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,
LET THE SUN SHINE IN
The longest day of the year is coming up for us here on the Northern Hemisphere this Friday 21 June, at exactly 17:54 in the Netherlands to be exact. This day, known as summer solstice or midsummer, happens twice (one per hemisphere – Northern & Southern) a year when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. In this moment, the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky, and after this day the days start getting shorter again, leading up to the winter solstice. The etymology of the word solstice comes from the Latin term solstitium, which means “sun stands still.”
ANCIENT TRADITIONS & CULTURE
Tributes to the summer solstice have been celebrated by many ancient traditions such as by the Aztec (festival of Xilonen), Mayan (many of their epic structures align with the Sun on this day), the Incas, the Celtic, the Native Americans, the Egyptians (this day marks their ancient New Year celebration, and on this day the Sun sets precisely between two of the Great Pyramids), the Greeks (this day also marked the first day of the year in their ancient calendar), the Romans (homage to Jupiter’s wife called Juno & Vestalia festival), the Christians (feast of St John the Baptist), the Pagans & the Wiccans (celebrating Litha – balance between fire + water and also a time of unity + fertility), the Chinese (the festival of Li, Chinese Goddess of Light and also celebration of yin -feminine energy) and of course – the yogis (summer solstice meditation and International Yoga Day)!
At Stonehenge, made more than 5,000 years ago, the Sun rises exactly over the structure on the summer solstice. People continue to gather en masse for this moment, and in line with the modern times we find ourselves in, they party and take lots photos of the moment with their mobile phones (check it out on google if you want to have a look…or maybe plan a visit yourself sometime if you’re into that!).
All in all, as you can see, summer solstice has been and continues to be celebrated all around the world.
WHY MEDITATION IS EXTRA SPECIAL ON THIS DAY
Times of seasonal transition are powerful moments to meditate upon our our internal transitions in life, and these times are also substantial moments to set our intentions in motion, whatever these may be – you decide!
So on this day, you could set your intentions & prepare to meditate around the time of the solstice. Set your space up before and begin your meditation 15 minutes before to allow yourself some time to sink deep into it, so that you are in meditation during the hiatus (at 17:54 here in The Netherlands), which you can consider a beautiful cosmic pause during which our little corner of the world is being blessed the heat and the light of the Sun.
SUMMER SOLSTICE & AYURVEDA
It is very common for yogis to meditate on moments of hiatus such as the summer solstice (or the spring equinox). Such is exemplified by the practice of ritucharya, literally meaning something like “walking with the path of the rhythms,” and which in Ayurveda (the Science of Life), involves consciously aligning internal practices with the environment and its relevant external seasonal rhythms.
The summer solstice marks the transition between spring (vasanta) and summer (grishma). According to Ayurvedic science this marks a gradual transition into a time where it is recommended to engage in practices which balance kapha (water & earth) soothe pitta (fire). Considering this, postures which are earthing and solar are great to integrate into your practice – so things like dynamic warrior poses, backbends and other solarizing postures like dhanurasana (the bow bose), bhujangasana (the cobra pose), and of of course surya namaskar (Sun salutations).
FUN WAYS TO CELEBRATE SUMMER SOLSTICE
- Wake up to the sunrise and start your day with Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) Bathe in the Light of the Sun
- Get creative – set yourself up with a brand new morning routine
- Enjoy Sunbaths – responsibly 😉
- Give your (or your friends’ or neighbour’s) garden some love
- Change up the decor in your home and give it more summery vibes
- Enjoy meals outside
- Connect with nature: do Yoga outside, go on meditative walks in the forest or city parks
- Do karma yoga at a local farm where you can get your hands in the earth
- Stay hydrated and fluid (do not deplete yourself in the heat!)
- Balance out the intensity of the Sun by enjoying also more time under the Moon & gazing at the stars (beautiful and affordable romantic yogi date idea!)
- Find seasonal solstice diets online (there are so many!) to follow if you are interested in that! Mostly they will be meals made with foods which are considered to have a strong relation to the Sun
AWAKEN YOUR INNER SUN
It is a beautiful synchronicity for summer solstice to be happening on International Yoga Day – actually it is quite probably not at all a coincidence. Let the Sun shine in on this day: into your home, into your life, into all your friendships & relationships, and into your heart. Allow the powerful blessing of the solar energies brought to you by the summer solstice to fill you with nourishing light, and the fire that will support you in following your dreams. Once you have set your intentions, stay focused, and let the universe work its magic upon you.
