Siksha Guru and Diksha Guru. Swami Sivananda explains "Man has a twofold duty here on earth - to preserve his life and realize his Self (highest spiritual potential). To preserve his life, he has to learn to work for his daily bread. To realize his Self, he has to serve, love and meditate. The Guru who teaches him the knowledge of worldly arts [teacher of scriptures] is Siksha Guru. The Guru who shows him the path of Realization is the Diksha Guru. Siksha Gurus can be many - as many as the things he wishes to learn. The Diksha Guru can be only one - the one who leads him to Moksha," or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, the aim of yoga practices.

    May this article help to clarify the meaning of a Guru and encourage you to honor and maintain the True definition of this sacred and powerful word. May this very life present each of us with a Guru who will aid in removing the ignorance that veils our ability to see the Truth of God, the Truth of Oneness, the Truth of Self. Infinite blessings to you always...

    ** Please note, in old English 'He' was often referred to as the pronoun for the human species as a whole. In no way is it negating the presence or honoring of the woman, goddess energy. In Swami Sivananda's writings it is clearly explained in the introduction that "he" equally refers to and includes "she."

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    The Real Purpose of Hatha Yoga

    This morning I was studying the Hatha Yoga Padipika with commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda and I found this to be very inspiring and a wonderful reminder about the real role of a yoga teacher. 

    Swamiji explains, "In the last forty years hatha yoga has been accepted as a therapeutic science all over the world and many scientific studies have been conducted in this field. Today we teach yoga to people because it is very necessary. Man [the human] has become sick and medical science is not able to meet the challenge. Hatha yoga, however, has been helping everybody. Therefore, we do not want to discourage this aspect, but at the same time we should not forget what hatha yoga really stands for.

    Behind every sick man there is a spiritual man. Behind a diabetic there is a yogi. Behind a man suffering from depression there is an aspirant. When a patient comes for help, teach him yoga and make him better. Treat his sickness, but do not stop there. Take him further into the spiritual domain of life.

    This is the mistake that most yoga teachers make in the West. 

    They just take a patient with arthritis, rheumatism or insomnia, teach him a few exercises and that is it. Hatha yoga has not been used to treat the total personality. This is why teachers are not able to raise the level of their pupils. 

    Just to improve the physical health is not enough. The mental health must also improve, the nature must change, the personality must change, the psychological and the psychic framework also has to change. You should not merely feel freedom from disease, but freedom from bondage and from the vagaries of the mind.

    Now, the time has come when teachers in every part of the world must understand and transmit the true spirit of hatha yoga."

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    Power of Thoughts

    Thoughts, those all-too-often-pain-in-the-neck energies that seem to ceaselessly rule our lives. Did you know that thoughts travel virtually in no time at all and even faster than the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second? According to ancient yogis and their traditions, thoughts are living things and supplied to us by food. They are wireless messengers and have tremendous power.  How often do you find yourself "lost" in your thoughts? Are you your thoughts? Are your thoughts who you are? 

    Yoga teaches us that we are not our thoughts, but rather a Divine ever-peaceful, radiant light of Pure Consciousness. To better grasp this theory, we need to start by defining "thought." Thought is a great force, it moves, it creates. Every thought that you send out is a vibration which never perishes... never. Thought has a weight, shape, size, form, color, quality and power. In fact, every thought has name and form. Have you ever noticed that every thought that enters the mind has a shape and a name? For this reason, we cannot separate thoughts from name and form. In Swami Sivananda's book Thought Power he states that thoughts have specific shapes and colors associated. Here are some examples:

    selfish thought = grey brown color, sucks energy from the object
    anger / hatred thought = deep red, sent like an arrow to the object
    pride / ego thought = orange, hits object like a baseball bat
    spiritual thought = yellow, uplifts the object
    love = white, with hue of light rose pink, elevates and uplifts the object

    What colors, shapes, and vibrations are you sending out into the universe impacting the world and yourself?

    It will be good to know that thoughts are changeable. In today's society it's pretty easy to find a variety of information about thoughts, even the book mentioned above can be found on the internet for free ( Thoughts have an influence. Think about your friends, the company you keep. Do you associate with uplifting people or people that drag you down and tend to gossip about others? Because thoughts travel, other people's thoughts affect you too, so be sure to hang around positive people so that their optimistic viewpoint will also lift you, and your thoughts, up.

    In fact, let's take a moment to investigate the four effects of thoughts:
    1. A thought effects the person who thinks it.
    2. A thought effects the person to whom the thought is sent / directed.
    3. The thought effects the psychic (mental) atmosphere by polluting it (brings it down) or elevating it (lifts it up).
    4. The effect of the thought returns to the person who originated the thought.

    Let's put this into an example. Let's say that I have the thought "I think Jennifer is a wonderful woman!" By professing this, I am uplifting myself, Jennifer, the universe and am inviting a similar experience to return to me. Now doesn't that make you feel different about your thoughts... especially about gossip?!?

    During this month, dedicate time to observe your thoughts. Should a negative thought arise, simply change it to a positive thought. For example, "I'm not worthy" will become "I am worthy." By doing this you are changing the thought vibration and lifting up your own mind. This takes serious dedication but brings lasting effects. Make a resolve today to begin to witness your thoughts. Remember, no judging, just use a keen eye to simply observe and literally transform "one thought at a time."  Enjoy the journey.