Monday, 31 October 2011

Celebrate the Age of Aquarius with Sacred Sound

“We are entering the Age of Aquarius on November 11, 2011.
It will be a new time. The entire psyche is changing.
You must purify the mind, body and soul to be real, innocent, and sattvic (pure).
Elevate yourself to be angelic.
This age which you will serve is an age of awareness and experience.”

-Yogi Bhajan

"Kirtan is an excellent method of soothing the nerves
and directing the emotions to a positive goal. 
In the Kali Yuga, Kirtan alone is the best Yoga. 
Music is the Yoga of sound.   
Kirtan melts the heart, fills the mind with purity and generates harmony and Divine Love. 
When done with devotion and awareness of the meaning, its benefits are immeasurable."

- Swami Sivananda

Surya Namaskar - A Prayer to the Light

In yoga, one of the most challenging and active practices is a series of flowing movements known collectively as The Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskar.

Although many schools of yoga focus on this series as a central practice, others consider it a warm-up to the asanas, a way to heat and stretch the body to improve flexibility and lessen the chance of injury.

What many modern yoga students in the west do not realize is that it is actually an ancient and timeless prayer to Surya, the Sun. 

photo from

It is traditionally performed at sunrise with awareness and devotion, honoring various aspects of the Sun's divinity and our own radiance. 

Many yogis begin each day facing east, repeating this series of asanas 3, 9, 12, 54, or even 108 times!

Special mantras accompany each posture.  Chanting them sharpens the intellect and helps us to grow in reverence for the brillance of nature - both external and internal.

According to the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre Kirtan book, here are the mantras and translations which accompany each posture.  In the diagram below, position one is depicted just above the posture at the far left, with hands together in Namaste.

Sun salutation

Position 1:  Om Mitraya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is affectionate to all.
Position 2:  Om Ravaye Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is the cause of change.
Position 3:  Om Suryaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who induces activity.
Position 4:  Om Bhanave Namaha, Prostrations to Him who diffuses light.
Position 5:  Om Khagaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who moves in the sky.
Position 6:  Om Pushne Namaha, Prostrations to Him who nourishes all.
Position 7:  Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who contains all wealth.
Position 8:  Om Marichaye Namaha, Prostrations to Him who possesses rays.
Position 9:  Om Adityaya Namaha , Prostrations to Him who is the Son of Aditi.
Position 10:  Om Savitre Namaha, Prostration to Him who is fit to be worshipped.
Position 11:  Om Arkaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is the reproducer of everything.
Position 12:  Om Bhaskaraya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is the cause of luster.

If you'd like to hear these mantras pronounced, you can check out this kind-of-scratchy but cool, old-school recording at Geet Ganga by clicking here.

Last summer, at a particularly challenging point in our lives, my Mom and I composed the following prayer together to encourage ourselves and our yoga practice. 

It is a liberal translation of the original Surya Namaskar mantras written in affirmation style.  For us, it personalizes and embodies the feeling-vibration of each mantra and its accompanying position. 

Just like the Sanskrit version, we chant each line mentally (or out loud with the drone of the Shruti Box) as we move through the asanas.

It is very close to our hearts, so truthfully, it is with some hesitancy that I post it. 

I generally prefer to keep it to myself, or include it only orally as part of live teachings to promote a more traditional and intimate understanding of the Philosophy of Yoga.  But so many of you in Yoga teacher training programs in the last year have requested it, that I offer it to you with thanks and love, here in writing now. 

I hope that by doing so, you will be encouraged to salute and radiate your own highest Self regardless of what's happening (or not happening) in your life today. 

A Prayer to the Light

I am a friend to all.
I open myself to change.
I bow to the Light.
My inner Light shines.
I move through life with Grace.
I am helpful to all.
I am generous, warm, and open-hearted.
I am strong.
I am part of Divine Creation.
I like who I am.
I am growing.
I radiate Peace.

- Colleen and Tara Woltjen, August, 2010

The following mantra may be chanted at the end of Surya Namaskar practice to reiterate the benefits:
ādityasya namaskāran ye kurvanti dine dine
āyuḥ prajñā balam vīryam tejasteśān ca jāyate

आदित्यस्य नमस्कारन् ये कुर्वन्ति दिने दिने
आयुः प्रज्ञा बलम् वीर्यम् तेजस्तेशान् च जायते

By performing Sun Salutation day by day,
your age, consciousness, strength, essence of humanity
and glow will never fade away.

Om Hraum Mitraya Namaha - May the light of friendship shine, drawing noble companionship!  

Greeting the Mirror - Namaste!

Yogini Shyama with her hands and heart in Namaste.

In Yoga we often greet one another with a special hand gesture known as Anjali Mudra, accompanied by the beautiful Sanskrit word Namaste

It is a common greeting in India, the birthplace of yoga, and among yogis worldwide.  It is a humble yet noble and peaceful gesture which acknowledges our seeing one another, and our joy at that meeting. 

Most commonly in the west, Namaste is translated as, "The Divine in me sees the Divine in you."  or "The Light in me sees the Light in you". 

But I like to think of it more simply as, "I see me in you and you in me." 

For me, this translation emphasizes the mirror-like reflection of the Self in each being we encounter and emphasizes our divinity, unity and similarities over our differences. 

In other words, it reminds me that regardless of appearances and circumstances, we have more in common than not.  We are part of the same whole, and we share the same goals of happiness and freedom.