Love & Light,
Aldona from saktiisha
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,
If you think of people in your life who you perceive as pure, what qualities do they have that make you see them in this way? Isn’t it usually the case that you consider someone pure when you feel they are transparent, having no hidden agenda, healthy, and genuinely well-intentioned? Perhaps you came up with some different things. Like being clean, for instance. Sauca, which means purity in Sanskrit, is an essential part of Yoga practice, and ultimately of life.
Currently finding myself immersed in the wondrous pages of Paramahansa Yoganada’s Autobiography of a Yogi, the topic lies relevantly close to my heart these days. In this post, I would like to share some insights about why that is, and the ways in which we can speak about purity in relation to many aspects of life from a yogic perspective.
If you’re sincere about being a yogi, you know of the yamas and niyamas in Yoga, and you do your best effort to live by them. In case you are new to Yoga, the yamas refer to “restraints,” or rules for harmonizing the relationship between yourself and others; and the niyamas refer to “non-restraints,” or ways to cultivate inner discipline and organize your inner life. Sauca, or purity/cleanliness in Sanskrit, is the first of five niyamas according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The other four are: santosa (contentment), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual study), and isvarapranidhana (surrender to the Divine).
Living a pure lifestyle creates the ideal conditions within our being to come into resonance with the beneficial energies of the universe, and more importantly, to truly come to see the reflection of the divine nature of our own being. This may sound like a mouthful, but it’s true!
There are different types and processes of purification that can occur at various levels. Purification can be physical, mental, or emotional, and even causal in terms of burning karma. Although outer cleanliness is considered important, it is nowhere near as important for spiritual evolution as our emotional and mental purity. The idea is to be pure inside out. Why? It all comes down to resonance. Remember- ‘As above, so below.’ Every single energy in the universe at a microcosmic level corresponds to an energy at the macrocosmic level. In Yoga, we are trying to attune our microcosm with the macrocosm. In order for us to be able to attune to the energies which are beneficial, our own energy needs to resonate with them! By purifying, we can take more responsibility in our lives and empower ourselves. When we attract negative energy into our life, it is mostly a result of our own impure structure at a given time.
Look at it this way. The more impurities you have, the harder you will have to fight in life. As you eliminate impurities, you will see obstacles disappear. The less impurities, the less obstacles. Hatha Yoga is very purifying. When you are in an asana, you are flushing energy through your being. This purifies. It clears the path.
There is a type of Yoga that particularly aims to purify all the levels of your being. Paramahansa Yogananda brought Kriya Yoga to the West in the 1920s after it had been refound by some yogis of the nineteenth century. The sat karma kriya (six actions of purification) make up a complex system of internal and external cleansing methods. These are: neti, dhauti, nauli, basti, kapalbhati, and trataka. The Kriya Yoga methods as presented by Paramahansa Yogananda carve a path to meditation. The practice of Kriya Yoga smooths the path for evolution. It can be a path to liberation! You can also add some of the techniques to your practice and daily life. Kriya Yoga improves your health, clears your mind, and makes your body youthful.
I’d like to make a small parenthesis about the terms karma and kriya. Both of these words mean “action” in Sanskrit. Kriya refers more to actions that purify (Kriya Yoga as a path of purification), and karma refers to the notion of all actions having a cause and effect (Karma Yoga as a path of selfless service). Ultimately, all types of Yoga are meant to lead to samadhi (oneness).
In essence, we are already pure. The very essence of our being is pure. And that is the Beauty of Purity. Our sight is merely clouded by filters. By getting rid of any layers and obstacles
blocking our experience of the true nature of reality we come in touch with the true nature of our being. Just as we can only see our reflection in the water if the water is still and not murky, in the same way, we can only come to see the reflection of who we truly are within ourselves (the Atman) if we are pure. Essentially, we are reflections of something greater, and the idea of individuality is but an illusion limited by the confinements of our egoes.
With all this being said, I hope to have inspired you to have a look at your life, and address those aspects which are standing in the way of you getting in touch with your pure and beautiful Self.
Aldona from Saktiisha