Author Archives: Prem Anjali

Yoga and Aging Gracefully: A Journey

Yoga and Aging Gracefully: A Journey

A few years ago, as I approached my 68th birthday, I begin typing words to describe what it feels like to age with Yoga as my support system. You see, I now have been practicing the art of Yoga for over five decades. It has always been the backdrop of virtually every one of my adult experiences. It began with a Hatha Yoga class at the New York Integral Institute, where I saw a photo of a man named Swami Satchidananda. His gaze in the photo was open and inviting and somewhat mesmerizing. I went to hear him speak soon after my first class at Integral and I think that my presence at that public talk was the beginning of my journey in Yoga.

As I embarked on this new “interest” in my life, Hatha Yoga was the practice that consumed me. I was a dancer. I loved to move and this Hatha Yoga template added another dimension to my understanding of how energy and movement coalesce with mindful attention to breath. As I continued to attend Yoga classes, I also continued to live my life as a performing artist, but something was changing. All the drama of the stuff of life seemed to be just that—drama. Without really understanding the shift that was taking place, I made a decision to live in an ashram. To this day I consider this choice key to establishing a lifelong Yoga practice. I would rise with my fellow ashramites very early for meditation and Hatha Yoga, eat vegetarian food that was prepared by the kitchen mother, study The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, chant, teach open Hatha Yoga classes, attend satsang and work in our health food store with other members of the community. All the effort in whatever we did was predicated on the teachings of Yoga. We had the good fortune to have a Guru to guide us. His presence was palpable whether or not he was actually physically with us.

And so my life continued to unfold within a trajectory that was not always what I envisioned. I married, had two beautiful children, divorced and struggled with depression. I continued to practice and teach Hatha Yoga during the years after I left the ashram, but it was not until the big life crisis/obstacles came along that I began to fully comprehend the gift of the profound teachings of Yoga that I was sure could support, heal, and nurture me until the end of my days.

And so it has been. The hills and valley still exist but with each passing day I realize that my connection to something greater than my body/mind allows me to step back, to take inventory, to make choices that are founded in gratitude for life.

The question often asked when students begin the study of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is, “What do you want most out of life.” Most people will answer, “I want happiness.”

In April of 2018, I made 72 trips around the sun on this planet earth. The ride has been what it has needed to be to lead this seeker to a deeper understanding of who she really is. My life now is fulfilling. I have gratitude for family and friends. I love my work. I have just fulfilled a life dream with a trip to Mother India. The adventures keep coming whether they are across the globe or right here in my home town. And my faith is unquestionably rooted in the practice of daily meditation, self-study, service, changing and a sense of humor! I believe that I have a singular opportunity in this life time to open my heart/mind to all beings, to all who I encounter. If I am peaceful, happy, and at ease I can rest assured that I reflect this energy. For now, at least, I rely on daily practice to help maintain my peace. It is a discipline with indescribable rewards!

I believe the healthy aging process is a magnificent opportunity to be fully aware and present in each moment. Perhaps this is because we are closer to death than to birth, so each day is like a precious jewel, the brilliance of which we cannot get enough of.

My hair is white, my face has more wrinkles, my step is slower, but these things are just the stuff of a natural progression like the mantram AUM—a beginning, some time in between, and an ending.

About the Author:

Kali Morse, E-RYT 500, currently serves as Director of Teacher Trainings at Integral Yoga Institute, New York City. She has taught Hatha Yoga and meditation in many different settings and has been training Hatha Yoga teachers in the Integral Yoga system for more than two decades.

 

 

Q & A with Swami Satchidananda on Finding Contentment

Q & A with Swami Satchidananda on Finding Contentment

Question: I’m basically happy and peaceful but feel that something is missing. How can I find the missing part?

