November 13, 2020
The following is adapted from The Inner Life of Asanas by Swami Lalitananda
A dream memory arises. I’m in a busy city looking at a long, complex bridge under construction. I know that I have to climb straight up to the highest point to connect the last few wires. I clutch the central steel pillar and shimmy my way up to precarious heights. But no matter how hard I strive, the wires are beyond my reach. Disappointed, I make my way down and start walking along the edge of the water. The water gradually narrows and becomes a beautiful stream surrounded by forest. Children are laughing and playing here. I see them crossing a little bridge and happily join them.
I had this dream years ago when I was completing my Master’s degree and exploring the intricacies of intellectual challenges. The dream seemed to warn me not to get caught in a striving mental attitude and showed me a more effective, joyful approach. I interpreted it to mean that my path is one of bhakti (devotion).
The dream is a good reminder now, that what ultimately provides support is not my mind’s convoluted theories, but the action of the heart, the desire to understand, to give, to offer selfless service. I see the evolution of yoga as the movement toward embodying love. The Little Bridge pose reinforces the message to lift up my heart and to exercise the skill of bending over backwards to make the vision a reality.
Practicing the Little Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Lie down on your back and relax. Feel what it’s like to be supported by the floor.
- Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, hip-distance apart. Keep your hips, knees and feet aligned throughout the pose. (The knees may have a tendency to splay.)
- Place your arms at your sides on the floor, or bend them at the elbows with the fingers pointing toward the ceiling, palms facing each other.
- Firm your legs and buttocks. Slowly lift your hips and back. Begin the movement at the base of the spine, raising each vertebra one by one.
- Create a smooth bridge supported by your legs and shoulders. An option is to clasp your hands beneath your back, to further open the chest.
- Hold the pose and breathe.
- To return, lower the upper back, then place each vertebra on the floor in a flowing sequence, as if the spine were a strand of pearls. Keep your legs strong until your entire back is on the floor, then stretch out the legs and relax.
- The Little Bridge can also be used as a wonderful warm-up by lifting and lowering the spine without holding the raised position. Move slowly and with awareness, massaging the back.
- Bring to mind the words “little bridge.” Write your associations – words, thoughts, images. Take one of your associations into the pose and observe your physical and emotional responses. What do these observations tell you about yourself?
- Do the Little Bridge, asking yourself: Am I willing to bend over backward to put my ideals into action? How do love and devotion support my spiritual life?
- Creating bridges is a sacred activity. What bridges do you want to build? How can you make yourself a bridge of communication, understanding, service? To whom do you want to reach out?
- What needs to come together within yourself? As you do the Little Bridge pose, visualize two sides of yourself united in understanding.
The Body Mind Relationship
By Swami Yasodananda, November 6, 2020
There are many ways of understanding how body connects with mind. My understanding comes from participating in, and observing, many years of my own mind-body conversations. These experiences developed mainly from using Swami Radha’s brilliant method of the Hidden Language of Hatha Yoga. In this yoga practice, mind learns how to listen to body and – even if only occasionally – follows through with the messages that emerge; messages coming in a different kind of language. For me, this is a language of energy fluctuations, inspiration, pain, tension, relaxation, and symbolic images. Trust in the process of learning develops gradually.
When Swami Radha was experimenting with how to teach this way of learning from the body, I was more literal-minded and missed the nuances of body speaking to mind and mind stepping out of rational thinking and into what seemed to be the mysterious world of my unconscious. I learned about the effects of moving toward the unconscious by being in the moment, and then sometimes experiencing feelings such as joy, well-being, and peace, but also at times, fatigue or unease. Combine the emotions and sensations with Yoga asanas and we have a very effective way for the body and mind to communicate with each other. And I, the receiver, can make changes in my life based on the messages coming from those body-mind interactions. I don’t always understand them, but I have had enough insights to know the process can be very enriching.
There is an intelligence in the body. Not everything can be spelled out about how this body-mind relationship works as it can be different for everyone. And it can’t be figured out rationally. Understanding comes from inside, from self-observation and the “I get it!” moments. The benefits I have experienced are an enhancement of physical and psychological well-being, being able to listen and respond to the body’s messages, learning patience, tapping the wisdom of the unconscious, and the joy of learning something about me through that body-mind dynamic. We can’t demand results. They come when the time is ripe.
