Wednesday, 23 October 2013

An Interview with Swami Nishchalananda

1.     When, and how, did you discover Yoga?
I first came to Yoga when I was backpacking in different parts of the world. I ended up in Israel in a kibbutz and became friendly with a man from South Africa.  He knew some yoga and invited me to practice with him.  It was great; a few simple postures and then sitting quietly and focusing on the breath.  Twenty minutes everyday, that was all, but I still remember how it stilled the mind.  Then I moved on in my travels and returned to the UK where I took on a job with a consulting engineering company who then transferred me to Northern Ireland.  It was in Belfast that I really started to look more seriously into yoga. This was in 1971 and in those days, unlike today, yoga teachings were not so widely available. But anyway I asked around in Belfast and eventually I discovered a yoga centre mid-way between the catholic and protestant quarters of the city (at that time there were serious confrontations taking place).  It was called the Satyananda Yoga Center and I quickly became very friendly with the people who were running it.  In charge was Swami Atmananda, an Indian lady with whom I became great friends.  I also became very friendly with an Indian man called Swami Satchidananda and an Irish man called Swami Satyamurti.  At that time, Swami Niranjananda was a young boy and he was also living there.  I used to go there every Monday night for simple practice and I loved it. The sessions included simple postures, pranayama, a short yoga nidra and meditation. I discovered that Yoga was a practical way to influence one's mind, emotions and behavior and I had never discovered this practical approach in any other system.    When I used to meet my friends after the class they could see that somehow I was in a completely different space.  Swami Atmananda somehow adopted me because whenever a teacher came to town to give a Satsang she would always telephone and insist that I drop everything I was doing and come.  I always did and I never regretted it because I met some really interesting people.  
Swamiji near Bangalore, India

One day I said to Swami Atmananda that I wanted to go to Indian to study Yoga full time, she said that it was a great idea and that I should talk to her guru, Swami Satyananda, who was coming in a few weeks time.  Well to cut a long story short, this was what I did.  I met Swami Satyananda and I told him of my wish to come to Indian and study Yoga and he said; "no problem, come when you want."  So a few months later I was on my way to India and the rest is another story. 

2.     Can you describe your Yoga practice (what aspect of yoga most touches your heart)?
Over the years my practice of yoga has changed enormously.  In the early days I was very much into Hatha yoga.  I used to love to spend time trying out all kinds of postures, pranayama and bandhas.  In the early part of my stay in the Ashram in India I practiced karma yoga and in fact karma yoga continues to be an important part of my yoga practice.  After a very short time in India I became enamoured with Mantra yoga. 
Photo of Swamiji at Satyananda Tapovanam, Bangalore.

At every opportunity I would find a harmonium and chant all kinds of mantras.  
Furthermore for a few years I underwent rigorous and sustained practice of Kriya yoga.  I used to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning and practice until breakfast.  It gave me enormous insight into how energy flows through our system.  Over the year Gyana yoga and Bhakti Yoga have become very important aspects of my practice and continue to be so until the present day.

3.     Can you describe how yoga affects your daily life?
For me Yoga is as important as breathing.  Every breath and every thought, feeling and action are a process of Yoga in the sense that they are a continuous reminders of my spiritual roots.

4.     Has there been a moment in your years of Yoga that stands out (or a peak experience & how did you integrate this experience?
Over the years I have had so many peak experiences and it is difficult for me to say that one is more important than another.  All of these experiences have been important in that they have revealed deeper qualities of my being.  I was very lucky that in India I was sharing with many like minded people; indeed it is still the case as I live in Mandala Yoga Ashram.  As such it has always been easy for me to integrate these experiences with my daily life.  Many people do have problems integrating these inner revelations with there daily life.  This is why it is so important to share with others in Sangha- that is, sharing with like minded people in your locality, coming regularly to the Ashram (or any Ashram for that matter) or keeping in touch via the internet or telephone.

5.     Is there a text/ book that you find inspiring?
Over the years many books have inspired me.  When I lived in India I was very inspired by the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads and I reflected on there teachings.  Then I came in touch with the Yoga Vasistha and the Ashta Vakra Gita, which for me, are unsurpassed in the depth of there teachings.  When I returned to the UK I also became inspired by the teaching of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra because it was so pertinent to daily life and how we can make our daily life a process of Yoga.  I think the beauty of the teachings of yoga, tantra and advaita is that they all give us very different perspectives on how we can go deeper in our understanding.  Recently I have been very inspired by the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramesh Balsekar among others.

6.     Can you tell us about a favourite retreat of retreat centre?
My favorite retreat centre is Mandala Yoga Ashram but being director it is perhaps not an easy place for me to retreat.   

Photo of the Ashram Reception
There are so many places to retreat in the western world and in India.  A few years ago I went to a Christian retreat center in Wales for a few days because it gave me lots of space to be quiet and no-one knew me.  I was very touched by the love and respect in this centre.  Otherwise in India, a place I like very much is the Ramanashram in Tiruvannamalai in South India which is where Ramana Maharshi used to live.  Actually it is not a place to retreat because it is very busy but I find the Ashram and the Aruna Chala Mountain very conductive to insight.
7.     Could you share one of your favorite quotes?
My favorite quote used to be "reality is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is no-where."  This is a hermetic statement, though it is variously ascribed to the medieval mystic Giordana Bruno and the French philosopher Blaze Pascel.  This is a beautiful aphorism which indicates the oneness of the world we live in. I feel that reflection on these words may lead to deeper insight.  But recently I came across a re-interpretation of this statement by Renee Guenon which was pointed out to me by a Spanish friend (Mumuksha- Javier Casado).  It says: Reality is a sphere whose circumference is everywhere and whose centre is no-where.”  When I read this my mind nearly exploded because I realized that this statement was coming from the perspective of Consciousness whereas the previous statement was coming from the perspective of matter.  So this is my new favourite quotation.  Though, of course, I could give you thousands of favourite quotations from the texts I have previously mentioned and the many sages who have existed in the past and who exist on planet Earth today.

8.     If you could practice/study with any yogi (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?
Well of course I have been blessed in that respect because destiny decided that I would study with Swami Satyananda, who of course is not alive anymore.   
But the teachings I received from him are still alive in my heart. 

I think we can learn from everyone on the planet and I can not really say who I would like to study with because destiny has always been very kind to me and I always met those people who I needed to meet.  I have such trust in life that I'm sure that if I need to study further with anyone that person would present themselves and he or she will be the person I will be delighted to spend time with.

The above photo shows Swamis Nishchalananda, Niranjananda, Amritananda, and Paramahamsa Satyananda at a Kriya Yoga course, Munger 1978.
(Our thanks to Amarnath Mukherjee for the photo).

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