Friday, July 15, 2011

18) Importance of 14th July for me-My Guru Purnima tribute to Gurudev Swami Sivananda

For everyone certain days are very important and unforgettable and for me the day 14th July is a very very important day in my life as that is that day in the year 1997 I started my formal yoga journey at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in  Chennai i.e 14 July 1997 . Co-incidentally that is also the day of the Maha Samadhi  of Gurudev Swami Sivananda and I see this as an amazing co-incidence .

Today i.e 15 July is the day of Guru Poornima and people world over pay respects to their respective Gurus on this day  .Previously I used to faithfully attend the Mahasamadhi Celebrations of Swami Sivananda as well as the Guru Poornima celebration at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Chennai but I have stopped doing the same the last couple of years . After Completing my Sadhana Intensive Course ( SI ) in 2009,2010 I felt a big shift happening in me ( I have describe about it in my blog post No:17,16) and this shift automatically made me erase many of my past associations with the Sivananda Yoga Centre ,its staff , its students and its activities there . It was  not that I was upset /hurt with the Sivananda Yoga Centre or its staff or people or its activities,rather it was a feeling of  saturation/disconnect  with everything there after I completed my SI course for the second time in Jan 2010 . This is surprising considering the fact that I was a very active person with regard to the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Chennai right from 1997 .I was active in teaching there , doing workshops , organizing yoga retreats , organizing festivals , functions , get together s,working with Government people in issues related to the Centre , collecting donations , taking the foreign  staff there out  in and around Chennai etc etc and many activities that I can go on and on .I used to spend most of the time there to such an extent it appeared that it was my second home .Sometimes I used to wonder why am I doing so much work for this Organization and that too as a free service .I got the answer for the same when I went on a visit to the Sivananda Organization's Head Quarters in Val Morin ,Quebec ,Canada in 2006 .There I met some very devoted students of Swami Vishnu devananda( the founder of the Sivananda Yoga Veadnta Centres )  who had been his direct disciples for many years and still faithfully come to take part in the activities at the Val Morin Ashram and they said that Swami Vishnu devananda used to say to the people who came to work for him/ or for the Sivananda Organization  have some past debts that need to be cleared and once those debts are cleared they will leave on their own or situation will force them to go out and till then whether they like it or not they will be forced to work in one way or the other for the Organization . So some people stay for 1 month and leave , some for 1 year and leave and some like me work for around 10 years and leave and some continuing to work there for many years . So I too felt that I had lot of my past life debts to be repaid for Swami Vishnu devananda and once that was over , it was now freeing me and making me travel my own path .

