Archive for April, 2012

Do you ever question if you “know” yoga from the core of your being? No matter how many difficult asanas are practiced, does being yoga become elusive and is there a constant feeling of missing within?

I hope the following article will help. Our best resources and guides are the authentic teachings from the masters who live in the state of yoga. I discovered this article through Amarnath Mukherjee’s post on Facebook. The website given below is another on our list of online resources for those who are deeply curious and want to understand authentic yoga.

Awakening into Cosmic Existence

by Swami Krishnananda


Posted with permission from Swami Narayanananda of Swami Krishnananda–The Divine Life Society

(Spoken to the students in the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy on October 10, 1996)

I was trying to introduce you to the foundations of the practice of what is known as yoga, or union with Reality. Without going into the depths of the philosophical involvement in connection with this subject, I may try to take you directly to the practical side, which is more important than just information about the details, theoretical or metaphysical.

Suffice it to say, what we suffer from is the unconsciousness of the fact that we are totally bereft of contact with reality. In a sense, we are living in a very, very false world – false in the sense that this world of our experience is constructed by an artificial arrangement that we have made between ourselves and what we consider as outer reality. There is an artificial adjustment that we make within our own selves also, and we are unable to align our psychological personality properly, so that rarely we feel that we are whole persons, very complete in ourselves. Rather, we feel that there is a lacuna in every one of us. The sense that we lack something in our own self is the beginning of the problems of life.

It is true that there is an intrinsic and in-depth insufficiency in everyone’s personality, which is engendered by the isolation of our individuality from what is to be considered as true reality. But, what is this true reality, from which we have, for some reason or the other, separated ourselves?

We seem to be separate from everything. We can never feel a kind of harmony between ourselves with anything inside or outside. All things look scattered hither and thither in a finite fashion, and nothing seems to have any connection with another. This frightens our personality very deeply, because we seem to be living in a forest of disorganised arrangements of things and persons in the world, so that we do not know how to deal with anything that we see with our eyes or hear with our ears.

Our mind is a droplet of the Cosmic Mind. That which really thinks is the Cosmic Mind, though we imagine in our ignorance that we can think independently. In a way, pragmatically speaking, each one of us thinks independently, and quite differently from other people. This difference in the way of our thinking as individuals is caused not because the Cosmic Mind is not working in any one of us, but because it is reflected in our personality in different ways, due to the structure of what we may call the root of our individuality. We are individuals, not identical with one another in the pattern of the composition of the individuality.

There are many houses, but one house does not look like another house, in spite of the fact that all the houses may be constructed out of the same material. The shapes differ, the pattern differs, and the aesthetic presentation also differs. Vibrations differ, due to the arrangement of the very same substance, which is the substance of any other structure in the world.

We say one atom is different from another atom. The difference arises in the inner composition and the velocity of the components of the atoms. In a similar manner, there are units which are composite in their nature, which constitute our individuality, and they set up vibrations of different kinds, on the basis of the manner in which they are arranged.

People who build houses, if they are careful enough, follow a system called vastu shastra, the art and science of house building, which takes care of the fact that the pattern of the structure produces a vibration of its own. Factors such as the direction, the shape, the particular angle towards sunlight, etc., are taken into consideration, especially in temple building, so that the temple, if it is properly constructed, becomes a visible symbol of the cosmos itself, and also a visible symbol of the individuality of a person. Buildings, temples, etc., are not meaningless structures. They create vibrations by the very nature of the manner in which the material is used.

This explains the reason why we seem to be different persons, though basically the same flesh and blood, the same earth, water, fire, air and ether – the same physical elements – constitute the body of every human being, and even of animals. The pattern, structure or arrangement of the inner components, caused by some pressure exerted upon the future possibility of individuality, determines why we are what we are.

What is this pressure? We are born with a force which decides the entire career of our life. We are told that even when a child is in the womb, its future is determined by the power or the impulsion which has made it enter into the womb. The impulsion is generally considered to be the potency created by past actions, past thoughts, past feelings, etc. These determine the nature of the form of the child inside the womb – even its longevity, its experiences, and the time of death. Everything is decided in the womb itself.

