Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month, December, 2014: Mantra, by Sharon Gannon


IMG_0151-0.PNGThe ancient yogic scriptures declare that God is sound and sound is God: Shabda Brahman. There is nothing but God. God is everything. God is real. God is reality. God is sound. All forms of reality are sound forms—music—their very substance composed of vibration. What we see as material existence, matter, is sound slowed down so that the eyes can see it, the ears can hear it and all the other senses can cognize it. Sound gives birth to matter—in the beginning was the word.

Our minds—through our words, whether spoken out loud or silently—create the reality we live in. Most people are unaware of the powerful force their words unleash upon the world. None of us like living in a world of chaos, conflict, destruction, pollution, disease and despair, yet few of us realize that it is our words that create and maintain such a world. We misuse our words when we use them to deceive, condemn, complain or blame others. Words spoken in anger and despair create a destructive atmosphere.

If we feel bound or limited by our reality, if don’t like what we see, a mantra enables us to change our perception of what is by going beyond what appears as normal to us. The Sanskrit word mantra means to “cross over the mind”: man means “mind,” and tra means “to cross over.” Mantras are magical words with the potency to shift reality, or at least our perception of it, which may well be the same thing. But to utilize this magical potency of mantra to shift our perception of reality, we must acknowledge that mantras are spells, and like all spells, to be effective, they must be uttered with sincere intention and pronounced correctly. Most of us must repeat a mantra many times for the desired effect to manifest. As the alchemists of old used to say with encouragement, “with repetition the magic will be forced to rise.”

One might ask, If God is everything then how come there is so much ugliness and suffering in the world? Think of it this way: Right now the Earth’s environment is being destroyed due to human greed and ignorance. Nature is harmonious with God’s laws. We take naturally occurring, pristine resources and refashion them into all kinds of material things to buy and sell. Money seems to be our God and money is our mantra. Most of the things we manufacture end up as garbage thrown into landfills and the ocean, creating a polluted world and releasing toxicity into our environment. Nearly all of the stuff we have made from the Earth’s basic raw materials we have also altered in such a way that this stuff is unable to break down naturally into components that will biodegrade and re-nourish the environment. The garbage we have made is poisoning our world and causing all kinds of suffering—an indication that we have lost our musical sense and have become out of tune with the Cosmic laws of harmony. God provides the basic raw materials but gives us the option to fashion those materials in accord with the laws of nature or not. In a similar way God gives us voices and a choice to play and sing in His orchestra or one assembled from our own selfish, short-sighted egos. God allows us to choose which words we want to think and say, and our choices will determine the kind of world we live in now and in our future.

It is said in the Bhagavad Gita and in other scriptures that whatever you are thinking of at the time of your death will propel you into your next life. That being said, it is sad to know that many people when they meet death unexpectedly, like in an accident or plane crash say the mantra, “Oh Sh-t!,” unconsciously giving direction to their next incarnation. The great yogi Gandhi was practiced in his recitation of mantra, and when the assassin’s bullet hit him, he remembered to utter “Ram,” which no doubt pointed his soul in a good direction for his journey.

The nature of God is satchidananda—existence (sat), knowledge (chit) and mostly bliss (ananda). God is omniscient and omnipresent, but if you want to know His blissful form—and who wouldn’t?—you must focus on that with every thought or word you say. God is polite and does not interfere with us unless we reach out to Him and ask for His presence to be in our lives. When you want to get someone’s attention, knowing their name is important. It is the same with God: to get God’s attention you must call his name. “Hey you” is not enough. It is better to be specific.

Sanskrit is the spiritual language of refinement. Sanskrit mantras composed of the names of God are particularly potent. Most people unconsciously fill their minds and their world with words that manifest as mundane, destructive forms, ensuring negativity and suffering. The wise work to deconstruct a negative reality through chanting God’s holy names. Sound precedes form. His name (nama) creates his form (rupa). There is no difference between God’s name and God. If you want to dwell in the bhav of the Divine then use the mantras of his holy name to lift your mind from conflict, fear, anger, despair and all ordinary concerns and bring you into the reality of ananda—your true h(om)e.

—Sharon Gannon

Jivamukti Focus of the Month, Nov 2014: Soul Power, by Sharon Gannon


fom_nov_v1_0hanam esham kleshavad uktam
The greatest obstacle to the practice is one’s own prejudices 
based on one’s own preferences ~ Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (PYS IV.28)

Yoga is the practice of getting happy. Not ordinary happiness, but deep and lasting happiness that is unshaken by the ups and downs of life. Through yoga we wake up, slowly and over time, and as each bit of the veil of ignorance that keeps us from knowing our true selves falls, we see more and more clearly what is, and with that we gain power to choose to live life aligned with the flow of Divine will. Those of us on this path face both tremendous challenges and tremendous opportunities at this time. Our culture of materialism, exploitation and utter disregard for the well-being of other animals, all of nature and the Earth herself is inching us ever closer to a breaking point, while at the same time we are undergoing a huge shift in consciousness. To navigate through this tumultuous time and emerge into the light, we must dissolve a crippling prejudice that has put many of us to sleep for thousands of years, distorted our minds and coerced us into viewing slavery, exploitation and the mass murder of other animals as normal. The root of that prejudice is the lie that animals don’t have souls.

