Tapas is Sanskrit for austerity or discipline, and it is the third of Patanjali’s Niyamas. The niyamas are moral codes that encourage positive behavior. Tapas is all about perseverance, and burning enthousiasm. When we look at the etymology of this Sanskrit term, it comes from the verb ‘tap,’ meaning ‘to burn’, giving a feel of a passionate, fiery discipline. I call it an umff. You can train your willpower like you would train a muscle. If the words discipline and willpower make you cringe, some extra practice on the navel (manipura) chakra can help you to create a more harmonious resonance with these concepts. There are so many other things you can do, which I will share in this blog.
The essential aspect to the “methodology” of the practice of tapas is that you decide to do X action for X amount of time, and that you stick to it and do not break it – no matter what (unless it’s a life or death situation of course!). And if you do, the next day you double it up, meaning you do double the practice. For example: you could take a tapas to practice trikonasana (the triangle pose) every day for one week for 5 minutes at a time. The idea is also that you begin with something realistic, so that you set yourself up for success. It is interesting to note (speaking from personal experience) that once you set a tapas, you will be challenged! For example, you set a tapas to fast every Thursday for a month, and you get invited to a birthday party on one of those Thursdays. You can still go to the party, and have a good time, yet not eating and honouring your commitment to your tapas! It is important to stick to your tapas and resist the temptation. I read somewhere once that temptation is the Universe’s compassionate way of letting you go through the consequences of an action in your mind without actually having to go through them in real life and I found that really inspiring! Excuse me for not recalling where I read that – it was about a year ago, and it really stuck with me. Sticking to your tapas will greatly increase your willpower.
In spirituality, the practice of tapas boosts and speeds up the process of spiritual evolution. It’s one a challenge in spirituality for many, yet it is something that can most certainly be overcome through willpower, commitment, and devotion to the intention. Practicing tapas together with a group of fellow yogis and/or yoginis can be very valuable, as the supporting energy of the group makes a huge difference. The motivation factor is multiplied and it’s also a very beautiful way to connect with other yogis in a different way.
What is a great way to cultivate inner fire?
The answer is: TAPAS! We are not talking about the delicious snacks from Spain! There are two types of inner fire: there is kamagni, which is generated by stress, and yogagni, which is generated through the practice of yoga—pranayama and postures. The latter one is the one we want to call in, especially in times where a healthy inner fire is needed to stay healthy and stay focus on our purpose regardless of the circumstances.
WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR OBSERVANCE & PRACTICE OF TAPAS:
*Feel free to add to the list if you get the idea!
1. Practice asanas, pranayamas, meditation that work on manipura chakra.For example: uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lock), nabhyasana (the boat pose) , mayurasana (the peacock pose), simhasana (lion pose), and bhastrika (the breath of fire).
2. Intermittent fasting: fast one day a week (either sunrise to sunset, or for 24 hours. It is also moreover known to be purifying and great for your health.
3. Seek advise: ask one of our yoga teachers to advise you on how you can set up a useful tapas in your home practice.
4. Just do it: Take a “useless” (but harmless!) tapas for the sake of tapas. This means that you are not necessarily doing a Yoga technique, it can be something like emptying a box of matches and putting them back in the box. It sounds simple. But try it, and some of you will see how much resistance will come up, you might be surprised! The point of the exercise is to strengthen your willpower.
5. Call in Tripura Bhairavi: For the slightly more mystically inclined yogis among you, she is the fifth off the 10 Mahavidyas, which is Sanskrit for “the Great Knowing Ones/Knowledges, also known as Goddesses in part of the Tantric Yoga Philosophy which focuses on the worship of Shakti/the Divine Feminine. Tripura Bhairavi is the Goddess of spiritual action, effort, inner fire, and tapas. Meditating with her will help you to cultivate the spiritual energy of inner fire that flows through the practice of tapas. If you are interested learning more about the 10 Mahavidyas, I would highly recommend you read Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas Paperback by David Kinsley (1997), and Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses (Spiritual Secrets of Ayurveda) by Dr. David Frawley (1994). These two books are great!
6. Align your words with your actions
Have the willpower to follow through with what you say you will do. Whether you make an agreement with yourself or with someone else, the commitment is just as important!
IMPROVING YOUR LIFE THROUGH TAPAS
You can improve your relationship with any area of your life through the practice of tapas. For example, if you would like to improve your relationship to time (although a very abstract concept in and of itself!), you could take a tapas (consecrated spiritual effort) related to that – such as committing to wake up every single day at the same time, no matter what, or to do meditations with the energy of Kali (the first of the 10 Mahavidyas). If you would like to improve your relationship with food, try fasting one day of the week (fasting is known to have amazing healing benefits anyway so you would be doing yourself a wholesome favour! If you have any ailments, do consult with your doctor or physician first before going on any fast that is longer than a day; and just to add: do your research, I am only sharing an idea here!). Again, sometimes it’s also a good idea to ask for some advice, especially if you are in doubt.
Your commitment to the sadhana (spiritual practice) is personal. You can really go deep if you want and are doing it with aspiration. The outcome is not always 100% quite like you may have wanted or expected, but it is always exactly what you need.
Discipline, willpower, and perseverance will get you far in life. It’s what makes the difference between the dreamers and the achievers. Embrace the stop-complaining-and-just-do-it-mentality. Empower yourself. To take a tapas is to consecrate a spiritual effort. Stop waiting around for a miracle to happen and start taking some action!
May the inner fire in all of us continue to harmoniously burn, keeping us pure, and keeping us moving peacefully through it all!
Spiritual practice is a continuous discovery, a journey, a yearning for the Divine. This blog post is in the honour of Shakti who represents the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, there where Shiva represents Divine Consciousness. The woman and her mystery is a theme that pervades the heart of many cultures. She is the source of all life, of pleasure, and transcendence. The Mother Goddess Shakti is ever-present in everything that lives. The mystery lies in life itself. The Divine flow of Shakti tingles down through all of us as our Shiva consciousness observes.
WHO IS SHAKTI?
You may already be familiar with the concept of Shiva and Shakti. Or perhaps you have freshly stumbled upon it now. So, what’s that all about? Simply put, Shiva represents Pure Consciousness and Shakti the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, which together make up the Universe. Shakti is always dancing around Shiva. Without each other, they cannot exist. Men represent the Shiva aspect and women the Shakti aspect although both have a shiva (yang, “vertical”) and shakti (yin, “horizontal”) aspects. In Tantra Yoga, there are two main branches: Shaivism (worship of Shiva) and Shaktism (worship of Shakti). Shiva-focused spiritual practices concentrate transcending the mind to the higher levels of consciousness through meditations and living ascetic lives of detachment. Shakti-focused practices concentrate more on enjoying the gifts of life with presence and awareness, thereby inviting the force of Shakti can bring the practitioner to liberation, self- realization, and union – in other words, samadhi (enlightenment).
The word shakti origins from the verb sak, meaning “the power to produce an effect, capability, efficiency or potency.” Translating from Sanskrit to English, Shakti means “the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire Universe.” In some interpretations, the word means not a goddess, but a force (Rajmani. 1998:5).
