Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Reflections on the Yoga Teacher Training Course

By Maitri (June Swinfield)  

Graduates in 2014
On deciding I wanted to train to be a yoga teacher, I looked around at the options available. I had visited the Mandala Yoga Ashram for a few weekends previously and whilst there I felt extremely nurtured, cared for and safe. When I heard that a teacher training course was coming up in the autumn it was the obvious choice.
Throughout the course we were supported at every stage. If we had any worries or problems there was always someone to talk to. We had a number of different teachers on the course, with different personalities and different teaching methods, which gave extensive input to our learning experience.
I can truly say I couldn't have had a better experience of learning anywhere else. All aspects of yoga were covered, giving us a taste of many teachings. It didn't feel like we were being filled with only academic knowledge. We were filled with experience and the joy of practice and felt looked after in every way at every stage of the course.
I will be thankful to all the teachers involved in the course forever, and although I live 700 miles away from the ashram in the north of Scotland, it will always be my spiritual home - I will always feel drawn back to the ashram.

This article can also be seen on the ashram blog, see http://www.mandalayoga.net/blog

Friday, 9 January 2015

Bondage and Freedom Are Merely Concepts

Bondage and freedom are merely concepts, only meaningful to those who live in confusion and fear.Just as the one sun gives countless reflections, so the one Consciousness reflects into multitudinous beings.
Practice (dharana) 110, Vigyana Bhairava Tantra
During times of confusion, frustration and fear we often say, ‘Why bother?’ Philosophically, we may wail and say ‘woe is me, I am bound’ or ‘I wish I was free of all this hassle.’

But the ideas of bondage and freedom are merely part of relative existence. Ultimately, the ego-personality is temporary and illusory. Therefore, who is bound and who is there to be liberated? Does it make sense to say that the image of the sun reflected on the water is bound and that it can be liberated? The reflection is unreal, so there is no question of it being bound; and this being the case, what is there to be liberated? The same applies to us as humans. We are, after all, embodied beings – merely, but extraordinarily – reflections of Consciousness.

The above is just the start of this article from Swami Nishchalananda, the Spiritual Director of Mandala Yoga Ashram. To continue reading, see http://www.mandalayoga.net/blog where the article is available in full.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pancha Maya Koshas

From the Hatha Yoga Retreat "Embodying Insight" October 2014. Conducted by Swami Krishnapremananda and Madhuri

Course participant comments: "Madhuri and Krishnaprem delivered the intended course with great sensitivity and skill.  Allowing for different levels of experience and emotional holding."

"I enjoyed the balance between practice and theory.  I liked the Pranayama exercises very much and that there was a choice of strength exercises.  I enjoyed the early morning Hatha Yoga combined with awareness exercises."

A Meditation with Swami Krishnapremananda on the Pancha Maya Koshas given during the Retreat
The inspiration for this practice comes from Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati.

Bring a spacious, relaxed yet alert attention to the practice.
Annamaya Kosha
Become aware of the physical body, the physical vehicle of your embodiment. Feel the contact between the base of the body and the ground… and the shape and position of the body in space. Take the awareness inside the body, sensing it from the inside. Sense the skeleton… the major organs… the heart beating… the channels of blood, nerve, lymph. Feel the physical sensations of the body – warm… cold… comfort… discomfort…openness… restriction. Feel the physicality of the body, created and sustained by the food you eat. It is a miracle, so complex yet so finely tuned. Feel the body, this vehicle through which we can experience manifest life.
Pranamaya Kosha
Become aware of the breath, however and wherever you feel it. Notice the quality of the breath, it’s relative smoothness, quietude and depth.  Be aware of the steady almost timeless rhythm of your breathing.
Be aware of the breath in the abdomen and watch the gentle movement of the breath.
Now expand this sensation to the whole body; feel that the whole body is breathing.  Every cell of the body is breathing.
Begin to sense the pranamaya kosha extending through the whole body as a field of energy which also extends all around the physical body to an arbitrary distance of 12 finger widths. The physical body is seated within this more expansive field or cocoon of vitality. This pranamaya kosha is continually, in each moment, being nourished and sustained by the prana, or the life force within the breath.
Manomaya kosha
Now become aware of the more subtle space of the mind: the field of thoughts, feelings, images and dreams at night. Continue to be aware of the steady rhythm of the breath but also be aware of the mind stream.  Neither clinging, rejecting or choosing – spacious relaxed yet alert awareness. Thoughts… feelings… images…memories…passing like clouds across the sky like space of the mind. Simultaneously be aware of the clear blue sky through which these clouds are passing.
Continue to be aware of the mind stream and the vast sky like space beyond.
Simple observation of thoughts and feelings… letting them come… letting them go.
Allow self-images also to arise, ‘I am a mother, a father, a student, a teacher....’   Whatever the self-images may be, allow these images to come and to go. No need to give them the stamp of reality; be light with such images as they arise.
Continue to be aware of both the mind stream and the clear blue sky beyond.
Vigyanamaya Kosha
And now identify completely with the clear blue sky, entering into the vigyanamaya kosha.  Visualise an eagle flying in the clear blue sky. See its strong balanced wings and sense its poise and freedom.  Become the eagle flying high and free… feel your easy and balanced flight, the air against your body and the vast space around you.  With your all seeing gaze you can view the patterns of the personality in a very different context and of being of little consequence.
Know that you are free, unbound, undisturbed. The vast space of the clear blue sky all around you. Your all seeing gaze clear and bright.
Anandamaya Kosha
Now see the shining sun, representing the anandamaya kosha, high above you, and direct your flight towards it. Fly ever higher towards the sun, as if being drawn into its very source. Fly yet higher… higher still… and feel the whole of your being being illuminated and infused with light and with joy... abundant light abundant joy. Feel that you are this scintillating light, this causeless joy, this shining sun…