So, in spite of the fact that we as individuals are drops of the Cosmic Mind, we seem to be different on account of an agitation of the inner components of our individuality, which has to be set at rest. When Patanjali Maharshi says that yoga is the settling of the vrittis or the psychoses of the mind, what he means is setting at rest the agitation of the inner components of our psyche, caused by haphazard arrangement, without any proper vision of the reality to which this personality is connected.

Chitta vritti nirodha: The restraint of the mind is actually the restraint of the agitations of the mind, which are called vrittis. Every vritti is a psychosis, the mode of operation of the mind, and it is a disturbance. The Yoga Shastra mentions five types of agitation, into which detail we need not go now. It is sometimes dull, sleeping, as if it has no life at all, like a snake coiled up, as if it is dead. Sometimes it is moving, with a slight disturbance in its body. Sometimes it rises up into action. Sometimes it sleeps again, and afterwards gets up again. This is what is happening to our mind.

Yoga is a difficult subject. It is restraint, not of somebody, but it is a restraint of our own selves. Our divinity is the Cosmic Mind. That is our God. It is not merely all-pervading; it is the only existent thing. It may be called Cosmic Consciousness. It is not a totality of individual minds. It is the universal substance out of which the individual minds appear to be constituted.

The ocean is not a total of many drops. It is an integrated, undivided mass in which the apparently divided drops lose themselves. We should not imagine that the Cosmic Mind is made up of many individual minds. There is no many-ness there; it is indivisible.

Now, how would we manage to contemplate within ourselves the indivisibility of a cosmical operation through the mind, which apparently appears to be locked up within our body? In one of the sutras of Patanjali, a prescription is given. The trouble is that we always insist that the mind is inside the body only. The Cosmic Mind being the substance of the individual mind, it is the substance of everyone’s mind, also.

In the beginning stages, this difficult process of transferring the individual mind to the cosmic stuff can be attempted by a simple prescription of Patanjali, which he describes in one sutrabahih akalpita vrittih mahavideha tatah prakasa avarnaksayah (3.44). Transfer your mind to that which is not you, so that the conflict between not you and you ceases, to a large extent. Think through the mind of that which the mind is cognising, or the eyes are beholding. It is not actually a thinking; it is a transference of the whole personality itself.

Many people put a question whether this transference of oneself to a larger dimension is a thought process, imagination, or intellectual activity. It is none of these things. It is the transference of the whole being itself. For instance, when you know that you are existing, this knowledge that you are existing is not intellectual appreciation; you are not just intellectually concluding that you are existing. You are not just feeling emotionally that you are existing. You are not volitionally asserting that you are existing. You just exist, and there is no question about the way in which you know that you are existing.

This is what is known as being. It is known only by experience. You know that you are a being, which you know by a faculty which is being itself. It is this being total that gets transferred into the being of that which you consider as different from yourself, so that the dimension of your being gets expanded, by a modicum at least, into the dimension of that which you originally thought to be different from yourself.

Let the mind go out of yourself and transfer itself. Here again, do not use the word ‘mind’. The whole being is transferred. You are there, which you have been beholding with the eyes, or which you have been thinking in your mind. A difficulty in this is that you require tremendous will power to feel that you are another thing. Balesu hasti baladini (3.25) is one sutra: Elephantine strength comes by deeply transferring yourself to the elephant. You are not imagining that you are the elephant; the whole potency which arises out of the structure of the elephantine body enters into you. It becomes one with you.

Samadhi is only a word that we use for this kind of union of the reality of another thing with the reality of your own self. Samadhi is not actually a union of two different things. If they are two different things, then it cannot be called a union. It is becoming one. When two drops of water are mixed together, there is only one drop left. You do not have two drops. It is not like one stick and another stick coming together as two sticks. Two drops of water become one drop, only. Like that, when your being is united with the being of another, there is only one being, and not two beings coming together. But that being is larger in its dimension because the finitude of your so-called individual being is, to some extent, eliminated by the addition of the being of another, which you earlier thought was different from you.