SHAKTI IN THE SCRIPTURES
While exploring the concept of Shakti in various literatures, I found that the earliest clear statement using the word Shakti to describe her relationship to the Absolute is found in the Svetasvatara Upanisad: “Sakti is said to be vividha, manifold; jnana, knowledge; bala, power; and kriya, the capacity to act; these are characteristic to her.” The list here below pertains to ancient Hindu scriptures, which can be very inspiring and insightful when studying the beautiful and vast tradition of yoga.
The word and concept further appear in Pancaratra Agama (300 BC and 600 – 850 BC, to give you an idea of how old these are!), Vyakarana Agama, Mimamsa Vedanta and Kavya Sastraa, Vedas, Upanisads, Puranas (*Markandeya, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Narada, Devibhagavata & Kalika) and other Indian Philosophical Literature. Particular texts that deal with the concept of Shakti are the Netra Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Malinivijaya Varttika, Nityasodasikarnava, and Yogini Hridaya. I am not saying that they all interpret Shakti coherently in relation to each other (because they don’t). Some of the most coherent discussions on the topic can be found in the Saundaryalahari, a Sanskrit book in which the beauty of Parvati is praised in 103 shlokas (verses).
Another term for shakti is prakrti (manifestation of the Universe). In the Kavya Sastra (Indian poetics) the term is used as “the unique potential to the seed of the essence of a poet.” (Rajmani. 1998) Devotees recite stotras (hymns of praise) in her honor. In Pauranic Tantric texts, she personifies and praises devotees or punishes demons.
There is also a lot of contemporary literature you can find about Shakti. In the book “Shakti, The Power of Tantra,” Tigunait lists some of the difficulties revolving around the definition of Shakti: the historical & literary boundaries are not well defined, the relationship between the main branches of Tantric literature is not well understood, there is a lack of thematic and comparative studies available, there is no criteria defined as to which characteristics make a text Sakta (pertaining to Shakti), and there is no easy access to the secret oral interpretation (1998:3). These traditionally secret teachings are at least more accessible here. As to make the universal structure complete, Shakti is always accompanied by a Shiva. In Hinduism, she is the power that underlies the male principle. She is his consort, he is hers. For example, Parvati as the wife of Shiva, or as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. Shakti is never independent of Shiva. The weapons and symbols she holds correspond to her Shiva. She is the power of the Absolute Reality and of Shiva in his many forms: Brahma, Visnu, Shiva, Indra, Agni, Varuna, Yama, Rudra. She may be beautiful and compassionate like Tara, or appear terrifying as represented by Kali. In Thailand, throughout the Yoga courses at Agama, we learn that certain manifestations of Shiva & Shakti correspond to a particular chakra, or energy center.
The Mimamsakas (analysts of the vedas) say that although fire produces heat, under the influence of specific mantras the fire stops producing heat while the fire remains. Then there must be something in the fire which makes it blaze: Shakti.
A pattern of competition and fear can easily emerge among women. Embracing and embodying Shakti is a beautiful way to transcend these patterns. For a woman to see herself in the eyes of every other woman can be such an elevated and evolved way of moving through life bringing many blessings along with it, as it’s a powerful reminder of something greater we all share. Things like Shakti groups and women’s circles reinforce the power of Shakti. Something magical happens when women join forces. There is a mysterious power that comes alive when a group of women with a shared vision unite. We can all help retransform unfavourable relationship patterns among women by cultivating sisterhood, lifting each other up, and engaging in practices that honour Shakti – The Divine Feminine.
RELATING TO SHAKTI IN DAILY LIFE
The dynamic presence of Shakti can be continuously felt throughout all of daily life. It is important to be in the here and now, fully present, in the flow, allowing whatever comes to just arrive and pass through. To create space to connect at a deeper level. There are many ways of learning alone, or with each other. It is very empowering as a woman to experience sisterhood, and at the same time a lot of empowerment can come from times of solitude. The more empowered a woman is, the more she can be seen and adored. And Shakti wants to be seen!
Transcendent, she is indescribable, unimaginable. The Universe is born from her and dissolves back into her eventually. She is in everything that lives, yet she is not the life itself- or is she? The work with Shakti; trying to be fully present with all states of being within and around; aware, attentive but still in the flow and using this power, this intensity as a stepping stone to go beyond.”
I personally love the way Shakti shines through in my movements—be it through dance, moving through nature (something so simple as a walk through the forest can be really quite ecstatic!), or a gentle tingle up my spine – a feeling like Kundalini Shakti is saying hi, and slowly awakening. I tend to start dancing at the sound of music (it works like a reflex), letting the unpremeditated movement freely come through. I have been getting to know Shakti a little better as she moves through me and at the same time couldn’t have done so without the Shiva consciousness (it’s within us all) there to witness it.
The mystery of Shakti could very well be responsible for the evolution of the entire Universe. Shakti is unreal and at the same time present in everything that exists in this reality. Shakti manifests in infinite ways; same essence, different forms.
Thank you for tuning in, and until next time!
Dear Yoga Family,
We have now transitioned through this year’s spring equinox, Spring is here! As nature yet again begins the cycle of renewal, growth and expansion, by the universal law of resonance, the energy within our very being does the same. In this season, we reawaken parts of us that remained dormant throughout the winter. Spring and summer are the yang time of year. Yang is everything that is: heating, active, light, masculine, creative, fire-like, bright, energetic, and moving. Spiritually, springtime presents us with a beautiful opportunity to open our hearts and embrace the change – which ultimately is the only constant.
As we simultaneously enter the time of the astrological sign of Aries. This sign represents the dawning of light and is all about self-development. As in yoga we create unity with all, we can align our being with the beneficial energies of the universe, and tune into some of the most beneficial qualities this sign brings: new beginnings, action, assertiveness, intellectuality, and fire energy.
SPRING YOGA PRACTICE
In the spring season, we want to ideally boost our body’s digestive system, and detox. For this, we can emphasize practicing the kriyas in Yoga. Kriyas are cleansing techniques such as: kapalabhati (stimulates and purifies the brain), neti (purifies the nasal track), trataka (eye excercises which purify the mind and eyes), nauli (abdominal purification and optimization of digestive fire), dhauti (cleansing of intestine), and vasti (cleansing of the rectum).
Moreover, with the current events transpiring worldwide, it is key to also keep our respiratory health on point. We can do this by practicing lots of pranayama (breathing excercises in yoga), and going on long park or forest walks while meditating on breathing deeply.
• Anahata Chakra – Opening the heart
With spring being a time of embracing change, there is an openness needed for us to do this, and the most loving opening that we can experience occurs at the level of the heart chakra – anahata chakra. In our home yoga practice, we can integrate yoga postures that specifically work at this level, such as for example: cobra pose (bhujangasana), mow muzzle pose (gomukhasana), frog pose (bhekasana), turtle pose (kurmasana), diamond pose (vajrasana), and the king of doves pose (rajakapotasana) to name a few. Also, meditating on the heart chakra with the support of gentle music, especially the kind of soft harmonious piano and/or violin will help to tune into this beautiful chakra – the centre of our being where our soul resides, where we can find the true source of universal love.