Then there is simply radiance... Timeless, causeless, endless radiance....

And now be aware of the eagle once again, the clear blue sky around it. Become aware of the steady flow of the breath… and the arising once again of the mind stream. In this breath awareness begin to feel the outline, the shape and the weight of the physical body, and its contact with the ground. Be aware of where you are, the room in which you are seated, and any others around you. Be aware of sound perceptions from the external world and take your time to fully identify with your embodied existence before starting to move the body… and externalising your awareness.
Hari OM Tat Sat

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


An extract from the now updated Ashram publication: "Mantra Yoga and Ashram Chants" by Swami Nishchalananda.

A 27 bead mala, turquoise and rose quartz
Number of Beads and their Symbolism.

A mala is a string of  beads. The most common mala consists of 108 beads, although those of 27 and 54 are also used. In Yoga, 108 is considered a sacred number. The reason is as follows:
The number 1 represents Oneness, Unity, Perfection and Totality.
The number 8 symbolises Nature, the manifest universe, as well as the individual personality.
According to certain schools of Yoga, we are made up of 8 tattwas (subtle elements): prithvi (earth, solidity, structure), apas (water, fluidity; all fluids), agni (fire, chemical processes), vayu (air, electromagnetic forces), akasha (space), manas (individual mind), ahamkara
(ego, individuating principle) and buddhi (faculty which permits the flow of Awareness).
The 0 symbolises shoonya (transparency or emptiness).
A mala made in the Ashram
Therefore, the number 108 indicates that when there is complete transparency (0) between the individual personality (8) and the totality (1), there is a state of Transcendence. When the mind is empty of thought and mental agitation (0), then the individual (8) is in perfect osmosis with Consciousness (1). From the viewpoint of Yoga, the number 108 symbolises the fulfilment of human life. 
Japa encourages this transparency between the individual personality and underlying Consciousness. Therefore, the number of beads on the mala symbolise the purpose of doing Japa. The numbers 54 and 27 are important merely because they are divisions of 108. Moreover, the individual digits of all these numbers 27, 54, 108 and even 1008, always add up to 9. In numerology, the number 9 symbolises the perfection of human life. Therefore, whether you use a mala with 108, 54 or 27, or even 1008, it always symbolises the aim of Yoga: to lead us to perfection and realisation of our essential Nature.  Use a mala with whatever number of beads suits you. 

Tibetan style mala. 108 beads
The Structure of the Mala. 

The beads are separated from each other by a special kind of knot called a brahma granthi (literally, ‘the knot of Brahma’).The mala is made into a continuous loop by joining the two ends together using an extra bead, known as the sumeru (the summit), which is offset from the other beads. The sumeru bead is an essential part of the mala and is regarded as both the starting and ending point for all mala rotations. It acts as a reference point so that the practitioner can count the number of mala rotations during Japa.

How to Use the Mala.

The tips of the thumb and ring finger should lightly press together and the mala is supported, but not held, at their junction. The middle finger is used to rotate the mala. The second and small fingers are not used but are held away from the mala. Other traditions have other ways of holding the mala which are equally valid. For example, the mala is often held in the right hand, draped over the last three fingers and rotated with the thumb. Use whatever method you prefer. 

Crystal Mala. 27 beads
Start your practice at the sumeru bead. Rotate the mala, bead by bead, synchronised with each repetition of the mantra, until you return to the sumeru. This obstruction will tell you that you have finished one round of Japa.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Swami Gyan Dharma Satsang

Swami Gyan Dharma gives a talk to students towards the end of their teacher training course, discussing the value of regular sadhana and explains how yoga can brought into daily life.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Interview with Hridaya Purna

1.    When, and how, did you discover Yoga?

I was introduced to yoga by my eldest sister Caroline when I was 10.  She was 21 and at the time I was in total awe of her.  She was vegan, practicing hatha yoga in our house and an amazing woman.  The practices touched something deep within me and I was hooked.  Even then I was an avid reader and explorer and from that seed I started to read about yoga and yogic philosophy and develop a small practice. In my late teens I started to go to classes, deepen my practice and learn how to integrate yoga into my life.

