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Yoga for Diabetes

Yoga for Diabetes

By Rachel Zinman

In her book, Yoga for Diabetes: How to Manage Your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda, Yoga teacher Rachel Zinman presents a highly motivational and personalized guide that will enable readers to incorporate Yoga into their daily diabetes management plan. Rachel was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. In this article, she shares her journey and what she’s learned about living and thriving with diabetes. She also includes an overview of asanas that are especially useful in managing diabetes.

The first time I tried Yoga, I was 17. I didn’t know anything about Yoga but I liked the way it made my body feel, light and free. Yoga also pushed my body to its limits, I loved the challenge but at the same time there were some red flags. My persistent practice led to a radical detoxification. It felt like everything I had poured into my young body both physically and emotionally was being scrubbed clean. Every time I mastered a pose I’d have some sort of reaction.

I didn’t know it at the time but that was the start of my journey with diabetes. I wasn’t symptomatic, I didn’t have unusual blood sugar readings but I knew something wasn’t right. Through my 20’s and 30’s I practiced daily and eventually began to teach.

When I was first diagnosed with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) at the age of 42, I was floored. By then, I’d been teaching Yoga and training teachers for over 25 years and was supposed to be an example of someone who “lives” Yoga. But there I was, so sick I couldn’t get out of bed.

Type 1 diabetes is usually thought of as a disease that strikes in childhood, but of the 400 million people worldwide suffering with diabetes about 10 percent are diagnosed with LADA.

When I educated myself more about my condition, and that a LADA diagnosis describes the slow destruction of insulin-producing beta cells… I knew that Yoga had played a pivotal role in helping me to preserve my insulin production and stay sensitive to the insulin I was still producing. More importantly it helped me stay positive.

No matter what type of diabetes one has, it’s stressful.

In my own experience of living with diabetes, Yoga encourages me to breathe and connect with myself. When my mind is focused on a posture there’s just no room for stressful thoughts

But there are also many other benefits: Weight loss, better sleep, increased insulin sensitivity, balanced emotions, flexibility, strength, increased breathing capacity, better concentration, and a sense of joy and wonderment in spite of adversity.

Initially, being a Yoga teacher trainer, I wanted to create a specific training for Yoga teachers on how to meet the needs of someone living with diabetes in their Yoga class. When I shared my idea with a close friend she suggested I think bigger.

Why not write a book specifically for people living with diabetes and their caregivers and share all the tips and tricks I’d used to thrive in spite of my diagnosis? It could also be a user manual for Yoga teachers.

Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. It’s estimated that one in three Americans will soon have diabetes. That’s a lot of people who could benefit from Yoga!

Once I had the idea, I knew what I wanted. A book that was beautiful and encouraging, the sort of book you keep picking up not only because of the content but because the photographs are so engaging.

One of the big challenges when living with diabetes is to stay motivated. When we’re not constantly checking our blood sugar levels or counting carbs, we’re dealing with higher levels than we’d like (called Hyper Glycaemia) or dangerous lows (called Hypo Glycaemia). Living with diabetes is a rollercoaster and we can and do suffer from burnout.

That’s why the book is more than just Yoga postures, breathing practices, and meditations that are specific to diabetes. It’s about Ayurveda and how Ayurveda has been treating diabetes for thousands of years. Helping the person to determine their unique constitution, the book assists them in finding the right practices for them and their type of diabetes.

When I first started experiencing symptoms I was encouraged by my Yoga teacher to use Ayurveda, to help manage my condition. It was a revelation to discover that Ayurveda, the sister science to Yoga has been treating diabetes for over 4,000 years. In Ayurveda diabetes is called Prameha, which means major disease, because it affects every organ and every cell in the body.

Besides writing a book full of practical techniques and benefits it’s my personal journey of how Yoga has supported me to live with this condition for the last nine years.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

o I am stronger than I think. When I feel depleted a posture like handstand encourages me to go the distance.

o Yoga inspires bravery! When I feel insecure, I throw myself into a difficult pose and will myself to rise to the challenge.

o Yoga opens me in the toughest moments, giving me the go-ahead to let the tears fall.

o And Yoga enables me to accept that life is a constant balancing act. No matter how much I want to be in control there are going to be highs and lows. The practice can feel ordinary or super real. Really it makes no difference. Ultimately, It’s the one doing the practice that matters.

Embracing this, knowing this, has made all the difference.

As a long time Yoga teacher and practitioner who was diagnosed with diabetes in adulthood I feel absolutely grateful that I was introduced to Yoga long before my diagnosis. Without Yoga I don’t think I would have adjusted as well as I have to managing my condition.

Ayurveda categorizes diabetes into two types (curable and incurable) It also goes one step further in seeing the disease as manifesting in the three doshas, Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and a small amount of water), and Kapha (water and earth). Vata diabetes is divided into 4 types, Pitta diabetes into 6 types, and Kapha diabetes into 10.

