Saturday, 14 March 2015

Sharing From the Heart

By Mantrananda

1. When, and how, did you discover Yoga? 
Mantrananda (Liz Woollard)
I first came to Yoga when I was 17 – I had just started 6th form at a very competitive school and I felt that I needed something to help me cope, other than cigarettes and alcohol.  What I didn’t realise was that I had actually started suffering from depression, but in those days it was diagnosed as ’boyfriend trouble’.  My Mum and I went to a local adult education class, run by the local swimming coach.  She used to pull the strangest face in Sphinx-asana.  Looking back it was a pretty broad look at Yoga, including Pranayama and Meditation, but we still giggle about it today, and that’s not taking the full body, blue sparkly leotard into consideration!

2. Can you describe your Yoga practice (what aspect of yoga most touches your heart)? 
I regularly practise Yoga Nidra and Antar Mouna, and also the beautiful Hridayakasha Dharana practice by Swami Pragyamurti.  I chant regularly and love Kirtan with a passion!  I enjoy practising Surya or Chandra Namaskara, and find the Pawanmuktasana 1 series incredibly helpful.

3. Can you describe how yoga affects your daily life? 
I have both physical and mental ill health and Yoga enables me to do almost everything I love.  In 2012 I took the Yoga Nidra Module with Swami Pragyamurti, and having a Yoga Nidra daily for 7 months cured some 30 years of depression.  Wow!  This has generally allowed me to be able to cope with the challenges of life, and in particular the underlying anxiety that I now have.  I think that developing the witness in Yoga is very important – not always easy at extreme times, but a great help.

4. Has there been a moment in your years of Yoga that stands out (or a peak experience & how did you integrate this experience?)
An easy one!  I first visited Mandala Yoga Ashram in 2005, when I did a fantastic course on Yoga in Daily Life, led by the wonderful Swami Krishnapremananda.  I went with my teacher and a couple of other students, deciding, very marginally, against going to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band instead.  I was terrified that this weekend would lead to something, although I wasn’t sure quite what...
Swami Krishnapremananda

On the first night I remember thinking ‘what an earth am I doing here?’  Or something along those lines!  Twenty four hours later I’d experienced my first Kirtan with instruments and had started a major transformation, which lead to me to qualify as a British Wheel of Yoga teacher in 2011.

5. Is there a text/ book that you find inspiring? 
One of my favourite authors on Yoga is Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor who went out to India in the 1960s and there met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba.  Reading his books has led me to become very interested in The Ramayana, and the Hindi version the Rama-charit-manas, which in turn has made me very interested in the chanting of Sundara-kanda and the Hanuman Chalisa.

6. Can you tell us about a favourite retreat or retreat centre? 
Impossible to answer!  No of course it’s not – I do not mind to admitting that I have an Ashram addiction!  Mandala Yoga Ashram is an incredibly special place to me – apart from the people I love the setting, the scenery and the Red Kites, the baby hedgehogs, squirrels, the pipistrelle bats in the library eaves and the various owls.  I love how I feel when I am there and how gentle everyone is.
Red Kite
 I love the Sadhana Hall at night when there is a minimum of light; I love gazing at the Akhanda Jyoti (eternal flame) and opening the windows and breathing in fresh air.  Although there are obviously times when negativity arises, I remember the multitude of times when I have cried with laughter.

7. Could you share one of your favourite quotes and say why it inspires you? 
I would have to go for the late, great George Harrison’s ‘All things must pass’.
Most of my favourite quotes are firmly rooted in the deep philosophies of Monty Python and South Park, but I am a great believer of opening a book and finding what you need.  Most recently I opened the wonderful ‘Insight into Reality’ by Swami Nishchalananda at page 311 – a practice on ‘During Sorrow’ – ‘Next time we feel sorrow, have trust that it will eventually pass’, which echoes ‘All things must pass’, because they do.

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

With a glowing recommendation from Madhuri, I did the ‘Transformative Power of Awareness’ course with Swami Gyan Dharma last year, and am returning this May for the 10 day retreat with him.

He is so gentle but what a powerful aura!  I got caught on the Ridge last year in some lovely Welsh weather (actually Cornish weather 10 minutes previously, so I should be used to it by now) – no coat, don’t even think I’d put walking boots on!  Swami Gyan Dharma was out walking with friends and gave me shelter under his umbrella all the way back to the Ashram.  I had such difficulty keeping up with his stride (Swami GD is rather tall!) and trying to keep under his umbrella– my little legs weren’t quite up to it, but I found the whole thing unaccountably funny and heart-warming.  I was encouraged to thaw out with a warm shower - two showers in one day at the Ashram is an incredible luxury – but when all dry and full of tea, I could have taken on the entire world.  Swami Gyan Dharma is a great teacher, humble but won’t take any nonsense, and best of all – you never see it on photos - but he has the most radiant and beautiful smile.

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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....

Externalisation
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

Mala's

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.