Category Archives: Swami Sivananda

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima

by Kali Om

title photo by Mia Park

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.” –Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Saturday, July 12.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

Ganesh-21

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

photo by Mia Park
photo by Mia Park

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

  • Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.
  • Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.
  • Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.
  • Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at dlshq.org/teachings/ japayoga .htm ).
  • Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana , and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.
  • Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit meatfreemondays.com or vrg.org).
  • If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.
  • Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit volunteermatch.org and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?
  • Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.
  • Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on freecycle.org.
  • If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.
  • Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s new book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

 

Cara Jepsen

Kali Om (Cara Jepsen) , E-RYT 500, is a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra and has been teaching yoga since 1998; she is the senior teacher of Dharma yoga in Chicago and has completed Sri Dharma Mittra’s LOAY 200-, 500-, and 800-hour trainings. She will lead yoga and meditation retreats November 1-2, 2014 at the beautiful Port for Prayer in Frankfort, IL and in Belize February 7-14, 2015. For more information, visit yogikaliom.com.

The Effects of Pranayama on Thoughts and Actions

By Jonathan Rosenthal 

©Jeffrey Vock
Pranayama (control of Prana through breath) is themain focal point for managing thoughts and actions, according to The Science of Pranayama by Swami Sivananada.
Even before I started practicing yoga, I foundthat inhaling deeply, holdingmy breath as long as is comfortable,and exhaling very slowly was themost effective technique to regulate my thoughts and actions in moments of indecision and doubt.

“Before he eats, before he drinks, before he resolves to do anything, Pranayama should be performed first and then the nature of his determination should be clearly enunciated and placedbefore the mind.  – Swami Sivananda.

Prana, however, is not solely breath. Breath contributes to prana, but not all prana is derived from breath.

Swami Sivanandasays, “The Prana may be defined as the finest vital force in everythingwhich becomes visible on the physicalplane as motionand action, and on the mentalplane as thought. The word Pranayama, therefore, means the restraint of vitalenergies.” Thisseems to suggestthat prana is fed by the needs of air, water and food and then directed towards the vayus, like thoughts and actions. Prana is hard to conceptualize, and therefore visualize and manipulate directly.

Perhaps the control of breath is a startingpoint to control prana. According to Swami Sivananda, “If you control the flywheel (the prana) you control the wheels (the other organs). Similarly, Sri Dharma Mittra says,the attention is a magnetfor prana. Perhaps combining control of breath with the guidance of attentionallows one to indirectly manipulate prana.

Breath is the most compulsory need for survival. Itis impossible to survive without breath for the amountof time one can survive withoutfood and water. This is why controllingthe breath is such an important tool, both in and out of yoga. Returning to this basic need shatters the illusion of all the other needs (e.g. fears, desires, doubts)” – almost like throwing a wrench at a triangular enclosure of mirrors that reflect and deceive you endlessly.

Fears and doubts are no match for Pranayama. By removing the focus from these ungrounded anticipations  and placing the focus on the most basic and essential need, Pranayama shatters the mirrored labyrinth of imaginary and illusory needs.

I imagine that allneeds”are really illusions. We are not really hungry, it is thebody that is hungry; we are not cold, it is the body that is cold. In fact, Swami Sivananda describes Pranayama techniques that eliminate needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep and these same techniques can even cool or warm the body – sitkari and sitali are cooling,suryabheda and ujjayi are warming, and bhastrika restores normal temperature. Further, sitkari and sitaliboth trump hunger, thirst, and sleep. All of theseseem to suggestthat pranayama is a practice mainly used to shatter the illusion of needs.

It is interestingthat Swami Sivananda advises specifically to avoid straining while doing Pranayama: “Some people twist the muscles of the face when they do Kumbhaka (breath retention). It shouldbe avoided. It is a symptom to indicate that they are going beyond theircapacity.

If practicing Pranayama becomesa need in and of itself,it has become an illusion extraordinaire. This is much like a drug given in excess quantitythat then becomesa poison. In pursuingPranayama as a need in and of itself,the practitioner has only replaced an unnecessary “need” with a new one.

