By Swami Yasodananda, July 10, 2020
“In discovering Inner Light we find the wholeness that we are, the Oneness and Light that we share with every other being in the cosmos.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, The Divine Light Invocation
I come from a Quaker family and was raised with the term “Inner Light.” Of course, it was more than just a term. Somehow it got under my skin and touched the core of my being. This Inner Light was a bridge for me when I went to Yasodhara Ashram for the first time, many years ago. There, I was introduced to gods and goddesses, which are part of the world of Yoga and symbols of Inner Light. These gods and goddesses were strange to me, but they eventually became a way for me to engage more personally with Inner Light, with my Divinity.
The Divine Light Invocation is a yoga practice that helps us discover Inner Light. It takes only a few minutes to do, yet those few minutes of practice hold the potential for many personal insights. These insights can keep you learning about yourself and the world around you for many years, if not a lifetime.
Swami Radha emphasized the importance of precision with this practice. I think of precision and Light as Yoga at its best. It teaches mental awareness (the heart of yoga), body awareness, concentration, visualization. As I look at these words, I realize that what’s needed by the practitioner is to reflect on each word as well as the word “Light.”
- What is Light? What does it mean to you?
- What is awareness—both physical and mental?
- What is Concentration? Visualization?
Why would anyone ask us to think about these words? In my experience, thinking in depth (and that includes feelings) can take us into a sweet intimacy with our inner being, the very essence of who we are. And that connection can support the struggles and the joys of being in an ever-changing world.
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By Lakshmi, July 3, 2020
“Be reminded that nothing lasts. Everything changes. Sometimes things change rather fast, faster than we can adjust to. It is important to see that too, and accept it.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Time to Be Holy
Transitions happen throughout our lives: changes in home life, children, relationships, work life, finances, philosophy and religion. You can think back on earlier ones in your life to reflect on how you dealt with them and learn from your own experience.
We are currently in an extended time of transitions caused by the coronavirus pandemic as well as heightened awareness of the injustices toward people of color. Lots of turmoil happening in our world! These changes force us to go about our lives differently and to think more deeply about others who inhabit our community. We have to let go of some of our cherished beliefs of what is important to us, assumptions we’ve had for years. Transitions involve a process of letting go to allow something new to emerge. To do this, it helps to understand the process.
There are 3 stages to transitions:
- Ending. A time of letting go of the familiar ways of going about your life and ways of thinking. Feeling disappointment. So easy to want to go back to the way it was, to bemoan “the way it used to be”. A feeling of loss.
- A period of confusion, emptiness and stress; a place of unknowing. Old rules may no longer apply. “What is real now? Where is this leading? Can I change? How do I change?” Patience and openness are needed. It is a time to pause and reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go in the future.
- Beginning, something new. This needs time to emerge. It begins within you even when it is brought to your attention by external opportunities. Your thinking and understanding of yourself may have changed, enabling you to step into a new way of being and to follow your inner prompting. Your way of relating to others and knowing what is important to you has changed. Timing is important. So it is best not to act until you are ready to follow a new way. It is a step-by-step process.
What stage are you in regarding these current situations? Reflecting on the following questions may help you understand where you are and what you are feeling at this time. Using spiritual practices – such as the Divine Light Invocation, chanting mantra, or repeating a favorite prayer – can help you get to your answers clearly without judgment. There is no right or wrong in them.
- How did you enter into the transition? What were/are your responses, feelings, challenges, obstacles?
- How have you evolved through it – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually?
- What or who have you trusted during it? Yourself, news media, health officials, friends, relatives?
- What have you learned about yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, reliability?
- How do you move forward? How does timing, compassion, confidence, and safety come into play?