Overall, spring season is a time to try something new, do something you have never done before, get creative, tap into new positive vibrations, and be playful! Let us remember that life is a playground. Not a game to play, but a place to play for the sake of playing – celebrating the gift of life.
SPRING & AYURVEDA
The spring season is the season of kapha dosha (water and earth) in Ayurveda. It has this energy of awakening from a long slumber (the winter season). It can take some time to get us going.
So, from an Ayurvedic standpoint, it is ideal to take some self-care time first thing in the morning to get rid of any lethargic kapha energy. Then, and get your system going by practicing some kriyas (see the list mentioned above under the section “Spring Yoga Practice”), yoga postures and a few minutes of pranayama. You can drink some warm lemon-ginger tea to ignite your digestive fire and prepare your body for breakfast. Just as an additional comment, the kapha hours of the day are between 06:00-10:00 and 18:00-22:00 – times of the day during which agni (our digestive fire) is at its lowest, which explains why these practices mentioned here are ideal to do first thing in the morning.
In your spring diet, you can opt to decrease the amount of kapha foods you consume (heavy and creamy/milky foods such as: starchy carbs, dairy, meat and puddings), and increase your intake of kapha balancing foods (these are light and easy to digest, such as: clear vegetable soups, spice teas, leafy greens, and beans)
LET YOGA BE YOUR MEDICINE
In her book Mana Yoga: Discovering Your Yoga Nature, Denby Sheather shares with us: “Spring herald’s new standards and new beginnings. It is a time of growth and renewal, of moving forwards and embracing new experiences. Survival of the fittest – we must connect with our innate primal response to adapt to circumstance – and learn to morph not only our bodies, but our minds, hearts and spirits – if we are to survive.”
So, let us be courageous and embark on a journey of profound transformation this season. Letting go of the old and preparing to build a more sustainable world. Through these times, let us let yoga be our teacher, our medicine, our motivation, and our teacher to embrace change, and tap into the creative universal energy which infinitely available for us all.
Wishing you all a healthy spring season!
With love always,
Full of spiritual aspiration, I am excited to greet you once again, and share my eager anticipation for the upcoming yearly Maha Shiva Ratri, the great night of Shiva.
Maha Shiva Ratri is traditionally celebrated on the night before the day of the New Moon in February – March according to the Indian astrological system, falling on February 22nd this year. Just as the Moon influences the tides of the oceans on planet Earth, so it also has its influence upon the microcosm of our being. When it is New Moon, the influences of the Moon are the least strong upon us (in contrast to when it is Full Moon), allowing our mind to be more peaceful, which in turn makes it easier to meditate.
According to Hindu mythology, Maha Shiva Ratri marks the day when Shiva married Parvati. Considered to be an- if not the most- auspicious night to worship Shiva, devotees traditionally gather at their ashrams in India and around the world on this night (an all-night meditation event), and practice Laya Yoga meditation with the Shiva mantra, chanting, and expressing other acts of worship. It is a beautiful opportunity for anyone interested in spirituality to experience the energy of Shiva and bringing the energy up to sahasrara (the crown, what I like to call our cosmic gateway to the Divine).
The first time I attended Maha Shiva Ratri (Sanskrit for “The great night of Shiva”), I was completely unaware of what was about to happen, and the profound spiritual imprint it would leave upon my being. It was March 2015, and I was in my third month of a 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course in Thailand. I’ve never felt so much devotion so many hours in a row (it went on all night, from 10PM to 6AM). My heart felt like it was overflowing, about to burst. Definitely a night to remember to put it lightly.
WHO IS SHIVA?
His origin is unknown, and yet he is the guru of all gurus! Shiva is considered to be Pure Consciousness. He has been represented in a myriad of divine roles. The roots of the Sanskrit term Shiva lie in beautiful legends from Hindu mythology. It appears in Vedic, Puranic (Shiva Purana and Linga Purana), and Tantric (Shaiva Agamas) Literatures.
Shiva is said to have shared his knowledge with his wife Parvati or Shakti, and then with the rest of the world. In the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (one of my favourite books), Shakti asks Shiva how she can experience this Universe, and Lord Shiva instructs her 112 methods to liberation. Meditation techniques exposed in texts as these have been polished by masters, who pass it along to their disciples. This is how the Guru-disciple relationship emerged, and the lineage is continued up until today. “Only the knowledge imparted by a Guru, through his lips, is powerful and useful; otherwise it becomes weak and very painful.” (Siva Samhita III.11).
There is a story of a man who appeared one day in the Himalayas. Nobody knows where he came from or what his name was (which is why he is referred to as Adiyogi, meaning “the first” Yogi in Sanskrit). After many years, on a Full Moon night, Adiyogi is said to have transferred all the knowledge required for conscious evolution to seven sages. This occurrence on which Higher Knowledge was revealed to humankind is referred to as the Guru Purnima. In the context of this story, Shiva is not a God but a real man who walked this Earth—the first guru. Question remains where he got all that knowledge from.
THE STORY & SYMBOLISM BEHIND SHIVA
One of the things I find really beautiful about Hindu mythology is the detailed, meaningful symbolism it is enriched with. Shiva is typically illustrated meditating in padmasana (lotus pose) on mount Kalas: “Its name is verily the Kalas mount, where dwells the great Lord (Shiva), who is called Nakula and is without destruction, and without increase or decrease.” (Siva Samhita V.152). Kundalini Shakti is represented by the snake coiled around his neck, insights into mystical knowledge are symbolized by the crescent moon in his hair, and Higher Knowledge by his third eye. Mother Ganges runs down through the top of his head, purifying him. The flow of the Ganges represents the nectar of immortality- amrita. His throat is blue because according to the myth, to prevent further damage he drank the poison (halahala) which emerged from of the sea turmoil caused by a war between the devas (gods) and asuras (demons). His wife Parvati strangled him so the poison wouldn’t spread, but his neck stayed blue. He holds a trident, representing the three gunas (tendencies of nature): tamas (inertia), rajas (activity), and sattva (transcendence). The ashes on his body stand for the culmination of material existence, the tiger skin is a sign of honour for the Brahmarishis (Hindu ascetics); others say it symbolizes fearlessness. There are more symbols attributed to Shiva with meaning behind them such as the deer, the drum, the axe, the nandi (bull), the ganas (attendants of Shiva), his 5 heads (related to the 5 elements), his 4 arms (related to 4 vedas), and Mount Kalas (with its resemblance to the Shiva lingam) but I don’t want to make you too dizzy at this point!
THE SHIVA LINGAM
Still, I can’t go on without saying a little bit more about the Shiva lingam. The Shiva lingam is traditionally a symbol of Shiva‘s energy and potential. Numerous temples have been built in India in the shape of a Shiva lingam. Devotees worship it to connect with God. It is said to be the first form taken during creation. There is a story of a hunter on Shivaratri (Night of Shiva, on New Moon) who was having trouble finding prey to hunt until he found a herd of deer and aimed for the kill with his bow and arrow but they ran away. He hid in a tree in the cold, shivering and murmuring “shiv, shiv, shiv”…and waited. When a deer appeared again, it asked him not to kill him, to allow him to first say goodbye to his friends and family and that he would then return. The hunter agrees and waits again. The herd of deer decide collectively that they either live or die together. They all sacrifice themselves to the hunter. The hunter lets them live, obviously feeling touched. There was a Shiva lingam under the tree where the hunter had waited. At the sight of this Shiva lingam, the hunter goes to it, kneels before it, and hears a voice coming from it, telling him his prayers have been answered and that he will be rewarded.