Pranayama should be practiced each and every day, but it is not the end of the world to miss a day; Pranayama should be practiced not as a need in and of itself, but as a technique that, by focusing on the only real need, prana, shatters the illusion of the others.

_____________________________________


Jonathan Rosenthal took his DharmaYoga Life of a Yogi 200-Hour Teacher Training in June 2013. His motto is: “With everything I do, I try to remember we are yogis first and foremost and that we should view life as a task to be done, but with compassion, sincerity, angry determination, and a renunciation of the fruits of actions. I am grateful to the teachers who made this perspective possible and try to return the favor by teaching others.” He is in the internship phase of his LOAY teacher training.

Five Ways To Conquer Cravings

By Sara Schwartz



I used yoga to quit smoking. I did so after I noticed that after my Power Vinyasa class I was less eager to grab a cigarette. It also turned out that I liked the taste of fresh air, so when I decided to give up smoking, I just figured I would do a ton of yoga and it would be easy.

Turns out that quitting smoking was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The craving struck and sat like a piece of lead on my throat and tongue. Sometimes, it settled around the center of my chest. The craving created a real physical ache as well as annoying mental repetitions. “If I only had… I would feel better…”

To break a habit you have to use the force of willpower and willpower is essentially the movement of the spirit. You need willpower to move through a craving. Logically, cravings just cause us mental pain, and this mental pain is the feeling of an old habit breaking. To pass through cravings is to be in touch with the divine force of will. In a craving you can sense the movement of your spirit, strengthening your connection to your spiritual anatomy.

The second time I came face to face with intense cravings was during my Dharma Yoga Life of aYogi 500-Hour Teacher Training when we were instructed to follow a fairly strict vegan diet.

“Food is a very emotional experience,” LOAY Director Adam Frei told us. I thought to myself: I don’t have any emotional issues with food – I’ll eat anything!  But then, I realized I couldn’t have my Chai Tea Latte and I cried! Chocolate cake, even though I never ate it, became my newest obsession. But I stuck with the diet; I ate my salads and drank my juices. At first my body didn’t feel very good. I was tired and hungry all the time. I realized I was detoxing. Then I adjusted and began to feel calmer, cleaner, and my yoga practice felt solid.

Overcoming my cravings meant I had to stake out uncomfortable territory. I had to re-visit what I had done when I quit smoking. 

Here are five ways to get rid of cravings and live a healthier life:

    • Make a list of why you want to give something up and allow that to become your mantra. Why would I want to follow a yogic diet? Because “healthy body, healthy mind”. So when I craved chocolate cake I asked myself “does this cake cultivate a healthy body better than a banana?” Of course the banana wins this round!
    • Take one day, one moment, and one breath at a time. This is what they say in Alcoholics Anonymous and I used it to quit smoking. Each morning I would think, “today I am not going to smoke.” If during the day the craving was bad I would think: “right now, I am choosing not to smoke.” If I was in front of a store ready to jump in and buy a pack of cigarettes, I would think “now I am inhaling; now I am exhaling” as I breathed.
    • Read spiritual literature. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends this all the time! When you are feeling uninspired and uncertain, the Bhagavad Gita can point you in a good direction. Arjuna also didn’t know why he was supposed to fight, and Krishna gives him a ton of reasons why he should. Sometimes you might not be sure why you’re fighting your cravings, so you too can apply Krishna’s counsel.
    • Practice Pranayama. It can be as simple as a square breath: Inhaling for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four. If the craving is strong you might try a stronger, more complicated Pranayama: like Nadi Shodana with Kumbakha (alternate nostril breathing with breath retentions). As Swami Sivananda said “the veil is removed by the practice of Pranayama. After the veil is removed the real nature of the soul is realized.”
    • Remove the tempters. Clean your kitchen of those culprit foods. When you shop at the grocery store first go to the fruit and vegetable section. When I tried to quit smoking I stopped going to the smoker’s corner on my lunch break and I went to the park instead.
These are just techniques to test out in the laboratory of your own experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a cigarette or a piece of chocolate cake. After I had decided to quit smoking I slipped up for a good year before I was actually able to buckle down and commit to a daily yoga practice. During the LOAY Teacher Training Diet one day I walked into a Starbucks and had a cup of tea and a scone and enjoyed every moment of the sugary and caffeinated goodness. But the next day I woke up and was back on track.
Over the long run the cravings get less and less. And now, three years later, if I smell a cigarette it makes me feel sick. Now, most sweets are too sweet for me since I spent half a year not eating sugar.

