Can meditation help in controlling depression? : Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda

Question: Can meditation help in controlling depression, anxiety and mental illnesses?

Answer: I once asked Swami Visnudevananda how to heal depression because we had a student who suffered from it. The first thing he suggested was lots of karma yoga because someone with depression should be busy serving others. Some people with depression also need to increase the satva, the purity, in their physical body. They may need Ayurvedic treatment, for example. In our Ayurvedic department they give Ayurvedic massage just to increase the sattva, to increase the purity, to bring the person to a level where he or she can actually start to act. Then, on the foundation of Karma Yoga, Swamiji suggested applying the five principles of yoga. He said proper exercise, or the practice of yoga asanas, is very important for depression, as is proper breathing or pranayama, along with proper relaxation, which again requires increasing sattva in the physical body and in the mind. The person should eat a proper diet, a sattvic or pure diet, in moderate quantities. Then, he or she should practice positive thinking and meditation. Of course, saying meditation is like saying science. In the world of science you have chemistry, physics, so many different things, and meditation, like science, is a huge world. The meditation cannot be complicated. It has to be a simple meditation, like chanting the divine names. In the beginning the person may not close his or her eyes. In the beginning the person may chant the divine name loudly. Then, as all these practices are applied, and combined with Karma Yoga, which is a very important factor, the person may see a gradual improvement in the depression. This is what Swamiji told me, and I worked with people who had depression and, under the guidance of Swamiji, there were good results.

It is also recommended that such a person be part of a community; not by himself, not by herself. Swamiji told me that people who suffer from depression want to be alone, on their own, but it is very beneficial for them to be in the company of other people.


Swami Swaroopananda is the acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda yoga centers and ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East, and in the Bahamas, and is one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda. This Q&A is from one of the spontaneous question and answer sessions that he frequently offers at Sivananda centers and ashrams around the world.


Take Time to Relax


by Katie Papo (Ambika)

Crunches and leg lifts were my go-to boredom fighter while everyone else laid in savasana (corpse pose) at the end of yoga class. I first started practicing yoga for the workout, so the last thing I wanted was to imitate a dead person.

My yoga teacher later told me I had two options: participate in savasana like a good yogi, or leave the room before it began. An ab workout was no longer one of my options. So for the next two weeks, I rolled up my mat and left.

A week later she pulled me aside and said, “The postures that we dislike the most are the ones that are the most important for us to learn.”

I realized I couldn’t stand savasana because I had no clue how to relax. I would lay there a powerless victim to the millions of thoughts in my monkey mind. But I later realized that I was in good company, and many people struggle with this seemingly effortless posture, especially in the beginning. The yogic solution? Practice, practice, practice.

How to Practice Savasana

  1. Lay down on your back with your feet mat distance apart.
  2. Rest your arms at a 45 degree angle away from the body, shoulders relaxed, palms up.
  3. Close your eyes, keep the head steady between the shoulders.
  4. Take long, slow, deep breaths.
  5. Progressively relax all the parts of the body, gradually scanning from toes to head.

Even if the mind won’t cooperate, the body still receives the deeply beneficial effects of savasana, so the practice is well worth the effort. Whether it’s on your own, in a yoga class, or by listening to a guided voice recording, you’ll quickly begin to notice savasana’s many benefits:

  • Stress Relief
Improved concentration and memory
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Mood booster
  • Insomnia and fatigue relief
  • Experience of peace, release, and calmness

Start by practicing for a few minutes, and make your way up to 10-20 minutes of practice per day. Just as Swami Sivananda said, “An ounce of practice is better than a ton of theory.”


Mung Dal Kitchari Recipe

Enjoy this cleansing and nourishing Ayurvedic recipe from Lalita Devi, Director of the ashram’s Well Being Center.
Makes 6-8 servings


1 cup mung dhal
¾ cup white basmati rice
4 tablespoon ghee
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
1 tablespoon each of fennel, cumin and coriander
1 small sweet potato (1/4 inch cubes)
2 teaspoons turmeric
½ – 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon green chili paste
1 cup semi hard veggies (green beans, stems from greens)
2 cups tightly packed chopped greens (kale, chard, spinach)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
6 – 8 cups water


Wash the mung dal until water is clear, drain well and set aside. Wash the rice until water is clear, drain well and set aside.

Turn stove top on to low-medium. Heat a large 4.5 quart pot. Add the ghee and oil. Heat until hot.

Sautee the ginger, then add spices and sautee. Add the sweet potato cubes, stirring to coat with spices and oils. Add a 1/2 cup of water, cover and braise for 5 minutes.

Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the mung dal and 5 cups of water. Add turmeric, salt and curry paste. Bring to boil, let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add semi-hard vegetables (green beans, stalks from chard, kale etc) Add 1 cup of water. Bring to boil then cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes.

Add chopped greens. Bring back to boil and cook 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro. Turn off the heat and let sit.

Kitchari should be very moist, almost soupy (add more water if needed)


Yoga in the Modern World: Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda

Question: I feel discouraged when I look out at the experience of yoga as it is called in the world today. It seems that it has become an exercise class and lost its true meaning. I am wondering if you have any words of encouragement.

Answer: In my view, what is happening today in the world is wonderful. That is my opinion. And I will explain to you why. In the past, yoga was for the very few. Today, for very specific reasons, yoga is for the many. Swami Vishnudevananda actually had this vision that one day, a very large portion of humanity will practice yoga. People according to their karma and to their capacity will find the gate and entrance into yoga. What we hear today is that there are many entrances into the world of yoga. The point is that a person entered the world of yoga through an entrance which is not traditional. If you would be Jewish, you would say “non-kosher”. It does not matter. Once they enter the world of yoga, they are blessed. It really does not matter. You see? The moment you enter, you are not going to get stuck; you are going to continue. Sooner or later, people are going from A to B, and from B to C and so on. And slowly they discover the complete world of yoga according to their capacity, according to their karma, according to their inclination, and so on. If yoga would be taught today like it was in the past, it would be just for the very few people of the highest caliber. But today… the statistic that I got two years ago was that 500 million people in the world are practicing yoga and 500 million is a lot of people. There are six billion people in the world. Every twelfth person in the world is practicing yoga. This is a lot, and probably today even more.

Is this good or bad? I think it is good because, to be honest with you, if you speak with people that practice yoga, you will hear stories of how yoga benefited their life—how it made them more peaceful, how it made them more joyful, how it made them more willing to serve others. Do good and contribute to the community. You will hear many good, wonderful stories.

When Swamiji said that most of the world will practice yoga, this sounded very strange in a way, because the teaching in yoga is that yoga is truly for the very few. But we are living in special times. And there are so many people, they have so many levels, they have so many inclinations, they have so many different types of karmas. Therefore, the net must be very wide, it has to be. Yes, it is true that in many places yoga is not taught in what we would call an authentic way. But from my point of view, this is a narrow way to look at it.

This is my opinion. Just because it is my opinion does not mean you have to accept it. No, I think it is a blessing in disguise, this is what I think. Yes, it is true. But the outcome, the ultimate outcome, is good. Still, our duty is to do our level best to teach people the authentic form of yoga. This is our duty. It does not mean that what happens around the world is not supposed to happen. I believe it is supposed to happen, specifically this way. And I have the proof for it. If it was not supposed to happen this way, it would not happen this way.

Karma Yoga Practice and Benefits: Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda

Question: How is it possible to practice Karma Yoga without truly knowing its meaning?

Answer: Fundamentally, there are two main spiritual paths. One is called the yoga of action, and the other is called the yoga of knowledge. Yoga of action is called Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga means, first of all, to do our duty as a service to our fellow beings. If everyone does his duty, then everyone within society is going to be happy and content. Nothing is going to be lacking anywhere. In Karma Yoga, there is this idea of dharma and of swadharma.

Swadharma means my own duty. In Karma Yoga, the first thing is to do our own duty, but with no expectation of the fruits of action. Not only is there no expectation for the fruits of action, but we offer the action itself and all its fruits to God. This is how Karma Yoga is practiced.

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Picnic in the Sun Summer Recipes

32238-brochettes-fruits-erableThese three recipes (Fruit Brochettes, Cold Sesame Noodles, Papaya Zing) from the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers’ The Yoga Cookbook offer creative and nutritious additions to your summer gatherings.

Fruit Brochettes

1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds assorted fruit, in large pieces (cubed pineapple, quartered nectarines or peaches, halved apricots, quartered plums, cubed apples and pears, and whole strawberries)

Yogurt, to serve (optional)

1. Light the barbecue and let it get very hot, or heat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Combine the maple or date syrup, lemon zest, lemon juice, and nutmeg in a bowl, set aside. Thread the cubes of fruit onto barbecue skewers, using two skewers per kabob, and brush with the syrup mixture.

3. Place on the hot grill for 2 minutes, turning over after 1 minute and brushing with any remaining syrup. If cooking in the oven, place on a baking sheet and cook for the same time. If you like, serve with yogurt.