Swami Satchidananda: If you are basically happy and in peace, what can be missing? It’s a sort of contradiction. If you are basically happy and in peace, then there is nothing to miss, because you are not depending on anything for your peace and joy. If you depend on something for your peace, then that something might not last, or, you might become fearful of losing it. Peace, without depending on anything, is your true nature. There is nothing to miss. Probably, because of some past samskaras, past impressions, your own mind might create a sort of illusion that you are missing something. It will say, “Don’t you think you are missing something? Don’t you think you were happier before?” That is the trick of your mind; it doesn’t want to let you be happy. It wants to make you unhappy, so it creates an imaginary void, as if you are missing something. Don’t give room for that.

I always say, peace is my God. I have peace, and so I have God. What then should I miss? All I need, all I deserve, will come to me. If I don’t get anything, that means I don’t need it. The other day, I heard somebody talking about an affirmation. The idea is the same, just different words: Nothing is ever taken away from you without it being replaced by something better. So why worry about losing something? It just means that you are going to get something better. You’ll be even happier. You might even look for a chance to lose one thing so something better will come your way.

After all, what is there to lose? You never had anything to begin with. You didn’t bring anything with you into this world and you won’t be taking anything back with you when you leave! If you have anything, it is God given, and if you lose anything, God has taken it back because you don’t need it anymore.

If you think that way, you can always keep your peace. But the mind tricks you. It doesn’t let you enjoy the peace always; it creates some sort of vacuum. It tells you: This is not the real peace. It is nothing like having a nice big car, or big home. You are so young, you’ve come so early to spiritual life without enjoying all those things, don’t you want to go back and enjoy all that? The mind will say that to you. Your mind will ask you to go back to those things. That’s what you call maya. Maya is there to trick you. Don’t ever get cheated by your own mind. It’s a tough fight, but the greatest victory you can win is the victory over your own mind.

Q & A with Swami Satchidananda on Spiritual Energy

Q & A with Swami Satchidananda on Spiritual Energy

Question: I sometimes experience the rising of the sacred Kundalini, accompanied by a soft humming sound and a certain degree of bliss or peace. Why does this energy remain only briefly?

Swami Satchidananda: It’s a beautiful question. I’m glad to know that you have experienced it. It’s true, the mind is not always bad. It’s not always covered by a dense egoistic cloud. Occasionally, the cloud gets dispersed; occasionally. When it gets dispersed, you momentarily see the Light. But it doesn’t stay long.

The great saint, Sri Ramakrishna, gave an example: Think of the mind like a big, old water tank with a lot of moss that has grown. Imagine that the moss has completely covered the whole surface so you can’t even see the water beneath it. This is similar to when water lilies cover the surface of a pond. When you want to see the water, you have to take a big stone and throw it in. Then, because of the wave created by the stone, the moss gets a little bit scattered and a round, circular area forms allowing you to see the water.

If you just stand there and watch, you will see that the moss slowly moves in again and covers the opening. The mind is like that; filled with a lot of worldly samskaras and egoistic desires. Occasionally, a good idea or an inspiring thought comes in, by our reading, thinking, or hearing. When that inspiring thought falls into the lake of the mind, the mind gets cleared and you feel high. But, it doesn’t stay long. You get a temporary glimpse of what is inside. It’s like the sun that is visible behind the dense clouds when the clouds disperse.

If you want to remain in that experience, you have to empty the mind completely; clean up everything that would cover the surface. It’s hard work that requires continuous diligence. Patanjali says that to be successful, our practice must be for a long time, without break, and with total faith. Those are the three qualities that we should remember. Then, certainly, we can clear out the mind. It takes a lot of effort, but it is worth it. Don’t look for quick, instant samadhi. All the drugs and things like that, which even Patanjali talked about, only give you a sort of temporary dullness, a temporary peace. But, it is not created by your own, voluntary effort. So, you should not depend on that.