You can create the life you imagine! It just takes time, awareness, and as Sri Dharma says, a little bit of ‘angry determination’ to get back up again after you fall.

_____________________________________


Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She recently graduated from the Dharma Yoga Center Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training. “Offer up the fruits of your practice” is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.

What is a Mantra?

By Alan C. Haras


©Natasha Phillips

In the 3rd and 4thcenturies, many spiritual seekers left Europe and traveled to the Egyptian deserts to approach wise men and women who had been living prayerful lives looking for God.  When they finally arrived at the cell of these wise men and woman (abba or amma), tradition says that these seekers would ask: “Abba, speak to me a word, by which I might have life.” They might then receive a “prayer-word” or some brief instruction.  The pilgrim would take this “word” back with them to their home country and build their spiritual life around this one “word.” 


In the yogic tradition, these “words of power” are called mantras, and they are traditionally whispered into the ear of the disciple by a guru.  The guru is someone who has realized the essence of a mantra.  The Sanskrit word guru actually means “weighty one”.  These gurus have gravitas, and their words carry a lot of weight.  Because the guru has yoked their mind and heart with Truth, when they are approached by a seeker who is humble and sincere, the Truth emerges from them as the perfect thing the student needs to hear to continue their journey.  Indeed, such words give life to the soul who is thirsty for God.


Traditionally, at the time of initiation one receives a mantra, a mala(rosary) and a spiritual name.  The ceremony marks a new birth for that individual into their spiritual family.  But in order to realize the full benefit of the mantra it should be “awakened and put into action.” 



©Jeffrey Vock


Along with receiving the mantra comes both the permission to us it, as well as transference of psychic power from the master.  The mantra contains within it the enlightened wisdom of the spiritual preceptor, and like a zip file, must be unpacked through continued repetition to reveal its full meaning and power.   


 The word mantra comes from two Sanskrit roots – man or manas which refer to the mind/heart, and tra which means “to protect”.  The root tra also means “to cross over” and comes into English words such as “travel” and “traverse”. 


The practice of mantra protects the mind and heart from distraction, and helps us to cross over the discursive mind.


There are many types of mantras.  Some are used to produce specific results – to overcome illness or to achieve worldly success – while others are employed solely for the purpose of Self-realization.

©Jeffrey Vock

Mantras sung in the spirit of devotion, with melody and rhythm, are known as kirtan– the foundational practice of bhakti yoga.  Other mantras are performed silently, like the Hamsa/Soham mantra which is produced effortlessly by the sound of the incoming and outgoing breath.  But the Guru Mantra is given special importance in the world of mantras. 


The mantra given by one’s guru at the time of initiation provides invisible protection for the disciple, and acts like the “red phone” at the White House during the Cold War – it is a direct line to the Supreme. 


Swami Satyasanghananda says that “the mantra is a link between you and the cosmos, between you and the deeper mysteries of the universe.” The specific number of the syllables in the mantra given by the guru is designed to make up for any deficiencies in the disciple’s aura or energetic body.  The more one recites the mantra, the more one gains spiritual wealth.


By establishing the psychic link with the guru through recitation of the mantra, one becomes receptive to spiritual guidance across all planes of existence, and is able to stir the spiritual awareness which resides in one’s spiritual heart.



As Sri Dharma Mittra says, the outer guru shows you how to find the inner guru, situated in the right side of the heart, in the center of the chest.  The practice of mantra is one proven method for gaining access to this sacred chamber of the heart – the goal of all spiritual disciplines.



1.     Yogi Gupta, Yoga and Yogic Powers (New York, Yogi Gupta, 1958), 52 – 62

2.     Swami Satyasanghananda Sarasvati, Light on the Guru and Disciple Relationship, 101
3.     Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, (Paraclete Press) quote taken from Introduction.

