It is hard for me to share this in a blog. But it is necessary for me to share this. I was woken up from my sleep to write this, so I am in trust of the energy that sees this work as necessary for me, and perhaps for you. This is my first guru Poornima after feeling devastated.
Allow me to share and be compassionate as you listen…..
In December 2019, I was hit with the worst and most unexpected news of my spiritual life. There were allegations that Swami Vishnudevandanda who had brought the Sivananda Lineage of which I am a part to the west, had sexual relationships with several students.
For the first time, I could not sleep at night. I couldn’t process what my child was saying to me, I could not meditate. I went through the stages of grief… disbelief (how could that even be possible), recognition of spiritual pride (but my lineage was the only pure one left standing, so how to swallow this), deep disappointment (how could he, how could the board), silence (watching all the unfolding of information and anger and even abusive language from fellow teachers) and sadhana (bringing my grief, my disbelief, my pain) to the sanctuary that is my sadhana. Placing them at the altar of the Anja chakra and practicing pratipaksha bhavana. Sadhana ALWAYS brings clarity. So, I got off the ballistic Facebook groups, intensified japa (mantra chanting with mala beads), and dedicated my malas to myself, the perpetrator, the victims and all victims of abuse of any kind anywhere.
It still wasn’t easy. I had never believed in gurus. I was raised catholic and to think that placing one’s faith in anyone but God was foolish. But I didn’t understand what guru can be. A series of external and internal events, including some kind of longing for God I’ve felt since I was a little girl, changed that experience… I’ll share later, but back to that moment…..
On a practical level, personally and as a yoga teacher, I had decisions to make. Should I tear the picture of Swami Vishnu from my altar, from my wallet? Should I tell the students that have done Sivananda Yoga teacher training because of me? Should I give thanks to Swami Vishnu at the end of each class as part of the guru parampara? Would my students notice? Would they ask? What would I say? Should I change my social media handles? Should I go to the ashram for Christmas given the stance of the board? How do I communicate with the 2 swamis who are my mentors? What must be their pain if my heart felt ripped? And what was I really even feeling, cos it seemed to change constantly.
It was really the worst news I ever had!
It took me a few days. I spoke to most of the students who trained as yoga teachers. There were tears, lots of them, from all of us. That idea of having a “role model” had been lost and along with it the hope of such a possibility existing. I stopped using Swami Vishnu’s name in class, but I have been for over a decade, so I was still thinking of it. So, I chose to use that thought to silently pray for his soul while remembering that doesn’t make me holier than thou. Through grace in sadhana, I found a space of compassion for both victims and perpetrator. This is real compassion, through grace, not silent spiritual bypassing though it may appear that way.
It took me a few months, but I finally immersed the pictures of Swami Vishnu in the ocean with prayers too personal to share. I spoke to one of my mentors and it was so human and beautiful. I emailed the other wishing him “viveka (right discrimination) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to the divine will)”. There is great beauty in respecting the journey of our teachers. It is a silent connection where not much is said but energy is felt, and no verbal communication is required.
I decided not to change my social media handles, that if people were not going to come to my class because it said Sivananda Yoga (though Swami Sivananda had nothing to do with this scandal) it was not for them. The teachings I had received and still receive from swamis in this lineage have revolutionized my life. They have come through the teacher and yet are beyond them. Could one not have a “direct revelation” of this in meditation? Perhaps, yes, but not me, my soul needed igniting and the guru ignites.
One of the experiences I have consistently had is the presence of my guru Swami Sivananda. He left his body in 1963 but he’s still here. I had read of such things many years ago, in the autobiography of a yogi, but wasn’t sure it was possible. The closest anyone I knew had experienced anything like this was 2 friends a few years older than I, seeing Jesus on a wall. We were just kids, but those girls had a conviction and a look in their eyes that was unreal!
When I teach class, he’s there. Sometimes his presence is peripheral, like something from the corner of my eye. Sometimes he’s like a large protective presence around the room. Sometimes, he’s behind a student, seemingly placing his hands on their shoulders. Sometimes he’s in my meditation, with a reassuring hand on my shoulders. Most of the time I can’t sense his presence.
Yet those sometimes……. And it’s real, because after the class the student he was behind will come and tell me stuff….their experience so profound, even they hardly realize it. And I say, “you are taken care of, or you are protected” and I don’t say what really happened, though sometimes I do.
Can I explain this? No. Do I need to make cognitive sense of it? No.
There is a line in Hamlet, that a theatre director, Salim Ghouse who I acted and trained with for many years said to the self-righteous teenager that I was “There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. I was mad when he said that to me. But it was a great gift. I remember even now ….there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.