“Find out where you are. Do it again six months from now, and next year. Find out again and again how much your thinking has advanced, how much stronger and more courageous you have become about accepting where you are, what you are.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Time to Be Holy
By Sheila Thomsen, June 26, 2020
In our culture, death is kept at a distance. It is something that is supposed to happen peacefully in hospitals attended by medical professionals. Bodies are to be dealt with respectfully by dignified mortuary employees, then locked away in steel vaults and buried deep or burned to ashes that can be released in a favorite place. Instead of solemn funerals where we acknowledge our grief, we are invited to gatherings called “Celebrations of Life” that are very social and often rather manic. But right now, it is hard to maintain that distance from death. We are confined to our homes in fear of a deadly virus and we are taking to the streets to protest the deadly racism that is embedded in our culture.
Lately, I have been reflecting about death, my own and others. There are many kinds of death – the death of the body, of a way of life, of dreams and illusions. Sometimes people will even say in great distress, ”My phone’s died!” I don’t like to think of death, but I don’t want to minimize or deny it either, saying “passed away” instead of “died”.
What happens after any kind of death is a mystery. Who know what comes next? If a dream dies, another can be born. If an illusion is crushed, truth can emerge. If a way of life dies, another one can be created, perhaps one that is more just and joyful. When I die, I may just find the mystery.
Swami Radha said that when we give birth, we are giving death. In yoga, death is treated as a gift that is given with life. The gift of death may be that it gives life definition. The possibility of accomplishing whatever I hope to be or do will end with my death. I know that when I have a definite timeline, it enhances my creativity and my productivity. Sometimes, I create a deadline in order to keep myself moving. Life comes with a guaranteed ending, but I don’t know when it is, so it is easy to forget it is there. Dare I forget if it costs me my creativity, productivity, even purpose?
When I began working with yoga years ago, my favorite pose was Savasana. Savasana was the carrot that kept me coming back to class. I loved the release from the many burdens of life that it gave me. It wasn’t until later when I began to study yoga more deeply, I learned that Savasana meant “corpse pose,” a practice for death. I loved Savasana even more. In fact, practicing Savasana became much more meaningful as I learned to use that time not just to relax my body, but to free my mind, to let go of my worries and attachments, and for a time, just be.
The practice of Savasana is both easy and profound. Given that relaxing can be difficult in stressful times, you might want to do some stretches or asanas first. If you have a regular hatha yoga routine, you can do that. When you are ready to enter Savasana:
- Just find a restful position, lying down on your back on your mat. Then, relax. (If injuries or tension make lying on your back difficult, place a bolster, pillow or rolled up blanket under your knees. Alternatively, use another position, such as lying on your side.)
- Focus on your breath. Bring your breath to an even inhale and exhale.
- Imagine yourself lying in a place surrounded by brilliant white light. As you inhale, breathe in the light. As you exhale, see the light filling your entire body. The light is healing, relaxing, inspiring.
- Now begin to relax your body systematically. Take your mind through every part of your body. Everywhere you notice, tell your body to relax, to let go of that tension.
- When your body is completely relaxed, your mind can relax. Let your thoughts drift off, focus on your breath, and enjoy the respite.
- When you are ready, you can write about your experience if you like, or just enjoy the feeling.
Lately, I have been using this practice often and reflecting on the many kinds of death:
- What dreams need to die? What new dream is waiting to be born?
- What illusion has been crushed? What truth is emerging?
- What way of life is ending? What new way can be created?
- What do I need to let go of to make room for something new?
- How can I embrace the fact of my death and value the finite moments of my life?
The questions are endless. Savasana can be a helpful way to address them. Recording your reflections can give you a way to see your progress. Enjoy the journey.
By Parvati, June 19, 2020
Recently, I attended a Yasodhara Ashram online workshop called “Awakening Wonder.” I got in touch with a delightful being from early childhood and realized how much I need to know her now. After the workshop, I reflected in Child’s pose to see if I could remember what I knew then, asking “Where is that child’s knowing?”
Stretching my body in Sun Salutations, I feel my back bending and lengthening while my breath is flowing from one position to the next – Standing Forward Bend, to Lunge, to Plank – then without thinking, I naturally fold into Child’s pose. When starting to move again, I hear “Stop, stay inside.” Isn’t that the message of this COVID time – “stay safe” – make the challenges of the outer world disappear and let an inner world open up? I feel content in the moment.