What benefits I got from my association with the Sivananda Organization :
1)The greatest benefits I got from my association with the Sivananda Organization was the exposure to the most simplest and classically pure and undiluted hatha yoga & raja yoga teachings .There was no New Age stuff , short cut methods , reference to some dubious and mysterious texts to claim validity and all that Swami Vishnu devananda synthesized and put in to a simple and straightforward package of 5 Basic Points of Yoga and 12 Basic Postures and 2 Basic Pranayamas were nothing but a condensation of the teachings of his Guru Swami Sivananda and who relied completely on the classical yoga texts - Hatha Yoga Pradipika , Patanjai Yoga Sutras , Shiva Sahmita , Gherenda Samhita , Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads for all his teachings and writings .
2)With the simplified Sivananda format of Asana Sequence I not only had an opportunity to practice it easily but also to teach it to others in a more simplified way .This Sivananda format was very useful to help beginners get a grasp of Yoga and I had a wonderful time passing on the essence of classical yoga to many people through my yoga classes and workshops at the Sivananda Yoga Centre .Also in 2001 I was fortunate to do a 70 episode morning yoga tv show for a private TV channel here which had the program broadcast all over India and I presented the entire Asana Sequence as part of the Sivananda System of Asana practice in that program . This program exposed me to what it is to come on TV and where ever I went out I had people talking to me and asking are you the guy who comes on the Yoga TV program and it was a wonderful experience being sort of famous at that time .
3) In the Sivananda System , Yoga was not just an academic subject to be taught and listened to . It was to be a practical experience and the Sivananda Ashram schedule was designed in such a way that anyone who comes to it either for the Teachers Training Program or for Yoga Vacation must undergo a set program right from morning to late evening and that had 2 meditation sessions , 2 yoga asana sessions , some yoga theory  , karma yoga ,free time etc and it was a complete package of Karma , Bhakti , Jnana and Hatha Yoga .So whether u liked it or not , u have to get up early sit for the morning meditations , attend the morning yoga class , do some work allotted to you , have the simple food served there and then do the same routine in evening .So this was helping a person develop positive samskaras and here you did not discuss about yoga , you are actually practicing yoga day in and day out .
4) In the Sivananda System the courses that I did were TTC( Teachers Training Course )  in 1998 ,ATTC( Advanced Teachers Tarining Course )  in 2004 , and SI ( Sadhana Intensive ) in 2009, 2010 and they  were very terrific  .TTC was tough in that you are first time pushed in to an ashram schedule , and in ATTC you do not have that problem as you are used to an ashram schedule but it is very tough in that it is highly packed schedule with regard to Asana , pranayama and theory sessions .SI is intensive in its own way and I have mentioned about it in my earlier blog post No:17 .
But the beauty of these courses was that they were being done by a group of people world over at the same time together   - Indians , Amaericans , Germans , French , Italians , Isarelies , Arabs etc etc . These courses had people from the age 20 to 60 and it has a combination of men and women . Inspite of all these differences in language , culture ,age etc  we all lived like students in a University and we all found that we had the same problem ir-respective of which Country / Culture we belonged to .Swami Vishnu devnanda believed in Unity in Diversity and the TTC ,ATTC and SI courses was a demonstration of  this spirit .I heard that in Mid 80s during the height of Arab -Isareli conflict ,we had Arabs and  Jews sitting together and eating peacefully in the Ashram during the teachers training courses .This spirit of Unity in diversity does continue in the Sivananda Ashram world wide .
5) Being part of the Sivananda System made me aware of the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of India .I was very much ashamed that being born in Brahmin family( Brahmins were supposed to carry on the spiritual tradition of India )  I was unaware of many of the basic disciplines that need to be followed in a Hindu household like morning and evening prayers , prayers before meals , special mantras to be chanted when moving out of the house /journey , rituals to be done on auspicious occasions like Ganapathy Homa , Sudarshana Homa , Maha Mritunjaya Homa , Vishnu Sahasranama Puja , Lalitha Sahasranama Puja etc etc . It was only after being associated with the Sivananda Organization that I started to bring in many of these things in to my own day to day life .
6) Since the Sivananda Organization is a world wide Organization , I had the opportunity to meet , interact with many people from world over and get a much broader perspective about many things related to Yoga and other topics .I had the opportunity to take many of my Western Sivananda friends around my City , have them come for lunch at my house and many other such interesting things . Eventhough I went outside India for the first time in 2006 but before that itself  I had a big lot of  people from the Western world as my Sivananda friends and I was in regular touch with them .The Sivananda TTCs ,ATTCs and SIs helped me develop such a good network and in this respect I consider the Sivananda Ashrams to be a sort of Multi Cultural University .
7) My visit to the Sivananda Ashram in Quebec , Canada in 2006 as well as 2007 was the very best I can say .It exposed me to life outside India for the first time , more so as the way Ashrams are run outside India .It also helped me connect to many new friends and in fact my second visit in 2007 laid the first foundation of me going bit deeper in to my own Yoga Sadhana and taking the route of a Solitary Sadhak ( spiritual aspirant ) .