Maybe because I’m Indian, I have this culture of respecting teachers that is very sacred. If the lineage has a “tainted” guru, I accept that too. Like the families, we are born into with their own scandals. Not everyone is perfect, neither are we and yet we are whole and complete as we are…we suffer together, we heal together and as the famous song goes….we are family.
The ancient Yogis appear to me as very advanced. In this short yet potent blog post, I am here to share yogic techniques that i am using to guard myself and my family from the Corona Virus (and all other viruses) and sharing the science behind them.
These practices have kept my immunity super even though i engage in them for the very selfish purpose of preparing my body and respiratory passage for yogic breath and life force expansion techniques or pranayama.
Please note that this does not constitute medical advice.
a.k.a sinus rinse.
Yoga has 6 kriyas or cleansing techniques to keep the internal body clean. I think of jala neti as bathing my sinuses.
It involves pouring lukewarm salt water into one nostril while tilting teh head and allowing it to flow out of the other nostril. It sounds really weird, but you have to do it to feel teh incredible feeling after. It has been around since ancient times in India and got introduced to the western world and is now recommended by ENT drs worldwide.
How to practice:
1. Purchase a good quality neti pot. (Do not buy anything besides a neti pot). If you have sinus, inflamed adenoids or other chronic issues, this neti pot will work better.
2. fill the neti pot with lukewarm water. Add kosher/ non iodised sea salt (2.5 gms per 500 ml of water). Variations must be made for people with a dry nose etc. Check with a qualified practicing yoga teacher for guidance.
3. Tilt your head to one side. Keep the chin down to prevent water from going to the head.
4. Opening your mouth, begin to breathe through the mouth.
5. Put the spout of the neti pot to the upper nostril and seal with gentle pressure.
6. Allow the saline water to pass through the nose and out through the other nostril till the pot is empty.
7. keep the head tilted for a while to allow for the excess water to drain.
8. Blow your nose so excess water an mucous can drain.
9. Repeat with other nostril.
10. Complete with a brisk 40-60 pumpkings of kapal bhati to dry up any residual water.
For the benfits of jala neti, Im quoting the Journal of Ayurdeva and Integrative Medicine.
Neti cleanses cranium, gives clear sight and alleviates diseases which manifest above the root of the neck (Hatha Yoga Pradipika verse 30). Neti removes foreign bodies like allergens, dust and enhances the drainage of sinuses by preventing stasis of mucus. It also increases blood circulation and functional efficiency of the nasal mucosa. Neti provides a relaxing and irrigating effect upon the eyes by stimulating the tear ducts and glands. It has a positive effect on cognitive faculties like memory, concentration and is beneficial in reducing anxiety and depression. By the systematic practice of neti, secretory and drainage mechanisms of the entire ear, nose and throat area are well maintained. This helps to keep at bay conditions like sinusitis, cold, cough, allergic rhinitis and insensitivity to smell .
From our review, we have found that neti can effectively be applied in conditions like sinusitis, rhinitis, rhinosinusitis and allergic rhinitis
As for my own experience, my chronic sinusitis disappeared and its an INCREDIBLE feeling!
Sutra Neti is designed to clear the nasal passage to get rid of mucous, bacteria and to ease allergies and asthmas (by helping desensitize the sensitive inner tissue)
Sutra Neti requires the insertion of a thread or a special type of rubber tube into the nostril in a way that it comes out of the mouth. This thread then dislodges mucous and debris and helps clear the nasal passages. It is also dislodges nasal polyps. Regular practice of sutra neti alleviates symptoms caused by a deviated nasal septum. An advanced version of this practice can completely reverse a deviated septum.
How to practice:
1. Relax the entire body using deep slow breathing.
2. lubricate a 4mm rubber catheter with unrefined sesame oil or clarified butter/ghee.
3. Tilting the head backwards, gently insert the narrow end of the catheter into one nostril.
4. Keep the mouth open, head tilted back and gently ease the catheter down the nose. eventually it will come out at the mouth.
5. When this happens, it is possible to experience a momentary gag reflex or feeling of retching. Reach for the end of the catheter and gently draw it out of the mouth.
6. now gently floss the passage of the nose and mouth with slow gentle movements.
7. gently remove. Wash all dislodged mucous off.
8. Wash the catheter and repeat on the other side.
Note: While this is not at all painful, it is likely to have the secretion of tears from the eyes. Please practice sutra neti under supervision of a trained yoga teacher well versed in this practice.
Nasya is a gift from Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga. Of all of the technqiues, its the easiest to do, but definietly more efficient if practiced with jala neti.
Nasya is the nasal inhalation of herbalized oils into the sinuses, which has many benefits. The most unique benefit is supporting cleansing of lymphatic vessels in the brain called the sagittal sinus or tarpaka kapha. The saggital sinus is just under the skull on the top of the head in the pattern of a mohawk haircut.
While this technique has been practiced for thousands of years, it hasn’t been long since Western medicine discovered lymphatic vessels in the sagittal sinus that literally drain some three pounds of toxic chemicals and plaque out of the brain each year while we sleep.
Until this recent research, Western medicine thought both the brain and central nervous system were completely devoid of lymphatic vessels.
New research has confirmed the Ayurvedic take on brain lymphatics, which suggests that they are related to mood stability and, when congested, can cause a host of brain, mental, and emotional concerns.
1.Lie on bed with head hanging off side. Try to get the head back far enough that nostrils are parallel to floor.
2. The take a couple deep nasal breaths.
3. After a large exhale, using an eye dropper, place two or three drops of the Nasya Oil directly into both nostrils.
4. Then, with one big inhale, sniff oil quickly and deeply into sinus cavity: hold both nostrils closed, release, and breathe in through the nose while rapidly closing and opening the nostrils.
5. Continue to sniff deeply and spit if needed
6. Repeat sniffing procedure with nasya oil three times.
My own experience and that of my 8 year old and husband with neti and nasya has been incredible.
And of course, proper sleep, proper diet, asana pranayama and meditation are all necessary compliments to these practices.
In 2013 I was invited to Giftival, a gathering of 40 people from around the world engaging in gift culture or gift economy or giftivism as it is often called. This was in Istanbul and my LO was not yet 2 years old.
I had only recently heard of gift culture at the Learning Societies UnConference at United Mahindra World College in Pune and something about it just took hold of me. I cannot say what or why, but it was some kind of tug. I didn’t however feel worthy of being in the company of people who had been practicing gift culture as a way of life for years. It didn’t seem fair to others. What could I have to contribute I thought, besides sharing and facilitating world folk dances which are such a beautiful energy sharing experience. Yet I trusted there was something in this call that was beyond me and made the trip.
Giftival opened with a story told by the deeply talented Judith Liberman, with the accompaniment of the most magical sounding musical instrument I’ve heard.
The story of two identical tables laden with food of the most delightful and desirable kind. Around it were hungry people. However they all had no elbows, and at the end of their stick like arms were spoons. In one place there was anger and frustration and resentment, because they could not eat. By the other table, there was joy and delight. The reason was simple, the people on the happy table were feeding each other.
The impact of this story on me will last a lifetime. It would not have been the same had there been an announcement of what gift culture is and what important work we have gathered to do etc etc etc… This story and meeting Judith also started me on my journey as a storyteller. It was so seamless actually, just like meeting my husband. No fuss, just a smooth flow of feeling at home.
There were lots of books and discussions and experiments and experiences of people and i just soaked them in, thinking, absorbing, processing. We discussed gift as both being able to give and being able to receive and many of us realized while we are comfortable with giving, we aren’t comfortable with receiving. We discussed the creation of money, the purpose, our relationship with it, whether it was something the world could do away with. There was an american anthropologist who had been studying gift culture in ancient cultures. She spoke of motherhood as a gift, in fact parent-hood as a gift and how patriarchy had robbed men of their instinct to nurture, focussing only as providing as their gift. There were 2 of us who were mums with our babies around.
As someone who had lost all contact with my pre-motherhood world, no moonlight group meditations, no salsa dancing with kids not welcome in most social settings, this was really a gift. The other lady was from Tamera in Portugal, where they were a conscious community working with healing water and other amazing inner growth stuff. We were both nursing mothers and nursed our babies on demand through the 6 hour a day unconference. It felt so good to just be accepted for whatever your role is in that moment.
There was Munir Fasheh from Palestine who spoke of the word gift in Arabic and its many meanings and contexts. There was Shammi Nanda who spoke of Non-Violent Communication and gift from that perspective. There were people building eco-friendly homes and offering to be paid in gift and living like that. It was really tough, but they had the courage to do this. There was Manish Jain from Swaraj University, where you could study even if you couldn’t give fees. There was Charles Eisenstein who wrote Sacred Economics. There was Aysegul who had set up Zumbara, a time bank. These were amazing people and many times in the day I wondered why I was there, but I was also very grateful I was there.
One day we had people from the local community come visit and interact. It was rather crowded and Sivaanaa was a bit overwhelmed I took her into a little room where she napped and when she woke, we joined the discussions. She climbed a chair and leaned back. I had the inclination that she might fall, but I wanted her to learn to take risks and find a space of trust in herself, so I watched carefully but didn’t give her any warnings. Suddenly the chair toppled over and she fell down. She hurt her head and began to cry. I walked to her and carried her in my arms, hugged her tight and just held her. It seems this sparked a big discussion in Turkish. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but I knew it was about us. I took Sivaanaa to the other room and hugged and chanted her to serenity. Later I found out the discussion was about how a Turkish mum (and their culture is so similar to ours) would have panicked and said said a lot of words. They were suddenly discussing motherhood as a gift it seems. They were amazed at what they saw. For me it was obvious. The child is hurt. Its ok to cry. I just need to witness her emotion and let her know I’m there for her. Really simple acknowledgement.
I hadn’t seen motherhood as a gift, till now, but I realized in the end, so much of who we are is because of how we were raised. It shapes our relationship with ourself and others and so how we raise our kids is really a big gift to them, to ourselves and the world. As Swami Vishnu, the founder of the Sivananda tradition says, all we need for peace in the world is to find peace within ourselves.
At the end, I just felt gift was not something to strive towards. It was to be who you are. Some flowers are fragrant, some are beautiful, some are creepers, theres a gift in their existence because they are who they are….true to what they are.
I moved on to London and later to Mumbai. Giftival had been beautiful but it wasn’t life altering like yoga or vipassana. There was still that feeling that it was a preparation for something. I let it be.
Back in India, many months later, after having time to ponder this gift stuff, I decided to offer a yoga class in the spirit of gift. This was at a beautiful studio of a beautiful fellow yogi Sheetal and his wife Khushi, who had converted their home into an Urban Ashram, a space that was always hosting wonderful facilitators and learning experiences. So I offered a 2 hour workshop on Surya Namaskaar, covering the alignment, the breathing, the philosophical aspect and the surya mantras. At the end there was a box where people could put their gift offerings.
When I sat to meditate before facilitating the yoga class, as I always do, so I can empty myself and be a channel for the higher energies, I found myself wondering about money.How much would we charge for this workshop were it a paid one, given my experience etc etc. I wondered how much people would contribute and how that total would feel to me. I thought of my friends at giftival who travelled and created eco-friendly homes for people, thats hard manual work and not knowing what they would receive as remuneration (and this was out of choice.) I realized somewhere I was pegging my self worth to money. I decided I didn’t want to contaminate my giving experience. I would not keep the money. Futhermore, I didn’t want to know how much money there was in the box at the end of the class. I just wanted to give and thats what i would do.
The class was full of gurus grace. I must write another post on the beauty of the Sivananda practice and how it changed me from sceptic left brained to flowing in grace. I gave the money to my friends to use for any cause and it felt amazing. This class was offered in gift, not as social work, not as charity…..and there is much to ponder in these words and acts.
There is something sacred about gift and the journey had only just begun.
There was a raging storm inside of me. So many thoughts, so many possibilities, so many questions, so much churning. It seemed that my home, my temple, my sanctuary was blasted with gusts of outbursts and drama. I was battling enough my confusion, the fog that the physical location of my life brought to the project through which i felt most need to manifest my life purpose of facilitating joy and love. I felt spent having talked about, debated, sought advice and meditated and then my vain attempts at surrender.
Having just returned from India, having a house guest, missing my space, the joy of seeing the ocean and missing the happy buzz of Halla Gulla, setting up home again, getting back to routine it was all a bit too overwhelming and disorienting.Then everyday watching messages and e-mails of opportunities we couldn’t take up because I wasn’t in Mumbai. After a while my heart grew heavy. I missed the joy of giving that comes to me from live interaction.
The day after Christmas, I woke up feeling the desire to be quiet. It was just natural, not planned. If I could have planned I would have gone to the Sivananda Ashram in the nearby Bahamas, but I could not, and I really didn’t feel up to traveling after a hectic India trip, so I just sent my husband at text explaining I wished to be in silence for a few days and could he support me please. He said yes and things flowed.
Our daughter is 5 and very expressive and with a strong need for communication and she couldn’t quite get it. I saw that it was challenging for her, yet I felt strongly to honor the call of my soul. So i communicated in sign language. I was still accessing e-mails and whats app in a disciplined manner. Our LO did ok, meditating with me and us sharing lots of intimate hugs and eye gazing that ended in smiles or giggles. Inside I continued to be a witness to my thoughts, watching them without the colors of anyones opinion or advice.
Still it was intense for the LO.I hadn’t decided how long I was gng to remain silent, I was just going with the flow of my souls need. I arranged playdates for her via text with friends who would understand my silence.