Alberta Singer/Songwriter/Yogi Brian McLeod

My favorite translation of this greeting came from an old Ayurvedic doctor I met at the Sivananda Ashram in Grass Valley, California

He told me that in Namaste, we bring the strength in the right side of the body (ha/pingala nadi/masculine/wisdom/active energy) together with the love that comes from the heart (left/tha/ida nadi/feminine/compassion/passive energy) in service to our fellow beings.

Later I found this definition by Mahatma Gandhi which unfortunately, I've long since lost the source of, but share with reverence to this day because it captures the deeper meaning of the greeting so beautifully in such a simple and heart-felt way.


I offer you peace.
I offer you love.
I offer you friendship.
I see your beauty.
I hear your need.
I feel your feelings.
My wisdom flows from the highest source.
I salute that source in you.
Let us work together in unity and love.

-Mahatma Gandhi

If you would like to read more about the origin and importance of Namaste, click here for a wonderful article titled, Namaste - The Significance of a Yogic Greeting, on the Exotic India homepage.

Thank you to all of the enthusiastic yoga teachers in training at Yoga for Today! It was lovely to share this with you on Saturday as we closed our session on the chakras, the subtle body and the psychology of yoga

I look forward to seeing you again in November when we study the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita

I trust that our reunion will be enriched by our understanding, and our greetings all the sweeter because of it!


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Students at Yoga for Today Chant the Yoga Sutras!

Painting of Saraswati at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas by Uma (Diane Woodward)

Lately Wednesdays have become my favorite day of the week.  I wake up looking forward to gathering in Satsang with the eager students of the first-ever Meditation and Yoga Philosophy class at Yoga for Today!

We've been exploring the deeper dimensions of Yoga through meditation, songs, stories, chanting in Sanskrit and writing in Devanagari, "vehicle of the Gods", the beautiful written script of Sanskrit, the ancient and sacred language of Yoga. 

Sanskrit Alphabet chart borrowed from

In just three classes they have already learned how to draw the beautiful and auspicious symbol of Om and learned about it's components and the states of consciousness.

We also practiced writing the words Yoga and Guru in Devanagari. 

AND they have even been learning the first four Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by heart:
Atha yoganushasanam. 1.1
Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah. 1.2
Tada drashtuh swaroope vasthanam. 1.3
Vritti sarupyam itaratra. 1.4
You should hear it!

It's so exciting to see them with their notebooks and pens, on the edge of their seats, ready with questions and open to the less frequently discussed aspects of this practice.

Today we continue to celebrate Navaratri and the days dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of languages, arts, music and learning.

During this evening's class we will be chanting Om Aim Saraswatyai Namaha and writing Devi, praising the Goddess of Wisdom by her own means.

For the next couple of weeks we will continue practicing likhita japa (the devotional writing of mantras) and chanting the first four Yoga Sutras in anticipation of our last class. 

On that evening, a FREE PERFORMANCE AND REFRESHMENTS will be offered to our friends and families from 8-8:30! 

You are invited to join us to celebrate the timeless teachings of Yoga and these diligent and joyful Yogis and Yoginis of Today!

Om Aim Saraswatyai Namaha!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Roots of Abundance

Some of you may recognize this painting of Lakshmi

If you've ever visited the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, you've seen her smiling face above the benches at the Boutique as painted by Yogini Betsy Schott.

Lakshmi is the Goddess of beauty, wealth, grace, blessings and abundance in material and spiritual matters. 

The fourth, fifth and sixth days of Navaratri, are dedicated to her.

We've all spent our fair share of time cleaning, decorating and organizing to keep our homes, well... homey. 

We know that if we want our homes to feel truly fresh, gracious and welcoming we can't just sweep things under the rug, light an aromatherapy candle and hope noone will notice. 

We need to apply a little "elbow grease". 

An effective, "clean sweep" requires a simple three step strategy:

Step 1: Throw out the trash.  Move everything.  Sweep and scrub.  Give away the things you're not using and someone else can.
Step 2:  Display items which are both beautiful and useful (or at least one of the two!). 
Step 3:  Arrange them creatively to reflect You.  Be sure that there is a place for everything so everything can be put in its place.
Navaratri is a little like that. 

First we focus on Durga who clears away negativity and stagnation.  This makes space for Lakshmi who radiates and attracts blessings and abundance.  Finally we focus on the attributes of Saraswati to guide us in sharing and using our material and spiritual riches wisely.

I always find it feels like things are hitting the fan those first three days - we kick up alot of dust when we start clearing stuff out! 

But then we can see what we've got, so during the second set of three days, no matter what I think I'm lacking, I find myself saying "Thank You" alot! 

And that's where I was yesterday when I wrote this. 

Cooking Roasted Carrots and Beets and saying thank you to the friends who grew and gave them! 

Writing this post and feeling grateful for the miracle of technology keeping us connected.   

Reading The Yoga of Snakes and Arrows by Harish Johari and thanking the Guru for coming to me in so many wonderful ways!
The yogis say the root of abundance is generosity.  Give a little, get a little.  Give a lot, get a lot.
And they also say that the Siddhi, or superpower of giving is that everything you need will come to you! 

Today we begin the three days of Navaratri dedicated to Saraswati. 

She is the patron of actors, artists, musicians, spiritual aspirants and creative folks of all descriptions.

I don't know exactly what these three days will bring, but usually it is some wisdom... a creative solution, an inspiring song or poem, a language lesson, a spiritual teacher... who knows?

I'll just keep chanting and stay open.  Radiate abundance and gratitude, and it will surely be reflected back! 

Jai Ma!