Picking up the book The Inner Life of Asanas, I read Swami Lalitananda’s words, “The power of the pose lies in its simplicity…To be simple like a child means to be free and open to explore.” I enter the pose again. While resting belly on thighs, my back releases tension I didn’t know I had. Is it really this simple? My body wants to continue to stretch more so I move my spine in Cat stretches lifting my back, then chest, and feeling the power of this simple movement.
I look for a question from the book to take into the pose: “What does it take to move naturally with the ebb and flow of breath, to be moved by the waves of life? What if I let go what I think I know and instead open to wonder?” The answer comes in a feeling of joy; a memory of riding a wave into the shore. I feel that same aliveness as a child full of wonder.
This time of challenge is yet another wave to ride. It’s a time to appreciate the gift of life.
In the Light,
Practicing Child’s Pose
You will need a journal or notebook and a quiet space to practice.
The Child’s pose is often a pose of rest after stretching the back in asanas such as the Downward Dog or backbends such as the Cobra, or Sun Salutations. To practice the pose, begin from a kneeling position, fold forward, allowing your back to soften and relax. Your arms can be along your sides or stretched overhead. Focus on relaxing with your breath.
In the Child’s pose, we are curled up with no view of the outer world. Reflect on the following while in the pose: What inner worlds do you create with your imagination? Can you bring Light to your inner world? Can you imagine this world and then manifest it? Take time to write down your insights.
End Relaxation and Review
Move through any other stretches or asanas your body is asking for, and end with relaxing your body and mind.
Review your notes and reflect on what you have learned. If possible share your notes with a friend or other yoga practitioner.
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Want to learn more about Yasodhara Ashram online workshops? View full schedule and register via Eventbrite.
By Lakshmi, June 12, 2020
Through the years you have created an image of yourself. There is the image you put out to others which is the basis of responses that you get back. Think of the images of the police you see these days – some attacking protestors and some joining them by “taking a knee”. What kind of image do you now have of the police? What do you base it on – your personal experience, your participation, hearsay, your reading, watching the news?
And what is your Self-Image? Is it valid today?
Since we’re spending more time at home these days, this is a good opportunity to explore the images we hold of ourselves. Is your self-image true to who you are? By exploring your self-image and questioning who you really are, you can peel away external layers and come closer to your essence.
“Learning about ourselves is a step-by-step process of building strength in new ways of being and thinking. . . What do I need to know about myself, now, at this point in my life?”
~ Swami Radhananda, Living the Practice
To explore your self-image, try this…
Find a quiet space and time to relax in your home.
With your journal nearby, close your eyes and for a few minutes follow your breath.
Open your eyes. As you look around you, reflect on the following questions:
- What do you see around you to reflect who you are – paintings, flowers, furnishings, clothes, colors, music, books, etc.?
- Are there any patterns, colors, people, animals? Explore these as they represent parts of yourself.
- Which images draw your attention first as you look around? What do they represent for you?
- Are there any images that represent old personalities that no longer apply, are outdated?
- Does what you see reflect the overall feel or essence, the image you have of yourself?
Review your thoughts and what you have written in your journal. Is there anything you would like to change?
“The way to change self-image is by a systematic process that will help in cultivating the imagination… Poor self-image can be eradicated by sincere practice of the Divine Light Invocation…The Divine Light Invocation makes the greatest contribution to the change of self-image because of identification with the Divine Light.”
~Swami Sivananda Radha, Kundalini Yoga for the West
Practice the Divine Light Invocation, putting your self-image into the Light. See yourself in the new Light.
To go further with this exploration, read the section “Thoughts on Self-Image and Personality Aspects” in Chapter 5 of Kundalini Yoga for the West by Swami Sivananda Radha.
Releasing Powerful Emotions
The Lion Pose (Simhasana)
June 5, 2020
“In the Lion pose, I am learning to contact the source of power within myself. When I embody Durga’s power, I can conquer my demons instead of hiding them or projecting them out onto someone else. The Lion shows me that powerful emotions don’t have to be choked back or flung out. They can be released with the breath, transformed through sound, and elevated through intention.”