With such a complex and detailed for treating diabetes, the physical practice of Yoga can be of immense benefit, especially if the person knows their Ayurvedic constitution. Knowing the right practice for your constitution and the type of diabetes you have means you can work with more awareness to manage your health.

However, as a beginner or someone wanting to bring Yoga into your daily life with diabetes there are certain postures that benefit all types of diabetes and address specific symptoms common to the disease.

Below are my top 6 picks for an all round practice for any type of diabetes. These poses:

  • Increase circulation
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase insulin sensitivity
  • Promote weight loss
  • Support the digestion
  • Improve mood

DISCLAIMER: Integral Yoga Magazine offers information only, no medical advice. You should consult a health care provider before starting any new exercise regime. This is particularly important if you are overweight, pregnant, nursing, regularly taking medications, or have any existing medical conditions. This website may not be tailored to your current physical and mental health. We accept no liability whatsoever for any damages arising from the use of recommendations in this article or on this website.

Down dog (Adho Mukha Savasana): This pose is an inversion, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress, while nourishing the spine. It’s also great for weight loss, circulation and improving mood.

Start on your hands and knees
Lift your sitting bones high to the ceiling
Your sitting bones are the apex of the pose
Spread your fingers wide as you place pressure into your thumb and forefinger
Feel the inner upper arms working towards each other
You can have the legs straight or slightly bent if you feel that there is too much weight in your arms and upper body
Breathe deeply here.

Warrior 2 pose (Virabhadrasana 2): This pose strengthens the thigh and the muscles around the knee. It helps to increase insulin sensitivity due to the strong muscular action of the front thigh.

Stand with the legs one legs length distance apart
Turn your front foot out and bend the front knee, stacking the knee over the ankle
Turn the back hip and back foot in slightly so there is no tension in the lower back
Raise the arms to shoulder height and gaze over the front hand
Try and hold this pose for at least 15 breaths

Chair pose (Utkatasana): This pose also builds core strength to support the lower back.

Stand with the feet inner hip width apart
Sit down like you are about to sit in the chair
Your knees should stay parallel to each other
Make sure your chest stays open and you feel the abdomen engage
Raise the arms to shoulder height
This is another great pose to strengthen the legs and increase your insulin sensitivity
You can move in and out of this pose to pump the thighs and help your thigh muscles work even harder

Revolved right angle pose (Parivrtta parsvakonasana):

Come onto your hands and knees.
Step your left foot in between your hands and bring your torso upright so you are in the Low Lunge position
Check to make sure your front knee is stacked over your ankle and that your back hip and back knee are in line
As you move into the pose, your hip will come slightly forward out of alignment
Place your hands in prayer position at your heart
Inhale and turn your torso to the left
Exhale and place your upper right arm against your outer left thigh
The more you lever your upper arm against your outer thigh, the more deeply you can twist
The deep twist massages the internal organs and improves digestion
It brings nourishment into the discs between the vertebrae of your spine increasing circulation
Take 5 deep breaths here twisting deeper on the inhalation and resting in place on the exhalation
Turn back to center on your final exhalation. Return to your hands and knees and repeat on the other side

Forward facing hero pose (Adho mukha virasana): This pose stretches the spine and supports the nervous system and it lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Sit upright and take your big toes together and your knees mat width apart
Slowly walk your hands forward until your spine extends
Keep your arms shoulder width apart
You can rest your forehead on the floor or turn your cheek to one side

Reclining buddha pose (Supta baddha konasana): This posture increases circulation to your pelvis, supports your reproductive and hormonal system, and is a calming and grounding posture.

Lie on your back, bending the knees and bringing the soles of the feet together
The feet can be close to the groin or further away depending on what’s comfortable
Close your eyes and place your hands on your belly
Breathe deeply and relax for 20 breaths

 

   Rachel Zinman was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. It took six years for her to accept her diagnosis of type 1 LADA diabetes. She started Yoga in high school when she was 17 and by the age of 19 she was hooked. Rachel is passionate about the deeper aspects of Yoga and its ability to heal and inspire. She has spent the last 30 years practicing enthusiastically as well as teaching nationally (in Australia) and internationally since 1992. Rachel was a professional dancer from a young age and trained as a Waldorf educator teaching in both Australia and New York City.

She is also a published poet and author, award-winning musician, mother, partner and amateur filmmaker. Interested in all aspects of health and wellbeing, she started her blog, Yoga for Diabetes, to share with the online diabetes community how Yoga has helped her to manage her diabetes.

Rachel’s articles on Yoga and diabetes have been featured in Diabetes Daily, A Sweet Life, Insulin Nation, Beyond Type 1, LyfeBulb, Diabetes Counselling Online, Diabetes Alive, Veranda Magazine, Yoga Trail, Yoga4tv, Cleans for a Cure, Mind Body Green and DoYouYoga and most recently in the #1 bestseller, Unleash Your Inner Diabetes Dominator.

