How yoga makes you more spiritual

Sitting comfortably in Govindas, the cosy little restaurant at the Hare Krsna temple in Rondebosch, Murari Gupta Das and I have a conversation over a cup of ginger and lemon tea. He’s wearing a woollen beanie, and wooden beads around his neck. Not dressed in his usual orange attire (which represents celibacy) surprises me, and I ask him why. He replies that he will be working in the restaurant later, and he doesn’t want his clothes to get stained. It is customary for the monks to do service at the temple. Murari’s service includes working at the restaurant once a week, handling the temple’s finances, doing grocery shopping and last, but not least, giving yoga classes 5 times a week.

The turn of conversation towards yoga immediately fires a passion in Murari’s eyes.

The yoga he teaches is called Hatha yoga. Ha means sun and tha means moon. Traditionally, Hatha yoga is about uniting the mind and body. Murari, on the other hand, aims to bring his students to the realization that “we are not the body or the mind; we are the soul.”

As he excitedly describes the different yoga poses, he suddenly remembers one of his yoga books, The Yoga Bible. When he returns with the book under his arm, I am so impressed by the hundreds of different illustrations of poses that I asked him if I could borrow it. He kindly agreed.

I ask Murari to share the procedure of an ordinary yoga class. Firstly, his students start with centering themselves. In other words, they turn the mind inwards and focus on the breath in order to calm the mind and stop its unceasing racing. Then, they start with warming up exercises. At this point, Murari gets up from his seat and shows me how to do a plank in the middle of the restaurant. These warming up exercises, including neck exercises and other postures, prepares one for the main pose, or The King of asana, namely the headstand.  According to The Yoga Bible, the benefits of this pose are countless. It calms the nervous system, nourishes the brain cells, balances the hormonal and digestive systems and strengthens the spirit. Not everyone can do the headstand, but a posture called the little bird helps one to reach the point of successfully doing a headstand. To do the headstand successfully, one has to concentrate. When I attended one of Murari’s classes a few months ago, all I could focus on was the pain in my limbs, my fast heart beat and my desire for rest. Concentration was the last thing on my mind. Murari said this problem can easily be solved if you “practice yoga regularly.”

Garudasana or Eagle Pose, which improves balance and focus. Photo: Lara Antonopoulos

So, how does yoga connect to spirituality? Interestingly, yoga was developed because people sat cross-legged during meditation, and a means was needed to assist the body during meditation. Meditation was almost unbearable since sitting in the same position for hours caused the body to ache and pain. Yoga was a solution, as it makes the body suppler. It creates a sense of spiritual and physical wellbeing to those who practice it. Even if one doesn’t meditate, yoga is still relevant to everyone, especially because we sit in front of the computer for hours on end.

Sitting in meditation can cause aches and pains, but this can be solved through yoga. Photo: Lara Antonopoulos

Vasisthasana or Side Plank Pose, strengthens arms, legs, wrists and core and improves concentration and balance. Photo: Lara Antonopoulos

If a single yoga pose has all those benefits listed above, why don’t all people practice yoga? I’ll be able to answer this question through self-reflection (by no means assuming my reasons are the same as everyone else’s.) Firstly, I hate the way exercise makes me feel – out of breath, in pain and sweaty. Secondly, I hate seeing how good everyone else is compared to me. I can’t even touch my toes without bending my knees. And lastly, improvement seems far away. I haven’t noticed any improvements, which is demotivating.

Murari’s advice – “practice yoga regularly” – seems to be a solution to all these problems.

Keren Shawlov, a student of Murari, says yoga gives her “mental clarity” and “it also helps me to maintain a good level of flexibility.” Another student who prefers to remain anonymous said “When I do yoga I feel de-stressed. I feel better physically and mentally.” Both students said they feel more spiritual when they do yoga. It is interesting that both students experience yoga as not just a physical form of exercise, but mentally revitalizing too.

Yoga isn’t all sunshine and butterflies though. “Yes, yoga could be dangerous,” says Murari. He encourages people to practice yoga under the guidance of a teacher. Yoga poses could be dangerous for different reasons, depending on the individual. For example, if you are pregnant, Murari doesn’t encourage you to do postures that compress the stomach. If you have high blood pressure, you shouldn’t attempt the headstand.

As our interview comes to an end, I swallow the last bit of my tea and then tell Murari that I would have liked to buy him a chocolate to thank him for his time but I assumed he doesn’t eat chocolate (he is a vegan). He tells me he eats dark chocolate, playfully throwing a hint. On that note, we conclude our interview, and I reluctantly leave the peaceful warmth of Govindas.



The secret to TRUE happiness

Everyone wants to know the secret to inner happiness. The truth is: there is no quick, 10 step guide to inner happiness. There are many ways one can achieve happiness, but there is a difference between material, temporary happiness, such as money, cars, a dream job, etcetera, and spiritual contentment, which is perpetual happiness. When I speak of spiritual happiness, I do not mean an isolated life in the Himalayas, with your only material possession being the clothes on your back. On the contrary, it is possible to achieve inner happiness while balancing a life of family, work and the buzz of everyday life.

In an interview with Vasanti Devi Dasi (28), a full-time monk in Rondebosch, she said one of the three fundamental characteristics of the soul is Ananda, which means divine joy or bliss. Ananda can only be accomplished through regular, devoted meditation, according to Paramhansa Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi”.

The radiant-looking Vasanti. Photo: Vasanti Devi Dasi

True happiness cannot be found on the outside. When we attach ourselves to money and material possessions, there is always the possibility of losing material possessions and riches. Do we really want to base our happiness on what we own? The law of karma explains why some people are happy (regardless whether they are rich or poor) and some people are not. True happiness comes when one is happy with what one has. Gratitude can boost dopamine, just like antidepressants, says Alan Korb, the author of The Upward Spiral.

Wayne Dyer once said, “abundance isn’t something we acquire. It is something we tune into”. When you are happy with what you have, then that becomes enough. So, it isn’t a happy person who is grateful, but rather a grateful person who is happy. Being grateful cultivates a relationship with a higher being. Ancient texts, like the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, emphasize the importance of a grateful heart. “Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart — a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water — I accept with joy.” – Bhagavad Gita, chapter 9 verse 26.

“Attitudes are more important than circumstances”

Happiness is determined by the quality of our thoughts. I once read a quote which said: “when you fix your thoughts on God, God fixes your thoughts.” Thoughts lead to attitudes, and with a positive attitude, you can make the best out of the worst situation. When you accept events in life as if you have chosen it, then life changes for the better. Happiness, therefore, does not depend on what you make of life, but how you take it. hector Esponda says in his book, A Spiritual Primer, that attitudes are more important than circumstances. The way you react to a situation is truly what matters.

Vasanti has practiced meditation since the age of four, which proves that anyone can meditate if they are devoted enough. Through devotion or bhakti, one renders a service to God which ultimately leads to a deep sense of satisfaction and joy.

“The best way to be unendingly happy is to be conscious of the Divine.” Divine consciousness is achieved through meditation. Seeker, the answer to true happiness lies within!