There is a general recurring theme with some of the symbolism here. For example, the snake around his waist (Kundalini Shakti), and the crescent moon (mystical knowledge). He has four arms: with the right hand he holds a damaru (drum), which symbolizes the sound of creation and passing of time. On the left he holds agni (fire), which signifies destruction. He holds abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) with his other right hand and points to the raised foot with the remaining left hand, which stands for liberation. Shiva Nataraja dances on Apasmara, the demon of ignorance. The fire circle around him represents the manifest Universe. Shiva Nataraj remains significant in India and worldwide anno 2016. Story goes that there is a place called Chidambaram- between the Pennar and Kaveri rivers in India – which the Cholas (they were a ruling dynasty in Southern India) believed to be the sacred place where Shiva danced the Ananda Tandava (Dance of Bliss) as Shiva Nataraj (Lord of the Dance). Described in 7th century poetry is a battle between the devas and asuras at the Tillai woods of Chidambaram, to which Shiva shows up as a beggar and victoriously defeats demons and snakes with his Dance of Bliss. There is an asana related to this story: Natarajasana (Shiva the Dancer), also known as Uthitta Ardha Dhanurasana (the half-raised bow pose).
In another blog, I will write more about Shiva – in particular, his three aspects: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. For now, I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog about Shiva and that it provides you with some spiritual insights and motivation not only to celebrate Maha Shivaratri, but also to celebrate Shiva every day, because Shiva is the Consciousness that permeates everything in this entire manifestation.
Grace is right here, in the present moment. The Kingdom of Heaven is in our hearts, and I wish for all of us to always remember this as we move through our daily lives. May the Consciousness in you always be free!
Everything in nature goes through cycles at a microcosmic as well as a macrocosmic level. We are a reflection of everything that exists. In other words, we are a microcosm of the macrocosm. A great example of this is women’s menstrual cycles and the cycles of the moon. Another one is the seasons. This is the first of a four-piece series we are introducing this year: Embracing the Seasons. In line with the current season in Europe at the time this post is written, we will begin with the winter season.
First, let’s talk a little bit about why seasons are significant in our lives. There are different ways of living that correspond to each season. The seasons play a big role in the way nature influences our internal disposition. City life tends to disconnect us from natural rhythms. Don’t panic – there are many things we can do to attune to the natural cycles of life regardless of where our feet find us!
The first step is to acknowledge our connection to the natural world, and in this way, we also honour the connection to ourselves.
It is common to experience varying feelings at different periods of the year. If you like, take a moment to reflect on what this is like for you. What’s the air like? What about the smells, sounds and sights around you? How does all this influence how you move through your life? Pause, look around outside, feel it, and ask yourself: how are my inner processes connected to all this? What vital part of me comes alive in the winter?
People seem to love summer, and always be active and on the go. No wonder people end up getting burn-outs, not taking the appropriate time to rest and repose which is very much needed. The all too popular dislike of winter hampers people from tuning into the great potential winter can offer. Winter is very yin in its essence, meaning that its qualities are receptive, passive, feminine, cooling, restorative, dark, and quiet. It is a great time to practice serenity, and nourish yourself with peaceful rejuvenating practices, silence, and stillness. You can find lots of yin yoga classes at saktiisha to meet this need.
Remember that in the yin yang symbol, there is a little white circle in the black half, and vice versa, meaning that there is still activity within the overall passivity. This keeps the greater whole in balance. The activity within the passivity we are talking about here is an inner form of activity that takes the form of reflection and restorative practices.
Why practice Yoga in the Winter?
As the seasons come and go, they remind us of the impermanence of it all, which makes a consistent yoga practice very valuable in keeping our centre throughout our experience of an ever-changing world.
The cold weather is likely to make us feel like lazy couch potatoes – a great reason to roll out our yoga mat and beat the winter blues. Yoga creates heat from the inside out and keeps you warm, improves your circulation, reduces cramps and stiffness, boosts your energy levels, immune system and mood, it opens your heart, a voids winter (weight) gain, and keeps you in balance, grounded and strong. What more reasons do you want?
Creating Heat in your Yoga Practice
• If you are feeling cold before your practice, a simple solution is to drink a hot glass of water (feel free to add some lemon, cinnamon, or make it a herbal tea if it tickles your fancy). Now here comes the fun part: a list of yoga practices for you to integrate into your (perhaps daily) yoga practice in the winter season:
• Sun salutations (surya namaskar – a dynamic practice that cultivates heat)
• Activate and energize manipura chakra (the solar plexus) as it is related to the element of fire with poses like boatpose (nabhyasana), cat-cow (marjariasana), camel pose (ustrasana) & triangle pose (trikonasana).
• Standing Twists (they tone the abdominal area)
• Warrior poses (they generate heat as you use a lot of leg and core strength)
• Choose to keep your arms up as much as possible in standing asanas, as doing so tends to increase heart rate and raise your body temperature.
• Agnisara Dhauti (fanning the fire) & Kapalabhati (breath of fire) – if you are not familiar with these practice, ask a yoga teacher to show you
• Practice Heating Inversions such as handstands, forearm balances and headstand.
• Practice Backbends (they are heat-producing) such as bridge pose (setubhendasana), wheel pose (chakrasana) and camel pose (ustrasana)
• And throughout it all, keep that ujjayi (victorious) breathing going to get more lifeforce flowing through your being.
An Ayurvedic Perspective
Adapting your lifestyle, habits, yoga practice and food choices is important when attuning to the change of seasons. From an Ayurvedic perspective, kapha (water & earth) and vata (air) doshas tend to get aggravated throughout the cold, dry, and often wet winter months. This is why colds, improper circulation, joint discomfort and negative feelings are so common for this season. So it’s best to not indulge in kapha & vata foods (dairy, cold drinks etc), and increase your pita intake to up your fire. As a disclaimer, please note that this is a very general statement so please do consult your doctor or ayurvedic therapist if you are currently undergoing any treatment! Everybody is different and one size doesn’t always fit all.
Overall, eating warm and hearty meals is very beneficial for the winter – it is also very likely that you crave this much more than a summery watermelon – lettuce salad!
Great foods to enjoy in the winter that suit the winter season are soups, stews, grains (oatmeal, quinoa, barley and rice), nourishing healthy oils such as of coconut, avocado and olive, and root vegetables (turnips, carrots, turnips etc). Moreover, drink plenty of herbal teas, hot lemon water, and have fun preparing your meals and get funky adding warming spices like cumin, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, fennel, and black pepper.
A little bonus tip to fight the winter blues
Do things that make you happy: organize yoga date nights and get moving – perhaps discover a new winter sport, or make your favourite homemade hot chocolate, put it in a thermos, get all wrapped up and go for a charming winter walk!