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Chick Peas with Tomato Sauce and Coconut Milk


recipe from Etay Efrat (Iswara)

The owner of a vegetarian food-delivery business in Shoham Israel, Iswara regularly includes this surprisingly easy — and delicious — dish in his menus. The recipe combines Mediterranean and asian ingredients with a vegan Italian rose sauce. Iswara recommends serving it over rice with a green salad on the side.


2 cups chick peas, soaked overnight and drained
5 tomatoes (chopped in small cubes)
1/2 cup water (for the sauce)
2 tablespoons tomatoe paste
2 tablespoons oive oil
1/2 tablespoon hing (also known as asafoetida)
1/2 can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups raw spinach leaves


Add the chick peas to a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water (4 inches above the chick peas). Boil on medium heat until soft/ready to eat (about 1-2 hours).

In the meantime, make the sauce: heat olive oil on medium heat about 2 mins; add hing and tomatoe paste and mix for about 15 seconds; add tomatoes and water and stir; bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for 15 minutes until tomatoes are soft. Set aside.

Add chick peas to sauce and bring to boil. Add coconut milk and spinach. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Salt to taste.


Community Voices: First Yoga Experiences

Do you remember the details of your first yoga experience?

“Yoga came to me unexpected. My first yoga experience was initiated by a close friend. One rainy evening, she asked me to join her at a new studio in Vancouver, Canada. I was very hesitant and had previously made up my mind that I didn’t like yoga. She asked me several times to go, and mostly to support her, I attended.

When I arrived at the building, it wasn’t what I expected. I had to ring a buzzer, walk through a courtyard, up some stairs,  and finally to a door with just a number on it. Upon entering, the smell of burning incense tickled my nose and I saw some mystical statues and photos looking back at me. I was greeted by her partner, who I knew as a boat-loving Vancouverite, but what I didn’t know, was that he was also a yoga instructor.

He introduced me to yoga that evening. During my first class, I learned that he lived for several years with Swami Vishnudevananda, at the young Sivananda Headquarters in Canada. After that evening I was hooked, and I can say that my life has been forever changed.

I am now a long-time Sivananda Yoga teacher spreading the wisdom of yoga around the globe with my company, Nectar Yoga. I truly believe “what’s for you won’t pass you”, even if you’re not looking.” —Amrita


“I had attended some yoga classes in New York City and became quickly frustrated that I could not (and felt I would never be able to) get into the poses that others were doing with ease. A few years later, I tried yoga again, but with a different attitude that I would only focus on my body on my mat, on my breathing, on the instructions of my teacher. And yoga has transformed and benefited me ever since.” —Mark A.


“I began yoga in 2000. I had 5 young children at the time and was running a business with my partner. Very stressful time! Yoga was my escape, my refuge. Something I could do for my Self and my own well-being. It was challenging but I loved it.

The biggest challenge I had was finding the time and being able to go to classes consistently. I would manage to go once or twice a week for a while and then I would let life get in the way and stop for 3 months. My yoga teacher was amazing and very attentive to his students. Occasionally when I was not getting to class he would give me a friendly call and encourage me to come back.  It always worked and slowly I became more and more consistent. I simply loved the quiet space and the physically demanding postures. My body and my mind began a slow transformation.” —Omkari


“I remember my first class very well. I attended a Hatha Yoga class with my old teacher Pilar who had trained at one of the Sivandanda ashrams. It was early in 2005.

It was all very new to me. I was a little anxious. I found it difficult to remember all the different asanas especially the different parts to Saludo al Sol (sun salutation) and to co-ordinate the breath. I persevered though. At the end of the class we lay in Savasana and my mind was jumping around like a monkey. I thought “do you think they´d mind if I left early?” I didn´t leave though. I persevered.

Now I attend yoga classes twice a week. It´s like going home, comfort food. Some of the asanas are like my favourite shoes or jumper. They just fit.”  —Katie


What is love? Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda

Question: What is love, and what do we really desire when we want to love and want to be lo

Answer: Real love cannot be described. Love can be described by describing the feeling of love. Usually, when we love, together with the feeling of love comes a feeling of joy, happiness, and bliss. Love is of the nature of bliss, ananda — love is of the nature of joy —love is of the nature of happiness. Nevertheless, love also has the nature of the desire to become one with something. It is the very nature of love to unite. Yoga is union, and love is the nature of yoga; because the nature of love is also a union. In fact, if love was the predominating factor among human beings, you would see sisterhood and brotherhood, and unity in diversity because unity or union is the keynote of love.