This technique can be applied to anything in the world, but you must be very sincere in this practice. You should not feel that it may come or not. It must come. The Cosmic Mind is not your imagination; it is the thing which existed prior to the manifestation of your individuality, and exists even now as a transcendent element which controls the operation of your individual mind.

There is an ordinary distinction made between the subjective perceptional side and the objective object side, without actually knowing how we come to know that the object exists itself. There is a transcendental connecting link, which is called adhidaiva. That consciousness which is responsible for making you feel that you are in union with the object is transcendent in the sense that it operates not only in you as a subject, but also in that which you consider as an object, yet rises above both, so that when you see an object, you are not seeing the object. It is that which is other than you and the object, which sees both you and the other one. This is another way of transferring your individual being to a wider dimension of higher being. You may call it God; you may call it Cosmic Mind.

Every moment of this practice, you must try to be larger than what you are. Every minute you must attempt to be more than what you are. You should not be satisfied with what you appear to be. Now, the ‘more than what you are’ is not an addition of another thing, like property, gold, silver, land, etc. When land and property are added to you, you do not become more than what you are, because the dimension does not increase by merely imagining that the land and property belong to you. The land must become yourself; then the dimension may increase. Such a thing does not take place in possessions, so any kind of possession does not add to your personality. Therefore, love for luxury, property, money, etc., is not going to increase your happiness, because happiness is the characteristic of being itself. The being of a rich man does not increase in dimension merely because he has gold in the bank. That is a false idea. The person is as miserable as anybody else.

You must make a distinction between possession and being. When you possess a thing, you do not become the being of that object. It is always outside. Even if a ball of gold is in your hand, and you are tightly holding it, it has not become you. It is outside you. You may imagine that the gold is with you, and that you have the gold, but you do not have it. It drops out.

Being is to be distinguished from objectivity. The Universal Mind, or Universal Consciousness, is being. It is very, very important to know what being is. It is your being, for instance. The only explanation for what being is, is your own experience of your being. Yoga is practical experience, and cannot be learned by reading books. It requires daily exercise.

Never make the mistake of confusing being with possession or having something. Being is what you are, and not what you have. This is very important. What you are is the characteristic of your perfection and your happiness. What you have is an unnecessary accretion grown around you like moss, and it can be scraped off and you remain as an ordinary individual being.

It is necessary, therefore, to sit for meditation every day, as if it is the only duty in your life. You may have difficulties in reconciling your daily activities – office work, factory work, and other professional commitments – with this meditational technique, because again you make a mistake of thinking that your official duties and daily activities are different from the Cosmic Mind. Just as your being is the being of the Cosmic Mind, the being of the factory and office also is the being of the Cosmic Mind.

I am repeating the word ‘being’ again and again, so that you may know that it is different from ‘having’, or externalised connection. Just as it is important for you to affirm your being with the being of the Cosmic Being, in the same way you have to identify the individuality of every other thing also with this Cosmic Being – including office work, paper, pencil, whatever it is. Even a desk and table are also individuals, and their individuality also has a being of their own, which appears to make them distinct from one another.

Everything is being only. There is nothing else anywhere. Everything asserts its being. A creature, a tree, a plant, a cell, even a little particle of sand, an atom – they are all beings asserting themselves as “I am I”. This “I am I” is the crucial point in understanding the nature of Pure Being. Nobody can explain what this “I am I” is, except through your own personal experience. When you say, “I am what I am”, you know what you mean, and you cannot explain it to anybody else.

The samadhi spoken of in yoga is the union of being with being, so that it does not become a coming together of two beings, but it ends with one being. I gave you an example of two drops of water becoming one drop only. We have to be very careful using words here. United, aligned, coming together – these words do not properly describe the situation, but language is poor, and we have to use some word. It is the incomparable experience of a becoming larger than what you are, by becoming something which is far higher, bigger than what you are. This bigness is not due to the possession of property. It is a bigness of you, yourself, being what you are. You are a bigger being than what your present being is.