Yoga for Diabetes was listed as one of the best blogs for January 2016 by Diabetesmine, and was named best blog in the April 2017 issue of Low Carb Magazine. Rachel is a featured expert for several online resources for Yoga and diabetes. Rachel Zinman’s book, Yoga for Diabetes: How to Manage Your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda is available here.

 

 

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Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life

Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life

An Interview with Brother Chidananda

Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life is a new book by Sri Mrinalini Mata, president of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). In this interview, Brother Chidananda, a long time SRF monk who works alongside Mataji, discusses how her new book captures the essence of what it means to be successful on one’s spiritual path.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How would you define success?

Brother Chidananda (BC): I think the title of Sri Mrinalini Mata’s new book, Manifesting Divine Consciousness in Daily Life, is an excellent definition. Success in life, and certainly in the spiritual field, means to bring out into expression the inherent qualities of our own divine essence—the soul, or atman.

IYM: What are those qualities?

BC: All the wonderful things we wish we could abide in 24/7: bliss, love, even-mindedness, peace, the ability to always stay in the calm center of our being. And from that calm center we would be able to respond to the challenges that come up in our daily lives. Whatever events occur, we can learn to meet them with an undercurrent of divine consciousness, divine happiness, and spirit of seva or divine selflessness. As Paramahansa Yogananda expressed it: “To be able to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

IYM: How can we stand unshaken?

BC: To start, we first need to be very realistic about the obstacles—the things in ourselves and in the world around us—that make that kind of living a real challenge. It’s not something that’s effortless. The very beginning of real progress in spiritual life is the acceptance of the fact that it’s a fight. Success in life isn’t meant to be handed to us on a silver platter. Spiritual consciousness isn’t meant to be effortless or taken for granted.

In one sense, that’s the message of the whole Bhagavad Gita, which I consider the greatest of Yoga texts and therefore the greatest scripture of true success in life. The message of the Gita is couched as the story of two warring clans. Paramahansa Yogananda explained its deeper symbolic meaning, interpreting the Gita from the point of view of Yoga, showing that it is about the war between different aspects of our own being. One part of us is usually driven by ego, selfishness, ungoverned and unlovely emotions—the dark side of our mortal nature. The other side is our divine potential and abilities that are resident within each one of us, calling us to live in the consciousness of our divine nature. It is a daily battle that can only be won by starting and ending each day with introspection, with self-analysis, as we review our actions, attitudes, and reactions to all that occurred that day.

So, one aspect is to recognize that life is a battle. Where to go from there? We start by trying to inculcate, in our daily activities and attitudes, those divine qualities we’re trying to have our lives revolve around. That is the subject of Mrinalini Mata’s book.

IYM: How can we cultivate those qualities?

BC: She talks about how Paramahansa Yogananda stressed the absolute necessity of having a daily practice of meditation. Meditation is a word that—just like Yoga itself—is used in a lot of different ways. Meditation, when you understand its true, transformative power, is so much more than a period of sitting quietly, feeling calm and harmonious. Meditation is a very disciplined application of the mind and soul’s concentration power to contact and bring out into expression that innate divinity that which is latent within each one of us.

As long as the mind, heart, feelings, and surface emotions of our human nature are in a state of constant reactivity, upheaval, likes and dislikes, this incessant chatter masks and obscures the calm depths of the divine consciousness we’re trying to contact. Meditation is a disciplined practice to take our awareness beneath the level of restless and conflicting emotions—to a deeper level of consciousness where there’s light, divinity, calmness, and the awareness of a higher reality where is perfect.

When our minds and faculties are operating only through the physical instruments of perception, the senses, we are tricked and deluded into thinking that this material world is what is real. Maya or delusion sucks us into the most serious and fear-generating emotions. Meditation—by withdrawing the prana, the life energy, and consciousness from the outer instruments that are focused on the outer drama—allows us to gradually discover what we have in ourselves, which is much more real and substantial than the ephemeral show of ups and downs. Our inner lives then become much more real to us than the passing show. The ability to dwell in that consciousness is exactly what Paramahansa Yogananda meant when he talked about learning to stand unshaken.

IYM: Did Paramahansa Yogananda primarily prescribe a path of bhakti, of devotion to God?

BC: Those who have read his writings know he had a very devotional relationship with the Divine. However, the disciples who lived around him, including Mrinalini Mata, who had the chance to be in his company and get to know him through day-to-day interactions, invariably describe him using the words, “perfect balance.”

As you know, Yoga is so universal and all-embracing because it allows for the incredible diversity of people’s temperaments. Some relate more to the feeling aspect, the devotional path of a personal relationship between oneself and the all-loving Divine Beloved, Mother, Father, Friend. Of course, doesn’t appeal to all, but it doesn’t have to. There is Jnana for those who are drawn more the path of discriminative understanding; Karma Yoga, for those whose orientation is more toward activity and selfless service; and Raja Yoga with its science of concentration and meditation.