Spiritual Life is a Razor’s Edge

Spiritual Life is a Razor’s Edge

Swami Rama Tirtha (photo left), a mathematician and a contemporary of Swami Vivekananda, made an equation about contentment: Peace is always based on your desire and contentment; your wants, and don’t wants. If your want increases, the peace goes down. If your want decreases, the peace comes up. No want, full peace, but full of want, no peace. This is very true. That’s why the scriptures say that even wanting to have peace will disturb your peace. Because if you want peace, that means you don’t have it. Even wanting peace should not be there, because you have peace already. The moment you forget it then you want it.

There are two Tamil sayings. One is: “Even with God, do not have desires.” The other is: “Wanting liberation itself is a bondage.” Why? Because you are already liberated, but when you forget that and you want to be liberated, you are binding yourself by that want. See how delicate it is? It’s a very thin line. That’s why the spiritual path is called a razor’s edge. It’s a very sharp, thin line.

And remember, for those who practice Yoga, liberation is our grand finale goal. Everything is aimed at that. Keep your compass aimed and fly high. Occasionally, when you are flying in a plane, you might lose your course because of a gusty wind. But, of course, you can correct it.

Flying a plane is similar to the flight of a seeker. I learned a lot from a pilot. You have to have everything clear before you

even start the journey. You should know how much gasoline you have, and are the clouds in the sky dense or scattered? Are there any storm clouds or gusty winds, and, what obstructions might be in the way? All of it has to planned.

A well-planned flight, is half the success. I was in a small plane one day and an unexpected storm came upon us. There were clouds all around us and we could see nothing else. All we had was the compass to go by. We simply had to follow the instrument’s needle.

Spiritual life is like that. I’m simply telling you how difficult it is. But at the same time, if you really make up your mind, it becomes so easy. Make a positive affirmation: Is that all? I’ll go for it! I won’t give up for anything because I know there is nothing more in this life to achieve. There is nothing greater than being ready to face any kind of obstacle. With such an attitude, you will never be discouraged and you will reach the goal!

 

~By Sri Swami Satchidananda

The Art and Heart of Asana

The Art and Heart of Asana

According to Erich Schiffmann, a much beloved Yoga master, Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are. In this interview he talks about the practice of asana as the practice of meditation or inner listening. And, as he explains, it’s an inner listening that should extend from one’s asana and meditation practice into the entire day and one’s life. It’s a matter of listening inwardly for guidance all the time, and then trusting enough to do as you are prompted to do.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): Where does asana fit in the whole system of Yoga?

Erich Schiffmann (ES): I think what’s commonly overlooked is the reason for the practice. We’re doing Yoga, and the asana thing is a subset of Yoga. The whole point of any Yoga practice is the experience of Yoga, which is, in quick summation: conscious union with the Infinite. Yoga means “to yoke or join,” from the Sanskrit root.

The way I talk about it is: small mind joining big mind or universal consciousness. The more you do that, the more you realize big mind is your mind. You’ve been joined all along—it’s not a new unity, it’s conscious union—which may be a new experience for the person experiencing it. It’s the realization of what’s already going on. All the Yoga practices are geared to having the conscious experience of your unity with infinity. Then, rather than life seeming like the enemy and being all about survival of the fittest, you start sensing the unity and your part in it—going with the flow and your experience in life starts to flow.

People come into asana class for different reasons. I’m okay with any reason. Whatever got them there is okay, so that they can have the experience of Yoga. Asana practice is a really good way of cleaning out your field, erasing the conditioning, erasing the experience of pain and discomfort. When all that is lessened, it’s not like nothing’s left—what’s left is a clearer experience of truth that has been there all along, which luckily feels lovely. That’s because the energy is love, the feeling tone of the infinite is love and you have a real experience of that. At the end of class, students feel relaxed; they feel good because they are beginning to have a clearer hit on the truth of existence.

IYM: What is the heart of asana?