Life is what you make of it, so why not embrace the charm of the winter, enjoy winter fashion and dress warm, practice gratitude (this is of course something for every day, every season), journey inwards with reflective and restorative practice, and make it beautiful as can be!
With love always,
Hello dear ones! After some time of deep reflection and settling into this exciting 2020 (hope you all had an amazing transition into this year of vision!), I am happy to be back and blogging once again, this month presenting you with a post about a topic that has intrigued me for a few years, and now lies very close to my heart as I immerse myself deeper in the world of divine femininity: female mystics. My ever-growing fascination with the divine, the metaphysical forces underlying the dances of the universe, and all the ways in which I experience this throughout my life as a woman dancing through this earth plane fuels my interest in mysticism. There have been many male and female mystics throughout the course of history who each add special value to the practice of spiritual contemplation. In honour of the rise of the divine feminine, this post is dedicated to female mystics, while reorganizing the conversation in which spiritual and religious structures have typically been male-dominated and as a disclaimer: all while honouring all male mystics equally.
What is understood under mystic? Mysticism refers to the conscious practice of spiritual ecstasy that goes together with the experience of revelations of universal truths and transcendence. Etymologically, the word mysticism has its roots in the Greek word mystikos, meaning “secret, mystic, connected with the mysteries,” and/or mystes, meaning “one who has been initiated” (to that which has been hidden or obscured from human knowledge or understanding. Mysticism is in many ways related to and found in religions, stories, myths, magic, and New Age movements. The definition of this term has changed and evolved throughout history. Contemporarily, the term is used to refer to an ecstatic union with the Absolute/Infinite/God that is described as a mystical experience. “The accepted definition of mysticism involves (a) experience of unity with all beings; (b) a powerful influence on the mystic’s way of thinking; (c) distinct knowledge conferred by the experience; (d) time/space distortion, and (e) a sense of sacredness” (Devlin, 2016). “True mysticism is active and practical, not passive and theoretical. Its aims are wholly transcendental and spiritual. It draws the whole being homeward, but always under the guidance of the heart. Living union with this One . . . is arrived at by an arduous psychological and spiritual process.” (Evelyn Underhill, 2018).
In the Middle Ages, the term unio mystica was often used by Christians to refer to a spiritual marriage with God/The Holy Spirit. In the Medieval Ages, there were several female Christian mystics who experienced mystical visions and revelations such as: Angela of Foligno, Angela Merici, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Brigid of Kildare (known for her generosity for the poor and associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid), St. Catherine of Siena, St. Douceline (established beguine/spiritual communities in France), Elisabeth of Schönau, St. Gertrude the Great, Hadewijch, Mechthild of Magdeburg and St. Margaret of Cortona (known as the saint of the falsely accused and other perceived underprivileged groups in society who are often shamed). Some of these saints were also authors and became known for having written about their mystical revelations. For example, St. Hildegard of Bingen was a composer, philosopher, writer and visionary whose spiritual awareness was based on what she called the “reflection of the living Light;” and Julian of Norwich who was an ascetic and author of Revelations of Divine Love: the oldest known book in the English language to have been written by a woman.
Besides Christianity, as mentioned before, mysticism is found in other religions. For example: Merkabah Mysticism and the Kabbalah are branches of Jewish mysticism, Sufism is the Islamic branch of mysticism, many sadhanas (spiritual practices) such as Yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra are considered mystical practices related to Hinduism, Buddhism with its view of Nirvana as an attainable transcendent reality, and Taoism, originating in China as a mystic approach of seeing the world as a perfect balance of Yin and Yang. Mysticism was narrowed in the 19th century with the rise of rational thinking and individuality, but continued to live on in spiritual communities and is now in fuller revival.
Mysticism and yoga are connected: various types of literature (religious, philosophical, scientific and medical) about kundalini are closely aligned with literature about mysticism. “The mystics may not have understood the Hindu concept of kundalini, but they certainly were aware of the process they were going through…..the Christian mystics may have known much more than we are giving them credit for, but may have been hampered in explaining what they knew. Perhaps this was because their tradition had no extensive psychophysiological terminology such as we have today. Perhaps the mystics could have been more precisely expressive of their experiences if they had loved in an age of free expression, open investigation and honest investigation of their most sacred secrets….The mystics has learned to sublimate their sexual drives, and as a result, were fulfilled in a manner that science is only beginning to investigate…The writings of the mystics and the yogis give credit to the theory that there is a spiritual force, working within and through the biology of man, expressing itself via the medium of the mind…their writings show that they were trying to describe the transcendental insights they were privileged to enjoy….The Christian mystics experienced a tremendous force, which they termed the Holy Spirit- that has striking parallels with the traditional descriptions of kundalini” (Yoga Journal, January 1979).
“Female yoga practitioners, known as yoginis, have practised yoga for millenia. Archaelogical evidence points to the practice of yoga as a part of ancient fertility rites. Medieval miniature paintings depict yoginis wandering the forest, playing music, and as ascetics sitting with disciples and animals in meditation. These female mystics played an important role in the spiritual life of the community and wielded a certain amount of authority” (365 Yoga, J. Rappaport).
FEMALE MYSTICS THROUGHOUT THE ERAS
As I dove deep into researching this topic, I found that the list of female mystics in history is almost inexhaustibly extensive. I have selected the most prominent ones and added the most relevant highlights.
Rabi’a al-Adawiyya (d. 801)
One of the founders of Sufi mysticism, she loves God for His own sake instead of because of a longing for heaven or fear of going to hell.
Umm ‘Abdallah (9th century)
Sufi mystic and scholar who received deep mystic knowledge through appearances of symbols and visitations in her dreams. What is known about her is only known through the memoirs of her husband (The Beginning of the Matter), who describes some of her mystic experiences. They shared a spiritual relationship in which they supported each other and treated each other as equals, which was unusual for their time.
Sun Buer (1119–1182)
Chinese Taoist Priestess, poet and author of A Personal Tao. She left her husband and children at the age of 51 years-old to further her spiritual studies, and founded the Taoist lineage called the ‘Purity and Tranquility’ tradition. She is known as one of the few female Taoist ‘Immortals,’ a title that stands for spiritual realization and occult mastery.
Clare of Assisi (1194-1253)
She was St. Francis’ student, nurse, assistant, and in time founded her own order. In 1212, she (like many other female mystics did) escaped an arranged marriage and dove into the mystics of life. It was after she heard Francis of Assisi that she experienced a big spiritual awakening. They shared a beautiful spiritual friendship. When writing about her mystical experiences, she speaks of eternity, love, and light visions. She had a deep relationship with nature, and wild animals had a tendency to become soft and gentle in her presence.
Margery Kempe (1373 – 1439)
Mother of fourteen children, this woman’s spiritual journey started when she gave birth to her first child. She was interested other medieval female mystics (such as Julian of Norwich and St. Bridget of Sweden. After her fourteenth child, her husband and her embraced a life of chastity and went on serval pilgrimages to sacred spots in Europe during which she experienced mystic states.
