Re: “Acts of Kindness”

Dear Paul,

I read and agree with your article on “Acts of Kindness” (published March 24/09 — ed.). It meets the heart of Karma well. I have some minor comments on this aspect. My now deceased guru, Rev Swami Ghananada did warn us of Karma bargaining. It takes a well developed soul to treat dispassionately his donations or gifts and one must be on guard of the ego taking over. We witness it every day in people doing this cycle run or some other marathon for charity. These are excellent within themselves. However, there is some cause for concern if the activist becomes affected by adulation and praise. The end product in any case is exemplary but dedicated Yogis must be aware of ripening ego.

A form of giving recommended by our teacher is to retreat to your meditation shrine and send the healing energy to those in need. Be specific and do not just pass over it as a chore it takes sustained concentration to target the intended recipient of your thought benevolence. This discipline may take up to twenty or thirty minutes. The same applies when someone who is weak and infirm or obviously poor passes you in the street. Immediately stop anything you are doing and send your thoughts straight to him. If you have a mantra passed on by a guru one can use this. Of course all these actions must be made in secret and not boasted about to anyone. This endorses the third paragraph in your article.

Kind regards,

Editor’s Comment: Your point about Karma Bargaining is very important for all of us to consider. Thank you for your input. Namaste.

Swadhyaya (The Study Of One’s Own Self)


Studying one’s own personality through introspection is Swadhyaya. This is the fourth of the five Niyamas in the Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Swa means ‘Self’ and Adhyaya means ‘Study’. Self-study means inquiring into your own nature, the nature of your beliefs & the nature of the world’s spiritual journey. It is the journey of self-discovery, self-understanding, self-transcendence, self-awareness & self- change. When we practice Swadhyaya, we begin to dissolve the illusory separation we often feel from our deeper self, from those around us and from our world.

How To Begin Swadhaya

Swadhyaya is about taking time to know ourselves better. It begins with the careful observation of one’s thoughts, feelings & motives. You accomplish this by studying sacred texts & keep teaching to the self through yoga, pranayama & meditation. Through self- study, you can see which thoughts, actions, words & experiences bring you closer to the core your realself. However, I am mentioning three very simple techniques below.

Swadhaya Through Yoga

Yoga is a philosophy of life, which is not restricted to just Asanas and Pranayama. It is a path of all-round development of an individual’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self. As the Vishnu-Purana states that self- study and yoga are not ultimately two separate things but both arise together from each other. Through Yoga and study, we have a chance to observe how our bodies, breath, mind and emotions have responded. For example, when you do a Yoga pose, you follow instructions. You learn as to how to get into the pose and how to align all body parts in tune with gravity. This is just the knowledge and the foundation of the yoga posture. But the power of the practice comes when we add observation or consciousness to the knowledge i.e Swadhyaya. Though consciousness already exists in the body, it needs to be tapped through Swadahaya. Then in each pose, we align the body mindfully in tune with gravity for maximum balance, space and freedom to the spine, inner organs and to the breath. This observation leads to a deeper understanding and a communion with each asana. Same way you can add the quality of curiosity, observation and exploration in each step of your life. Whatever you do, do it mindfully & consciously instead of doing it mechanically. Its true that mechanical repetition only dulls but where there is profound attention one never stops seeing deeper and deeper. The next time you step into your Yoga pose or in your daily routine, add Swadahaya into it.

Swadhaya Through Pranayama

Our breathing not only connects us with the outer world, but it also connects our body, mind, emotions and spirit. Sit quietly with eyes closed and spine erect but supple. Begin to relax more and more into this very simple posture. Simply follow the breath going in and out of one’s nose. Then follow the actual movement of the air into and out of one’s lungs. Observe the body & sense where the breath is taking place in the body. Does it take place in the shoulders, the chest, or the lower abdomen? Do my shoulders go up when I inhale? Does my belly go out or in? Do I feel my breathing in my ribs, my back, my pelvis? As I sense my breathing, do my inhalations and exhalations take place evenly and harmoniously, or do they seem to pull in one direction or another? What tensions do I feel? What does my breathing “sound” like? As I sense the location of my breathing, do I feel peaceful, agitated, angry, joyful, sad, bored or willful? Am I being stubborn or rigid in my thinking? What am I feeling and thinking? In addition, at the more advanced levels of this work with breathing, one can even sense a certain quality of energy that seems to enter with each breath, and one can follow the movement of this energy in one’s body. The purpose here is simply to observe–not to analyze, judge, or manipulate. Do self study at least 20 minutes at the beginning of each day.

