Newsletter December 2009
An interview with Swami Satsangi
Q: In the middle of busy routines and changing societies, what do you see as the basic ingredient for cultivating a yogic lifestyle?
Swami Satsangi: The basic ingredient for cultivating a yogic lifestyle is very simple. But even though it is simple, it is difficult. This basic ingredient as given by the masters of yoga is regularity. In yoga, how much you practise is not important, but how regularly you practise is very important. Just as you brush your teeth in the morning, take a bath, go to the toilet, have your breakfast – yoga has to become part of your daily routine. That is the most important ingredient to cultivate a yogic lifestyle, because in yoga you are dealing with the evolution of awareness, and unless you are regular, the awareness regresses.
Q: As we travel the path of yoga, our sense of imbalance may increase at times. What are the indicators that we are on track with our practice?
SS: Yoga is balance; without balance yoga is not effective. Just as in nature there is balance – day and night, heat and cold – in the same way in yoga, there is balance. When there is too much activity, you must balance it with sleep. When there is too much eating, you must balance it with a light diet. When there is too much entertainment, you must balance it with work. That is the essence of yoga. When you say you are going out of balance by practising yoga, that itself is the indicator that you are going off track, because yoga will never imbalance you. Yoga is intended to bring about balance, and in that yoga is very effective. So if you feel that by practising yoga you are going out of balance, know that you are doing something wrong and try to correct that.
Q: What does yoga have to offer to support our communities through difficult times?
SS: Difficulties come to everyone. Life is a struggle. But in facing difficulty, if we have a certain quality of mind, inner strength and focus, then we are able to understand the difficulty in the true perspective, and then we get the solutions. And in that, yoga is perhaps one of the few and only systems, which gives you that strength of mind, that inner strength, that focus, with which you can deal with difficulties and problems. There is a saying by Rudyard Kipling, “When everyone around you are losing their heads, and you can keep yours, then you’re a man.” Yoga helps you in keeping your head on your shoulders in times of difficulty. The main thing about yoga is that it empowers the individual. You don’t have to look for help to anybody else because yoga gives you the tools to make the correct decision. It allows you to have the clarity of mind, to be focused and de-stressed. And when you have these qualities, then no matter what difficulties come, you have the strength and equanimity to face them.
Swami Satsangi (Swami Satyasangananda) is the Peethadhishwari (acharya) of Rikhiapeeth, India. A scholar with deep insight into the yogic and tantric traditions, she travels widely sharing the teachings of Yoga.
Why go on retreat?
By Swami Gyandharma Saraswati
We all of us, some time or other in our lives, need to pay some attention to healing the inner person. We live lives that are stressful and demanding in many different ways, and in order to cope with all that life throws at us – in the form of stress, friction, boredom, upheaval, trauma, etc – we need calm, well-functioning minds. Too often we have little chance of connecting to our own natural inner calmness, as both life outside, and our own minds seem to work against us.
We get caught up in fear, insecurity, anger, guilt, self-loathing, and many other negative states of mind that can seem persistently real, and we find it hard to get a balanced perspective on our own inner experience. We find ourselves lacking the tools and training to resolve these inner problems, and often find ourselves going around in the same repetitive unproductive patterns.
So we go on retreat to acquire the tools, and undergo the necessary training, in order to learn how best to deal with these internal negative mental states, and to learn how to avoid the suffering that they create in our lives.
Modes of mind
Our minds have two modes of operation. One is the ‘doing’ mode, and the other is the ‘being’ mode.
We are all very familiar with the doing mode of the mind, as that is where we spend most of our time. It is the mode of mind that gets us from here to there, so to speak.
It is the part of mind that says, ‘I am here, and I want to go there.’ And then it sets about closing that gap, between the here and there. It is the external, problem-solving capacity of the mind, and for our everyday lives it’s very important.