God is Pure Being. We consider God as Supreme Being; there is no other name for God. The Supreme Being means a Being which is incomparable with any other kind of being. It is so because of the fact that it is all-being. If it is possible by the purity of your mind, sincerity of your heart and the trustworthiness of your practice to get on with this meditation, you will feel daily happier and happier with whatever circumstance you have been placed in this world. Yoga makes you happy in a very different sense than the happiness that you have by social position, property, etc. You are happy because you are there yourself. You are happy because you are there, but you are there because you ought to be there. This ‘ought’, which is the substance of morality and ethics, is sometimes considered as a future possibility. You ought to be this. When you say that, you are insisting that you must be different from what you are. To be different from what you are may suggest that you have to be something else in the future, but morality is not the future; it is the present. The ought-ness is only an illusory distinction that appears to be made between the present and the future. The future is implanted in the present, so that the ought, or the so-called physical morality, which is divine and cosmic in its nature, not socially made, is implanted in yourself. This ought-ness, which is the essence of ethics and morality, perfection and righteousness, is another aspect of the enhancement of Pure Being. You will not only be a good person in every sense of the term, but you will be a great person.

What is the meaning of greatness? “Here is a great person.” Can anybody imagine what the meaning of “a great person” is? It is a person who is greater than a good person. It is impossible to describe the meaning of that. It is great, grand, magnificent, because it represents Higher Being. Yoga is the union, in the sense explained, of being with being, so that the result is a larger being. Patanjali goes into great details of the stages of this communion, which is of great worth and value to you.

The stages of this union also are mentioned by Patanjali. These stages, actually, do not exist outside. They are the apparent stages of the development of the dimension of your own being, in different stages of involvement of your own internal constitution. The body, the sense organs, the mind, the reason, the subconscious – these things that appear to be inside us, as layers placed one over the other, are the reason for our feeling that there are stages in union. When one aspect of our personality in the state of its being is united with the corresponding being in the outside world, it is one kind of samadhi, a physical union.

Physical union does not mean the coming in contact of one body with another body. It is again the largeness of the very structure of the five elements. The five elements, which constitute our body, appear to be a little conglomeration of their units in the form of our physical personality. They become larger. The very physical structure itself becomes larger. This is one kind of samadhi, where the entire physical feature of the world, not merely of any particular object, gets subsumed under the total, of which the components of our physical body are a part.

This is the lowest of samadhis, where you feel your physical existence has united with the being of all physical things in the world. We call it savitarka. Then, there is a more potent form of the affirmation of this kind of union, which is called nirvitarka. Then, the physical aspect is dropped, and the potency that is behind the physical manifestation, like the electrical energy, we may say, within the atoms, is asserted. When that aspect of our personality is united with the very same energy content of the things outside, that becomes a higher union, still. It becomes a union of energy, rather than any kind of physical imposition. Nirvitarkasavicharanirvichara,sanandasasmita – these are the names Patanjali gives, and you must read some good textbook on this subject in order to understand what all this means.

Glories are ahead of you: Thy Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God is coming. It is not coming from the skies. It is coming from the true within; the Kingdom of God is within you. Within whom? Within that which actually is. Since everything is being, the Kingdom of God is within the being of everything, so that the Kingdom of God is another name for the widest being you can think of. Inasmuch as it appears to be internal, we call it ‘within’. It is like saying that we are inside the world, or the world is outside us. We are within the world, but the world is not without; it is not outside, the substance of the world being the substance of our own selves. So, the within-ness here, which is purely mystical and spiritual, is like the so-called within-ness of the identity of the world with your own self. The world is neither outside you, nor inside you; it is just what it is. You are the world and, therefore, it is a universal interiority that is asserted here. That interiority is the metaphysical, philosophical, mystical, spiritual interiority. That is the great mystical within­ness. In that God resides. This means to say, Being resides in being.

For all this, you have to be a little careful about your psychological behaviour every day, and not be disturbed by your desires. There is desire in every person. Desire is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It is like electricity. You cannot say that electricity is a dangerous thing, nor can you say that it is a good thing. It is just what it is. It is the electrical engineer who knows how to handle it, and harness it for a given purpose.