In the sutra above, Patanjali identifies prejudice as the greatest obstacle to yoga. Prejudice is always based on misperception, which comes from ignorance. Ignorance arises from being told a lie and believing it and then continuing to tell yourself and others that lie—deepening your belief in it to such an extent that it affects how you see yourself and the others whom you are prejudiced against, resulting in a distortion of the truth. Prejudice is a mental affliction that pollutes the mind with deception. To rid yourself of prejudice, you must destroy the lie at the root. Only knowledge can burn prejudice at its root and reveal the truth.

Many religious traditions maintain that non-human animals do not have souls, or that they do not have the kind of souls that enable one to connect to God. Patanjali tells us that if we look deeply we will see the truth. In fact, you don’t even have to look that deeply to see that other animals have souls. If they are breathing and the heart is beating, this is evidence that a soul is present. To be alive is to have a soul. All living beings, regardless of the color of their skin, hair, feathers, scales or fur, and whether or not they walk on two legs or four or none at all, are persons—they have souls.

This is evident in our language: the word anima is the root for the word animal, and it means “soul, that which animates.” Thus, by definition, all animals have souls, whether human or non-human. Every living being has a soul. When someone dies, the soul leaves the body, and that is the only time that we can justifiably point at someone and say they don’t have a soul. It is the same no matter what kind of person you are: you may be a human, a cat, a dog, a cow, a bird or a fish person, but regardless, all living beings have souls; if they didn’t they would be dead.

It is also evident in countless stories of animals behaving in ways that go far beyond the rigid notions of animal behavior that culture and science have limited them to, ways that in many cases display more humanity than many humans display. For example, dolphins caring for their dying friends, dogs who forego food themselves in order to have enough to feed their families, octopuses who decorate their dens, birds who use words to express regret, and many more. If these animals were nothing more than automatons whose behavior is dictated entirely by their genes, how could they demonstrate such connectedness with others and the world around them?

Jivamukti means liberation for the soul—all souls, not just human souls. To reach liberation, we must rid ourselves of prejudice. Asana and meditation practice can help. Bhakti can help. Being vegan can help. But no practice will be effective unless we are willing to open our minds and hearts to see beyond the “reality” presented to us by culture. When we reach liberation, we will find that there is actually no difference between individuals of any species. We are all one—we are all one Divine soul.

-Sharon Gannon

Jivamukti Focus of the Month, October, 2014: Serene Intelligence, by Sharon Gannon


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Mayy eva mana adhatsva / mayi buddhim nivesaya /
nivasisyasi mayy eva / ata urdhvam na samsayah Keep your mind on me alone, your intellect on me; thus you will dwell in me from now on.

Bhagavad Gita XII.8

In this age of struggle, known as the Kali Yuga, it can be very difficult to maintain a serene mind. Conflict between nations, conflict at work, conflict with enemies, conflict with friends, conflict at home, and even conflict within oneself can disturb one’s mind and destroy one’s happiness. It is common to be suspicious of someone who is happy and calm, thinking they must be ignorant, uneducated, living in a bubble or even mentally ill, and that to be an intelligent, caring human being one must be disturbed and filled with anxiety, and further that if you seek solace in spiritual practices you are an escapist living in denial and burying your head in the sand.

Buddhim or buddhi means “intelligence.” The highest and most important aspect of the intellect is its ability to grasp and understand the truth. Many people focus their minds on relative truth, that which is bound by the transient comings and goings of temporary existence, while the spiritual practitioner aims to comprehend or dwell in absolute truth. Absolute truth is knowledge of the supreme Self or God. Krishna in this verse from the Gita tells Arjuna that if he is able to focus his intelligence on Him, on God, then without a doubt (samsayah), he will gain access to the heart of God. God is Love. God is Great. With great love all is possible. To know God is to love God, and this is the yogi’s purpose. To realize that purpose one must devote their whole being to that aim. As Patanjali advises, Ishwara pranidhanad va (PYS 1.23), and for those who do, success will be guaranteed absolutely (va).