ES: Asana practice is good for you physically, but it also gets your head in a clear space so you can have a clear experience of truth. Asana is a form of meditation, like moving meditation. In my first book, Moving into Stillness, the first paragraph starts with this idea: Imagine the spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top that’s spinning so fast and is so perfectly centered that it appears motionless. Most of us are off center, with a chaotic spin and lots of drama—at least we know we are alive. Sometimes, our image of stillness is like the top tipping over. That’s not very appealing. We think, “Well, I can do that when I’m dead.” No, the way I use stillness is like a higher energy state than we are used to; it’s more blissful, energetic and life affirming. When you meditate and do the poses you learn to slide into this higher energy, into a perfectly centered state. It will have a calm look, but your own experience will feel more alive, with less drama and more life.

Using the poses and meditation gets people to slide into stillness. And that stillness is what I mean by peace. Peace is  a higher energy state, therefore a more desirable state. Once you taste it, you’ll be drawn to it because it feels right. You get people into a room, especially in a deep relaxation and they start feeling it and they get hooked by it. So my whole thing is about the art of living—using your mind to get online. Yoga is a full time job, all day long—not really a full time job—but the art of living. That’s why I like Integral Yoga so much. In Yogaville, you are living it, living it together and proving it works. I like your whole philosophy: many paths, one truth. It’s so inclusive.

IYM: What else should we know about asana?

ES: If it hurts, it’s wrong. It’s amazing how many times I have to say that. In the heat of the moment, students think, “Well Erich didn’t really mean that in this instance.” But yeah, if it hurts it’s wrong and I keep saying it so people don’t hurt themselves. If you do, it’s not end of the world: Things will heal. It would be good if there was instantaneous healing but, until you can do that, it’s probably better to not hurt yourself. Another important point is that you have options and choices. There’s not one way of doing triangle pose, not one best sequence. The skill is to get sensitive enough to what is feeling right in the moment so you can customize your options and choices. That’s the art of asana.

I like to recommend that you be as relaxed as you can be, as you do what you’ve got to do—in asana practice and outside asana practice. I make this a fundamental tenet in asana practice. If you are doing a really hard pose, if you sort of put the thought: “I’m going to be as relaxed as I can be doing this,” layers of unnecessary doing get released. You will still be able to do everything but it will appear more effortless. It’s like when you are watching Olympic gymnasts and they look so effortless—then you know they are good. I like the idea of sliding into stillness, into the feeling of peace and making that a big emphasis. When you do, you accelerate a feeling of calm energy with an inspired perspective. Once someone starts feeling that, it has an attractive pull.

IYM: Do you have a name for your approach or style?

ES: I’m teaching what I’m calling “freedom style.” I studied with a lot of different teachers and I kept trying to commit to one style. Instead, I took what I thought was the best from each and put it together and then someone suggested I call it freedom style. What I like to do is to teach people how to “get online.” That’s my favorite analogy to use because everyone gets it. People can be wherever they are in the world, and when they go online, they are connected.

The idea is to be wherever you are with online knowing. I think that’s a great idea. The mind you are getting online with is your mind. In the asana practice you’re learning to get more intuitive in an easy context and you start trusting what feels right. If something doesn’t feel right, rather than going to a teacher and that teacher telling you exactly what to do, I’m trying to encourage people to trust their inner sense. If they learn in an easy context, it’ll spill over into their lives so that, all day long, they will do what feels most right to them.

IYM: What is your core approach to training Yoga teachers?

ES: I emphasize three strands. The first is meditation. When I say meditation, I don’t mean just learning to sit quietly. I use the term to mean listening inwardly, using your mind to get online. You listen inwardly, meditating all day long to the best of your ability. I emphasize learning to have a silent mind, so the wisdom of the infinite can start coming through you. No matter what you are doing—whether practicing asanas or driving your kids to school.