Desire is nothing but a call from the Infinite, injected into the finite. It is the Infinite that is summoning you, and telling you, “Come!” This call coming from the Infinite, passing through the finite, looks like a desire for another finite, because of the difficulty that the human egoism feels in actually responding to this Infinite call. Because the Infinite is at the back of all your desires, any fulfilment of a finite desire in a finite fashion does not satisfy. Whatever desire you may try to fulfil through finite contacts will not satisfy you, because the call comes from the Infinite. Since the finite mind is unable to apprehend the presence of the Infinite, it gets distracted here and there like water in high tide or from a broken dam, just moving in any direction whatsoever because it does not know where it is to be directed.

Desire is a divine call of the Infinite communicated to the finite. God is calling you when any desire arises, but you cannot understand that it is coming from God. Why does desire make you restless? Why should you feel restless? Because you consider desire as a motivation from inside towards another finite, and you know very well, two finites do not make the Infinite. And, therefore, even the total finites of the whole world will not satisfy you. Even a king or an emperor cannot be happy because he imagines that his finitude has been conjoined with a multitude of finites, not knowing that it is the ocean that is calling him, rather than a set of other drops.

This is called sublimation of desire. Sublimation does not mean suppression. It is not even diversion. It is something more than that. It is allowing the Infinite Higher to operate through the so-called finitude of ours. Again I come to the point which I mentioned to you: It is the Higher Being that is summoning the lower being. Being calls being. That is wrongly considered as a desire, which we are unable to handle properly. This requires a good guide, a teacher who has passed through these experiences.

You must remember that without a good guide who has personal experience, you should not touch these subjects. Otherwise, you will come in clash with the finitudes, with which your finitude is connected, and you will make yourself miserable. You will never know that there is an infinite meaning behind any kind of disturbance or insecurity that you feel inside, but you wrongly consider it as caused by outside elements. Your non-adjustability with what is happening inside, with the reason why it is happening, is the difficulty that you are facing.

You can never understand this by any amount of thinking, reading books, etc., because yoga is pure practice. Yoga is what you are doing, and not what you are reading or hearing in a lecture. Yoga is actual doing, and not hearing or understanding. It is not professorial knowledge. It is not intellectual acumen. It is not widening understanding. It is widening yourself.

This is a wonder of yoga. Ascaryavat pasyati kascit enam, ascaryavad vadati tathaiva canyah, ascaryavac caiman anyah srnoti, srutvapy enam veda na caiva kascit (B.G. 2.29) Wonder! The only word is wonder. People look at it as a wonder: “What are you talking about? What is this wonder?”Ascaryavad vadati: People speak of it as a great wonder. You can conceive it only as a great wonder, I can speak to you in the language of wonder, and you should listen to it also as a wonder. But, srutvapy enam veda na caiva kascit: Any amount of bombardment upon the individual of this wonder remains eluding, always. No one has grasped it.

A total dedication of your life is necessary for that purpose. People easily mistake one thing for another thing by not having a clear concept of what is being told. An utter dedication to this ideal does not mean going to a forest, throwing off clothes and abandoning family, and then becoming a Sannyasin. It is nothing of the kind. It is a dedication of your being, as I mentioned to you. Your being does not get enhanced merely because you are away from your family. You are just the same person. Physical distance from the world does not mean a real distance.

The word ‘sublimation’ has to be understood properly. It is a transmutation of iron into gold, brute into God, lower being into Higher Being. The word ‘being’ explains everything – union of being with Being. You must know what your being is, apart from what you appear to be physically, socially, politically, etc. – that “I am”. When everything goes, you remain. What is it that remains? You remain. What is this ‘you’? Think over this matter. That which remains finally is the being of yours. It is not ‘yours’; you are the being. This being becomes one with the being of everything.

This is, in one way, how we can describe that the so-called individual mind can become the Universal Mind. When it is all-pervading, it becomes the thing which appeared as finite existence outside you, and you are in a state of bliss, ananda, which is also a samadhi.

The test of the correctness of your meditation is the happiness and the relaxation and freedom that you feel after the meditation is over. If you feel that the meditation session is a bore, it means your concentration has not been properly carried on. Every session of meditation is a joy, and you would like to sit more and more and continue it again and again. Meditation is joy; it is not an exercise.