Chitta means the “content of the mind”—the mind’s intelligence—and prasad means “blessed.” A blessed mind is a serene mind. Because so much of the anxiety we experience seems to us to be caused by other people—they make us mad, they act in deceitful ways, they are unfair, they are unkind, and on and on—Patanjali tells us in chapter 1.33 of the Yoga Sutra that chitta prasadanam, or serenity, is our mind’s innate state. Hey, that’s good news! We should have faith in that truth and do all we can to protect that blessed condition from defilement. Patanjali gives some advice as to how to accomplish that: be happy for those who are happy, compassionate for those who are unhappy, delighted for those
who are virtuous and indifferent to those who are wicked. If we choose to ignore this advice, we will become entrenched in our own negative emotions and be unable to remember God or devote ourselves to His service. Our intelligence will be consumed by anxiety, and we will be unable to enjoy anything in this world or in any other.

Finding fault with others is a sure way to disturb your mind and destroy your intelligence. When judgment of others arises, strive to let it go. Let God take care of things. If you remember that He is the supreme doer, you will be able to surrender and let go of your ego’s tendency to try to control the outcome of a situation. Your job is to protect the serenity of your mind. As my teacher Shri Brahmananda would say, “mind, your own business!” Follow the dictates of the yamas and relate to others with kindness, truthfulness, caring, respect and generosity. Rid your mind of the diseases of pride, envy, anger, laziness, lust, greed and gluttony. No one is saying that this is an easy task and that we can accomplish this alone, so to provide help in times of need we would be wise to contemplate the practical suggestions given to us by holy beings and do our best to put them into practice. Help is available in the form of satsang, and satsang can appear in the form of holy teachings written by holy beings, like the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra as well as contemporary teachers, like Shyamdas.

Another meaning of intelligence that I found in the dictionary is “secret information.” I think Shyamdas thought of intelligence like this when he spoke about the importance of protecting the most secret information, your devotional bhav: “The age of struggle has arrived and can destroy everyone’s intelligence. Be careful! This Kali Yuga can swindle you, so secure your devotional mind, guarding it like you would a precious jewel. Safeguard your bhava.” (Shiksha Patra 29.1, translated by Shyamdas and Vallabhdas). The Path of Grace outlines practical means to protect one’s chitta prasadanam: only eat prasad, food that has first been offered to God, and even water should be offered before drinking; keep good association (satsang); listen to accounts of Shri Krishna’s lilas; sing His praises and always chant the refuge mantra, Shri Krishna Sharanam Mama.

As you can see, there are many sources of holy advice. It seems like if we were able to incorporate at least some of these precious jewels offered by blessed beings into our daily lives, we could experience a little serenity during these difficult times. I certainly hope so!

—Sharon Gannon

The Hippy Twist: Becoming an Agent for Change


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“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
– Aldous Huxley

The only thing we can be sure of is change, yet most of us spend our lives gripping onto the railing, terrified of what that change will entail, and how soon it will come.

Fear and anxiety tend to be held primarily in the gut, the location of the solar plexus. From a eastern philosophical view, the solar plexus is the location of the Manipura Chakra, the jewel in the city, or the place of resplendence. Along with governing digestion and metabolism, this is also the home of the ego, and associated with self-esteem and “warrior” energy; it also holds the key to our power for transformation.

Behind the digestive organs lies the spine, which is the engine for all movement. When the Manipura chakra is healthy and spirited, and balanced with the rest of the body and their associated chakras, taking risks, asserting oneself and being responsible for ones choices in life is natural and easy. The relationship of self and other is in check, and acting our of goodwill and service comes naturally because the sense of ego-self is in tune with the universal self, or conscious collective.

When the Manipura chakra is out of balance, however, it is associated with fear, anxiety, insecurity (that may present as an inflation of ego or self-worth), poor digestion or even chronic illness. It can also be associated with a stiff or misaligned spine. The Solar plexus is intricately linked to diet, as the diet supports, or hinders how our digestive track functions, as well as our self-image and ultimately, our self-worth.

It is no coincidence that in the sixties, a time of drastic and needed change, a number of songs were penned about the inevitability of change, such as The Times They Are A Changin’, by Bob Dylan, and A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke. An equal number of songs were written about twisting and turning, which are the very moves that accelerate and encourage change in the body, from a digestive and movement perspective.

In the yoga asana practice, postural twists are excellent for bringing about a cleansing of the gut, as well as challenging our sense of self and all of our attachments. If we are aware and wanting to look deeply into our mental patterns and attachments, twists can challenge the questions such as who is ‘I’ and what is ‘mine’? What are the various labels we place on ourselves that we get attached to? The more we understand that the labels aren’t real, but rather, the makings of the ego, even the thoughts we have about ourselves in the world are not real, the more we can begin to accept change, whether it be a relationship-based, dietary, environmental, or professional. The fact is, everything is changing in the world all the time, and we have less control of what is ‘newer and dear’ to us than we think. When we take responsibility for the choices we make with intentions that stretch beyond our limited, ego-driven self, then we can rest assured that we have done the best we can, and the fear and anxiety dissipates.