Recently, I had an experience of the body-mind dynamic. It was a message about the importance of relaxation. I’ve received these messages in the past, but often didn’t listen. This time I had to listen. Arthritic pain slowed me down. Actually, the intensity of the pain stopped me. There was lots happening in my life, yet I needed to be still, to listen for inner guidance. Swami Radha had said over and over to focus on the Light and with that focus we become Light and can access the wisdom of that power. As I slowed down and listened inside, relaxing my body, relaxation expanded, gently penetrating my mind. Breath felt like a bridge for body and mind to come together. As I relaxed the pain dissolved, bringing a deep feeling of well-being and gratitude. I’ve had very little pain since the incidence in early September.
Doing the Divine Light Invocation is an excellent way for body and mind to connect in a positive and, at times, uplifting way. Mind directs body through the sequence, body tenses and relaxes, breath inhales and exhales, all to enhance concentration. Mind visualizes body being filled with Light; body feels Light as a warm, sometimes loving, presence. I have a sense of awe of that body-mind relationship.
October 16, 2020
The following is adapted from The Inner Life of Asanas by Swami Lalitananda
Paschimottanasana is a challenging position for me, or maybe I should say, for my ego. Tight hamstrings slow me down and offer the opportunity – like it or not – to learn more about preparation and patience. I can’t simply will my way forward. If I push, I go nowhere. I have to renounce instant results and go slowly – softening, breathing and relaxing as I extend. One of my biggest challenges, not just in the pose, but in my life is this practice of patience.
Paschimottanasana is a powerful teacher. As I come forward, it takes a certain amount of mental control to simply stay with the discomfort of the process. Sometimes the impatient part of me wants to pop out and escape, or skip the steps and the time it takes to make progress. Paschimottanasana reveals my limitations and offers an exceptional opportunity to practice humility – a quality that is easier to talk about than to experience. A proud, competitive aspect expresses its dissatisfaction with where I am and wants me “to get there,” to reach the final goal and be perfect. “Only then can I relax!” it says.
My strategy is to gently encourage myself and lend support to the part of me that wants to move forward and evolve. I catch the spirit of the pose and it has nothing to do with how far forward I’ve come or how I may look to an outside eye or an inside critic. It is a feeling of warmth and expansion within, a softening and receptivity, an allowing of what is already there to be given space and honored.
Practicing Paschimottanasana (Sitting Forward Bend)
You will need a journal or notebook and a quiet space to practice.
The more warmed up you are, the more ease you’ll feel in paschimottanasana. One warm-up to try is to lie with your legs up the wall – an excellent release for the hamstrings and a wonderful way to encourage an overall feeling of relaxation. Take your time and let the softness happen.
For a good hamstring stretch, lie on the floor and bring one knee into the chest, keeping the other leg extended on the floor. Lift your foot toward the ceiling, straightening the leg, clasping your hands behind your knee or thigh, gently bringing the leg toward your chest. Breathe. Repeat with the other leg.
- Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Lift your arms above your head and give yourself a good long stretch.
- Bending from the hips and keeping your legs straight, begin moving the upper body and arms forward. Take your time. Soften, breathe, relax.
- Go as far as you can with straight legs, then bend your knees and allow your upper body to rest on your thighs. Again, soften, breathe, relax.
Reflect on the following as you do the the sitting forward bend. Allow thoughts, memories, body awareness and insights to arise. Take time to write your insights:
- What does it mean to “practice patience”?
- What do I need to surrender or let go?
- What holds me back? What are the obstacles?
By Lakshmi, September 25, 2020
I recently listened to part of the Ted Talk hour on NPR. It was about mental health during the pandemic. It all boiled down to the need for connections and how essential that is. We are fortunate to have various technological tools – FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom – to connect with our family, friends and coworkers during this time of pandemic isolation.
Based on my own experience of feeling very remote and isolated in the past, I have found that connecting with other people is essential. Yet I have also discovered there is another connection that is even more essential – the connection with my inner Self. That connection doesn’t need these outer technology tools.