Julian of Norwich (d. ca. 1416)
Author of a theology in which she writes about divine motherhood and mutual intimacy flowing between God and the soul which is healing and restorative. She celebrated divine love as an infinite flow of toward creation and believed that the macrocosmic universe rested In this mutuality of love.
Teresa of Avila (d. 1582)
Throughout her young adulthood, she found prayer difficult, until at the age of 40 she devoted herself more committedly to her spiritual practice.She describes mystical union as the soul’s marriage to Christ, in which spiritual love dissolves all differences between lover and beloved as they merge together like a drop of water merges into the ocean. She taught that spiritual love is about compassion for others, and not self-interest.
Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179)
This woman was truly multitalented: she was a healer, writer, composer and theological critic. Having experienced visions throughout her life, it was in her early forties that she truly grasped the spiritual meaning of the scriptures she had been studying.
Joan of Arc (1412-1431)
She was a true warrior. When she was 12 years old, she saw visions of saints calling her to drive the British, who were occupying France, to give back the crown to the French prince. She was met with much societal resistance and marks a moving hallmark in history, which is why so many playwrights have been made about her trial. She was burned at the stake at the age of 19 and declared a saint many years after.
Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891)
Often called the mother of New Age Thought, she travelled the word seeking spiritual lessons after escaping a marriage in which she was unhappy. After receiving many spiritual insights, she wrote Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, and also founded the Theosophical Society. Though some have called her a fraud, there is no question that her mystical revelations have greatly influenced the New Age movement. (Devlin). She moved to New York in 1873, established herself there as a medium and psychic, and connected many themes from all the world’s religions, esoteric teachings and new science ideas which in many ways laid the foundations of the New Age movement which in time led to the rise of Western metaphysical trends.
Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973)
She found herself deeply engrossed in meditation from a very young age, and grew up experiencing mystic visions, trance revelations, and past life experiences. She studied the Upanishads, Yoga Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. She is the co-founder the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and is adept of several types of advanced yoga. Her teaching to the world can be summarized as: Do Yoga!
There are many, but it seems the most well known one is history is Mirabai, the Hindu saint (d. 1550). Passionate lover of Krishna and devotee of Vaishnava teachings, she is a Shiva worshipping mystic who sings and writes about the divine love for Krishna she feels in her heart. Having escaped a forced marriage (her husband died at a young age and she was commanded to commit suicide – a legally common practice at the time -, an order which she refused under the argument that she had received different orders from Lord Krishna), she represents a special force in women’s empowerment and emancipation and reached states of enlightenment.
There are also many female mystics from the Buddhist tradition, such as Pajapati (600 B.C., Buddha’s Stepmother and first Buddhist nun), Sukhasiddhi (11th century Tibetan Buddhist Dakini), Mugai Nyobai (13th century Japanese Buddhist nun and first female to head a Zen Order), Yeshe Tsogyal (757-817, Tibetan Princess and Buddhist Master, author of her autobiography Lady of the Lotus Born. She had a relationship with Padmasambhava, who introduced Buddhism in Tibet), Machig Labdron (11th century, Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who taught the Chod: aiming to transform the four ‘demons’ tha thinder enlightenment), Jomo Memo (13th Century Tibetan Terton, “discoverer of teachings;” she taught about overcoming ignorance and is considered to be an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal)
Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona (1913-1992)
Hawaiian Healer who introduced Hawaiian healing tradition of Ho’oponopono to the wider world, a holistic healing modality that has had great healing benefits and a boost in the personal for many people.
FEMALE MYSTICS TODAY
Today, there are several female mystics who are considered gurus/spiritual leaders. From Hindu origin there are for example Ammachi, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Mother Meera, Mata Amritanandamayi and Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. There are also various western female spiritual teachers such as Evelyn Underhill (Christian); Joanna Macy (Buddhist), Starhawk and Vicki Noble (pagan) and others such as Marianne Williamson and Teal Swan (holistic/metaphysical).
ECSTATIC LOVE AS YOUR PATHWAY TO THE DIVINE
Some inspiring contemporary quotes written about female mystics feel as a beautiful way to begin concluding this post.
“The greatest gift female Mystics can give to Humanity and the World at this time, is to model the Truth of who they are, and through example, blaze a Path of Love back to God for everyone to follow.” (Patricia Cota-Robles). “The most important ‘Truth’… is one that is absolutely and totally unprovable: we are all sons and daughters of the Living God. We will not find this truth in a particle accelerator. We can only prove it to ourselves by direct experience of the other side.” (Carol Huffstickler). “The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” (Emily Dickinson). “An ecstatic love for the Beloved, or Divine, unifies feminine mystics across multiple wisdom traditions and lineages, and now the bliss and sense of wholeness these remarkable women experienced can nourish your own heart and soul” (Mirabai Starr)
I hope you have gained some fresh inspiration from these female mystics. May the contemporary interspiritual movement in which we find ourselves serve as a force to awaken the healing energy of the sacred fire of the feminine within us all, melting the heart of a world which is all too frozen. Let us all say yes to the ecstatic pathway of love toward the divine in our daily lives. Let us all claim the beauty of spiritual desire and allow it to transform the world.
It is now time to awaken the feminine mystic within you, and start to see the Divine in everything around you as you move through this world with devotion, stepping on this Earth – Our Mother – with the reverence She deserves.
Satyam is the second of the yamas in Yoga from Patanjali’s Sutras, and it stands for truthfulness in Sanskrit. This same principle is also found in other religious texts such as the Old Testament (from the Bible), Jewish Scriptures, and the Holy Quran. In the justice system, such as for example in court or when bearing witness to authorities like the police, it is considered a crime to falsify testimony, or simply said, lie.
When we break down the Sanskrit word satyam, we get sat = what is, true, real; and yam = restrain, or ya= “ness” or “coming from” (Sanskrit is a fascinating language that is vibrational in its essence and can be interpreted in various ways). So put together, satyam is keeping to what is, or trueness. There are other Sanskrit words that being with “sat,” such as sattva (purity) and satsang (true company – usually this is when spiritual communities gather to receive spiritual teachings from a guru). This all helps us to understand the term satyam a little better – it is that which is true, pure and unchangeable.
The nature of reality is a huge philosophical topic on which many books have been written on. What is real if we are living in a dream or illusion which yogis call maya? Although an existential question in itself, there is no need to complicate things. There is great beauty and wisdom in simplicity. We all have an inner knowing that knows when we are being truthful in our expression, and when we are not. This inner guidance is wise and to ignore or deny its existence is to work against ourselves and our expansion. Satyam is about being truthful simply because it’s the right thing to do more than it is to benefit anyone personally.
Satyam all beings with being honest with ourselves: practicing self-inquiry, questioning our (often self-limiting) beliefs, and seeing things clearly as they are (rather than through a lens clouded by wishful thinking). When we are honest with ourselves and feel grounded in our own truth, it becomes easier to be honest with others. We have already heard it before: the truth will set you free, and indeed, living a sincere life is liberating. Keeping up with lies is truly exhausting and disempowering! Questions you can ask yourself are for example:
• What does it mean for you to be truthful?
How do you honour your heart’s desires?
• In what ways could you be more honest with yourself?