To whichever path of Yoga you are personally drawn, by making an effort to discipline your life and your daily actions, and to guide them by the precepts of Yoga, you’re going to be uncovering that divine nature within yourself and learning to manifest it in daily life. If you get fixated on any one aspect of Yoga in isolation, very likely the expression of your soul, of who you really are, will be to some degree a bit one-sided.

Perfect balance is the essential nature of the divine atman, the spark of spirit in each of us. Those who are manifesting divine consciousness in daily life are able to pull out of themselves whatever is most appropriate in every situation in which they find themselves. We live in a world where constantly changing circumstances require constant discrimination to choose what is right. There’s no formulaic set of rules and guidelines that tell us how to apply spiritual truth in any given context. It can’t be reduced to a formula; it’s a state of being constantly grounded in your divine being, and from that awareness to bring out whatever is appropriate in any particular situation.

For example, consider when you have to deal with challenging people in the workplace or in the business world. There’s a time when strength or adherence to principles is essential. At another time, love, forgiveness, and the motherly or softer aspect of the Divine is the best response. To be in touch with one’s soul, or atman, is to have a complete palate of divine responses. We all would like to have a card with precise instructions that we can pull out of our pockets as we’re trying to figure out what to do in a challenging situation. I don’t think that exists! But, we can have an ongoing, intuitive guidance or prompting from within about what is the divine way, the healthy way to respond in a given situation.

IYM: Not too many people have an enlightened sage or Guru by their side who says, “Here’s what you do next.”

BC: We might think that would be convenient, but it would make us complete spiritual basket cases! It would not prod us to develop our own discriminative abilities or inner strength. Taking a little time, first thing in the morning and before retiring at night, to enter into the inner stillness will help us face the unendingly diverse challenges to our peace of mind and emotional stability, and will reinforce the connection to our divine nature. That is our only realistic hope of preserving the divine attitude and manifesting divine qualities during our daily lives.

IYM: Would you share something about your personal journey?

BC: As a teenager, when I first saw a book on Yoga somehow that word awakened a desire in me to learn more. The typical goals and ambitions of material life didn’t really speak to me. I hoped there was something more to life. The turning point came when I read Autobiography of a Yogi. I was a student at the University of California in San Diego, which was close to the Self-Realization Fellowship center in Encinitas, where Paramahansa Yogananda had lived for years and written Autobiography of a Yogi. I began to attend some of the programs and meditations there.

IYM: There’s a huge variety of choices that any of us has when we begin a spiritual path. How did you know that SRF was the one for you?

BC: Autobiography spoke to me on a very deep level. It wasn’t only what the book said, but the spiritual presence I felt behind the words. There is a photo of Paramahansaji taken one hour before he left the body; it is called “the last smile.” I felt a divinity pouring out of the photo; and found myself thinking, “Anyone who can radiate that kind of consciousness just from a picture is the real deal.” So, I enrolled for the course of teachings.

IYM: Did you feel Paramahansa Yogananda was your Guru even though he was no longer in the body?

BC: I wasn’t born yet when Paramahansa Yogananda left his body in 1952. But, think about it: How is it that all these years since Paramahansa Yogananda left the body, thousands and thousands consider him to be their guide? The answer to that comes from an understanding that the Guru-disciple relationship takes place on a non-physical level of being. If one is in contact with a true Guru, the physical aspect is the tiniest tip of the iceberg.

I was fortunate to work closely with senior disciples such as Daya Mata, Mrinalini Mata, and others who were with the Master for decades. From them I learned that regardless of whether the Guru is living in the physical body or not, the relationship and the spiritual training takes place on the interior level. I’m utterly convinced of this. It is a basic fact of my daily existence; he is as real or more so than the people I encounter in my outer life, as long as I keep inwardly in tune with him.

IYM: How is it that SRF has been able to successfully carry on his vision and grow since he left his body?

BC: The first question some asked after his Mahasamadhi was, “How can we go on without him?” But he had implanted his consciousness in those he trained; and they made the commitment to devote their lives and ambitions solely to carrying on the spiritual legacy that he put in place. So even 50 or 60 years after his passing, it’s still alive.

The next question was: “Fine, but what happens after that first generation of disciples is gone?” It’s a natural question, but you also begin to see that the answer to those concerns is, again, that the relationship with the Master doesn’t take place on an outer level.

Paramahansa Yogananda was very foresighted. He wanted to build his work for the long term, to ensure that it would remain true to his vision and spirit.

IYM: How did he do that?

BC: One thing he did was to invest a lot of his energy and guidance in the monastic order of SRF. Because for a spiritual organization to endure, to remain true and not constantly shift course depending on the which way the wind blows, it has to be built on a foundation of individuals who are 100 percent vowed and committed. This doesn’t imply that monastics are necessarily superior to the many thousands of lay people who are the heart and soul of his legacy around the world. But he felt that in order for the vision to endure you have to have a solid core of non-negotiable principles, and that is what he built into his monastic order.