2.    Can you describe your Yoga practice (what aspect of yoga most touches your heart)?   

Bhakti yoga really touches my heart.   I have devoted my life to embodying love and sharing that as service to the Divine.  I see love as the Divine aspect in all forms, all people, all life. I am currently training as an Interfaith Minister and can see how love is at the core of all the faith and mystical traditions.  I want to help other people to access that love in a way that is accessible and appropriate for this time.  I see this expressing itself fully through my personal yoga practice and my teaching.

3.    Can you describe how yoga affects your daily life?

Yoga expresses itself throughout my daily life. My core practice is devoted to embodying love. I'm not always successful but I do my best.  This expresses itself in a number of ways. Nurturing Hatha yoga practices for my body, Service and devotional practices for my heart and meditational practices for my mind.  I have also loved exploring the Kriya yoga practices as a way of freeing and exploring how to harness and use the potent energy within me.  The yoga of relationships is also my sadhana.  How can I embody the qualities taught to me through my yoga practices in all my relationships?  My challenge is to practice the universal philosophy of yoga in whatever context i am in as a business woman leading strategic meeting, whilst conducting a ceremony as an Interfaith Minister or when teaching yoga.

4.    Has there been a moment in your years of Yoga that stands out (or a peak experience & how did you integrate this experience?)

In January 2011, I had an experience that changed my life and how I view it forever. It felt like the culmination of all the practices that I have ever done over the years and more.  It came at a time where I was on sabbatical.  I was rested, relaxed, happy and I could dedicate everyday to yogic practices and inspired living.  I could label it a spiritual, psychic, awakening, enlightening and/or kundalini experience.  In the end it doesn’t matter what you call it. All that matters is that I had an unforgettable, unshakeable, unchanging, awe inspiring realisation that we are all connected that we are all one. Not just an intellectual understanding but a visceral, whole being experience of this universal truth at my core.  
 It was so powerful and amazing that it took 3 days of psychological assessment to find out that I could have that experience and still be completely sane.  (Well completely sane as anyone really is!).  I integrated this experience by making a commitment to live my life with full integrity, to have the courage to honour the truth of my spirit through my body, heart and mind.  I realised that it is my purpose to work and live in a way that helps to bring our global family together; to recognise that we are interconnected at our deep roots and that all beings have a part to play in our world story.  I believe that it is essential, for the good of all, that we nurture and be fully who we are and recognise that we are all connected at some level.  Hence my commitment to service and my work for The Nurturer.

5.    Is there a text/ book that you find inspiring?

I'm a little bit of a rebel and I am reading and enjoying Uma Dinsmore-Tuli's Yoni Shakti at the moment. Her book is well researched and written.  It explores yoga and tantra through history, practices and woman's perspectives. I like the radical stance that she takes on outing the sexual politics that can exist in yogic institutions.  I feel that this can sometimes get in the way of experiencing life fully as a yoga practitioner, especially as a woman.   Swami Nichschalananda has always emphasised the importance of questioning and experience rather than blind belief. I feel that this book helps practitioners to look for direct experience through practice and release some thought forms, structures and traditions that may not be relevant or useful for them. 

6.    Can you tell us about a favourite retreat or retreat centre? 
Hridaya Purna practicing Kubera Mudra

I love Mandala Yoga Ashram dearly.  It has been a crucible for learning, growth and inspiration for me.  I am eternally grateful for all that has been provided for me at the Ashram. I also have to say that my retreat centre in Barbados is pretty cool too.  I have been gifted with a space the brings love, beauty and transformation. Yoga is universal and I feel blessed to be able to share the practices that I have learned in the Caribbean. 

7.    Could you share one of your favourite quotes and say why it inspires you?

"One love, one heart. Let's get together and feel alright."  Bob Marley

It's simple and it fosters love and togetherness. It has the potential to bring more, peace, love and joy into the world. 

Ramana Maharishi
8.    If you could practice/study with any yogi (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?  

Ramana Maharishi - It would have been a blessing to sit in silence in his presence.  I have experienced the grace that he speaks about.  It would have be wonderful to personally experience how he emanated that grace during his life.  

Monica Douglas-Clark is a Mandala Yoga Ashram trained Yoga Teacher and Tutor.  Her yogic name is Hridaya Purna (fullness of the heart). She is an inspired Leader, Teacher and Coach on a mission to support people to live their inspired life. She is a sacred business woman, co-founder of Zion House retreat centre Barbados, dedicated holistic practitioner, Nurturing yoga teacher and teacher trainer, Moon Mother, workshop facilitator, Energy worker, Energy 4 Life Wellness Coach and Interfaith Minister in the making.

Visit the podcast The Nurturer Podcast with Monica Douglas-Clark for free resources
Twitter @MDCTheNurturer