So like this I can go on and on regarding the benefits I had got due to my association with the Sivananda Organization and this one blog post will not be enough . The reason why I am writing this today is because today is Guru Poornima and today  one must thank one's Guru's for all the blessings they gave and continue to give in your life .I never choose Swami Sivananda as my guru , in fact it was Sri Krishnamacharya who was my first Yoga inspiration but then it was the grace of Swami Sivananda who pushed me to the path of Yoga on July 14 , 1997 on his Maha Samadhi day and till this day I feel that  it is his grace that is guiding me on the next steps in Yoga .

Today I am no longer interested in being part of the activities of the Sivananda Organization as I feel that I have reached a saturation limit in that and destiny wants me to move ahead and spend more time in my own solitude and sadhana and hence I do not have any guilt in not being part of any  Sivananda Ashram activity or being in communion with my regular Sivananda friends as I used to do it before .At the same time I continue to take inspirations from the teachings of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu devananda and try to live in the spirit of the teachings as much as I can .I feel that the best respect one can show for one's teachers/Gurus  is to try to live their teachings as much as one can in one's life and I am happy that my association with the Sivananda Organization for many years has only strengthened my faith in Yoga and in living a Yogic life .While I continue to pursue learning other styles of yoga like Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga etc , my spirit will always remain in the basic teachings of Swami Sivananda which is :

Once again on this auspicious Occasion of Guru Poornima I   thank Gurudev Swami Sivananda for kindling in me the spark of Yoga on July 14 - the day of his Maha Samadhi and hence I consider July 14 to be a very memorable day in my life . I consider this blog post to be as a form of gratitude to Gurudev Swami Sivananda and other Gurus who have guided me and who continue to guide me and I am very much thankful to all the Gurus for guiding me on the right path at the appropriate times and the spiritual bliss that I am enjoying right now  is due to sticking to the path of Yoga that would not have been possible had the grace of Swami Sivananda not acted on me on July 14 , 1997 .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

17) My Sadhana Intensive ( SI) Course experience

I did the  Sadhana Intensive Course ( SI ) at the Sivananda Ashram ,Madurai ,India at 2009 and repeated again at 2010 and these were life changing experiences for me .I did my Yoga Teachers Training Course (TTC) in 1998 and my Advanced Yoga Teachers Training Course ( ATTC ) in 2004 at the Sivananda Ashram , Neyyar Dam ,India and while TTC and ATTC were itself had a major impact on me ,it was the SI course that really created the big shift in me and brought me to the current state of solitude that I am right now .

About the Course :
 The SI course is only  for the people who have completed the Sivananda TTC .It is not open to any other student however advanced he /she may be .It is a 2 week course i.e full 14 days of intense Sadhana without any breaks in between and right now in the Sivananda Ashrams it is offered in India ( Madurai , Uttar Kashi ) , Canada ( ValMorin , Quebec ) and in Sivanada Ashram in France .
 The maximum no. of candidates allowed  is 26 ( sometimes this rule is relaxed and few additional people are accomodated ) . The course is conducted in a very secluded atmosphere that is pure and unpolluted and away from noise and away from external people .The course is based on developing a personal intensive Yoga Sadhana according to the Classic text " Hatha Yoga Pradipika" .
There is no group/guided  practice here and each and every candidate is required to do his /her own Sadhana as per the instructions given at the beginning of each day .Sometimes the practices are modified according to the capacity of the individual .Each student is required to maintain his/her own personal sadhana diary and note down their own experiences and problems and the same is shared in a group discussion at the middle of the day .
The Diet in SI :
 The students of SI course are given a very special diet that is free of oil ,salt and other spices and is usually a very bland diet  involving boiled vegetables , chapatis , yogic kitchidi ( not the usual spicy one ) ,simple dal and some fruits ,fruit juices . Every morning the students are given a glass of Almond Milk which is very conducive for Pranayama practice .
Some restrictions :
All the students are required not to use cell phones , telephones ,emails etc during this 2 week period .It is a sort of Electronic detox for 2 weeks .However there is no Military like discipline enforced and students are morally expected to abide by these rules and many do so .