Daya Mata and Mrinalini Mata continued that ideal during their leadership. I always saw that for them, even with the administrative issues and the global outreach of the work, there was nothing of higher priority than to do everything possible to kindle and nurture the flame of divine longing in the monastics, knowing that this work will live or die depending on that. Our Guru used to say that, spiritually speaking, the reason Christianity has endured all these centuries is not because of its institutionalized political power, great wealth, or material clout; but, because of a handful of individuals who were God-realized saints—St. Francis, St. Teresa, Padre Pio, to name a few.

These were truly yogis, even though they didn’t use that word. So it is with SRF: Guruji said that to the degree that there are souls who have that deep, one-on-one interior relationship with the Divine, and with the Guru, his work will go on; that is what makes a living teaching. And the way to that consciousness is what Mrinalini Mata has outlined in her book—not just for those of us living in the ashram but for all who are looking for success on the spiritual path, and therefore in life.

 

   Brother Chidananda—whose name means “bliss of the infinite Divine Consciousness”— has been a monk in Self-Realization Fellowship’s monastic community for more than 35 years. He has assisted Sri Mrinalini Mata in her work of editing and publication of numerous books by Paramahansa Yogananda, including The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You and God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita. Since the publication of this article (Winter 2014), Sri Mrinalini Mata made her transition, and Brother Chidananda was appointed President of SRF in August 2017. For more information, please visit the Self-Realization Fellowship website.

~ From Integral Yoga Magazine, Winter 2014

 

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The Path of Modern Yoga

The Path of Modern Yoga

By Elliott Goldberg

In his book, The Path of Modern Yoga, Elliott Goldberg shows how Yoga was transformed from a sacred practice into a health and fitness regime for middle-class Indians in the early 20th century and then gradually transformed over the course of the 20th century into an embodied spiritual practice—a Yoga for our times. In this excerpt from his book, Goldberg illuminates the contributions specific of Sri Swami Sivananda, the Guru of Integral Yoga founder Sri Swami Satchidananda.

To accommodate his growing number of disciples, in 1936 [Swami] Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society, headquartered in an ashram in Rishikesh, picturesquely nestled in a Himalayan hill on the banks of the Ganges. The society also served as his base for spreading his brand of yoga. His missionary ambitions were far reaching. “It is wrong to suppose that Yoga-Asanas are purely meant for the Indians and that they are ideally suited to Indian conditions,” he emphatically stated in1938. In fact, the “remarkable efficacy of Yoga-Asanas as the means of building up a radiant and healthy body” in Westerners has already been proven by his smattering of devoted followers in Europe and America. “Yoga-Asanas can be practiced and are intended not only for India and the Indians but for the whole world and the humanity at large.” From the late 1930s to the late 1960s Sivananda yoga became the prominent hatha yoga export around the world. Its importance in the spread of hatha yoga to the West, in particular, is inestimable.

Branches of the Divine Life Society opened in the West in four stages. In the first stage (late 1930s to late 1940s) Western disciples (including Harry Dikman in Riga, Latvia; Louis Brink Fort and Edith Enna in Copenhagen, Denmark; Boris Sakharov in Berlin, Germany; David Ledberg in Stockholm, Sweden; and Ernest Hackel in Los Angeles, California), who learned Sivananda’s style of yoga by reading his books and corresponding with him, founded yoga centers.

In the second stage (late 1940s to early 1960s) Westerners (such as the German-born Canadian Sylvia Hellman, who received the Divine Light invocation, a standing meditation in which one accepts that one is a channel of Divine Light, and was given the name Swami Sivananda Radha in 1956) journeyed to the Sivananda’s burgeoning complex, where, after being systematically trained (in a course including meditation and lecture courses as well as asana practice), they received certification in Sivananda’s method and returned home to teach.

In the third stage (mid-1950s to late 1960s) Sivananda sent Indian disciples throughout India and to other countries to disseminate his method of yoga. His two best-known missionaries were Swami Vishnu-devananda and Swami Satchidananda. Vishnu-devananda was dispatched to the West by his master in 1957 with a ten-rupee note (less than a dollar) and the words: “Go, people are waiting. Many souls from the East are reincarnating now in the West. Go and reawaken the consciousness hidden in their memories and bring them back to the path of Yoga.” He founded a Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Montreal in 1959 and in Quebec in 1962 and established a retreat in the Bahamas in 1967. Satchidananda founded Integral Yoga (the trademark name given by him to Sivananda’s yoga) in New York in 1966. In Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics, yoga teacher Mara Carrico and the editors of Yoga Journal credit these men’s efforts, especially the “brilliant and innovative promotional skills” of Vishnu-devananda, for the “Sivananda organization blossom[ing] into an international entity.”

In the fourth stage (1960s and 1970s) students of Sivananda’s first generation of Indian disciples opened their own Sivananda centers. For example, in the United States Marcia Moore and her husband opened the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1962, and Sita Frenkel and her husband founded a branch of the Divine Life Society in Harriman, New York, in 1964. In Great Britain Barbara Gordon and Judy Stalabrass opened the Sivananda Yoga Centre in London in 1968.

