Author Archives: mwsawyer

What is a Mandala?


Gateways to the Infinite

mandala - sacred geometry and art

Mandala – sacred geometry and art

A mandala can be described as the pictorial version of a musical composition. It is created by applying the mathematical laws of angle and shape in ways that correspond with the natural laws of the Universe.  A mandala can also be described as a sacred circle which is used in ritualistic ceremonies and other related practices.

The term, mandala, comes from a Sanskrit word that has two distinct meanings: (1) circle, which can represent the physical world outside of you, and (2) center, which can represent the mental and spiritual worlds within you.  When you include both meanings into one term, you realize that a mandala can be thought of as a sacred geometric design that represents the three planes of human existence (e.g. the physical body, the subtle body, and the causal body).

The main purpose of a mandala is to create a sacred space to focus your mind during meditation and turn your attention inward.

What the shapes represent…

Circles           represent the universe/ cosmos

Spirals          represent growth & learning, change

Triangles     represent dreams, goals, and vision

Squares        represent the building process; stability and security; the surface of the Earth

What the colors represent…

Red                an energy color that represents fire, burning emotions, and action

Orange          a prideful color that represents warmth, intensity and fire

Yellow          represents light, warmth, and the sun

Green          represents health, growth and renewal

Blue               a calming color and represents unfailing love, serenity, relaxation, and  compassion; related to the Throat Chakra

Purple          a life color that represents royalty, authority, and intuition

White            represents light, innocence, purity, and divinity

donate to badarikashrama

The many different kinds of yoga | Yoga practices and benefits – Part 5


The Seven Chakras and what they represent.

The Seven Chakras and what they represent.

(Go back to part1, part 2, part 3, part 4)

Kundalini Yoga:

Kundalini yoga focuses on awakening the energy at the base of the spine, known as kundalini, and drawing it upward. The practice of Kundalini yoga include postures, chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises and focuses on moving energy through the seven chakras.

Power Yoga:

Power yoga is essentially American interpretation of ashtanga yoga.  (Ashtanga yoga, as you will remember, is a discipline that combines strength training, stretching, and meditative breathing.)  But power yoga takes ashtanga a few steps further. Many of the postures resemble basic calisthenics — push-ups, toe touches, and side bends — but the key to power yoga’s muscle building, sweat producing power is the pace. In power yoga, instead of holding poses as you would in traditional yoga, each move directly into the next move, making it an intense aerobic workout.


Viniyoga is most often used as a therapeutic practice for people who are recovering from a surgery or who have suffered injuries. It is a gentle, healing yoga that is tailored to each person’s needs and body type, and evolves with the person as they grow and change.

donate to badarikashrama

What is a Mantra? | What is Mantra Yoga?

The universal Hindu Mantra: AUM

The universal Hindu Mantra: AUM

That is called mantra by the contemplation on which the Individual Soul is released from the Cycle of Reincarnation and attains Final Liberation.

-Swami Sivananda

 The word mantra was first used in reference to the poetic hymns found in the Rig Veda, the first of the four ancient Vedic scriptures. It is a Sanskrit word that is made up of two distinct words: manas, which means the mind, and tra, which means an instrument of. Combined, the word literally means an instrument of the mind. As such, all mantras share the same purpose: to grow in self-awareness. The ubiquitous mantra in Hinduism is AUM.

If mantra is a sound bite that is used as an instrument of the mind for spiritual growth, then mantra yoga is the practice during which you repeat that sound bite softly to yourself to quiet your mind and direct your attention inward.

Harbhajan Singh Yogi (aka Yogi Bhajan) was a Sikh spiritual leader who introduced Kundalini Yoga to the United States. He asserted that mantra yoga is a science that is based on the knowledge that sound is a form of energy that has structure, power, and a predictable effect on the various energy centers (chakras) throughout your subtle body.

Common mantras used include Hari Om Tat Sat, Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha, Om Hreem Sri Laxmi Bhyo Namaha, Sri Bhagavate Namaha, Om Shreem Hreem Saraswati Namaha, So Hum.

donate to badarikashrama

Karma | What is Karma | Hindu Terms


The Cosmic Ledger of Life

Karma: the natural law of cause and effect.

Karma: the natural law of cause and effect.

The Natural Law of Cause & Effect

Karma is one of the nine core beliefs in Hinduism (Karma and Dharma are included together as one belief). It is a term that originates from Sanskrit and is made up of two separate words: (1) Kar, which means organs of action, and (2) ma, which means to produce or create. Combined, the word, Karma, can be translated as that which is produced by one’s mental or physical actions.

In other words, Karma is a Hindu concept that says that your thoughts, words, and deeds, affect your experiences in the three bodies of your soul: the causal (astral) body, the subtle (aura) body, and the material (physical) body.  Good thoughts, words, and deeds, produce positive life experiences. Bad thoughts, words, and deeds, produce negative life experiences.

These experiences, however, don’t just pertain to your present life.  They pertain to your past life and future life as well.  Consequently, you may not know WHY you are experiencing the many setbacks in your life. And you may not know what setbacks to anticipate.  But you can reframe your current problems as challenges and respond to them with a sound mind and an open heart (aka right attitude).

donate to badarikashrama

The many different kinds of yoga | Yoga practices and benefits – Part 4


The practice of yoga is good for everyone.

The practice of yoga is good for everyone.

(Go back to part 1, part 2, part 3)

Jivamukti Yoga:

Jivamukti yoga was developed in 1986 by Sharon Gannon and David Life.  It expresses the moral and spiritual aspects of the practice of yoga that have been so overlooked or devalued in the modern practice of yoga.  It includes vigorous and challenging poses (asanas), but the emphasis is on Sanskrit chanting, scriptural study, vegetarianism, meditation, non-violence, and devotion to God.  Music also plays a large role in this kind of yoga. 

Kali Ray TriYoga:

Kali Ray TriYoga was developed by Kali Ray in 1980.  This practice includes a series of flowing, dancelike movements as well as breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation.  Right now Kali Ray runs a TriYoga Sudio in Santa Cruz, CA.

Kripalu Yoga:

Kripalu yoga is called the yoga of consciousness. This yoga is gentle and introspective and encourages practitioners to hold poses to explore and release spiritual and emotional blockages.  Precise alignment is not as important as in some other traditions and a results oriented attitude is discouraged. There are three stages in this type of yoga. The first stage focuses on learning the postures and exploring your bodies limits and abilities. The second stage involves holding the postures for an extended time to develop, focus, concentration and inner awareness. The third stage is a meditation in motion in which the movement from one posture to another happens unconsciously and spontaneously.

donate to badarikashrama

The many different kinds of yoga | Yoga practices and benefits – Part 3

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga

Integral Yoga:

Integral yoga combines postures, breathing exercises, meditation, selfless service , chanting, self-inquiry , and prayer.


ISHTA stands for Integral Science of Hatha and Tantric Arts.  It was developed in South Africa by teacher Mani Finger, and popularized in the United States by his son Alan Finger. It focuses on opening the Chakras, energy channels throughout the body, with postures, meditation, and visualizations.

Iyengar Yoga:

Iyengar yoga was developed by yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar more than sixty years ago.  It promotes flexibility, strength, balance, and endurance through coordinating breathing and poses. The poses require precise body alignment and are generally held longer than in other styles of yoga. In this form of yoga you slowly move into a pose, hold it for a minute or so, and then rest for a few breaths before moving into another pose. The thing that distinguished Iyengar yoga from types of yoga is the use of equipment like blankets, cushions, blocks, and straps to help the less flexible. Iyengar incorporates the traditional postures (asanas) that make up the broader category of hatha yoga, but the use of cushions and other props revolutionized yoga by enabling even the sick, elderly, and disabled to practice yoga. Because of the attention to detail, slow pace, and use of various props, Iyengar yoga is especially good if you are recovering from an injury. And, because of its accessibility to a wider population, Iyengar yoga is one of the most popular types of yoga practiced today.

(Go back to Part 1, Part 2)

donate to badarikashrama


The many different kinds of yoga | Yoga practices and benefits – Part 2

 (Go back to part 1)

The Practice of yoga

The Practice of yoga

Bikram Yoga:

Bikram yoga is also known as hot yoga.  It is practiced in a temperature of 95-105 degrees in order to prevent injuries a promote detoxification through sweating and more flexibility by warming up the muscles. It was created by Bikram Choudhury who was a disciple of Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda (who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi).  Bikram was a gold medal Olympic weight lifter in 1963, and wanted a yoga method that provided a comprehensive workout which included all the components of physical fitness ( muscular endurance, muscular strength, cardiovascular flexibility and weight loss). Thus, Bikram yoga was born.