• In what areas of your life is it easy for you to be truthful, and in what other areas is it challenging?
• Have you kept a certain untruth in your life? How was this affected you? What can you do about it to surpass and transcend it at this point?
Satyam serves our spiritual awakening because it also helps us to identify with what we are (that which remains and is eternal: atman – our spirit), and that which we are not (our thoughts, our emotions, and everything that makes up the passing nature of our ego). When we slow down in our lives, we are better able to tap into this eternal essence rather than live in a constant state of reactivity to external triggers.
Satyam is something that we can practice on and off the mat. On the mat, we can observe what comes up for us, and be true to ourselves by honouring what is available to our bodies on any given day rather than trying to push it and end up hurting ourselves. Satyam on the mat in class is communicating to your teacher if you have any injuries, whether you want corrections or not, and practicing full acceptance of where you are at: honouring what is. Paying attention to your breath helps a lot, as our breath tells us a lot about how we are feeling! Off the mat, it is a constant practice that requires mindfulness and observance in how we live our lives and how we show up in our relationships. At the end of the day, observing the yamas in daily life is all about integrity, and infusing our lives with purpose and meaning. Setting an intention every morning to be truthful can be very helpful in this regard. Align your heart with what comes out of your mouth to ensure you are always compassionately truthful. How? Before speaking, you can ask yourself: is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it the right time? Think really about what “truth” means to you and what is more important here is checking in with yourself regarding your intention. Why are you telling someone a certain “truth”? If it’s to fulfill your ego (eg.to prove you’re right, to make yourself look better) reconsider your intention, and put yourself in their shoes.
Ultimately, both on and off the mat, satyam is a lot about being able to be present with what is, and acting from a place of deep consciousness and awareness. Ultimately, satyam happens naturally when we act from our Highest Self. Consciousness is like an infinite ocean. You can read 101 books, and do 1,001 meditations and still not grasp it all. The path of truth is never ending, and there are so many different levels of consciousness present on this Earth dimension! We will never really be “finished” discussing consciousness or reach a conclusion about it, and there’s a great beauty to that! We can access consciousness at all times. It is what we are. Ultimately, it is all already within us, we just need to remember, and find the keys to access the treasures hidden within.
When considering satyam, we need to remember that this niyama is preceded by ahimsa (non-violence), so that in our expression of truth we are called to be compassionate with others. Besides the relative connection between ahimsa and satyam, we can make links to the other yamas and niyamas. For example, when living in truth, or living with presence in what is, one realizes that what is is not something to possess. Living in satyam naturally brings you to a state of aparigraha (non-attachment, the last of the niayamas). Drawing from my personal experience the closer you observe the yamas and niyamas in your daily life, the more blessings seem to arrive “out of the blue.” We can best use the understanding of the yamas and niyamas as tools in our daily lives to help us get through this spiritual experience as human beings!
The greatest part of spiritual practice entails finding a path that leads us to discover the truth that underlies the phenomenal world, and the truth of our own self. No matter how enlightened we believe ourselves to be, there is always something more to discover. Something more to learn. Something more to grow and transcend through. The knowledge of the truth, the attainment of Nirvana – this is the supreme blessing.
With all this being said, Asato Maa from the Upanishads beautifully sheds light on the spiritual value of living a truthful life:
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya
“Lead me from the unreal to the real
From darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge)
From death to immortality”
Thank you once again for tuning in today.
With love and, sincerely,
While Yoga & Astrology are both different subjects of study and practice, yet they have many similarities as they work on common principles of elements, chakras and energy. Astrology is like the sister discipline of yoga They are both useful tools in daily life, which are also very ancient and have stood the test of time as are still very relevant up to this day and age. Both astrology and yoga help to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, others and the world around us. Through our personal agency, we can use the science of astrology to move through life with consciousness – awake, not asleep.
It is worth a brief mention that besides astrology, there are other divination methods are such as the Tarot (layouts of cards mirroring a certain situation) and the I Ching (a Taoist approach depicting the fluctuations between yin and yang [hyperlink yin yang blog] through 64 stages) which we can study to help us navigate through life too. But for now we will focus on the connection between yoga and astrology.
Astronomy gave rise to astrology, around the 6th century BCE – a time during which mystics and philosophers would gather to study astronomy and its effect on our human lives, which led to the emergence of the science of astrology and its spreading across the world. Star signs have ancient origins and still are relevant today. Zodiac signs are archetypal images which show our innate potential, as well as the areas in life where we tend to have difficulties in, which are often those aspects of ourselves we deny or reject
ZODIAC SIGNS & ASANA
The practice of Hatha (Sun-Moon) yoga cultivates a synchronization with the celestial cycles, it is a natural practice that aligns our being with the Sun, Moon, stars and cosmos! “Ancient yogis knew that Ida and Pingala align our bodies with the Sun and Moon and attune us — if we’re willing — with all of creation. That explains the term hatha. Ha-tha yoga in actuality means Sun and Moon in Sanskrit. Ha = Sun. Tha = Moon.” -Diane Booth Gilliam
As planets influence areas of your life, you can practice asanas to strengthen certain parts of your physical body related with planets which have an effect on your emotional body. This way, you can go through a beautiful process of transformation through which you alchemically transmute energies and turn weaknesses into strengths. Each astrological sign corresponds to a part of the body, carrying with it a universal resonance which highlights the dominant qualities of the zodiac signs. This way, we can make the most of these qualities by developing them further (and attuning to some we may feel we lack – I personally like to learn from all the zodiac signs and try to practice embodying all of their beneficial qualities!) Although some appear to have gotten lost in tradition, there are corresponding asanas for each zodiac sign:
Aries – warrior 1 (fighter)
Taurus – bullpose (grounding)
Gemini – downward dog – (quiets inner chatter)
Cancer – cobra – (works on the heart area)
Leo – Simhasana, lion pose (what more to say!)
Virgo – nabhyasana, nauli kriya (gut feeling)
Libra – balancing asanas – trikonasana, natarajasana. (weighing/balancing out)
Scorpio – scorpio pose (obvious one!)
Sagittarius – the archer – the adventurer, hips & thighs (warrior arms up)
Capricorn – the gate – (works on the knees & skeletal structure)
Aquarius –eagle pose – (steady gaze, steady mind)
Pisces –fish pose – (another obvious one, also works on the feet)
There is a lot to be said and studied about astrology. For example, the Sun signs depicting ways to discover yourself and others and your main tendencies; moon signs represent the hidden power of your emotions. Then there are the houses, each of which is home to each sign of the zodiac. Houses break up the sky in chunks; and they represent areas of your life. Moreover, you will often hear astrologers speak about conjunction (planets in relation to each other) and transits (the constant movement of planets in relation to their position at the time you were born).
Creating a comprehensive interpretation of an astrological chart requires some basic knowledge and understanding of astronomy (the planets and their qualities), the ability to create connections, and intuition. As a sidenote, this is why in a way, reading astrological charts can be considered an ajna (third-eye chakra – about vision and understanding) – vishhuddha (throat chakra- about intuition, aesthetic intelligence and intuition) practice.