The yogic tools or practices – such as chanting mantra, the Divine Light Invocation, reflection – help me sustain this most important connection. Using these tools with willingness, discipline and devotion, I can see beyond my little self and know that I am connected to something much bigger, to a Consciousness that can sustain me – even in a time when it is challenging to make connections with other people.
“We are looking for the practices to make changes and take action. We are looking for how the mind works, how the heart opens. It always has to come back to the connection within so that we can see the reflection without”.
~ Swami Radhananda, Living the Practice
- Go for a symbolic walk in your neighborhood – Note the various trees connected to each other. Lawns connected; Streets connecting becoming a neighborhood, becoming a city, a state, a country, the world, the cosmos. People on bicycles, in cars, walking, running all a part of the whole. Reflect on how you are a part of all of this.
- Go into the triangle pose – Note how the various parts of your body are connected – internal organs as well as limbs, torso and head. My brain telling my body what to do; all systems connected – skeleton, neural, muscles, etc.
What do the three points of your body in the pose represent to you?
“Trikonasana, the asana where triangles are formed with your own human body, is an excellent pose for discovering more about relationship and interconnection. A triangle, a simple geometrical form, is also a powerful symbol”.
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Yoga: A Path to Awareness
- Look at a series of your dreams. Review your connection to the various people in them.
“Then you can see the tremendous interconnection among all beings and understand that you are not really an isolated island”.
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Realities of the Dreaming Mind
By Parvati (Sharon Wobker), September 18, 2020
A year ago, the Yasodhara Yoga Center teachers participated in a strategic planning process. We were asked questions about our Center such as: What is important? What is core? What is essential? We explored: What is the Center? Is it our teachings, the teachers, the students, the studio, sacred space? Is it a building? We asked, What if the Center closed? Little did we know then, what was to come, and how important this planning turned out to be, and that it would be a great support as the Pandemic changed everything.
We found that what’s essential is the teachings, the practices, inspiration, teachers living the practice, and our connection, among ourselves, with students, and others. It’s not a physical space. The Center did close! There was no teaching, no Sunday Satsangs, no classes to take, not even entering the studio. For me, this was the place I had made my second home for years. I was left with a deep sense of loss.
Human beings are social creatures and to survive we need connection with others. The Pandemic makes us face our survival and security. We need to support each other. Yoga literally means to unite that which is separate, within ourselves, and from others. With so much separation in the world right now, we need Yoga more than ever.
I learned, through this time, that it’s all about connection. I was challenged to hold onto that when events were creating separation. It was important to find the connection within myself, on my own. Connecting with others supported me during the challenges and changes. Now my goal is to bring my learning forward and find new ways to “socially connect” while “physically distanced” through my activities, and my yoga.
“In this gift of life we have been given the opportunity to learn. All of us define the meaning of life through our own experience. Not just through theory, not through someone else’s experience, but through our own understanding…Our questions and problems can become teachings as we face our challenges. We have to live life to find out, and the tools of yoga can help.”
~ Swami Radhananda, Living the Practice
Take a few moments to connect to that place of inner knowing. Sit quietly, breathe and relax. Or you might choose to enter into a Warrior pose.
- What have I learned during this time of challenge and change?
- What do I want to bring forward from my experience?
By Swami Yasodananda, September 4, 2020
There are many unknowns this year, uncertainties that evoke basic emotions—fear, anxiety, frustration, anger. How long will the pandemic last? Will I or a family member get sick? When will things get back to “normal”? How do I help my kids with doing online school at home?
There are other kinds of unknowns. The “bigger picture” kind, some that could seem mystical. Is there a god? Or is this unknown an inner voice that speaks an unfamiliar language, a language that takes silence to hear and be understood? Contemplating these unknowns can take us to a deeper level of understanding and can, perhaps, provide a useful context for the more mundane unknowns of daily life.
We can’t know everything, yet each of us can live an enriching life by using what we have, making the most of each hour, each day. Even in the midst of unknowns, we can experience gratitude for what we have. We can direct our imagination to awe and wonder about life in its many forms.
When life presents situations that are disconcerting, we may come up with some understanding that settles the mind temporarily, but unease may still be present in the back of the mind. Sometimes there are no answers. We are left with an uncomfortable feeling, doubts, uncertainties.
If we can let go of those emotion-laden thoughts for a while, we can consider another way of looking at the unknown. We can start with a few words, like Energy, Consciousness, Light. Capitalizing these words hints there’s more to these words than the day-to-day meaning can convey; that these words are difficult to define in a way that goes beyond the day-to-day. What could that “more than the day-to-day” mean?
One of the most fascinating books I have read about these “capitalized-word” subjects is Swami Radha’s Light & Vibration: consciousness, mysticism and the culmination of yoga. This book is a compilation of manuscripts intuitively and artfully edited by Swami Lalitananda and brought together with many questions about the unknowns in life. Here is a glimpse of the world of Consciousness in Swami Lalitananda’s Introduction to Light & Vibration:
“…Swami Sivananda Radha contemplates the most subtle understanding of the universe, and attempts to ‘explain the unexplainable’ as she would often say. Through metaphor and nuance, she offers a pathway to Liberation, a way to connect the invisible and the visible. Her own mystical experience of Light is the basis of the work, which gives it an immediacy and authority that differ from a mere theoretical or academic exercise.”
There will always be knowns and unknowns. Be in the moment with all of it, whatever is there in your life. Caution is wise, but living in a straightjacket of fear isn’t. Know that it’s the challenges in life that help us think more deeply: What is the purpose of my life? What gives my life meaning? How can I be of service? Remember that you can still experience gratitude, awe and wonder not just in spite of the unknowns, but sometimes because of them.
By Sheila Thomsen, August 28, 2020
“Often we begin the path of yoga with Karma Yoga – selfless service – for purification. This path leads to the Light of the heart and to kindling the flame of Light and love.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Light & Vibration
Karma Yoga is my favorite practice. I often go to Yasodhara Ashram on a Karma Yoga retreat. I spend my days helping in the kitchen, cleaning, working on the grounds or in the garden, and occasionally teaching. I have been told that “Karma Yoga will make you Divine”. I certainly feel blessed to be working in a beautiful setting with others who have dedicated their lives to seeking the Divine or have come to learn more about themselves and how yoga can enhance their lives.
Karma Yoga, the yoga of action, is about bringing yoga into daily life. All of life is action. Learning to act in harmony with ideals and to live with purpose is the practice of Karma Yoga. Practicing Karma Yoga means humbling the ego, serving others, being part of something bigger than myself. It’s about opening my heart, learning to act out of kindness and compassion without expectation of gain. Sometimes that can mean working in a soup kitchen, helping an elderly neighbor with their yard work, offering to entertain the children for a tired young mother. It can also be just the way I live my daily life.
“To practise Karma Yoga, the yoga of selfless service, the yoga of action without desiring the fruits of the work, you have to know your motivation.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Time to Be Holy
Karma Yoga is not as much about what work I perform, as it is about my intentions and how I work. Take cooking, for example. Sometimes when I am cooking, I am genuinely trying to make the best use of the food that is given to me to nourish others and make the meal a pleasure for them. I think of this as Karma Yoga. Other times when I prepare a meal for someone else, I am secretly trying to impress them with my skill and imagination; maybe even trying to prove I am a better cook. This is feeding my ego.
Another example is gardening. Often my time in the garden is meditative, filled with gratitude for the gift of the plants and the opportunity to spend time nurturing them. This can be Karma Yoga. It can also be hard physical work. Sometimes when it’s hot and I am tired, I find myself resentful, wishing someone else would help, yet refusing to ask for the help I need or to take a break and cool off. This is making a martyr of myself. It doesn’t enhance my life or anyone else’s and it is not Karma Yoga.
It is possible to approach a paying job in such a way that it becomes Karma Yoga. When I was a pre-school teacher, I tried each day to focus on what would be the best for each child in my care. I tried to approach each situation with kindness and compassion. It was important to model cooperation and consideration for others. I often asked a child if she would like her friend to treat her the way she had just treated him. The children were great teachers. They showed me when I was falling short of living out of my ideals. I learned that when there was conflict in the classroom, I needed to check my own attitude first. I learned to stop, take a few deep breaths and then decide how to act. This, too, was Karma Yoga; bringing the practices and teachings into daily life.
