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
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
In the spirit of the ongoing parents & kids yoga series with Ananda Bogers here at the studio, we are delighted to share with you this post about kids yoga- talking about what is it, what the benefits are, and why we love it! So let’s get started.
WHAT IS KIDS YOGA?
In essence, kids yoga is being based on techniques from the Hatha Yoga system, with each asana still most usually inspired by nature and animals, albeit at times modified and/or simplified for the sake of both fun as well as safety. Also, more than just postures are generally incorporated into the classes through the use of games and stories – letting everyone’s imagination run free! Moreover, other practices such as mindfulness and other elements of yoga are incorporated into the practice – such as the yamas & niyamas, breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation.
The way yogis wisely came to base many of their techniques by imitating nature, inspires to understand the world around us, ultimately helping us to get to know not only the world around us better, but also ourselves – this applies to all ages! Pretty much the same effects are achieved for both children as adults through yoga, and it is only wonderful to introduce children to this practice from a young age.
However, due to the fact that children are at a different stage of development than adults, there are a few differences in the approach implemented for children in order to make it fun and accessible to them. For instance, the length of the exercises is generally shorter, there is more of an approach of a game-like structure, incorporating also storytelling to make it understandable for them, and the level of interaction is higher (whereas in yoga classes for adults participants are generally more interiorized.
We can’t expect children to act like adults. They will want to play and grant them space for that – within given guidelines in class. Kids yoga classes are playful adventures, taking them on a journey together with the group as well as within themselves. It’s important to make space for interaction and spontaneity, allowing and encouraging their creative capacity and imagination.Safety is very important, so it’s also crucial to make sure each child has more than enough space not only on their mat, but also around them – kids are still learning to coordinate their bodies and falling out of an asana seems to be more common for children. Also, demonstrating the postures is often needed, whereas this might not be as necessary in classes for adults who are already familiar with the practice, or are able to follow verbal instruction without physical demonstration. A mixture of discipline, flow and surrender form a great recipe for a perfect kids yoga class – this of course applies to life in general!
The earlier children learn how to connect to themselves and cultivate acceptance, compassion, and self-love through Yoga, the better – why should anyone have to wait for that? Yoga empowers children to develop a holistic and profound sense of self at a very young age.
THE BENEFITS ACCORDING TO RESEARCH
In my interest to find out what kind of studies and research have been done pertaining to the benefits of yoga for children, I was very pleased to find many! After reading several studies, I would like to present to you the most striking. *If you would like to read up more- there are tons of articles freely available for your viewing online- I have limited my sharing to a few as otherwise this blog would be too long!*
The first is from a study featured in the Journal of Integrative Medicine [16 (2018) 14–19], titled The beneﬁts of Yoga in Children by Chandra Nanthakumar, who conducted a research to study the intervention of yoga as a meditative movement practice in helping school children in Malaysia manage stress and anxiety. Her findings came to show that the practice of yoga brings, among others, “improvement in managing and reducing stress and anxiety,” and that “yoga appears to be an effective modality for helping children cope with stress and anxiety.” Restorative postures bring inner calmness as well as induce as state of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), calming down the nervous system. Through regular practice, children can get in touch with their inner world, and learn to coordinate and align their mind, bodies, and breath better. Moreover, the inner states of peace achieved through the practice of yoga induce more mindfulness and are beneficial to children’s overall health (physical, mental, and emotional).
Yoga for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Well-Being: Research Review and Reflections on the Mental Health Potentials of Yoga, published in Front Psychiatry (2014; 5: 35) and conducted by Ingunn Hagen and Usha S. Nayar presents a dicussion which provides some context as to why it is that it seems an increasing number of children are suffering from stress and anxiety these days: “…children today, face high expectations and constant stimulation through the Internet and other media and communication technologies. One reason why children experience stress and mental health challenges is that globalization exposes the youth all over the world to various new demands, standards, and options. There is also increased pressure to succeed in school, partly due to increased competition but also a diverse range of options available for young people in contemporary times than in the past.”
Another study published by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD (29 January 2016) in the Harvard Health Publishing blog, showed that yoga for kids in the U.S.A. is on the rise, and improving their physical and mental health,balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity. Also, their studies show that yoga can “improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior,” and further supports the findings of the above mentioned research by Nanthakumar in the positive effects of yoga in reducing anxiety and stress in children. Another added finding was that “yoga can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by improving the core symptoms of ADHD, including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.”
The Kids Yoga Research also published a study in September 2012, summarizing the benefits of Yoga for kids based on a myriad of academic and scientific studies that were conducted in this respect. All of it supported the findings from the studies already mentioned above, and adding that “…overwhelmingly, research shows that children…may also choose better foods to eat and engage in more physical activity than children who do not. The studies also illustrate that centered, calm and focused children learn more easily, have better social skills and, in general, are much happier kids.” And furthermore that the practice of yoga for children in summary: “helps manage chronic illness, improves prefrontal cortex function (including the ability to plan and execute complex functions), influences neurotransmitter function, improves strength and flexibility of muscles while increasing circulation, uptake of oxygen, and functioning of hormones, and makes the parasympathetic nervous system may become more dominant and stabilize the autonomic nervous system to enhance resistance to the effects of stress.”
Need we say more?! All in all, yoga offers a highly effective training of mind and body to bring emotional balance. It gives children the tools required to attune to their bodies, feelings, and ideas. It brings about better balance, posture, coordination, mindfulness, health, self-love, compassion, understanding, connection, holistic integration – I feel I could go on with this list forever..and that you get the point for now 😉 We want to encourage a healthy, happy lifestyle for everyone, don’t we?
At schools, children are taught about the world around them, but generally not how to connect with it. It would be great for schools to integrate teaching mental concentration in their curriculums as well as way to tune into the Universe in beneficial ways! How to expect kids to memorize all that stuff if they don’t know how to focus their attention? Yoga teaches beyond what is taught at the average school. It offers a deeper sense of living and perceiving the world.
It is a pity that some things are not taught at school. For example: they are told to study, but not how to study and concentrate their attention. They are quickly diagnosed with symptoms of ADHD, and given medication rather than teaching them how to deal with it in more natural and healthy ways. It is wonderful to see the popularity of Yoga growing. If schools could incorporate yoga as part of the physical education curriculum, it will be to a great advantage for students, and how amazing that would be!
I personally love teaching kids yoga because it effortlessly throws me straight into the heart, anahata chakra. It awakens my playfulness. I love to see and work with the variety of authentic personalities, still so unconditioned. It brings a sense of lightness to everything and reminds me not to take it all so seriously in life! I always feel it’s a give and take – although I may be playing the role of the teacher, I really learn a lot from them too.
One of my personal missions is to dedicate a big part of what I do in my life to Kids Yoga: both teaching classes as well as encouraging parents and communities to do the same. I could have saved myself a lot of suffering and unnecessary stress if I had known more Yoga throughout my childhood. Children are our future! After having lots of fun leading weekly Kids Yoga classes over the past three years, it has become very clear to me that dedicating my time to sharing Yoga with children is part of my dharma, my purpose.
Yoga can be playful, fun and interactive as a family activity at at home too! So get some guidance: find your local kids yoga teacher – join the kids yoga activities with Ananda Bogers here at saktiisha; get inspired- you can find lots of inspiration online to gather ideas to play some yoga games with your (or your friends’ and family’s!) kids at home , get creative – and get STARTED!
Doing yoga with children is one of the greatest gifts we can gift them, and to the future of humanity. As a wiseman once said: “Children are our future, so let’s be their now.”
Aldona from Saktiisha
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