The second  thing I stress is how to practice in a creative manner. Having a set practice can be helpful to students, particularly in the beginning. But, what I do now is go in and mentally get online and listen to what to do. When I go into the Yoga room to do my hatha, rather than having my routine too planned out, I’m listening. So, that’s what I try to transmit to the teachers I train: I’m trying to teach them how to meditate or listen inwardly in the context of doing Yoga asana. Essentially you learn to meditate while you practice.

The third component of my approach is to train teachers to give a good, safe and fun class that teaches their students how to practice in a creative manner by teaching them how to meditate. It comes full circle. A lot of people sign up for teacher training and think it’s going to be an asana only course. It turns out to be a lifestyle, art of living course. By lifestyle I mean that no matter what you are doing, you are basing what you do on inner listening. Whatever you are doing, try to base the inner decision-making on inner listening. The Yoga practices are so good in helping you do that. Learning to meditate and to do asana practice sensitizes you so you start trusting what’s feeling right. It’s confusing at first to listen. But, when you get into silent mind, knowing flows in. That’s the big punch line or the reason that everyone talks about getting your mind quiet—because at that point wisdom starts appearing, new knowing starts flowing. You find yourself knowing things you didn’t know.

IYM: Do you have concerns about how Yoga is being taught today?

ES: Yoga largely has become like a phys. ed class. Yoga teachers have to be conscious. They have got to keep refreshing and revitalizing the meaning of Yoga, keep pushing it beyond asana to the art of living.

About Erich Schiffmann:

Erich Schiffmann has gained international recognition for his unique approach to Yoga. Erich taught Yoga at the Krishnamurti School in England for five years, has studied in India and now lives in Santa Monica, California, where he teaches local classes, workshops, teacher trainings and retreats. He is the author of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness and his classes are available on DVDs and CDs. For more information, please visit his website.

Q & A with Swami Satchidananda: Mantra Japa

Q & A with Swami Satchidananda: Mantra Japa

Question: What is the secret of mantra japa (mentally repeating a mantra continuously)? I can keep my attention on if for a short time and then I forget all about it!

Swami Satchidananda: First, you have to constantly and consciously repeat the mantra. Later, the inner consciousness takes over. We do many things like that. For example, when you first begin to play the piano, there is so much to think about. You must have the right fingers on the right keys, and when the mind thinks of the fingers, the legs forget their job. You have to slowly cultivate the habit. Eventually, you no longer need to see the keys or the fingers or even think about the feet. You just notice the people who are appreciating the music. Learning to ride a bicycle involves the same thing. When you think of the pedals you forget the handle bar, and when you think of the handle bar, you forget the brake. But, after some time, you barely touch the handle bar. As you ride, you look around here and there and you fly!

Everything is like that, and these are gross things compared to mantra japa. Mantra japa takes a little longer time to sink into the system. But once it goes in, and the system takes over, you don’t have to think about it. You don’t even know that you are repeating the mantra. Sometimes when you wake up in the middle of the night, you will be surprised that someone is repeating the mantra for you. That’s why one of the Shaiva saints said, “Even if I forget the mantra, my tongue will be repeating it.” Don’t worry, it’s natural to forget it at the beginning. Nothing comes overnight. At least be grateful that sometimes you remember it. And the mantra has power. Once it gets into you, you can never forget it totally.

I sometimes receive letters that say, “I was given a mantra from you and then I never repeated it again; I literally forgot it. All of a sudden, one day, it popped into my mind.” Once you have been given a mantra, it goes within you. So, don’t worry. It will do its job. Strictly speaking, there is no other practice that is necessary for spiritual growth. We often want to do this and that and all sorts of complicated things. We’re not happy with one thing.

Many great sages and saints have done nothing but repeat a mantra. In this age, it is the easiest and the best method to use to control the mind. No matter where you are, or what you are doing, put your total faith in a mantra. That will pull you out of the mud and mire of your life. It will ultimately lead you to the goal. Learn the taste of the mantra. Taste that sweetness, and you won’t even appreciate all the candies and cakes. Develop that kind of spiritual taste.