There are many ways to practice Karma Yoga. Before beginning a task or a work day, set an intention for it. Write it down. When you have completed your task, reflect on how well you lived up to your intention. If someone seems to be struggling, ask how you can help. If you know how to do something well, share your knowledge simply, generously. Whatever the task, pay attention, do it as well as you can, ask for help if you need it. You will be giving someone else the opportunity to act with kindness.
“Every work is the same. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, “Whatever obligatory action is done, O Arjuna, merely because it ought to be done, abandoning attachment and also the fruit, that renunciation is regarded as pure” (18, verse 9). The value is in the dignity of the person, the honesty with which the job is performed and the extra service given. This is the essence of Karma Yoga, to act but to leave aside attachment and the desire for rewards.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Yoga: A Path to Awareness
By Faith Hayflich, August 21, 2020
“We all have our emotions. I have mine. You have yours. But what we do with them, that’s a different story.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Time to Be Holy
I’ve recently become aware of a tension between two sides of myself—one that is rigid and one that is flexible. They each have their uses: the rigidity enabling me to set boundaries, hold my ground, meet goals; the flexibility allowing me to accept, adapt, accommodate. But lately I’ve been noticing that I reflexively apply the rigidity to an area where flexibility is more effective—my emotions.
On one occasion, Swami Radha told me to learn to manage my emotions, and on another that managing emotions doesn’t mean not having them. But I try, often, to wrap up my emotions in a box, especially those I don’t like—grief, sadness, anger, frustration. I don’t give them space to be and so they and I struggle, wanting to break out of my self-imposed boundaries.
A practice I’ve found useful to deal with this is to spend time each morning looking at the water in a lake. The water flows, moves, sometimes in one direction, sometimes another, and sometimes still. It won’t be held in a rigid structure, and even if I tried to put it in one, the water would flow inside it. As I gaze, my mind flows with the water. The emotions gain space to arise and pass.
It takes will and flexibility for this practice—the will to sit and stay with it, and the flexibility to be patient, to allow. It’s a nice balance.
- Sit by a local body of water—the river, or a stream, or a lake. Watch the water’s flow. Reflect on the water.
- What are its qualities?
- What is its strength?
- How do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? What arises for you?
“When emotions arise, catch them, look at them, take all power out, withdraw identification from them. This practice takes time, but it may be better than to struggle with them. It is harmful, even destructive, to suppress emotions or to deny their existence. Transform them into refined feelings. If the emotions have erupted before awareness could catch them, replay the situation and take the position of an onlooker. This will help you to become detached. Emotions are attached to certain personality aspects – the Self is always only the Witness.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Kundalini Yoga for the West
by Lakshmi, August 14, 2020
When I was in my late 50’s, I felt my life was stuck, static. Then someone I respected said, “You’re too young to be so resigned”. At first, I took offense. As I thought about it, though, I knew he was right. I hadn’t realized that I was so resigned to living my life stuck, just going about my day by rote. With this new awareness, I knew I had to do something about myself, my life.
In Living the Practice, Swami Radhananda reflects on something similar:
“I was just coming out of my marriage, looking for new work, and I was stuck. What was life about? There had to be something more to it. I could read a lot of books, do a lot of things, have a lot of friends. But I wondered: How do I get to know people more? How do I make real connections? Coming to the Ashram and doing workshops opened things up for me. I got to know myself on a very intimate level.”
Just as for Swami Radhananda, going to Yasodhara Ashram opened things up for me. There, I learned how to use the tools of yoga to explore and discover more of myself. At my first visit to the Ashram, I was asked to reflect on the question, “WHO AM I?” I have since gone back to that question over and over again as I continue to dig deeper into myself to find answers and lead a more fulfilling life here at Yasodhara Yoga center in Spokane.