But problems arise when we employ the doing mode of mind to solve the negative mental states of the mind. Depression doesn’t go away just because the doing mode of mind says, ‘I should be happy.’ Fear doesn’t go away just because the doing mode of mind says, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of.’ The doing mode of mind wants to close the gap between where it is and where it wants to be, but nothing happens. We cannot order our minds to feel some other way. It feels as it feels, and then the doing mode of mind, faced with the fact that it cannot close the gap, starts criticising itself. ‘I am no good,’ it says, or ‘I am so weak. What’s wrong with me? I am worthless. Nobody likes me. I can’t do anything right,’ and so on and so on. Instead of working its way out of the painful negative states of mind, it spirals deeper and deeper into these destructive states of mind.
The being mode of mind is the healer, and on retreat we get to know this being mode of mind. Then, through practice, we strengthen and enhance the capacity of the being mode of mind. Just like a muscle grows with exercise, mindfulness and awareness grows with practice, and in the retreat situation with its lack of distraction, our focus is this cultivation of awareness.
The being mode of mind is spacious, tolerant, open, accepting, compassionate. It is also not goal oriented, and so it allows us to be where we are. When we allow ourselves to be where we are, no inner friction or fight takes place, and we begin to understand that we do not need to be victims of our own mental states.
We can then approach our minds with compassion and clarity, and begin to see that negative states of mind are not resolved by fighting them. The healing we are looking for is a direct effect of not judging, not condemning. By not engaging negatively with the negative mind, we dissolve it.
So to start that inner healing, we need to spend time growing the mindfulness muscle. That is why we all need, from time to time, to step out of our busy lives, give ourselves the gift of retreat, and the space, calmness and support it offers.
Swami Gyandharma Saraswati has more than 30 years experience in the yoga tradition of Swami Satyananda. Born in Denmark, he lived for many years in the ashram of his guru, and since then has travelled and taught widely. He spent winter 2009 as the residential swami for Anahata Yoga Retreat.
Life as a Yogic Studies Student
I live at Anahata Yoga Retreat as a full-time karma yogi, developing an attitude of selfless service for personal growth and to better understand myself. My karma yoga is working in the office, where I look after Anahata’s marketing and promotions. I am also completing Yogic Studies through the Satyananda Yoga Academy in Australia. This is a two-year diploma by distance. It gives a strong foundation in yoga and the art of balancing body, mind and emotions. The last module is for teacher training.
To combine this course with living at Anahata has been an amazing opportunity to gain experiental understanding of the teachings through immersing myself in a yogic lifestyle.
I first visited Anahata in 2007 for the Explore Your Self course. I had no previous experience of yoga, but something about the practices and teachings touched me very deeply in a way that is hard to explain. I had lived a very different lifestyle before – working in advertising, over-indulging in rich food and drink! Visiting Anahata literally changed the direction of my life, and now I am teaching yoga. I felt the benefits of yoga very quickly, and it’s such a blessing to be able to go on to share what I’ve learned with others. If you have the opportunity, I really recommend taking time out for yourself to learn the science of yoga and to live the yogic lifestyle at a place like Anahata. It may change your life too!
Realising the deep ecology of food and waste
by Charles Barrie
For many of us living in the city, food can become a very rushed and unconscious activity – often a very different thing from the conscious and home-grown/organic ethos of ashram dining. Meditating on the people and energies involved in the journey of our food from its place of growth to our plates can be a very powerful practice which can both help us to associate with the world and energies around us, and also to make more conscious decisions about what we are eating. As I increase my awareness of the extensive energies involved in agriculture and in long-distance food transport, I am more likely to want to grow my own food and eat local and organic. As I become aware of the many people who have put work into growing and transporting my food, I am more compassionate to the many different ways in which people live and how dependent I am on the whole of creation for my survival.
When I am composting my food waste, I try to become aware of the cyclical nature of my relationship with the earth and how there is really no such thing as waste, only energy. As we well know from our yoga physiology, energy needs to be channeled in the right direction to avoid a painful blockage or outburst. This goes for the compost and recycling as much as for kundalini shakti!
Whether we are in an ashram, or in our own homes, every interaction we have with the energies of the world and our fellow humans (with whom we share that energy) is an opportunity for sadhana, an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity to realise the divine.
Charles Barrie is an ecologist, community organiser and apprentice landscaper based in Aro Valley, Wellington. He recently spent time at Anahata Yoga Retreat.