Hatha Yoga:

Hatha yoga is a basic  easy-to-learn form of yoga.  It is the foundation of all Yoga styles. It incorporates postures – Asanas, regulated breathing – Pranayama, meditation – Dharana & Dhyana, and kundalini – Laya Yoga into a complete system that can be used to achieve flexibility, physical well-being, peace, and enlightenment or self-realization. Thus it has become very popular in the western world as source of exercise and stress management. The Hatha yoga approach is one of peace and calm.  The practitioner should practice the Hatha Yoga poses, asanas, in a calm, meditative mood.  After sitting quietly for a few moments, he can begin the series, slowly, with grace and control, staying inwardly aware as the body performs the series of poses selected for the practice session. One should not overdo the asanas or try to compete with others. This is a yoga to be taken easy and enjoyed.

donate to badarikashrama

The many different kinds of yoga | Yoga practices and benefits – Part 1

The Practice of Anusara yoga

The Practice of Anusara yoga

In the introduction to yoga I mentioned that there are about 20 different styles of yoga.  This article is the beginning of a series of blogs to describe the many styles and their benefits.

Ananda Yoga:

Ananda Yoga focuses on gentle postures designed to prepare the body for meditation by moving the energy up to the brain. It also focuses on proper body alignment and learning to control breathing.

Anusara Yoga:

Ansusara Yoga is a relatively new form of yoga and was developed in 1997.  It pairs a playful spirit with strict principles of alignment. Even though postures can be challenging, the true message of Anusara yoga is to open your heart and strive to connect with the divine in yourself and in others.

Ashtanga (or Astanga) Yoga:

This is the name given to the system of yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Ashtanga yoga is physically intense because it involves synchronizing breath work with a progressive and continuous series of postures.  This process produces intense internal heat and a profuse and purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs.  Ashtanga is an athletic yoga that should not be practiced by beginners. Results of this yoga include improved circulation, flexibility, stamina, a light and strong body, and a peaceful mind.

donate to badarikashrama

An Introduction to Yoga | What is Yoga – Part 2 of 2

Yoga. The practice of uniting mind, body, and spirit.

Yoga. The practice of uniting mind, body, and spirit.

(Go back to part 1)

Over its long history, many different schools of yoga have emerged, and there are many examples, branches, and philosophies that have sprung up. Although, in most countries, the practice of yoga is no longer based on Hindu religious beliefs, it allows an individual to gain an understanding of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It is agreed on by everyone that this is the fundamental purpose of yoga.

Now yoga is accepted as a comprehensive exercise to promote flexibility of the body and control of the mind. It is more than just a means of being fit and trim. It can in fact help you live a healthy, whole, and empowered life. In recent decades, yoga has become the most diversified spiritual practice in the world. The practice of yoga now recognizes no borders as it continues to spread globally.

The Times of India recently wrote an article about 20 different kinds of yoga, which I thought was very interesting.  Each one has certain health benefits, so it is important to know what the different types of yoga are and how it can help you.  I’ll post a few follow-up articles on the different kinds of yoga they list, and the benefits of each.

donate to badarikashrama


An introduction to Yoga | What is Yoga – Part 1 of 2

Yoga.  The practice of uniting mind, body, and spirit.

Yoga. The practice of uniting mind, body, and spirit.

At its essence, yoga is a union of mind, body, and spirit. It is believed that yoga dates back to at least 3000BC and originated in India.  The background of yoga is long and filled with tradition. It is an ancient technique for its practitioners to attain and maintain their personal health and fitness.  The background of Yoga can be divided into four main periods.  These periods are the pre-classical period, classical period, post-classical period, and modern period. The word yoga was first mentioned in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the sacred texts.  The actual book of yoga is called the yoga sutras.  The word Yoga literally meant “the Yolk” that joins something together, such as an ox to a cart. The idea is that yoga joins all aspects of existence into one.  Mind, body, and spirit become joined rather than staying separate.

What most people think of as Yoga, the impressive contortionist postures, is really only one small aspect of a much larger field of practices. The methods of yoga include ethical disciplines, physical postures, breath control, and meditation.  The 20th century ushered in a resurgence of yoga that caused a globalization of this ancient tradition.

(Go to part 2)

donate to badarikashrama