In Time to Be Holy, Swami Radha states:
“You can be what you are and go on from there. Just find out what you are. Ask yourself, “Who am I? Where do I want to go? What do I want to make out of this life?…When you have a goal, you know that stumbling is a necessary part of your journey, and you will pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and go where you want to go. If you ask yourself what kind of person you are now, and what kind of person you want to be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you can get the tools through yoga to achieve that goal. But you must decide on the goal. Nobody can do that for you.”
Though these may seem like difficult questions, they can lead to the joy of discovering who you really are. And by using spiritual practices such as mantra, Divine Light Invocation and Hatha Yoga as part of the process of reflecting on these questions, your answers can be clarified and lead to greater understanding and acceptance of yourself.
Following are additional practices to help your clarification process:
- Gaze in a mirror at your face, portrait size, including neck and shoulders. What do you see? A face of resentment or pain? Is it a face one can trust? Does it look deceitful or does the inner Light show through? What kind of face do you see? Look at your face for 2 or 3 minutes, then close your eyes and visualize it. Make brief notes. Double the time and continue the practice making notes.
- Say your own name aloud.
- For the first 15 minutes, look at yourself in the mirror while saying your name. Afterwards, make notes for 10 minutes.
- For the second 15 minutes, do not use a mirror. Again, make notes for 10 minutes.
- Once again reflect on the questions: “Who am I? Where do I want to go? What do I want to make out of this life?” Write what comes forward.
By Sheila Thomsen, August 7, 2020
“What action is needed to make our life worthwhile? There is need for spiritual discipline and devotional practice. However, an important aspect of any spiritual practice is taking action at the end. You have to say, ‘I am going to put this to work in my life.’ That’s the part we often forget about in our practices, whether it be Karma Yoga or Hatha Yoga, meditation or mantra. How can this really become part of my life?”
~ Swami Radhananda, Living the Practice
Up until the last six months, I thought I had this “practice thing” down. I was teaching Hatha Yoga on a regular basis; working during the week to plan and practice the poses helped me to stay faithful to a Hatha Yoga practice. I often attended other teachers’ classes to help me to continue to explore the asanas in other ways. I was teaching reflection classes, which led me to study and reflect on various aspects of the teachings regularly. In addition, I would spend time at Yasodhara Ashram for Karma Yoga, where I loved having a daily satsang, and often spent time in the prayer rooms to increase my mantra and meditation practices.
Then everything changed. Going places and doing things – like teaching yoga classes and visiting the ashram – were no longer happening. I was spending almost all of my time at home with my family. There were constant interruptions and demands on my time. There was also lots of confusion, uncertainty, and even fear for my safety.
I threw myself into cleaning and gardening not only to keep myself busy, but also to keep from having to think too much. Sometimes, I sought mindless comfort and distraction. At night, I would find myself waking up with fears about the future and be unable to control my thoughts. Sometimes I would get up and read a soap opera kind of novel just to escape my fear.
These methods of coping have their place and work for a while, but eventually I began to see that I was not living up to my own ideals. I was losing my focus on expanding my awareness and becoming more compassionate. That’s when I began to reevaluate what it meant to “put this to work in my life.” When I could no longer rely on the studio and the ashram for the privacy and the occasional solitude to practice, I came to realize that I needed to examine my idea of what spiritual practice is. How could I practice now? What does Karma Yoga at home look like?
Little by little, I began to integrate the practices into my daily life in a new way. I started by making my time in the garden a meditation on beauty and abundance, a kind of Karma Yoga aimed at improving the land that I have been given. When I was feeling tense or restless, I would take time to do a few stretches and some yoga poses that called to me, discovering that my Hatha Yoga practice didn’t need to be limited to a certain time or place. When I was frustrated with the way things were, I intentionally shifted my focus to my breath, allowing some time for awareness and compassion to enter. I started keeping my mala under my pillow so that when I woke up in the middle of the night, full of fear, I could focus on the Divine Light Mantra. I began to take a few minutes in the morning, when no one else was up, to do a little inspirational reading and sometimes some written reflection. Slowly but surely, my present life and my practice have become more integrated.