Swadhaya Through Private Diary

Following are a few questions, you can ask from yourself before going to sleep & write down all the answers honestly in your private diary. Every day make corrections wherever you feel it is required to manage yourself, which will in turn lead you to the path of success.

  1. What time do I get up?
  2. How much time I spend in the bathroom?
  3. How much time I spend on Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation or some other exercise?
  4. How much time I devote towards reading of religious scriptures?
  5. How many times I lose my temper and for how long?
  6. How many time I lied and why? and did I repent on it?
  7. What are the qualities and values of life am I looking for and in what way should I cultivate?
  8. What all bad habits I have in me and what corrective measures I have been taking?
  9. Do I have cordial relations with my colleagues in the office and also with my family members?
  10. Did I do any selfless service in the day?
  11. Have I given someone any monetary help in the day?
  12. Did I have my meal in the evening with my family?
  13. Did I pray along with my family members before going to sleep?
  14. Did I feel sorry before going to sleep for anything wrong I did during the day?
  15. What time did I go to sleep?
  16. What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self- controlled; & the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.

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Hatha Yoga and Pre-existing Neck Problems: What’s the Risk?


Firstly, a Yoga student, who has a pre-existing neck ailment, should get their doctor’s permission before starting to practice Yoga with a teacher. If possible, students should get a doctor’s referral to a particular Yoga teacher, who is more knowledgeable in the therapeutic applications of Hatha Yoga.

Many doctors network with local Yoga teachers, studios, and ashrams, for the benefit of their patients. Chair Yoga classes may be advisable in some instances. Yoga postures practiced during chair Yoga classes will not put pressure on the neck.

If you are a student, find a Yoga teacher who is understanding, gentle, and knowledgeable. At that point, set up an interview with your prospective Yoga teacher, and explain your ailment in detail. The methods, personalities, knowledge, and patience, of instructors who are teaching Yoga, will vary.

Some of the poses that I would not recommend would be: Sirsasana (Headstand); Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand); Halasana (Plow Posture); or any other posture that could cause severe compression on the cervical vertebrae (neck).

It is also wise to find a teacher who has been thoroughly trained in the use of props, modifications, and completely understands your ailment. Also, your doctor should be made aware of any “risky” movements and positions performed in a Yoga class, such as, chin locks, neck rolls, and fingers clasped behind the neck.

You will find it is important not to do any exercises or postures that hurt, even a little bit. Pain is your body’s way of telling you, “not to do that” and “stop now.” The Hatha Yoga techniques, that will help you the most, are those where you will feel a smooth and gentle stretch. If you don’t feel a gentle stretch, I suspect those Yoga poses are not doing you much good.

If any Yoga exercises hurt at all, stop doing them immediately. I have yet to see a student, patient, or client, benefit from doing any Yoga pose that caused pain. To continue further on this point: Any treatment, of any kind, (Chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, or Yoga), should be with the goal of less pain. Why do it, at all, if you are going to be in more pain?

Learning Hatha Yoga for a serious condition, such as a pre-existing neck ailment, should be practiced under maximum supervision of a competent teacher. I would suggest at least one private lesson before trying a group Yoga class. Teachers should suggest, at least, a few private sessions, so that the student understands all the safety guidelines.

As educational as Hatha Yoga DVDs are, they are no substitution for the guidance and therapeutic knowledge of a competent Yoga instructor. In fact, many DVDs are great learning tools for Yoga teachers. Teachers, who do not know how to help students in need of therapeutic Yoga applications, should refer students to a teacher who is qualified to help.

© Copyright 2009 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications