Om bhur bhuvah svah
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat
The Gayatri Mantra is a sanskrit verse based on a hymn from the Rigveda. Savitur means ‘of the sun’. This chant is a chant to the God of the sun, Savitri. It is said to be a prayer that brings the sun into the heart. As a poetic verse, there are many translations available. Often is is a nice practice to look at multiple translations an see which one is resonant for you. Here is a translation of the words 
tat–that (God) savitur–of the sun varenyam–the best bhargo (bhargas)–light, illumination devasya–divine dhimahi–let us meditate (a verb) dhiyo (dhiyah)–thought(s) yo (yah)–which nah–of us, our pracodayat–May it push, inspire (a verb)
As part of the last 200 hour Teacher Training at Karuna students were asked to reflect on their experience of three different methods of pranayama: Ujjayi,Viloma and Brahmari. Aurora Sjostrom shared these reflections
My Pranayama experience recently has been profound. I have enjoyed Ujjayi for quite some time now- the sound of the breath like waves of the ocean. It is supremely soothing, but sometimes so soothing that sleep creeps in. At bedtime this can be really nice, but in class not so much. I have found Ujjayi is a good tool to pull out of my pocket during the day when I need to take a moment to calm down. Villoma has profound effects- I can really feel the energy grow with the inhale in segments. My mind feels much more alert. In contrast, exhaling in segments (especially 3 parts) is so calming- I feel my heart settle, my eyes soften. The feeling I get when I get into the groove with Villoma on the inhale and the exhale, each parcel being equal in space and softness, each sip of air equal to the others- it is supremely beautiful and I feel like I could go on forever. Sometimes, however, my mind is too busy to handle Villoma, but when its good its so good! My experience with Brahmari has changed so much. I remember Eileen once saying shre tried to find the OM in the sound of a chainsaw- the OM in Brahmari is so beautiful. I start slow, quiet. Each breath becomes longer than the last, the sound louder, the reverberations deeper. I pull the air in and feel myself expand in space, I exhale and sound engulfs my being. I can find a kind of quiet that is so unique- I find myself feeling out of place when I return to normal breath- like the world is somehow less real. I very recently had a moment in Savasana that was a completely new experience. Upon being instructed to do so I placed one hand on my belly and the other on my heart, and I breathed into the space under my hands. After a few breaths I found a warm light growing in my chest, filling my experience with a kind of loving and softness I had never found. The softness of this moment stays with me. I found my heart, my tiny atman, and I held it in my hands and smiled. I was there for a moment, and eventually we were instructed to roll to our sides and come up to sitting. I thought ‘No- I want to stay in this warmth forever now that I know it is here’ but I rolled over anyway. I sat up slowly and with my eyes closed bowed my head to my pressed palms, and I could have wept for all the sweetness in the world.
Sunday 5:15 pm and Monday – Friday 5:30 pm classes
Come feel the cozy and nurturing environment of soft candlelight, glowing and flickering its way into your heart. Karuna is a temple and the sacredness of our space, while lit by candlelight, will melt your day away and return you to a state of release, surrender, and calm. Each restorative pose opens you for the next pose, gradually inducing complete emotional, physical, and mental relaxation. Unfold into the deepest layers of the body and enjoy the most exquisite guided savasana with soothing sound accompaniment. Join Karuna for these intimate classes on the 4th week of every month. Pre-register by signing up online, these classes fill up! All levels are welcome. No experience needed just come, wear something comfortable, and enjoy the benefits of letting go.
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”
My definition of ‘teacher’ has changed throughout my life. Instead of only finding my teachers in front of classrooms, I have found a teacher in almost everyone that I know. Sometimes people teach us because they have bold and remarkable skills. Other times it is with their simple and beautiful approaches to life. And still, in other instances, they teach us through both skill and inspiration. They exemplify the limitless bounds of the human experience and, at times, they defy the norm and are celebrated for it rather than feared.
St. Hildegard Von Bingen was, among other things, a Christian abbess in the 12th century Germany. I was raised without religion and throughout my life the people around me have often been critical of organized religion.While my upbringing did not encourage me to look for teachers within the Catholic faith I have recently started to look at faith itself as a teacher. In this respect I can find teachings echoing through every expression of religion that help me shape, broaden and embrace my own practices of faith. I have mostly come to believe that faith is love, yet saying only this risks being vague or abstract. Rather than explain what I think love means, or what faith means, I will try to share why a sainted German Catholic nun has become a source of inspiration to me and how I have come to see St. Hildegard as one of my teachers.