~ Swami Lalitananda, Inner Life of Asanas
With all that has come up this last week – the tragic death of George Floyd and the resultant protests (peaceful and otherwise), all against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic – many of us are experiencing very powerful emotions, such as fear and anger. Here is a practice that can help with releasing these powerful emotions and getting to know the power within oneself.
You will need a journal or notebook and a quiet space to practice.
Prepare by chanting OM to warm up the vocal cords and to create a safe and sacred space.
- Choose the sitting position that’s right for you, depending on your degree of flexibility and practice: kneeling; sitting cross-legged, placing the left foot under the right buttock, the right foot under the left buttock (doing it the opposite way the second time); or sitting in the Lotus pose (padmasana).
- Chant Om three times, listening to the sound and feeling the vibration fill your body.
- Pounce! Bring your weight forward, place the palms on the knees and spread the fingers; or bring the whole body forward, placing your palms on the floor to support yourself. Firm the buttocks, tuck the tailbone and open the chest.
- As you move from sitting to springing forward, open your jaws, stretch your tongue out toward your chin, lift your eyes upward and exhale. You can exhale with simply the sound of your breath or with a roar, allowing the sound to come forth naturally. Take care not to strain the throat or vocal cords.
- Come back to your seated position. Relax.
Reflect on the following as you move through the Lion pose. Allow thoughts, memories, body awareness and insights to arise. Take time to write your insights:
- What is the relationship between anger and fear?
- Where can you be courageous and leap forward wholeheartedly?
- Observe the effects of chanting OM and the sound of your roar. What emotions are expressed in your breath, in your voice? What can be released? Which voice within yourself do you give power to?
“The lion is a symbol for the sun and the sun is a symbol of the highest wisdom.”
~Swami Sivananda Radha, Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language
Do a series of Sun Salutations, invoking the Light of wisdom. Rest and observe any thoughts and feelings that arise. Write your insights.
End Relaxation and Review
Move through any other stretches or asanas your body is asking for. End with Savasana, focusing on your breath, and allowing your body and mind to relax.
Review your notes and reflect on what you have learned. If possible, share your reflection with a friend or other yoga practitioner.
by Lakshmi, May 22, 2020
I love reading biographies for inspiration. One day, I realized I could read my own biography hidden in my journals and photo albums. In a workshop several years ago, I was asked to write about my life as a fairy tale. As I wrote, I was reminded of a well-known fairy tale and was astounded at how it echoed my own life. This experience helped to broaden my understanding of who I am. I gained a new perspective on my life, one with much gratitude.
In her book Living the Practice, Swami Radhananda says “Just as we study the ancient texts looking for wisdom, we can study the texts of our lives. Through reflection we discover the potential for our own words to become sacred. Words have the power to tell and retell our personal stories.”
She goes on to relate a story that stood out to her in a workshop, “One woman wrote about her life as a child during World War II – reliving the painful experiences but also seeing how she was a survivor. She recognized an inner strength that could propel her forward in her spiritual quest. By putting the old story on paper she could see how her life had changed, and she could update her self-image from victim to survivor. She was amazed at the help she had received over the years. She found room in her mind for gratitude.”
Swami Radhananda continues, “Affirming an experience through reflection, writing and speaking brings the words forward and dissolves the emotions that surround an event. This gives your mind – the interpreter – another way to understand the experience. The mind has a tendency to hold onto stories. Emotions and emotional words are the glue that keeps us stuck and contaminates relationships, careers and personal growth. Released from emotional interpretation, the mind can change its mind, allowing you to mature as you use different language to describe yourself and your life.”
What is your story? What have you learned? Who have you become?
To practice studying the text of your life, try this…
- Come to a quiet reflective place, focusing on your breath and/or chanting a mantra.
- For inspiration, review your old journals, diaries, or poems; look at childhood drawings and photos.
- Write a story about an incident in your life, but write it as if it happened to someone else. Make it come to life. You could write it like a fairy tale, “Once upon a time…”
- Ask someone to listen to your story. Saying the words aloud brings more awareness of their power.