By the early 1960s almost all Sivananda teachers taught the same basic yoga class, which followed Sivananda’s selection and sequence of postures. Sivananda had further distilled the yoga regime of twenty postures that Van Lysebeth had learned into the famous Rishikesh series of nine postures, which unfold in a perfect rhythm of pose and counterpose. The main concern, as cultural anthropologist Sarah Strauss points out, was that “everyone know what the trademark sequence of postures is, so that they will be able to join classes at any one of the centers worldwide, without feeling that they are outsiders.”

Promoting Yoga

In 1936 [Swami] Sivananda formed the Divine Life Society (DLS). In reframing his community at the ashram in Rishikesh, on the edge of the sacred Ganges, as an official spiritual organization, he did more than solidify his growing following; he created the means for disseminating his yoga system. The critical evolution of the DLS took place after World War II, mainly due to the establishment in 1948 of the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy, a formal yoga training center, located within the ashram grounds. It attracted not only disciples (residents) but also lay members (visitors). “And, to crown it all,” writes Van Lysebeth in “The Yogic Dynamo,” his tribute to his guru, “[Sivananda] accepted people from the west, and even females!” A magnanimous and magnetic spiritual teacher, he encouraged these students not only to practice yoga but also to teach yoga by forming small groups when they returned home.

Sivananda published books and pamphlets through the DLS press, the Sivananda Publication League. (He would eventually author over two hundred books.) Through the English-language publications, his teaching reached many foreigners. One of them was [André] Van Lysebeth, who began receiving instruction from Sivananda by correspondence in 1949. (He was awarded a diploma from the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy in 1963, when he met Sivananda for the first time, shortly before the guru died.) Van Lysebeth’s epistolary relationship with Sivananda wasn’t unusual; the first Sivananda centers in Europe were founded by men and women who’d read Sivananda’s books and corresponded with him but hadn’t studied with him.

During his more than 7,500-mile All-India Tour (his only major tour of India) in 1950, Sivananda established local and regional branches of the DLS throughout India. Then, in the 1950s and early 1960s, he sent his disciples, including the swamis Vishnu-devananda, Satchidananda, Satyananda, Venkatesananda, and Omkarananda, around India and/or the rest of the world to form branches of the DLS (or DLS-inspired but unaffiliated organizations). Their students, in turn, opened Sivananda yoga centers.

Sivananda was nicknamed “Swami Propagandananda” by his detractors for his dissemination of yoga far and wide. Van Lysebeth notes that “they disapproved of both his modern methods of diffusion, and his propagation of yoga on such a grand scale to the general public. . . . He encouraged a yoga practice which was possible for everyone: some asanas, a little pranayama, a little meditation and bhakti; well, a little of everything.” The critics predicted that in the materialistic West, yoga would “degenerate into a minor branch of hygienic gymnastics, nothing more. This was considered as a complete betrayal of yoga and the great rishis.”

In actuality, although he always promoted yoga as health prevention and cure, Sivananda primarily advanced yoga as relief from the stress brought about by the conditions of modernity. “Life has become very complex in these days,” he wrote in1939. “The struggle for existence is very acute and keen. . . . A great deal of continuous mental and physical strain is imposed on modern humanity by its deadening daily work and unhealthy mode of life.” To provide a more immersive physical and mental relaxation experience than could be found in sessions at local Sivananda centers, he developed what social historian Sarah Strauss calls a yoga “oasis regime”: a “‘yoga vacation’ . . . that essentially reproduces the European spa experience—another classic ‘oasis regime’—with, quite literally, a new twist.” In Rishikesh (and later at DLS ashrams around the world), his followers partook in yoga retreats that enabled them to “engage in an ascetic lifestyle for a short while, in order to improve not only their own hectic lives but also the world around them, when they go back home.” In taking a break from their worldly social life, they became (at least temporarily) jivanmukhtas.

A jivanmukhta is one who is liberated while still embodied. “‘Liberated in life,’” explains historian of religion Mircea Eliade, “the jivan-mukta no longer possesses a personal consciousness—that is, a consciousness nourished on his own history—but a witnessing consciousness, which is pure lucidity and spontaneity.” Traditionally, a jivanmukhta is distinguished from one who is liberated while separated from the body—that is, when dead. Sivananda was influential in redefining jivanmukhta in the 20th century by changing the meaning to one who attains absolute freedom not only while alive but while still involved in the activities of everyday life, distinguished from one who withdraws from society to achieve enlightenment. This new formulation, observes Strauss, “reflects the fact that this ideal was well suited to the lives and goals of the emergent middle classes in India and the West. It did not require them to give up the basic structures and activities of everyday life, but only to reformulate their attitudes and concepts of self and others through the addition of yogic practices.” In fact, being this new type of jivanmukhta didn’t even require students to sacrifice their personality (which is made up of the memories of one’s own history); they needed simply to rejuvenate their spirit.