At first blush Hildegard is an inspiration because she had so many talents. She was a composer of devotional chants and musical plays, a writer, an herbalist and a healer, a visionary and a mystic. In recent times the New Age movement has heralded her for her holistic views on healing. She is celebrated for having incorporated faith, spirituality and the healing properties of objects in the natural world in her beliefs about health. She has also been analyzed by academics and feminists for her role as a woman with the status of visionary and mystic and for her work as a writer and philosopher in a time when females where seldom allowed to act as voices of authority on anything much less on religion. She is sometimes criticized by feminists for having referred to herself as ‘of the lower species’, claiming to be an unlearned woman. It is hard for me to fathom that she saw herself as such since a woman of her aptitude and skill would be valued as a highly intelligent individual today.
I suppose a feminist perspective fuels the first layer of my interest in Hildegard. I don’t want to get entangled in an analysis of gender and power within Germanic religious culture in the 12th century. I mostly find it resonant that she was able to exist in the manner that she did with the odds stacked against her as they where. I have always been interested in social justice and equality. At first I assumed she must have been subversive in the manner I am used to seeing, fighting against the status quo with both voice and action. But her perception of herself as a woman appeared to fall in line with the common ideas of the day.
Recently I have found I desire a new model for effectively creating social change than one that is always mired in fighting against something. This is where I have really come to find Hildegard as an inspiration. Her subversion was an act of love. Her self-perception, or at least the one she was said to have expressed, may have allowed her more freedom that someone in my shoes can relate to. In order to express her thoughts and ideas and to not have her visions diminished to hallucinations, she asserted that she was merely a voice, a conduit and a devotee that had been put to the task of sharing the beauty revealed to her by God. It wasn’t a product of her invention or intelligence but one of God’s. Her actions that went against the status quo where not divisive, they were devotional.
Because of my upbringing and education I am typically critical of religion, and in particular Christianity. I am wary of expressions of faith that are wrapped up in abiding by social hierarchies and conformity. Hildegard retained a true passion for her faith without diminishing her experience of it in order to follow the social rules. In doing so she has left us a beautiful legacy through her writings and compositions.
In the practice of Yoga it is sometimes hard to grasp egoless-ness (anatman). It is also at times hard to understand how to change things while adhering to ahimsa, non-violence. It is challenging to approach our adversaries with compassion (Karuna) or equanimity (Upeksha). How do we create change without judgment? How do we express love to those who don’t know how to love us? I am finding clearer answers in the examples I have seen of devotion and faith and the people that are now my teachers, like Hildegard, are showing me how, in both unmistakably bold and subtly gentle ways.
This is a recording of one of Hildegard’s compositions, performed by the Academic Choir of Copenhagen
Erin McNally is a Yoga teacher and is currently enrolled in advanced training at Karuna.
“Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones in the big republic of the body. This love must radiate from you to others.” -BKS Iyengar
I guess the thing about Mother Teresa is that her life is a testament to that truth that’s important to understand in doing this work: that there’s no separation between knowing (Jnana), loving (Bhakti), and doing (Karma). She’s known for her deeds of service, so much so that her name is almost synonymous with her service work. But when you read her words, it’s all, all about love. She’s so in love with Jesus. Her works are an expression of her love, the lowest common denominator, into which everything fits, by which everything is encompassed. And cyclically, in her loving urge to draw nearer, she’s come to know the teachings of her faith intimately…The knowing and the doing are loving acts. It all starts with Bhakti and ends with Bhakti. We learn this through the teachings of yoga: that Bhakti gets you there the fastest. What also comes to mind is the capacity to know when something is true when it is accompanied by an open heart. But Love is more: Love is all. I guess it’s the way that Mother Theresa’s teachings are so steeped in it. And in such a simple way. A basic way. She teaches that each action we make is (or has the potential to be) an act of Love for God. That when she ministers to the poor, she’s ministering to God because God is there. And how close she must feel to God to be tending to the Divine continuously in this way. How much would you have to know before your knowing was enough to feel yourself in contact with the Divine? How much would you have to do before your actions bring you to God? What is it about Love that touches so, to the quick? That it only has one direction: outwardly flowing? Like hot liquid honey, spreading to engulf whatever it meets, sweetening all? Claiming all?
Knowing claims ownership of the known.
Acting is an expression of “I”.
And what is Love? How can Love stand alone so? Love is the entire dissolution of the self. And what is dissolved can merge with the substance that holds it… And we are held by God. And anything that is not Love is the containment of the self. And so, the more we practice Love, the real Love, the humbling, the opening, the outwardly flowing, the seeing in real recognition, the dissolving Love, well, you see, right? It’s all in there. It takes all. Carries all. Borderless. Open and raw. Give yourself up. What do you need to know, what can you possibly do to be willing to surrender in this way? Love kills fear. Love burns off everything but itself (ask Adyashanti). Love gets you there, dissolved into the Divine, where we all came from, where we’re all headed…
Vanessa Serotta is a Yoga teacher at Karuna. She shares her Love Monday mornings, 9-10:30