 Some background regarding the SI Course :
Everyone knows that Swami Vishnu devananda started the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres world over in late 60s and he was the person who first started the concept of  Yoga TTC , Yoga ATTCs etc . Before starting the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres , Swami Vishnu devananda was a disciple of Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh and he used to do intense Hatha Yoga Sadhana in his own hut in Uttar Kashi on his own and  developed enormous amount of Prana that he used later for his Yoga Mission world over . In Mid 80s some students of Swami Vishnu devananda in Quebec asked him about the secret of his abundant energy and he said that it was due to his intense Hatha Yoga Sadhana based on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that he did on his own when he was a disciple of Swami Sivananda . The students wanted to know whether he is ready to share those Yogic secrets and Swami Vishnu devananda told that there is no secret in this sadhana but it involves a high degree of self discipline and self control as it is a very intense sadhana for many months to be done under seclusion under strict control of diet and other external factors . However seeing the interest in the students , Swami Vishnu devananda told that he will give a trailer to this sort of Sadhana and hence compressed the essence of this 6 month sadhana in 2 weeks so that people can get a feel of what it is to do undergo a rigorous yoga sadhana .This was how the SI course came in to being in 1986 at the Sivananda Ashram in Val Morin , Quebec ,Canada and slowly it came to be given even in their  Indian Ashrams .Swami Vishnu devananda designed it mainly for the Sivananda teachers / staff to energize themselves each year so that they turn out to to be better yoga teachers and are able to give more energy back to their students .

The Course Schedule :
All the students are required to get up early starting from 5 a.m in the beginning and as the course progress they need to get up still earlier at 4 a.m or so and after finish their bath , toilet they need to do the basic yogic kriyas on their own ( Jala Neti , Sutra Neti , Uddyana Bandha etc ) and assemble for the morning Satsang ( Group Prayer and Meditation ) . After the Meditation and Group Chanting is over , there is a talk on Adi Shankara's  Text Viveka Chudamani .After the satsang is over students are given a glass of Yogic  Almond Milk and they assemble for the instructions for the day . 
 First all the students chant the Sankalpa (i.e Vow ) for the day and then the teacher gives out the type of practice to be done for the day .All are required to do the basic Sivananda Asana routine of  Surya Namaskar and 12 basic postures to start with before starting the pranayama routine .  The main thing in this course is the pranayama practice . So each day the pranayama practices are given and their rounds keep increasing day by day and also new pranayama's are introduced progressively as the course progresses . So at the morning session the teacher introduces the new pranayama to the students and also demonstrates how it should be done . Later Mudras and Bandhas are also added and they are also demonstrated as and when they occur .
Initially the course starts with 2 sessions of practice , morning and evening and later it progresses to 3 sessions , early morning , mid morning and evening sessions .
After the morning session , students go for the lunch and later each student is given some work to do ( Karma Yoga ) and it can be cleaning the toilets , the yoga hall , the garden etc and it is usually kept mild and only for 30 mts or so .
Then the students assemble for the afternoon group discussion where the Hatha Yoga Pradipika text is read and discussed as well as each student shares his /her own morning sadhana as well as previous day's evening sadhana's experience . This is the time where the teacher sometimes modifies the practice for each student based on the problems they encounter .For some he may tell them to lower the counts , for others to lower the ratio ,for others to skip bandhas etc etc .
In afternoon the students are given a glass of some fruit juice or coconut water or water melon to cool the system .After this the next session of Sadhana starts .
In evening the students assemble for the supper and after that they assemble for the night meditation and satsang and at night the holy text SriMad Bhagavatahm is read and after that students retire to bed early and the schedule repeats again .
Sometimes early morning there is a Homa ( Fire Ritual done ) and sometimes in evening there is a Mass Lalitha Sahasranama or Vishnu Sahasranama Puja ( Ritual ) will be done .This is basically done to keep the negativity away and also to energize the students and the atmosphere of the entire ashram plus also to invoke the divine blessings .