Some, even today, may consider Sivananda’s teachings as a key symptom of yoga’s modern decline. But there’s no disagreeing with Van Lysebeth, who argues that thanks to Sivananda—his teachings, disciples, and books—“thousands of westerners now practise yoga. Yoga has given meaning to their lives, given them back their health [Van Lysebeth himself was cured of constipation], and helped them to survive in a difficult world.” Sivananda’s gentle style of yoga with its standard format helps people in India and the West keep their bodies healthy and their minds quiet and calm.

Nevertheless, even Van Lysebeth concedes that the traditionalists weren’t entirely wrong in saying that Sivananda’s simple messages awakened people’s interest in yoga but “completely cut [yoga] off from its deep roots, which lead us back to the origins of our own being and all of the cosmos.” Yet Sivananda himself intimated a way to experience exactly this depth of yoga practice within his system. In his 1939 yoga manual, he proposed a guided imagery relaxation exercise—which more accurately should be called a meditation—for Savasana, Corpse Pose: “Imagine that . . . your body [is] floating in this vast ocean of spirit. . . . Feel that Lord Hiranyagarbha, the ocean of life, is gently rocking you on His vast bosom. Feel that you are in touch with the Supreme Being.”

Any asana session (whether practiced in isolation in a room in the basement of a house, in a class at a yoga center down the block, or as part of a four-day retreat that includes pranayama, study, presentations, and seated meditation at an ashram in the Bahamas) can be used to practice this or similar meditations. That is, any single asana session may be considered as a kind of oasis regime: a period of temporary withdrawal from the concerns of everyday life with its demands set by clocks and calendars, a period of contemplation in which we can live in the eternal present, outside of time, using our body as a vehicle to becoming open to Being.

Elliott Goldberg is one of the few scholars in the emerging field of modern Yoga studies. He has presented papers at the Modern Yoga Workshop at Cambridge University and at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). He lives in New York City. His new book, from Inner Traditions, is available from Integral Yoga Distribution, Amazon, and most other retailers.

The Fulfillment of Yoga

The Fulfillment of Yoga

An Interview with Nischala Devi

For over 35 years, Nischala Devi has been highly respected internationally for her innovative way of expressing Yoga and its subtle uses for spiritual growth and complete healing. In this interview, she reflects upon her Yoga journey and how she is adapting the language of her teaching to a new generation of Yoga seekers.

Integral Yoga Magazine: Where did your Yoga journey begin?

Nischala Devi: I began practicing Yoga while I was living in Colorado in the early 1970s. I was working in the medical field and decided to quit because I was very disillusioned by the lack of heart and caring. I was also trying to figure out who I was at the time. I decided to move to California, and I got a job at a women’s health clinic in San Francisco. Someone told me about the Integral Yoga Institute (IYI), and I decided to check it out. At the front door was a picture of this amazing being. I said to myself: “I don’t know what he has but whatever it is I want it!” After class the teacher said, “Come on, I’ll make you some herbal tea.” That was beginning of my love affair with the IYI. I began going regularly.

IYM: When did you actually come face to face with the person in the picture at the IYI?

ND: There was a program “Meeting of the Ways.” It was “pick your guru”—many of the prominent teachers at the time were all there talking about their way of seeing the path. The grace and dignity I saw from Swami Satchidananda, and the joy he had, really inspired me. Since the path of joy and love had always been my path, I knew he was my Guru. The other masters were eloquent and very powerful. I felt so blessed to be with them and to make my decision in that gathering.

Some time later, I heard that Swami Satchidananda (Gurudev) was coming to the IYI and that he would be giving mantra initiation. I decided to take it. I had an amazing experience when he passed the energy. That experience inspired me to go Oregon where I sat by a river and spent time daily contemplating and meditating on what I really wanted to do with my life. There was a new IYI in Denver, so I went there, got involved and then took pre-sannyas (pre-monastic vows). When the person in charge of the IYI left, six months later, I was placed in charge. I called Gurudev twice a week for his guidance. One time, he told me to teach Raja Yoga, but I was just beginning to study it myself, and told him so. He replied, “Don’t worry, just stay two pages ahead of the class.” [Laughs] So that’s what I did. In 1977 I took sannyas.

IYM: What is your view on those coming to Yoga today?

ND: Many coming don’t have the training or exposure to the great masters that we had in our generation. What they know as Yoga, mostly the physical part, is all that is offered. If Yoga is taken only at face value or only as something that helps us with stress management, then it’s fine to have all these different “flavors” of Yoga as an entry way. It’s like a funnel—the top of a funnel is wide and the bottom is narrow. So, a lot comes into the funnel, but how many actually get to the bottom of the funnel? We have seen the fads that come and go. Sometimes I smile when I hear about flying Yoga, jazz Yoga and this and that kind of Yoga. One part of me questions, “Why do they even call it Yoga?” There obviously is something that is drawing those people to want Yoga but they don’t know what it is. Not everyone is ready to sit in a 10-day silent meditation retreat. This isn’t the generation for sitting on a bare floor [laughs].