There are features of astrology that are similar to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which mention yoga citta-vritti-nirodha – the cessation of the turnings of the mind, to open oneself up to union with the Higher Self and perceive the divine within (kaivalya).Yoga helps to bring our impulses under control. It helps us to bring more awareness about our structural behavior so that we can redefine happiness – the search for which defines much of human life!
ASTROLOGY AS A MAP
We, like cellphones trying to connect to WiFi, are searching for a connection that is more permanent rather than temporary. As much as Yoga teaches us how to tame the mind, this is practically impossible to do without reorienting it towards something higher. Yoga is not about negation or regimen, but rather about a better alternative: connecting to a higher signal that lives in the heart. So, what’s the link with astrology? Coming back to citta-vritti-nirodha, and the idea of the turnings of the mind: the Sanskrit word vritti is shared in common with the Greek language, and in Greek it refers to the turnings of the planets in the sky. The planets are always moving, the mind is always moving. With Yoga leading to the cessation of the churnings of the mind, it is not meant to be the same as astrology – it is more like astrology helps us to understand our mind better, not to get caught up in the dramas of our lives.
Astrology gives us like a map of the psyche and the soul, showing what we are experiencing in this particular body, it can go as far as depicting your dharma, your gifts, your challenges.
The planets follow predictable cycles, just as all of the ecology on this planet does, following the principle of the resonance between the microcosm and the macrocosm: as above, so below. When we look at how the planets are positioned and moving through the sky, we are seeing something a mirroring of where we are at. An astrological chart is basically an artificial photo of the sky, as if frozen in time, showing where all the planets are at a given moment (e.g. your birth date), showing us a unique point in time and space in which we find ourselves in, and a sense of where our lives are heading.
As astrological charts present us with a symbolic mirroring of where we are at, it is important to also have a symbolic attitude towards astrology rather than a deterministic one. Astrology helps us to see and understand our karmic tendencies so that we can live our lives with a little bit more wisdom. All too often, people identify themselves with what they look like and other material matters pertaining to maya (the illusion). This false identification is part of our tendency to, metaphorically speaking, fall asleep, instead of awakening to the true essence of who we are: Spirit. The karmic drama is not who we are, yet we do need to deal with it, and it is easier to move through a terrain if we have a basic understanding of the map. The point is not to get lost in it, but to be able to navigate through it in a way that promotes our spiritual evolution and act in a way that is both meaningful and effective.
It all comes down to attitude and stepping into our power (which we so often underestimate!). Having said this, I would like to conclude with a quote by Dane Rudhyar:
“The Essential Purpose of Astrology is not so much to tell us what we will meet on the road, as it is to suggest how we meet it.”
Thanks for tuning in, and until we meet next time in yet another version of the now,
Today we return to the theme topic of the niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, specifically addressing the fourth: svadhyaya. As a context reminder, the yamas in Yoga are the “do nots” -things we are advised to constrain from doing; while the niyamas are like the “”do’s”- the “do-not constraints,” things we are encouraged to do. The niyamas are essentially comprised of actions of self-love that support a happy, harmonious and spiritual life.
The breakdown of the Sanskrit word svadhyaya goes as follows: sva, means “self,” and adhyaya, means “lesson/lecture/reading.” Another interpretation could be derived from dyhai, which means “meditate/contemplate.” So svadhyaya basically means the study of the self.
The study of the self in the yogic sense of the word goes beyond the Western approach of psychoanalysis. It is more about the study of our Higher Self, our eternal self. It is about realizing the true nature of our being – who we really are. Creating space for introspection definitely supports this process!
YOUR ESSENCE IS DIVINE
To quote Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: “Study thy self, discover the divine” II.44
Self-realization is the aim of most spiritual practice. And our Self is divine. I personally love svadhyaya because it helps me to be in a constant state of mindful awareness and self-inquiry. Asking myself where my actions are coming from has opened up my eyes about many layers of my being – shedding light on many aspects to be worked on. Seeing how I can recognize the essential divinity in myself and everything around me has added such profound spiritual value to my life, as has recognizing this essence in others too.
Studying and reading anything about the Self, or anything that will help you to connect with and understand your (Highest) self will present you with a great opportunity to observe svadhyaya. Find any books which support you in deepening your practice. While this blog is not meant to market literature, there are a few recommendations we can refer you to. Books I have been studying recently and would definitely recommend are: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (1946), The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer (2007), The Undivided Self by The Swami Venkatesananda (1977), and Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith (1996). Swami Satchidananda, an Indian spiritual teacher and yoga adept, who became famous in the West and wrote several philosophical and spiritual books, speaks of svadhyaya as the “study that concerns the true Self, not merely analyzing the emotions and mind as the psychologists and psychiatrists do. Anything that will elevate your mind and remind you of your true Self should be studied: the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Koran, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, or any uplifting scripture. Study.”
Remember that it is not only about reading, but also about understanding what you have learnt – integrating and living it.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
There are many other activities you can take upon yourself to deepen your observance of svadhyaya. You can practice svadhyaya in more ways than might initially meet the eye by embracing it as a yogic attitude, a modality of being so to say.
1. Examine yourself. Question your actions. Question your beliefs. Practice self-inquiry in general (The Work of Byron Katie is a great tool to support you in this).
2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness does not require any action from you in particular, it is all about simply paying attention. For example, observe yourself on your mat – what kind of thoughts and emotions bubble up? what is your breath like? where are you tense, and possibly challenged? what do you enjoy? Take nothing for granted, see it all as a lesson to take you further…deeper…closer to yourself.
Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self” – The Bhagavad Gita
3. By becoming conscious of all that which you are not, you can come closer to yourself. Some of the things which you are not are for example your ego, your emotions, and your thoughts. Discern that which is not you in essence, but rather a part, or layer of your being by asking yourself questions such as: who is the voice in your head that limits you from living out your best potential? Then zoom out, and try to get to the real core of your true and essential Self by witnessing the witness: who is the one experiencing your life? Who is feeling saddened by a wave of a painful emotion? Who is enjoying the cup of tea? Who is the one reading all of this? Do not judge. Just observe.
4. Explore both inner worlds and outer worlds. As much as we can learn about ourselves by studying ourselves, we can also come to know ourselves better by seeking to understand others (rather than judging). Others function as mirrors in our lives. And in our process of getting to know them (and the world around us) better, we end up getting to know ourselves better too. Like a loop. This is because everything is connected. That universal connection is the reason Yoga means union.
5. Still your mind, so that your Self can be revealed. See the divine in yourself. As Swami Vivekananda said: “Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being?”
A note I would like to add on the topic of Self-Realization is that the Self is ultimately whole. So, seek for wholeness by seeing the big picture of it all, and living a holistic life.The more you practice yoga, the more you will see the unfolding of your daily life merging with yoga philosophy. Your individual consciousness is deeply connected to universal consciousness. It is a part of it, never separate. To realize this, is the goal of svadhyaya. As we come to know ourselves better, we begin to understand that we are like drops of the ocean, and, as the buddhist song goes, the only way from stopping a drop of water from ever drying up, is by throwing it back into the ocean.
Sat Chit Ananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss).
Aldona from saktiisha yoga centre