Category Archives: Yoga, Health & Meditation

Hatha Yoga For Weight Loss

by Jayna Valen

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“Can yoga help me burn fat?”
“I need to get thin fast. Does yoga help?”
“I can’t seem to lose weight no matter what. Will yoga work?”

As a hatha yoga instructor, these are questions I get asked a lot. Excess body weight problems are among the curses of modern living. Lifestyles have become more sedentary, diets more unhealthy. Most of the processed garbage available on supermarket food shelves are devoid of proper nutrition and chock-full of unpronounceable toxins, preservatives and synthetic additives.

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The ideal yogic lifestyle is based on balance and moderation in all aspects of life, but city living has the scales completely tipped. Our bodies now struggle to cope with all that filth, to deal with every negative thing we force upon it while having to perform regular bodily functions. Our systems are malnourished, intoxicated, worn-down, underworked in some parts and overworked in others. Is it any wonder that human metabolism is going haywire?

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Can I Lose Weight With Yoga?

Generally speaking, yes – yoga usually helps most people lose weight. This is because the practice of yoga itself corrects numerous imbalances within the body, from endocrine system issues to a sluggish digestive tract.

However, results of weight loss can vary greatly depending on a number of things, such as:

• How often one practices yoga
• The type of yoga practiced
• The depth of individual yoga practice
• Underlying health conditions (eg. hormonal problems)
• Lifestyle factors (eg. dietary habits, stress levels, consistency of routine)
• One’s natural bodily tendencies and constitution (eg. various doshas per Ayurveda)

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How Can I Maximize Weight Loss Using Yoga?

If you’ve decided to try yoga for weight loss, congratulations! I guarantee that you’ll benefit from yoga immensely, and in many different ways.

The best way to achieve maximum weight loss through yoga is to apply yogic principles to ALL aspects of your life. This is so that an ideal balance in all bodily systems can be achieved. When all bodily systems work together harmoniously, excess body weight will eventually start coming off. My yoga guru always told me that the body has its own intelligence, and I have personally experienced this.

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The late Swami Vishnudevananda, one of the most revered gurus of traditional hatha yoga, famously detailed 5 points on how to achieve a balanced yogic lifestyle:

Proper Exercise (yoga asanas or poses)
Proper Breathing (pranayama, breath control)
Proper Diet (ideally sattvic food or a vegetarian diet)
Proper Relaxation (savasana between asanas)
Positive Thinking and Meditation

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When your body is in a state of ideal balance (or close to it), weight loss will be effortless. With continued practice of yoga, the body will usually pare itself down to a weight that’s healthy for the said individual body type, then maintain itself effortlessly, as long as yogic principles are practiced continuously.

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Remember, it’s a real possibility that your ideal body weight may never make you look ‘slim’, ‘thin’ or ‘skinny’ – but that’s completely okay. Real beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. A healthy body and mind is what makes a person really attractive, so don’t place too much emphasis on weight loss. Rather, focus on getting yourself healthy on all levels. Enjoy your yoga practice and it will do wonders for you!

Related articles:

5 Main Benefits Of Traditional Hatha Yoga

Stretching Safely For Complete Beginners

Kitchiri, The Best Sattvic Detox Food

Do Crash Diets Really Work?

Ashram Vacations: An Introduction

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

Note: All images below were taken at my various ashram visits and stays from 2013 to 2017. The following pictures were taken at Yoga Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh), Dhanwanthari Ashram (Kerala), Meenakshi Ashram (Madurai), Parmarth Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh) and ISKCON Delhi (East of Kailash, Delhi).

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Is stress killing you? Do you experience inexplicable aches and pains, depression, migraines, digestion issues and fatigue on a regular basis? If your regular vacations aren’t cutting it anymore, an ashram vacation may be just the thing you need. It can be a hardcore experience for the uninitiated, but I can assure you it’ll be well worth the effort.

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First Things First: What’s an Ashram?

I’m just going to quote Wikipedia’s description here, because it’s so complete:

“Traditionally, an ashram (sometimes also ashrama or ashramam) is a spiritual hermitage or a monastery in Indian religions. The word ashram comes from the Sanskrit root śram which means “to toil”. An ashram would traditionally, but not necessarily in contemporary times, be located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing natural surroundings conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation. The residents of an ashram regularly performed spiritual and physical exercises, such as the various forms of yoga.

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Sometimes, the goal of a pilgrimage to the ashram was not tranquility, but instruction in some art, especially warfare. In the Ramayana, the protagonist princes of ancient Ayodhya, Rama and Lakshmana, go to Vishvamitra’s ashram to protect his yajnas from being defiled by emissary-demons of Ravana. After they prove their mettle, the princes receive martial instruction from the sage, especially in the use of divine weapons. In the Mahabharata, Krishna, in his youth, goes to the ashram of Sandipani to gain knowledge of both intellectual and spiritual matters.”