Addressing a meltdown in silence
One day however, her swimming teacher didn’t come. S loves her swimming class and her swimming teacher, who is the most positive encouraging person. The two of them share a lovely bond and greet each other and thank each other in Swahili and Hindi respectively. I love watching them and give thanks for the gift of such a lovely teacher. S burst into tears. With all this silence she was looking forward to the swimming to have fun and let go and so she just let the floodgate of tears open. I hugged her and kissed her and acknowledged her feelings with my eyes and sign language? It was not enough.
I wondered if i should speak. But what point. My mind raced…and I knew nature would solve this for us. So I managed to get her into the car. Taking a packet of bread along we drove to a pond nearby. She was crying inconsolably. I carried her from the car to the pond and took a piece of bread and threw it in the water. Soon there was life . The hickatees (like turtles) came in , few first then a whole bunch of them. She suddenly got excited about who was going to get the bread and forgot to cry. Then there were the baby tadpole like fish that create designs as they reach for crumbs and make the water jump sometimes. there are the carps and there are the red beaked ducks who glide past indifferent to the buzz the bread has created and leave a V shaped wake of water behind. She fed the tickets, shooed the roosters and hens away and was enraptured by nature. We stayed there for 20 minutes or so in silence, each of us watching what most appealed in any given moment. There were large flying stalk like birds that came and went and reflections in the water and the sun changing position. Suddenly there was a drizzle of rain, refreshing and beautiful. We smiled, hugged and went home.
While I was honoring my own need for silence and clarity, I also wanted to honor S need for play and togetherness. I had recently chanced upon the most beautiful swing in the world. A tree that dies, gives life after death. The picture will say all there is to say!
So I took S to this beautiful swing by the sea and I my husband came along too. Me in silence, them chatting. She was thrilled with the swing. Her heart needed more and after a while, she was not happy with swinging alone. She craved intimate play. So we gathered some beachy treasures and created a world. Its amazing communicating in silence, understanding what the other is saying, where they want to place an object and how we communicate our creative vision.
Kind of clues you in on a deeper level. But she wanted play, like physically play..so I looked on the wet sand and began to make different types of footprints. Walking like a penguin, a duck, walking zig jag, jumping, drew a line with a stick and jumping on either side. This was so much fun for her. She made some of those up and I followed along. It was really the most creative time on the beach. We began to notice doggie paw prints on the sand and bird claw prints ….just a world out there! Jumping facing one way and then another footprints[/caption] Heel walk footprints
How I procured a wooden crate in a liquor store without talking
Some asked how I went about the business of the day without talking. I went to buy S a wetsuit at the diving store. I smiled, pointed, indicated her age with my fingers and communicated entirely in sign language. Its amazing how nice people are and even more when they think you have a disability. The saleswoman was just so helpful.
Another day I went to a liquor store to ask for a wooden wine crate I wanted to repurpose into a Kabaad Se Jugaad bookshelf. I typed on my phone. I walked in with a big smile and showed the cashier my request. the whole store came to help. They didn’t have one, but one guy said his mother worked at another store and she would arrange it. He wrote a note for me to give his mother. I went to her store and got the crate.
All along it was beautiful…..really deeply beautiful in a way you don’t experience in the normal world. This beauty you can’t experience in a retreat, a vipassana, an ashram, because there you know most who come re coming to seek, are positive. here in the real world, experiencing the welcome giving of a liquor store salesperson is just such a gift. the Divine Intelligence shines through all levels of consciousness. Truly! I rust that one day I can keep this in sight through my interactions with the one or two people that challenge me!
“Mamma, I miss hearing your voice”
One day S said to me , “Mamma, I miss hearing your voice”…so from that day on, every night when we give thanks to the universe, I would give thanks aloud. I also told her I’d read her a story everyday with no conversation before or after.
And did I mention a moonlight walk on the beach with my husband where I wasn’t talking. Must have been bliss for him! lol!
Mindfulness walk to bring in the new year
I’ve been hosting a stone soup gathering once a month in my home. For the 1st of January i sent out a mail inviting people to a darkness into sunrise mindfulness walk at 7 mile Beach, which is such a beautiful beach. We went at 6 a.m when it was dark and walked in silence until 7 when the sun rose. We had 2 kids among us, who found their own silent communication and play. The dark water turned to its beautiful blue as the sun rose and it felt like time to speak again. I came to, feeling rejuvenated and with such amazement at the gifts that a silent retreat while living in the heart of life can bring.
I didn’t find the answers to the questions i had, but in silence, I found the most unexpected beautiful gifts and such deep connection with my LO.
Is this something you would do with your child? I’d love to know.