When we embrace change and feel good about what we consume, including the food we eat and the media we read and hear, we become change agents rather than fighting change as if it were quicksand. What we feel good about eating is personal, of course, but starting from a place of not-harming any other being is essential if one is practicing yoga with the goal of sustained happiness and peace within. Healing foods packed with nutrients are generally also non-harming foods, making things like organic vegetables and fruits a great place to start.

For more on the relationship of food and diet to feeling great, check out Sharon Gannon’s book, Simple Recipes for Joy. It is so much more than a vegan cookbook; it is a recipe for creating magic and positive change in the world, starting with yourself.

For more on twisting, the Manipura chakra and the asana practice, I will be leading a workshop on Sunday, October 5 about the torso and Central Column in the Architecture of Asana Series at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, from 1:30-4:30pm. Please come!

Jivamukti Focus of the Month: September 2014, The Magic of Cooking, by Sharon Gannon


Brahmarpanam Brahma-Havir / Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam /Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam / Brahma-Karma-Samadhina
See God everywhere: God is the ladle; God also is the food; God is the fire; God is the preparer; and God is the eater of the food. God is the reason for eating and God is the goal to be reached. Bhagavad Gita 4.24

I asked my first spiritual teacher, the alchemist Randy Hall, “How do I become enlightened?,” and he responded, “First, learn how to cook, clean, and garden.” I was incredulous at his response; it disappointed me, and at the time I wasn’t able to embrace his advice seriously as it didn’t seem “spiritual enough” for me. Cooking? I was an impatient, skinny girl who found disdain in eating and was trying to reduce her food to a minimum and eventually live on air: how did he think that I could get into cooking? What could possibly be the point? I felt similarly about cleaning and gardening.

Over the years I’ve come to see the extraordinary wisdom of this advice. Preparing and cooking food is a magical act, a potent, alchemical process, through which one form is transformed into another form: varied ingredients are deftly combined and subjected to the elements of water, fire and air in just the right proportions, with just the right timing and with appropriate spells—consisting of good mental intentions, with no gossip or small talk in the kitchen—to manifest a delicious meal that satisfies both body and soul. A cookbook can be seen as a book of formulas for this magical process, complete with how-to instructions, suggestions, and advice, which, if followed with a cheerful heart and sense of adventure, could result in the most delightful culinary experiences manifesting on the dinner table. Food prepared in this way can even produce a shift in perception of oneself and others, yielding hope and encouragement to move forward through life.

To make this magic happen most effectively, it is essential to bring consciousness to what we eat and how we prepare it. When we eat meat, eggs and dairy products, we are buying into a cultural conditioning that has disconnected us from the natural intelligence of our bodies for the purpose of generating profits for the animal-user industries, we are destroying the health of our bodies and our environment, and we are participating in horrific enslavement, exploitation and slaughter of other animals, which will eventually, but inevitably, come back to us. When we adopt a vegan lifestyle, we bring kindness into our lives—kindness to our bodies and to our relationships with others. Yoga teaches that whatever we want in life we can have if we are willing to provide it for others. If we want to be free, then depriving others of freedom and utilizing so many resources that others are left impoverished, cannot lead us to our goal. Making kind choices when it comes to the food we eat is one of the most basic ways to begin to ensure our own happiness and freedom.

Our state of mind when we cook is also important to the outcome. If we are in a bad mood, it is best to stay out of the kitchen. To cultivate the highest intention and clear any negativity we may feel, we can pray or chant a mantra before we start to cook, while cooking, and before we eat. To pray is to set a high intention, to implore the Divine forces to come to our aid for a good and selfless end. As we approach the cooking process and then the eating of the food we have cooked, we make sure that our minds and hearts are centered in an elevated intentional mood. This purifies the whole experience, ridding the kitchen of toxins, both subtle (like anger and impatience) and gross (like dirt and bacteria). See the kitchen as part of God’s abode, as sacred space, as a doorway to enlightenment. The kitchen is a temple, and all the pots, pans, spices, grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as the stove, spoons, knives, bowls, and plates, are all Divine objects, full of consciousness, waiting to become part of the Divine, alchemical process of creating a meal. Allow the fire of your soul to become part of the heating element that cooks your food.

The most courageous act any of us can do at this time is to dare to care about others—other animals, the Earth, and all beings. To be more other-centered than self-centered is the first step to happiness. Choosing vegan ingredients and cooking them yourself with a pure intention will not only help you create tasty meals but will help you start your own radical movement of peaceful, joyful coexistence with all of life.

—Sharon Gannon, adapted from the book, Simple Recipes for Joy, September 2014

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