People do not like the words ‘exercise’, ‘austerity’, and ‘regimentation’. But meditation is not an exercise that is inflicted upon you as a ‘must’ by religions. It is a rising of joy from inside to a state of higher joy – a rising not by scaling the distance through space. It is a rising without actually spatially rising, since lower being is connected to the Higher Being not by a link, but being just what it is in a higher state, like waking consciousness being superior to dream consciousness. There is no chain or a link that connects the dream consciousness with the waking. Waking consciousness is just being, but a higher being in comparison with the lower being of dream consciousness; and why it is higher, you cannot explain. You would like to be awake rather than be dreaming, because the higher being, which is the waking consciousness, gives you greater joy, merely because you have woken up.

So, this is a kind of awakening into Cosmic Existence. It is the birthright of everybody. Yoga is not for you, me, this person, that person. It is not religion. It is the duty of everyone who is born. It is the duty of every human being.

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I AM, the movie documentary (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMj9N5Io0ts&feature=related) by Tom Shadyac was certainly worth watching last night, thanks to my friend Bonnie. The two main questions asked are “What is wrong with the world?” and “What can we do to make it better?” It probably strikes the right balance between information, science, opinion, and visual for a general audience.

The movie echoes the theory and practice of meditation–the oneness of life. Another recurring refrain is not taking more than your share in life (Shadyac calls taking more a mental illness, a cancer). In yoga and Jainism, it is called aparigraha or non-acquisition. It is a core principle, along with ahimsa or non-violence, in Jainism. The people interviewed in the movie emphasize that cooperation is wired into our DNA and how life evolves through cooperation more than competition (which will always be there as well). This cooperative living is still found in monasteries, ashrams, seminaries, and in sanghas. We find it alive in our local community as well and it is called neighborliness!

To people for whom meditation is well-integrated in their everyday living, the documentary may well feel like a general script, with the well-known quotes from the popular roster of names, that browses and surfs over various topics that are not threaded together too well to create oneness.

The title did not connect well for me with the content–does it come from the I AM meditation group based at Mount Shasta, California and is now slowly but surely spreading globally? Does it refer to the biblical reference (also in Vedanta) to God as I AM or I AM THAT I AM?  I would have liked to have known the thinking behind the title.

Still, it was fun to watch, get another perspective.  It was engaging and enjoyable.

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Over the years, I have found that some yoga practices have been helpful to people with asthma. Everybody is different and what works for one does not always work for another. From my own experience as well as reading, there is no one particular set of uniform practices.

No one should ever give up their medications and use yoga as a substitute for medical care! I suggest that these practices be tried when the breathing is fine, NOT during an asthma attack. If there is any discomfort, shortness of breath, tightness in chest, stop the practice immediately. The supervision of a yoga therapist is ideal.

Relaxing the respiratory system and its muscles is a good first step. Try a Yoga Nidra, which is done lying down. Use a comfortable pillow under your head and keep yourself comfortably warm. Keep both legs bent at the knees (keep knees hip-width apart) and the feet flat on the floor or bed. Any emotional triggers to asthma may work themselves out through a regular (3-5 times a week) practice of Yoga Nidra.

Learning to breathe right, through the nose, can also be helpful. Abdominal or belly breath,  full yogic breath, and samavritti pranayama/balanced breath  can facilitate nose breathing. Do not breath in ujjayi for any of them. These practices may be helpful in regulating the rhythm of the breath.

Some of my students have found kapalbhati pranayama (skull-shining breath) very helpful–but it is done slowly (15-20 per minute as opposed to 70-90 per minute) so there is no hyperventilation. Here the exhalation is active and short and the inhalation is passive.

Kapalbhati done in cobra (bhujangasana), or the sphinx, has been very effective for some. The chest opens up allowing for fuller breathing.

This can be followed by buzzing bee/bumble bee breath (bhramari pranayama) where the inhalation is shorter than the long, slow exhalation which is done with a slight drawing in of the belly. Again, the exhalation is active–but long instead of short as in kapalbhati. The link is to Calming the Storm track and it takes the listener through the pranayama after a short story.

There is an interesting article, Asthma Answers, in the Yoga Journal by Barbara Benagh that may be worth reading. The author had her own experiences and lists a set of breathing exercises that worked well for her.