 Experience of the students during and after the course :
 Each and every student has varied experience during and after the course and one cannot standardize the same .Some students cannot progress after a few days and hit a block and they struggle a lot in completing , some fall sick for a few days and then recover quickly  and some remain sick for a longer period .The sickness is due to the fact when the Sadhana is being done the body is getting purified  at the physical, mental and emotional level and all the toxins start coming out . That is why students are required to prepare themselves well for a few weeks / months before they do the course otherwise they will have a tough time during this course .Some students have a smooth sadhana for the entire 2 weeks , some have a sea saw like sadahana with its ups and downs .Initially it is very easy for some but later as it keeps getting tougher not many people can withstand it .But as I said earlier that this is not a military camp where people are forced to do everything that is being ordered . There is no compulsion or pressure on any student to do the day's practice . Each and every student is encouraged to do what is best for his /her own capacity and not to force themselves .In Ashtanga term this is like a sort of Mysore Style Pranayama practice - do what is within ur capacity .
Also students are advised not to put their Ego in to the practice and learn the art of surrendering as only divine grace can guide them to a successful practice .As a symbolic gesture of surrender and bhakti each and every student is required to prostrate at the altar before and after they finish their sadhana in each session .
Again after the course each and every student has a different experience and while some are motivated to repeat it again , others feel once is enough and that they do not have the courage to do it again .

My personal experience of the SI:

In 2009 when I first did the SI course  ,I had initial difficulty in adjusting to the course but was later able to pick up and move smoothly . In 2010 it was a smooth experience all along as I was more psychologically prepared .I had an intention of repeating this course in 2011 but then I did not have the favorable situation to do it .Anyway I was happy to do it twice and get a feel of what real Yoga  Sadhana means .
The SI course helps each student to understand what his /her own potential is ,evaluate his /her own commitment to the path of Yoga and for me it gave me a great shift in understanding the greatness of this wonderful Hatha Yoga Sadhana and pushed me further in to making Yoga as my entire life mission - not just as a career but to put my time ,energy and resources in going in to this subject of Yoga  deeply from various dimensions and bring out my own yoga teachings based on this personal discovery . Also after the SI course was over I was  getting lot of indirect signals not to get involved in any external activity that involved me being an extrovert but rather focus on those activities that helped me remain more in solitude and focus on my own personal sadhana at home . This upset many of my friends / relatives as I stopped interacting with them a lot , avoided taking part in functions , get togethers etc etc .Previously I used to run and help lot of people in doing lot of  their personal work or when they visit my town , I used to meet them / take them out etc but now I was saying a big NO to many of such things as all of those activities were sapping my energies and even when I tried doing them  ( after my SI experience ) I ended up burning my fingers  and this gave a clear indication to me that it is high time I put a full stop to such an activity . For some who are curious as to why this change in my attitude I tell them that after my SI have changed a lot and if they try to relate to me in the same way as they were with me before I did the SI course then they are in for a disappointment . Some are hurt by this , some are disappointed by this behavior of mine but I cant help it . I have to acknowledge this shift in me and respect it and move ahead in the way it wants me to go . But at the same time it helped me strengthen the bonds with some close friends , students within India and Abroad and with whom I share a very special spiritual bond  and they say that they feel  a  very special warming energy in my presence and I continue to nurture those good relationships and are also open to those sort of good relationships and now that I am on the path of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga /Structural Iyengar Yoga ,I am forming new friends through various Ashtanga/Iyengar  bloggers online and I hope to meet some of them in real life  and have wonderful discussions related to Yoga and other healing techniques .
I can continue to write many more as to how SI course helped me develop a big shift in my perceptions about my life in general and about my yoga sadhana in particular but I will reserve it for another day .The above is best what I can write about now .