Peace is also the keynote of love, but it is not the peace of a graveyard. It is a different type of peace. It is a peace permeated by devotion, joy, bliss, and happiness. These qualities of devotion, joy, bliss, and happiness do not have an external cause. They permeate us. Love is also permeated by peace. Again, it is not an external peace. It is that inner peace that Swami Vishnudevananda spoke about all the time. He explained, “External peace cannot be attained. It is not possible to attain external peace. But we can attain inner peace, and if we attain inner peace, once we attain inner peace we are also going to have external peace.” Then he would say, “I have shown you the method of how to attain inner peace. Practice it, attain it, and then share it with others.” This is what we teach students of the yoga teacher training course.

Of course, as the yoga teacher training course develops and deepens, sometimes it feels like a stormy ocean. Nevertheless, the purpose of this course — and the students will see it in the years to come also — is to give us practically the method of attaining inner peace with the motivation that this inner peace will radiate outward so we will also be able to see external peace. This is what Swamiji taught us. The nature of this peace is love. Love, in this sense, is the desire to make other people happy. In this sense, love is the desire for the happiness of others. If we desire to make our fellow beings happy, this is nothing but the outcome of love. The lover always desires not just to enjoy joy and happiness, but the lover also desires to bestow happiness on the beloved. It is always like this. Whoever you love, you desire that person to be happy, to be content — not to lack anything.

Also, love is the underlying reality of everything that exists. This creation was born out of love. This creation is sustained by love and this creation ultimately will dissolve in love. When we say in Vedanta that the ground of existence or being is Brahman — the very nature of that Brahman is love: love without boundaries, love without limits, unconditional love which is not relative, love which sustains and nurtures everything. This is the nature of Brahman. That nature of Brahman we call ananda. Ananda is not just bliss; ananda is also love.


Swami Swaroopananda is the acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda yoga centers and ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East, and in the Bahamas, and is one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda. This Q&A is from one of the spontaneous question and answer sessions that he frequently offers at Sivananda centers and ashrams around the world.


Yoga and the Art of Eating

by Katie Papo (Ambika)

When I think back to my teenage glory days —mindlessly shoving pizza nuggets into my face while watching TV — “art” is not the first word to come to mind. Yet, as my yoga practice evolved, so did my eating.

Here’s why. When we practice yoga, we practice two key concepts that are the same main ingredients for a mindful “eating practice:”

1. First Ingredient: Awareness

During yoga practice, we open our awareness to include body, breath, sensation, environment, and external influences. And then we deliberately turn our attention inward. Why don’t we make a to-do list, read a book, or call the electrician while we are practicing yoga? Because these practices scatter our senses, distracting us from the magic that’s happening inside. When we are present in the moment, we hear subtle messages our bodies tell us.

Yet somehow during mealtime, we kick awareness to the curb. We watch TV, read, drive, or wander around the kitchen for something else to nibble on. Even if we make healthy food choices, often little awareness is devoted to how we eat. The solution lies in yoga. When we apply awareness to eating, we notice colors and textures in our food, and chew slowly to savor every bite. Suddenly food bursts with flavors we’ve never noticed, and eating becomes a rich experience. Bonus: When you listen to your body (like you do in yoga), it will tell you when it’s full. Goodbye overeating!

2. Second Ingredient: Gratitude

As our yoga practice deepens, we begin to see life as sacred. We can’t help but offer gratitude for our practice, and to those who handed down the teachings. To honor our yoga practice, we make sacred space by clearing the room, saying a prayer, lighting incense, or closing our eyes to become truly present.

It’s about time we remembered that eating is sacred, and food is our friend. It nourishes our bodies, just like our yoga practice, and deserves sacred space. Eliminate distractions. Give thanks to the people and things who made your meal possible–to the farmers and growers, to the rain and sun. Give thanks to your job that provided to the financial means to afford your meal. Every piece of the puzzle deserves your gratitude

3. Third Ingredient: Practice

To start a new “eating practice,”you can follow these simple yogic tips (and develop some of your own):

  • Offer gratitude or say a prayer before taking your first bite.
  • Put down your fork while you chew.
  • Chew thoroughly.
  • Breathe.
  • Sit down while you eat (in front of the TV doesn’t count!)

It can be challenging to change a habit, but remember that you already know the secret to success: repetition. Keep up your practice (like your yoga!) and your eating will soon become a masterpiece.


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