We used to get up between 4:00 am and 4:30 am. We’d leap out of bed because we were sure it was the day—the day we’d get enlightened! I couldn’t wait to get down to the meditation room. People are different now. Back then, we came to Yoga because of a spiritual thirst, a fire in the heart, but today, most don’t want to follow a guru and have a rigorous training. I walked into a workshop today and noticed all the shoes in disarray. I remember always placing my shoes carefully because we were taught everything is Yoga. I’m not sure the students today want that kind of teaching or can accept it.

It’s not that people now aren’t spiritual, it’s just different. There’s a lot of interest today in teacher training and in Yoga therapy. Students will ask me, “How do you know what an individual in your class needs?” I say that you have to know yourself first. You have to sit for meditation yourself before you can work with others. I think Yoga is serving the population of people who are coming now and, when they want to go deeper, Yoga will get deeper again. There are still places like IYI, Yogaville, Sivananda centers and others that are holding the level high, but not everyone wants that high level or the complete Yoga. Most are happy with a few asanas and stretching. My prayer is that the direct disciples of the masters will pass all the teachings on, not just parts of the teachings. Otherwise the traditions will get lost. To this day I can’t put a toilet roll on without thinking about the direction Gurudev taught us the paper should go (facing out so it gives to us rather than us trying to pry it from the roll)—that’s also Yoga.

IYM: What do you think about Yoga’s continued adaptation in the West?

ND: Swami Sivananda never left India. He trained his students, and they carried his teachings to Europe, America, Australia and so on. His students had to become more westernized, even though they were Indian. Gurudev couldn’t treat us like Indian disciples; it wouldn’t have worked. If we don’t keep adapting it—not the teachings—but the way they are presented—to the next generation, the teachings will get lost. Those of us who’ve been direct disciples have to reinterpret according to our experience as westerners and women. We have to then realize the ones coming now are different too. Those coming to me are mostly women. So I’m teaching them in the language women can understand, not in the language that was spoken or written by men for men. You have to take your advice from the theater: Know your audience. Some of the stories have to be put in a different context, so women can understand the teaching illustrated in the stories—otherwise they will reject it. I think we are carrying on the tradition beautifully. Even though its not presented the same as it was in India, we are making it our own and, I think, the masters are smiling.

IYM: Could you give us some examples of how you have adapted your approach?

ND: The concept of avidya is a foundational teaching in the Yoga Sutras, and it is usually translated as ignorance. Ignorance means to ignore something. I changed the definition to “innocence of our divine nature.” It takes away the blame. I’m not ignoring my true nature; I just don’t know it’s there. When I talked about this to women, they got teary-eyed because they had felt blamed. Once we remember our true nature is there, the avidya goes. The adaptation I am making is to change the language to a more feminine, gentle and open-hearted one. This is Yoga: relating to each person as a divine being. Another example is the word, vairagya. Typically it’s translated as “non-attachment.” But if you really look at the word, it means “colorless.” That says to me: don’t pull away from the world, don’t be afraid of it. Instead, if you know who you are and you remember the Self, then nothing else is important or can affect you. Vairagya is really about remembering the Self in all conditions. Most Yoga students now aren’t going to renounce the world to live in an ashram, but people need to know how they can live their lives with Yoga. That’s why vairagya is so important.

IYM: What do you see for the next 40 years of Yoga?

ND: I think people will learn that, no matter what they do with their physical bodies—taking care of the body, spending time with it, doing asanas—they are going to change and get old. If students focus on the more subtle aspects of Yoga such as love and service—the parts that never get old or die—they can do those up until very end of life. That will be the fulfillment of Yoga and that’s the wave I’m seeing and hoping to see even more. I hope to see a time when we start caring more about others than about the body beautiful; that we are loving, instead of perfect in our body alignment; that we care less about making our bodies beautiful and more about making the whole world a beautiful place. This to me is the essence of Yoga. We’ve gotten caught in the physical. As the population of those practicing Yoga ages, they won’t be so interested in the body and the physical part of it. I really hope people will know what real Yoga is, what union is: the union of body, mind and spirit and union with the heart of the person seated next to you. If the world is going to survive, it needs Yoga in its highest form.

 

Nischala Devi is a master teacher and healer. She was a monastic disciple of Swami Satchidananda and spent over 25 years receiving his direct guidance and teachings. She served as director of stress management for the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease. She also co-founded the award-winning Commonweal Cancer Help Program. She created Yoga of the Heart®, a training and certification program for Yoga teachers and health professionals designed to adapt Yoga practices to the special needs of people living with heart disease, cancer and other life-challenging diseases. She is the author of The Healing Path of Yoga and The Secret Power of Yoga, which was named by Yoga Journal as one of the top 10 Yoga books. For more information: www.AbundantWellBeing.com.

~From Integral Yoga Magazine, Winter 2010