Monday, July 11, 2011

16) Why I have slowed down ?

After a long gap I am blogging again . Anyway ,I have never been a compulsive blogger and even though I am not blogging much ,I continue to keep my journaling activity intact by writing regularly in my private  journal offline .Compared to the past I have slowed down considerably and have cut off most of my outer activities and spend more time in solitude , doing my yoga ,reading ,contemplating and writing.Even with regard to my Yoga teaching activity I have cut down a lot and just confining myself  to few dedicated students .This slowing down and loving solitude rather than activity did not come due to any force or pressure from myself .It was due to natural shift in my perceptions about life in general and my yoga sadhana in particular .This shift happened more prominently after my doing the Sadhana Intensive Course ( SI ) twice at the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai in 2009 and 2010 and also after my visit to Rishikesh in Oct 2010 .While the SI course slowed down my thoughts and gave me a glimpse of how it is when the mind is slowed down due to intense rounds of Pranayama , the visit to Rishikesh kindled in me the power of  slowing down the mind due to "Vichara" i.e path of Self Enquiry  . Surprisingly this Vichara that I am talking about was not the Vichara of Ramana Maharshi ( done using  the method of hunting the "I") or the Vichara of Classical Advaita ( done using the Scriptures ) but rather done using a combination of the techniques given by Byron Katie ( through her technique called "The Work") , the pointers and teachings, dialogues   from J.Krishnamurti , pointers from Eckhart Tolle , Adya Shanti , Leonard Jacobson ,Osho,Poonja (Papaji) , Rameh Balsekar  as well as some insights  from the lectures of Swami Dayananda on his talks on Classical Advaita Texts .So it was a combination of many of the above that pulled my mind more inside instead of it going outward . That is one reason why I am not keen on blogging ,writing emails ,chatting , updating my Face Book etc as all those activities involve me to constantly keep interacting with people from the outside world and I feel a severe drain of energy if I do that .So that is one reason why I keep my interaction with outside people ( both online and offline ) quite less and just interact with a select few close friends and students and rest of the time spend time in  solitude doing yoga , reading ,writing ,contemplating and mantra chanting .As regards my Yoga practice previously it was just the Sivananda Style of  Classical Hatha Yoga but now I am doing a combination of Ashtanga Vinayasa Yoga as well as Iyengar based Structural Yoga and with regard to my current reading it is more of  things related to Movement Therapies ( Anatomy , Kinesiology , Yoga etc ) and anything with regard to healing the body and mind .So in short I am basically now doing a sort of research on healing the body and mind using various Yoga techniques as well as other healing therapies as well as non dual techniques and discover for myself what best works for me and later teach that to my students based on my own experience .Just like in my Vichara activity ,where I did not want to get trapped in any specific system like Classical Advaita , Ramana Maharshi etc but preferred to use a system that was a combination of various techniques and teachings from various Non Dual Masters ,similarly with regard to my Yoga practice I   do not want to get trapped in labels like Sivananda , Ashtanga ,Iyengar etc etc but want to take the best from each and develop my own unique way to practice and teach the same .There is lot of hard work in this as it is always easy to follow one system and teach it to others rather than discovering one for urself . I found out that no one system is capable of addressing the needs of all the students however noble it may be  .So trying to solve the problem faced by a student through a single system is like hiring a carpenter who brings only one tool i.e hammer and tries to solve all the carpentry problems using only the hammer and what will he do , he will just be banging on everything .So I do not want to be like that Carpenter having a single tool and I want to equip myself with as many tools as possible to help heal a person physically , mentally .That is what I see as my Dharma for the next phase of my life and I believe that is why Existence is sort of slowing me down to make me focus on the difficult task of being a multi dimensional yoga teacher /healer .How long I will be like this ( i.e in solitude ) I do not know but as of now this is my current state and I leave it to future to decide its own course for me .