Living in semi-isolation with my family and being cut off from my usual activities has been a blessing and a challenge. I have really had to work at expanding my awareness and my compassion for myself and the people I love. I have begun to see that practices I was taught are a lifeline for difficult times. I have had to face my impatience and my carelessness. I have had to look carefully at the way I talk to people and work with them. I have had to listen more carefully, try to be more receptive, and recognize when someone may need my help, and be respectful when they don’t want it. I am grateful to have the support of the teachings and the practices in this crazy time.
To reflect on how to fit spiritual practice into your own life, take some time standing in the Mountain pose (Tadasana) or sitting comfortably, and ask yourself:
- What does spiritual practice mean to me?
- Does it have to be something I’ve been taught or can it be something that just arises from my own experience?
- How can I change my idea of practice to suit these strange times?
- What practices enhance my life right now?
- Looking into my own life for things that bring me joy and gratitude, how can I make those things a practice that enhances my life and the lives of others?
By Swami Yasodananda, July 31, 2020
A few weeks ago, I started reflecting on the topic of listening. As I reflected, I noticed that I was easily distracted and drawn into other activities, such as reading the latest news, or weeding the many cracks in the concrete sidewalks around the Yasodhara property, or trying to fix a problem with my new computer. None of these activities were unreasonable, yet they felt more like distractions. I was getting involved with so many details, that I kept myself from going within to listen. I had to ask myself: Can I listen? What am I avoiding? What do I want to listen to?
In Kundalini Yoga for the West, Swami Radha says: “Listening is an art. To hear the true message through all the veils demands a very skillful listener who can extract from the words what the speaker truly says. How much more sensitivity, then, is required to hear the still, small voice within.”
Distractions and stress are some of the influences that make listening to the inner voice difficult. Restlessness is also part of the picture. Do I want to allow myself to be distracted by the endless details and entertainments in daily life? Or do I want to listen to my inner voice? Do I want to listen to others? I have a choice. In my experience, listening to my inner voice is far more fulfilling, and leads to effectively listening to others.
Here are a couple of suggestions for quieting the mind and listening to your inner voice:
Visualizing and Relaxing into Divine Light
- Come to a comfortable sitting position with the spine lengthened and the shoulders relaxed.
- Relax your whole body.
- Watch your breath and bring it to a gentle inflowing, outflowing.
- Visualize Divine Light flowing into your body from the top of your head, filling your entire Being. Relax into Divine Light, holding the image of Light within yourself as long as you would like.
Sitting Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) using the Yasodhara reflective method of Hatha Yoga
- Start with warming up the body by doing some gentle stretches, bringing your breath into the movements. This focus can help put your body into a listening mode.
- Sit on the floor or mat with legs extended forward. Lengthen your spine as you relax your shoulders. Stretching the upper body up from the pelvis, arms over head, slowly bend the upper body forward, releasing the arms and hands towards the legs or the floor. Relax into the pose.
- Observing your body, go into and out of the pose a few times, allowing yourself to be in the moment.
- Ask your mind to be the compassionate listener, without judgement or expectation.
- Write notes on whatever thoughts and feelings come from the practice. And if you like, reflect on these questions:
- Can I hear the still, small voice within?
- Can I trust my innate divine nature?
- To finish, do a supine twist to each side or whatever you need to do to bring your body into balance. Take time to relax.
Repeating this practice and reviewing your notes from time to time and can enhance your ability to listen within.
By Lakshmi, July 24, 2020
“When we look outward at situations in the world, we often feel that we have no control, no ability to effect change. But we can go back to changing our world within – where we do have ability to change. We can change how we use our intellect and emotions so that we are not swept up by outside forces…We can sit in silence listening to our intuition, in stillness facing what is before us and in reflection thinking deeply.” ~ Swami Radhananda, Living the Practice
With our studio closed, I too often find myself engrossed in the news of the day. It is unsettling on many levels and I ask, “When will things change? What can I do about all this?” I know the answers can only be found within myself. As I reflect in this unstable time in the world, I ask, “Where do I find my security, my stability, my equanimity, my strength? What is my responsibility?”
Swami Radha says in Kundalini Yoga for the West, “Investigation of all ideas about security on a physical, emotional and mental level can bring us to new conclusions. Habitual actions and reactions that have been investigated already must also be reviewed and shifted to higher levels. Discrimination has to be refined.”