4.     Maha Sadhana bySri Dharma Mittra (DVD) – Spiritual Discourses, The Importance of a Teacher



____________________________________________

Alan Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion, Michigan.  He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Michigan State University, is finishing up a two-year training in Spiritual Direction from the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, and is pursuing his Masters in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.  He has been blessed to spend three years studying Advaita Vedanta with Dr. John Grimes, ten years studying the Jivamukti Yoga method, as well as having spent time in India with the late kirtan-wala and bhakti yogi Shyamdas.  In 2012-13, Alan completed the 200, 500 and 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings with Sri Dharma Mittra, made a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  As a teacher, he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to offer “the greatest charity of all” – sharing and promoting spiritual knowledge.

3 Ways To Cultivate Compassion In Your Life

By David Jozefczyk 
Ahimsa (non-violence/non-killing or compassion), the ethical guideline that stands in the forefront from the others, is life’s law of non-harming

Once this ethical guideline is mastered, all other ethical guidelines fall into place. Also true, is that the more compassion is studied, the more layers of understanding appear.



Most people understand Ahimsa in regards to non-killing or not causing physical pain to other human beings or pets.  But Ahimsa goes beyond that. Prior to learning about Ahimsa, I fell into this category.  The first time that I had the honor to receive Sri Dharma Mittra’s teachings regarding Ahimsa, it changed my life.  This intricate ethical guideline (Yama) was explained to me with such simplicity and in such a compassionate manner that it brought tears to my eyes and struck a chord deep within me
A vegetarian lifestyle is a great way to practice Ahimsa as it covers three areas – through thought, word and deed. 

1.    Thoughts

With thoughts, for example, when eating with friends and family who are not educated in Ahimsa, my thoughts do not judge or think bad of them.  I have realized their true Self does not mean to harm, it’s just their physical mind is not ready at this point in their evolution and so I feel compassion for them.



Ahimsa of thoughts not only applies towards others, but towards the self as well.  Negative thoughts can manifest themselves, so any negativity or harm towards yourself (as well as others) should be avoided.  A good amount of bad karma can be accumulated in this regard and no one wants that!

2.    Deeds
In regards to deed, leading by exampleand consistently living as a vegetarian is a very powerful way to influence and it may eventually change another person’s outlook on diet.  

3.    Words

Lastly, being vegetarian and practicing Ahimsa in regards to word, conversation arises from time to time and I am asked “what made you become vegetarian?”  I always choose my words carefully, as some friends and family members love to play devils advocate by mentioning plants.  I answer that it is impossible for most people to be completely non-harming due to the physical body needing sustenance, so I chose what I feel to be the lesser of two evils.  This type of conversation has the ability to transform others not aware of Ahimsa.

Words can be very powerful and life changing in both a positive and negative way.  Even a simple “hello” with the right intention to someone passing by can brighten his or her day! 

I feel it is a good practice to keep your words to a minimum and positive and uplifting in nature.  Many yogi masters teach that if you do not have anything good to say then this is a good time to practice silence or Mouna, which Swami Sivananda describes as “Tapas of speech.”
I am still learning from the masters to eradicate negative traits and to bring more compassion into my life by practicing Ahimsa.  Through a steady and consistent practice this can be mastered and then applied towards all Yamas and Niyamas!


_____________________________________

Dave Jozefczyk began practicing yoga in 2006 by taking class with his wife ‘chelle in his basement.  Having a consistent flow of friends who attended three days per week made it an official class.  The next chapter in Dave’s spiritual journey was experiencing a long weekend immersion with Sri Dharma Mittra at Kripalu in 2008 with his wife.  Since that transformative weekend, he has been faithfully practicing Dharma Yoga.  During these five plus years of practice and observing his wife’s transformation after completing her 500-hour LOAY Teacher Training, Dave realized that he also had the ability to help others and serve in so many different ways. In June of 2013, Dave was very humbled to experience the 200-hour LOAY TT at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC.  He is currently teaching at the CNY Yoga Center (Dharma Yoga Syracuse) to fulfill his internship credentials.  It brings him such joy to be able to share the Dharma Yoga teachings, which he continues to learn from Sri Dharma and the Dharma family.