A few days ago, the autumn season began here in the Northern Hemisphere, and in the southern half of the planet the spring season started. I hope you are enjoying the new energy that comes with a change of season.
Just as each season brings a new energy, I trust your study of svādhyāya over these last few weeks has brought fresh energy and inspiration to your sadhana.
In Shree Muktananda Ashram this past week, the colors of nature have been especially vivid. What I noticed is that the bright green of the grass on the Ashram grounds, illumined by the orange sun in the sky, matches the green and orange svādhyāya banner on the Siddha Yoga path website. It is wonderful to observe this synchronicity between the colors in nature and the colors on the website for these study sessions.
In my exposition “What is Svadhyaya?” on the Siddha Yoga path website, I explained that a main way of engaging in svādhyāya—the study of the Self—is the recitation of sacred texts.
And this is the focus of the study session today: the recitation of sacred texts.
Since ancient times, in the gurukulas or ashrams of India, svādhyāya has been an essential requirement for students who wish to learn the ancient scriptures, to know the significance of human life, and to realize their true Self. In the Taittirīya Upanishad, one of the first instructions given by the Guru to the disciple is:
Do not neglect the practice of svādhyāya.i
Through this instruction the Guru is emphasizing the importance of regular recitation of the scriptures, of svādhyāya. The practice of reciting sacred texts was part of a student’s daily worship and tapas, or disciplined austerity. At times, these students wouldn’t eat a meal until they had first completed their daily recitation. They believed that just as food is essential to the body, the practice of svādhyāya is vital for sadhana.
On the Siddha Yoga path, we practice svādhyāya by reciting texts such as Shri Vishnu Sahasranam, Shri Rudram, Shri Shiva Mahimna Stotram, Shri Bhagavad Gita, and Shri Guru Gita.
For this and future Svādhyāya study sessions, we will be focusing on the recitation of Shri Guru Gita.
You may wonder why recitation is so important. For this we need to understand that the words of sacred texts are considered mantras. Divine power is conveyed through mantra. Therefore, by reciting sacred texts aloud, we invoke the power in the mantras. Through regular and focused repetition, the power in the mantras is catalyzed, and it manifests within our being, opening us to inner knowledge.
Svādhyāya is a practice in which you engage your whole being—your posture, breath, voice, sight, hearing, and mind—to focus on the Self. In other words, you direct all the powers of your individual self to recognize the supreme Self. This recognition is the goal of svādhyāya.
What is more, the benefits of reciting these texts aloud are not limited to ourselves. The positive vibrations that are produced by our recitation of these mantras extend to others and the world around us.
One of the defining characteristics of svādhyāya is daily discipline. It is through regular repetition of the text that you uncover and experience the transforming power of this practice.
As many of you know from your own experience, the benefits of svādhyāya are manifold. Each time you recite Shri Guru Gita you are immersing your mind in the knowledge of the Self that is revealed by Lord Shiva in his dialogue with the goddess Parvati. You may experience the shakti of the mantras pulsating in your being, dissolving limited thoughts and feelings, revealing new insights, and bringing forth the qualities of the Self.
Now I want to speak about how this purification takes place at the subtle level of your being—in your subtle body.
This is a dimension of svādhyāya that you may not be conscious of, as it is not perceptible to the senses, or even comprehended by the mind. Even though it is subtle, this purification process is essential to realize the Self.
The subtle body is made of vital energy that exists at a finer vibrational level within the physical body. The memory or impressions of our thoughts, feelings, and actions—our successes and failures, joys and sorrows, likes and dislikes—are stored here.
These past impressions limit our experience of who we are and what we think we are capable of. These impressions veil our true nature as the supreme Self by constantly replaying limiting thoughts and feelings in our mind. In order to become established in our true nature, these impressions must be purified and dissolved.
Svādhyāya is one of the most effective means for achieving such purification.
The sacred texts recited on the Siddha Yoga path are mantras that are infused with Gurumayi’s grace. When we recite them, the subtle sound vibrations of these mantras reach our subtle body and purify these past impressions.
Let me explain further how this purification happens.
Within the subtle body there are six major centers of energy called chakras. The Sanskrit word “chakra” means “wheel” and refers to the form of these energy centers. Svādhyāya helps to purify these energy centers.
The chakras are aligned along the spine in the subtle body and connected to the central channel called the sushumna nadi, which goes from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
The first chakra is called the mūlādhāra. Mūla means “root,” and adhāra means “support”. The mūlādhāra lies at the base of the spine where the Kundalini energy resides in a dormant state. When you receive shaktipat initiation from the Guru, Kundalini Shakti is awakened and travels along the sushumna, purifying each of the chakras.
In the symbolic representation of the mūlādhāra, there are four petals, and they are crimson in color.
Each chakra corresponds to a particular element, and the mūlādhāra corresponds to the element of earth. This element is represented by a bija mantra, or seed mantra, which is the syllable lam. The bija mantra is shown seated on an elephant, symbolizing strength and solidity, which are qualities of the earth element. Lam is also associated with the qualities of steadiness, or “being grounded.”
The scriptures describe, in detail, the different kinds of bliss that a human being can experience. Each of the fourii petals of the mūlādhāra chakra represents one of the four types of bliss contained in this chakra. They are paramānanda, supreme bliss; sahajānanda, natural or innate bliss; virānanda, bliss of heroism (in control of one's senses and desires); and yogānanda, bliss of yoga (in deep meditation). As you practice svādhyāya, invoking the power of Kundalini Shakti—which purifies the chakras and expands the divine energies inherent in them—then the bliss inherent in the mūlādhāra is released. You in turn experience the immense bliss of the Self.
To enhance your practice of svādhyāya you will be learning about key aspects of svādhyāya so that you can become more proficient in your recitation. Each study session will focus on one specific aspect of svādhyāya that you’ll apply to your recitation of Shri Guru Gita.
In today’s study session we will focus on the element of posture, or asana.
In the Yogasutra of Patanjali, “asana” is defined as a posture that is steady and comfortable. For the practice of svādhyāya it is necessary to learn how to maintain a steady posture for an extended period of time.
To achieve this, your posture needs to be aligned with the optimal position of your joints, muscles, and body structure, and also be in balance with gravity.
When you cultivate a steady, open, and easeful posture, it allows the breath to flow freely throughout your body. When the breath is flowing steadily and freely, your mind also becomes steady and clear. And with a steady, calm mind, you can focus more completely on reciting the text and absorbing the knowledge it conveys.
For svādhyāya, posture is of paramount importance for another reason. Your entire body—including your vocal cords—is the instrument you use to recite the mantras and experience their powerful resonance.
Just as you would carefully tune a violin or a tamboura to produce the most harmonious and melodious sound, when you recite Shri Guru Gita or other texts, you have to tune and maintain the harmony of your physical posture. This means starting the recitation with an aligned posture and maintaining your posture throughout the recitation.
I will instruct you in five steps for creating a steady and easeful sitting posture for svādhyāya. These steps can be used if you’re sitting on the floor or on a chair. Even if you’re familiar with these steps, you can always benefit from refining how you understand and apply them. As I give the instructions on posture, you can put them into practice. Are you ready? Let’s begin!
Step One: Create a Solid Foundation
- Whether you’re sitting in a chair or on the floor, check to see that your hips are level with or slightly higher than your knees. If not, use a blanket or cushion to elevate your hips.
- If you’re sitting in a chair, check that your feet are hip-width apart, flat on the floor, and directly below your knees.
- Then, check that there is a natural inward curve in your lower back. For those of you sitting in a chair, you can use whatever props are necessary to achieve this, such as a rolled blanket, shawl, or small pillow behind your lower back.
- Next find a position in which you feel your spine is comfortably balanced on its base. One way of finding this balance point is to gently rock forward and back on your sitting bones and notice when you feel a sense of balance—neither falling forward nor leaning back. Try rocking forward and back a few times now.
- Come to rest at the balance point.
- Allow your sitting bones to release into the surface beneath you.
Step Two: Position Your Hands and Arms so They Are at Ease
- Position your hands so that your upper arms can release freely down from your shoulders to your elbows.
- For svādhyāya you’ll be holding the chanting book in one hand just below eye level.
- Keep the shoulder of the arm that is holding the book relaxed and the palm of the hand holding the book open and relaxed too. You can place your other hand in chin mudra with the index finger and thumb touching, palms facing down, on your thigh.
- During recitation of the text, you can switch the hand holding the chanting book every so often to balance the arm and shoulder muscles.
Step Three: Imagine Energy Gently Spiraling Upward
- As you feel your sitting bones releasing down into the surface beneath you, imagine energy gently spiraling upwards from the base of your spine to the crown of your head. You don’t actually need to do anything physically. Simply think of this gently spiraling energy allowing your spine to release upward.
- Your spine is supple: notice how the spine moves in accord with the breath. Let the breath be soft.
- When your physical posture is aligned with the natural structure of your body, you may notice a subtler energy flowing through your posture that creates a sense of steadiness, lightness, and ease.
Step Four: Allow Your Neck to Be Soft and Free
- Releasing your jaw, allow the back of your neck to soften and gently lengthen as if you are bowing your head slightly.
- Your face and eyes are soft.
- Your tongue rests on the floor of your mouth.
Step Five: Breathe Freely and Naturally
- The chest is open and slightly lifted.
- The ribs expand as you inhale—front, sides, and back—and release as you exhale.
- Breathe freely and naturally.
To review, these are the five steps for establishing a steady and comfortable posture:
- Create a solid foundation.
- Position your hands and arms so they are at ease.
- Imagine energy gently spiraling upward from the base of your spine to the crown of your head.
- Allow the neck to be soft and free.
- Breathe freely and naturally.
Let me share with you now some ways to maintain and support your posture during the recitation.
The main point is to keep refreshing your posture. By that I mean mentally reviewing the steps I just guided you through: checking to see that you’re balanced over your sitting bones, that there’s a natural curve in your lower back, and so on.
Along with this, remember to let your body move or adjust itself gently. An aligned posture is not rigid or tense—it’s dynamic and flexible.
If you’re sitting in a chair, here are a few actions you can take to support your posture:
- Do a gentle twist from side to side, holding onto the seat or armrest.
- Try sitting away from the backrest of the chair for a few minutes, maintaining the natural curve in your lower back.
- Remember, if you need more support for the back, you can sit more toward the back of the chair and place a rolled blanket, shawl, or small pillow between the small of your back and the chair.
If you’re sitting cross-legged on the floor, switch the cross of your legs as needed to balance the stretching of your hips and knees.
One benefit of a daily discipline of svādhyāya is that it increases your ability to sit easefully for longer periods.
Having a grounded and aligned physical posture signals to your entire being “I am here for worship of the Self and the practice of svādhyāya.”
Participants in the study session recited the first thirty-one verses of Shri Guru Gita, applying what they had just learned about posture from Swami ji.
Swami ji concluded the study session with these words:
In these study sessions you have been learning how, through the disciplined practice of svādhyāya, you can find and bring forth wisdom from within.
In the week ahead, I encourage you to apply the practical knowledge you learned about posture to your recitation of Shri Guru Gita.
I recommend that you recite this text along with the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website.
I will be in touch again soon about the next study session, which will take place on Saturday, October 3.
Stay safe, everyone!