The following reflections help me regain my security and come back to center. Using spiritual tools, such as chanting mantra and practicing the Divine Light Invocation, help me to “get out of my head” and allow my intuitive self to bring deeper understanding.
- What does security mean to me?
- What makes me feel secure? What makes me feel insecure?
- How do other people influence my security? (Criticism, praise)
- How does self-confidence relate to my security?
To deepen my understanding, I reflect on past situations…without judging them. Writing them in a journal helps to bring clarity.
- Thinking of a situation when I felt insecure but followed through anyway, what quality kept me going, sustained me?
- Thinking of a situation when I was sure of myself but things fell apart or didn’t work out, how did I respond? What did I feel? What quality kept me going?
- How can I bring that quality that kept me going in the past into my life today? Are there changes I need to make in myself?
“The silent revolution is when you change on the inside, taking a new look at life and who you are. You may decide that life has to change, but you can’t change the world. So what can you change? Only yourself, and you might be able to help change others – awakening them to the need for greater awareness.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, Yoga: A Path to Awareness
by Sheila Thomsen, July 17, 2020
This is a challenging time. There are new limits, with fewer possibilities for distraction. Sometimes, I find this helpful. I have had lots more time at home. My garden has never been more beautiful. I have done more reading and reflection. There are fewer interruptions; I have been able to focus on the same thing for longer periods of time. Other times, I am resentful. I miss casually hanging out. I really miss hugging my friends. I feel silly when I forget that shaking hands is not the appropriate gesture when being introduced to someone new. Sometimes, I get stuck in my own head and there is no easy distraction. I can’t just go to a movie or throw a party when I am bored with my own company.
Yasodhara Ashram recently offered an online class called “The Wisdom of Limitation”. I was excited when I learned of it and registered quickly. Of course, I wished I was going to Canada for a week-end experience, but I looked forward to connecting with the teacher and students and finding some answers about how to live with these new limitations to my freedom.
The class was great! It was wonderful to connect with others in the same boat, to be offered an opportunity to reflect on my experience, and to hear how other people were feeling about things. While it did not solve anything, I was reminded that yoga offers tools to help me deal with change in a way that leads me out of being stuck over the same old stuff and getting mired in my own frustration. Plus, I noticed I had more questions after the class than I did before, but the new questions were more fruitful.
As a follow up to that class, I read an article by Swami Radhananda written for Ascent magazine titled “Steps to Freedom” in which she stated that “the goal of yoga is liberation from all limitations.” I began to wonder how the “The Wisdom of Limitation” worked with “the liberation from all limitations.” I tried thinking about it, which was interesting, but again I found this raised more questions. I looked at limitations: my aging body, wearing a mask, relationships that are strained by the new restrictions to movements, as well as my frustration with wanting things to the way they used to be, and my anger at the changes that are around me. As I reflected on these things, I realized I can continue to practice Hatha Yoga to help me live more happily with my aging body. I can also use the other tools of yoga to stretch my mind and to keep my emotions and imagination from running away with me.
As I continue to work with these themes, I will often stand in Mountain or lie in Savasana, focus on my breath, holding lightly the situation that makes me feel stuck, then reflect on these questions:
- What does liberation mean to me?
- What is the difference between a limit and a limitation?
- Is this a limit I need to learn to live with or is it a limitation imposed by a concept in my mind?
- How can I change my perspective?
- How can I let go of this concept that is making things harder for me?
- How can I accept the limits that are necessary more gracefully?
- What is my part in the problems with others caused by being more confined?
I find my reflections often give rise to more questions. They also give me a little more perspective and occasionally a feeling of freedom and some joy in the possibilities.
Feel free to borrow my questions, or work with your own. I find that chanting mantra, practicing Hatha Yoga, and doing the Divine Light Invocation always seem to make my reflection times more fruitful.
Also, read Swami Radhananda’s article “Steps to Freedom”. I find it to be inspiring when I get stuck and can’t figure out what to do next.
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Want to learn more about Yasodhara Ashram online classes? Visit https://www.yasodhara.org/online-offerings/
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.