The latest issue of the newsletter by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) states it has found no evidence of significant improvement in asthma patients using breathing exercises or acupuncture.

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Mahasri Yoga (www.mahasriyoga.com) is delighted to add three new, diverse recipes  including contributions from Kalyani Bapat (chole/chickpeas UP style) and Mary La Croce (cauliflower leek soup leaning toward the French-style). So many readers, from 80 countries, come to the blog and website looking for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb recipes.

Artichoke Garlic Cream is an elegant, inexpensive, versatile recipe. Use it as a dip, spread on crostini, or as a pesto with pasta. The recipe has just three ingredients and takes five minutes. It is vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb.

Kalyani’s Chole (chickpeas) takes a little time and effort (40 minutes) and the list of ingredients is filled with aromatic spices. Do not be put off by it because it really is easier that it looks and the results are well worth it. Indian kitchens will be well stocked with these spices. This is not the ubiquitous tomato-based chickpeas dish found everywhere. The recipe is vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb.

Mary’s Cauliflower Leek Soup is a substantial, flavorful, comforting soup. It is easy to make with a short list of ingredients and is gluten-free and vegan.

We have a new book review: Meditations from the Tantras by Swami Satyananda. The book will reveal the depth and diversity of yoga meditations that remain hidden from most yoga practitioners. Swami Satyananda generously shares transcripts from classes he taught.

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When people think of yoga, they think about asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). If meditation is directly associated with yoga, it might be a repetition of a mantra, or some short guided visualization, or deep relaxation. Serious meditation is associated with Buddhist practices, not “yoga.” This is a serious misconception.

Mindfulness is another way of saying “pay attention,” which is another way of saying dhyana, which is translated as meditation. There is no “yoga” without this objective, witnessing awareness (sakshi) that pays attention to everything. Just as Buddhist meditations are numerous—mindfulness-based meditations, numerous insight meditations, anapana meditation, tantric meditations, and Zen—so are yoga meditations. Yoga Nidras are now in vogue. But there is so much more. Meditations from the Tantras  (see the complete, comprehensive review on www.mahasriyoga.com) by Swami Satyananda (he brought us Yoga Nidra) gives the reader the world of yoga meditation that is simply not found anywhere else. This book will completely change a reader’s perspective on yoga meditation.

In this book, Swami Satyananda gives transcripts of live classes he taught. Along with Yoga Nidra, there are the following meditations: japa yoga, mantra siddhi yoga, ajapa japa, antar mouna, inner visualization, chidakasha dharana, trataka and antar trataka, nada yoga, abstract meditations, prana vidya, and kundalini kriyas! So yoga has step-by-step meditations along with step-by-step asanas and pranayamas.

The best source of yoga meditation is probably the Bihar School of Yoga. It is a well-kept secret, though it does not have to be.  Read Meditations from the Tantras and you will discover the practical wisdom of yoga meditations, given in all the details you could possibly need. These are transformational meditations with enormous potential for learning, creativity, and innovation. There is no other book like Meditations from the Tantras for anyone who wants to learn yoga meditation.

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The power of chants (includes kirtan/dhun) was clear to me in India, over 30 years ago, in the Bihar School of Yoga ashrams in Mumbai and Munger. See the above visual of this blogsite, Krishna playing the flute. In yoga philosophy, this is the realm and science of nada yoga (sound as the path of yoga). The sound of music changes mood and consciousness effortlessly–the degree to which we tune in will determine the depth and duration of change.

The world of YouTube has now brought the chanting world within our home. Due to personal background, some of the Indian chants have the greatest effects on my mind. Awareness settles on the sound, the rhythm, the beat, spontaneously. The body, mind, breath come to the same place at the same time and move with the sound waves of the kirtan. Sitting in meditation after 20-30 minutes of kirtan makes the yoga practice and meditation deeper.

Searching deeper on the Internet on the effect of sound, music, and particularly chants, this thesis paper popped up: Auditory Driving As A Ritual Technology by Gabe Turow, Religious Studies Honors Thesis, Stanford University, 5/20/05.

