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

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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.

Ingredients

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

Preparation

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

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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
ved?

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.

 

Using right discrimination: Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda

Question: How does one use right discrimination without passing judgment?

Answer: Right discrimination, or viveka, is not about other people. Right discrimination is about oneself. Viveka means discrimination between the permanent and the ephemeral, and it has to do with me, not with other people. It’s not about sitting and judging others. That is not right discrimination; that is poor discrimination. The real problem is that I identify with false things, with things that are ephemeral, and I make wrong choices based on that mistaken identification.

The reason viveka is related to oneself is because what you see outside is your own prarabdha karma. If you see something outside that is wrong, it is nothing but the result of your actions in the past which are ripening in the present. It is your own doing, according to the yogis. When you look outside, whatever you see, you are seeing your own mind. You are seeing yourself. Therefore, if you see darkness outside, you had better start doing some serious yogic practice to purify the mind. Why do you see darkness outside? It is because of your own mind. You may not believe it, but this is how it is.

Viveka always has to do with me because I mistake things that are ephemeral as real, and I ignore the permanent. It is said, “Identify what is permanent, identify what is ephemeral, and discriminate between the two,” because the ephemeral is false, and the permanent is true. This is viveka, this is right discrimination: Find what is true, and stick to it, and do not attach yourself to what is ephemeral. That’s all. You should also be compassionate, and good to others. Don’t be judgmental, because when you judge others, you are actually judging yourself, because the others are yourself. That is who they are.

*****

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.

8 Tips for the Traveling Yogi: Keeping Up Your Yoga Practice

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By Katie Papo (Ambika)

Just because you’re breaking free from your regular routine doesn’t mean you need to leave your yoga at home. Try these tips the next time you travel.

1. Create an intention. Remember why you practice yoga. To cultivate good health? A balanced mind? Compassion toward others? You’re a yogi, so you already know the power of thought—remind yourself of your intention and align it with your goal.

2. Bring a yoga mat. A tangible reminder to keep up your practice. If you put forth the effort to carry it, you may as well use it!

3. Set your alarm clock. Swami Sivananda taught that Brahmamurti, the early hours of the morning, is the best time for your spiritual practice. Explore this secret part of the day that your friends don’t know about, when all (including your monkey mind) is calm and quiet.

4. Activate Ahimsa. Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is one of the highest yogic observances and can be practiced anywhere. Cultivate ahimsa in your speech by speaking kindly to others. Enjoy a vegetarian diet so as not to cause harm to animals. Carry your own travel water bottle to use less plastic. Be a peace warrior in all your actions.

5. Public transportation meditation. Trains, planes, and buses are perfect places to meditate while you travel. Even if you have a new book you’re excited to read, devote the first 10 minutes of your trip to silent meditation. The people around you will just think you’re napping (with excellent posture, of course!)

6. Set your mantra in motion. Especially for solo travelers, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, so music with headphones isn’t always the safest idea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice your kirtan while you’re strolling down the city streets. Jai Ganesha, anyone?

7. Bring a travel altar. Whether it’s a deity image representing strength, or a tiny elephant statue to remove your obstacles, this fun-size yogic reminder is light for your suitcase and will light up the room. You can also bring seashells you’ve collected (from your favorite Paradise Island Sivananda Bahamas beach, perhaps?), or even a photo of your puppy, reminding you of unconditional love!

8. Prioritize your postures. Let’s face it — sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day, and you’d rather leave the 4am wake-up to the Rishis. If you only have a few free minutes, practice postures (asanas) that have the most benefits. Try this trio: Sirsasana (headstand), Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), and Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). In Swami Sivananda’s book Yoga Asanas, he writes, “These three Asanas alone can keep you in perfect health.”

 

Community Voices: Yoga and Religion

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Has yoga changed your relationship with your religion? In what ways?

I went to Catholic school when I was young. I went to church camp and sang in the church choir. But at some point all of this drifted away. I stopped going to church. I never thought much about it but it was like the end of a relationship. It was over and I just moved on and never looked back. Like I broke up with Jesus. Then years later I started practicing yoga.

As my yoga practice deepened and I began to nurture and rekindle my relationship with God, this time in different forms than before, I began to also notice Jesus everywhere. On the altars at the Sivananda centers and ashrams and in the literature that Swami Sivananda wrote. One Christmas season when I went to take my yoga class there was a book by Swami Sivananda on the shelf at the yoga center, “The Life and Teachings of Lord Jesus.” It caught my interest. I was surprised that Swami Sivananda would write a whole book about Jesus. It didn’t make any sense to me. I bought the book. I read it. And I began to reconnect with Jesus in a deeper, more meaningful, and powerful way. In a personal way. Wow! Jesus was a great yogi!

I am so grateful for my yoga practice for many reasons. One of these reasons is the rekindling of this special friendship that I had turned away from for so many years. Yoga brought this very special teacher and example back into my life. —community member
The yoga practice has deepened my relationship with Judaism, because in every yogic teaching I find similarities to the Jewish teachings I was raised with. Teachings of the oneness of the Divine remind me of the Shema, the Jewish prayer that also tells us to realize God’s oneness. I also like that the yoga has expanded my perspective, so that I now see kernels of wisdom in all the spiritual traditions.  —community member

 

I was raised without a religion and my family looked down on people who believed in God. I was proselytizing for atheism at 12 years old, my Jewish and Catholic classmates gathered round as I stood on my chair announcing to them (and in my mind proving to them) that God did not exist. It’s been many years since then, the last 21 of which I’ve been on a yogic path … at first I found it easier to just sort of witness and celebrate the Hindu deities — they seemed fun and colorful and … distant. A big awakening came for me when I encountered the “Divine Feminine” — the awareness that “God” was also feminine, that I, as a woman, was also somehow divine. Gradually I’ve gotten more comfortable with the word God, which for me describes a feeling of aliveness inside that’s connected with an everything beyond what I can conceive. I still don’t have a religion, but now I have a deep respect for people who do, especially when it’s an inclusive and loving one. —community member

 

Thanks to the Sivananda karma yogi program I attended three years ago in the darkest moment of my life, I was able to recognize that a spiritual path is open to all … as a Christian I noticed that Sivananda is a beacon of light and an aide to finding out how to be a better Christian.

The spiritual path is available to any and all and Sivananda has a powerful history encouraging yogis to find their open road to the Divine. —community member

 

The Positive Power of Chant with Jim Gelcer (Siva)

 

Jim Gelcer

Jim Gelcer

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: Kirtan wallah, recording and touring artist, composer, producer, and Bhakti yogi.

Why do you do what you do? It is my path and I’m doing what I love.

What are you currently fascinated by in your work? The positive power of chant and its ability to heal and transform.

How did you come to your path? Any aha moments or key teachers? A gentle nudge from someone at the perfect moment. I am always learning, and everyone is my teacher.

What book(s) are you currently reading? Reading and re-reading the Bhagavad Gita, Bliss Divine, and The Radiance Sutras.

What surprises you about teaching here? How at home I feel.

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Jim Gelcer (Siva) is a Sivananda Yoga teacher and a kirtan leader. He infuses new life and spirit into the ancient heartfelt chants that influence today’s kirtan movement. With a voice filled with depth and emotion, and impeccable musicianship, he tastefully blends flavors of modern and ancient melodies and the celebratory essence of kirtan.

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Join Jim Gelcer at the Yoga Retreat

November 12 – 15, 2014
Building Bhakti: Chanting from the Heart

 

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