This particular passage that follows sums up what many of us already know somewhere in the recesses of the mind, but it helps to bring it to the forefront to understand a little about meditation and the importance of chants, kirtans/dhuns. I see the music as a strong practice in pratyahara (sense withdrawal) as well as an effective way of emotional and mental cleaning, letting go. Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine emphasizes the process of “letting go” as integral to insight and creativity. Letting go can be viewed as deep cleaning from the perspective of meditation. Yoga Nidra is a potent form of deep mental and emotional cleaning (letting go). For this to happen the most effectively, this letting go cleaning, the most crucial step is that it must happen in the mind.

Here is the passage from Turow’s thesis:

Entrainment is defined as “a synchronization of two or more rhythmic cycles” and was first discovered by Dutch scientist Christian Huygens in 1665.

One of the experiments that led to this discovery was when Huygens set up a room full of pendulum clocks and got them all started one at a time. He found that when he came back to the room a day later, the sway of their pendulums had all synchronized. From this, he extrapolated that entrainment represented a ubiquitous natural phenomenon that had to do with the conservation of energy during the interaction of closely related rhythmic cycles. ( Strong, Jeff. “Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention: A Theoretical Perspective.” Open Ear Journal, 2/98.7)

This principle posits that any two vibrating bodies will entrain if exposed to each other for long enough. It’s true of clocks and electric driers sitting in close proximity to each other; it also describes the way musicians manage to play in time together in groups, the way women’s menstrual cycles fall into synch when they live with one another, and the way our body systems interact. Within our bodies, our various rhythmic systems never fight each other—they always fall into synchronized rhythms—and a lack of synchronization, like in the case of a bad heart valve that is not quite timed to the flow of blood, leads to sickness. It also seems to be the case that these body systems entrain, become synchronized, to the environment, to its oscillating features. There is overwhelming evidence that circadian rhythms keep us entrained to the rhythms of the earth relative to the sun, and that various systems within our bodies entrain to repetitive stimulation. Other examples are the way that two people walking next to one another will fall into step with each other, or the way that people clapping in a full room will synchronize their claps given enough time.

I have read other studies that describe how the human brain mimics the behavior of the people around it–if you happen to be surrounded by people who are overweight, the odds are higher that you will be overweight. We pick up on other people’s emotions–joy, laughter, sadness. (Chants, kirtans, dhuns, mantras also reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and reduce heart beat.)

We see how this affects us in a group chant where we pick up and reinforce the mood and the rhythms of the music surrounding us. There is a similar group experience in music concerts and with religious music. Like tuning forks which may have different frequencies initially, we tune into each other and vibrate at the same frequency creating harmony. This is not just an external group harmony, but I feel it is also internal harmony of brain waves that synchronize the body, breath, and mind.

In the meditation world, it is also believed that when we are in the presence of an experienced and advanced meditation teacher, if we are in synch, we can tune and benefit from the wave frequency they emanate.

There is a beautiful passage in the thesis on chanting from The Chanting Book by Master Seung Sahn:

Chanting meditation means keeping a not-moving mind and perceiving the sound of your own voice. Perceiving your voice means perceiving your true self or nature. Then you and the sound are never separate, which means that you and the whole universe are never separate. Thus, to perceive our true nature is to perceive universal substance. With regular chanting, our sense of being centered gets stronger and stronger. When we are strongly centered, we can control our feelings, and thus our condition and situation… However, when we do chanting meditation correctly, perceiving the sound of our own voice and the voices all around us, our minds become clear. In clear mind, there is no like or dislike, only the sound of the voice. Ultimately, we learn that chanting meditation is not for our personal pleasure, to give us good feeling, but to make our direction clear. Our direction is to become clear and enlightened, in order to save all beings from suffering… What’s important is to perceive the sound and become one with it, without making “I” and “sound.” At the moment of true perceiving, there is no thought, no separation, only perceiving sound. This is the crucial point. So during chanting time, perceive your own voice and the voice of others, just perceive this bell or drum sound, and cut off all thinking. Then your wisdom will grow, you will get enlightenment, and thus save all beings.

Our warmest wishes for all the major holidays coming up.

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