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My Experience

To me, there’s nothing quite as magical as the ashram experience. Meditating in the Himalayas as the starless, obsidian sky bursts into the blazing pink ribbons of dawn. The chanting of mantras in the dark, amidst clouds of rose-sandalwood frankincense. Exotic birds in the mist. Sun-ripened fruits. Losing yourself in the transcendental bliss of meditation.

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I’m the kind of person who burns out easily with the demands of modern-day city living, so I need my ashram breaks. Every ashram is like a temporary second home to me. Over the last 5 years, I’ve stayed at various ashrams across India (the longest stays were in Sivananda ashrams, to complete my yoga certification).

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I’m so used to ashram life that I tend to incorporate parts of it into day-to-day modern living, often without realising it. No hot water in the mornings? Improvise with a bucket of cold water. Too tired for proper dinner after work? I make do with plain rice, yoghurt and fresh curry leaves. It’s a 360 degree turn-around for a woman like me who was raised with the comforts of big-city living for most of my life.

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What’s Ashram Life Like?

It’s austere. Very basic, ascetic-style living. No luxuries or city comforts to speak of – no air-conditioning, hot water, comfy spring mattresses, washing machines, hair dryers. Ashrams in India serve only vegetarian food, often without onions and garlic (depending on the ashram, salt and spices may be omitted completely). Some ashrams provide more comfort at extra charge, but that’s usually limited to air-conditioning and hot water.

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Despite the obvious challenges of ashram life, thousands continue to throng ashrams across India for various reasons – personal spiritual retreats, study of Vedic scriptures, structured yoga vacations and more. Why are regular people who are used to a cushy life willing to rough it out? Simple – the benefits, despite the hardship, are immense.

A temporary ashram stay isn’t a vacation the way you know it. It gives your material-life overloaded, burnt-out systems a break (mind, body, soul) so you can begin self-healing on all levels.

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Generally, ashram dwellers:

1) Wake up during the auspicious brahma muhurta timing (between 4.30am and 5.00am)
2) Sleep on woven mats or thin, natural-fibre mattresses in same-sex dormitories
3) Eat sattvic food (vegetarian fare minus onions and garlic)
4) Hand-wash and line-dry their own laundry
5) Follow a daily ashram schedule, which includes satsang (singing spiritual hymns), yoga classes, spiritual talks or discourses, Bhagavadgita classes, meditation sessions and so on
6) Wear simple, modest clothing on ashram grounds
7) Perform karma yoga (selfless service) daily, usually cleaning duties within the ashram

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What’s the Reason for such Basic, Austere Conditions?

The goal of ashram living is to increase one’s self-awareness and enhance spirituality. Sensual pleasures including rich food, entertainment, sexual activity and indulgence in modern luxuries cause distraction within the human mind and subsequently, a lack of focus.

By intentionally withdrawing worldly pleasures and sense gratification, ashram life effectively tunes one ‘inwards’ and enables one to focus and channel their mental energy effectively. Additional ashram activities such as pranayama (breath control), yoga asanas (physical exercise) condition and meditation prepare the body and mind for transcendental experiences.

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Ashram life is good practise for those wanting to pursue the path of self-realisation on a deeper, more serious level. Consider it a physical, mental and spiritual ‘detox’ from the filth and imbalances of modern living.

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What are the Benefits of Ashram Living? What Changes Will I See?

I recommend that you stay in an ashram for a minimum of 2 weeks to see significant improvement. For best results, a 4-to-6 week stay will do wonders – it’ll literally transform you. However, if you can only manage a few days, it’s still better than nothing.

The first few days will be difficult as your body adjusts to the discipline and unfamiliar routine, but you’ll notice major changes on all levels (physically, mentally and spiritually) within the first 1 to 2 weeks. Most people feel lighter and more energetic. Your energy levels will increase, and you may be as surprised as I was to realize you only need 4 to 5 hours of sleep to wake up fully refreshed.

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The yoga asanas and healthy, meat-free sattvic diet will kick-start healing and rejuvenation processes within your body. Ailments, old injuries, digestive disorders, aches and pains will progressively improve. Stress melts away completely within the first few days.

Some people may experience certain ‘negative’ reactions including skin breakouts, temper flares, digestion issues and headaches in the first few days of ashram living. This is normal as the body is purging itself of various toxins and bad energies accumulated over the years. Skin will begin to take on a healthy glow within a few days, and bodily systems will usually harmonize once your energies sync with the routine and activities.

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I’d Like to Try an Ashram Vacation. Where Do I Start?

Most modern ashrams have an online presence these days. I suggest that you pick an ashram based on your needs. Are you interested in the teachings of a particular spiritual master? Do you want to visit a certain place and couple it with a short ashram stay? Do some searching online to see which one appeals to you the most. You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Remember that most ashrams are located in rural areas with limited internet access and phone facilities. Travel can be a challenge, and transportation is not as straightforward in lesser-developed areas such as the Himalayas. As such, plan ahead and give sufficient time (ideally between 4 to 8 weeks in advance) for ashram stay booking and confirmation.

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Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Sivananda Ashrams (Kerala, Madurai and Rishikesh)
Omkarananda Ganga Sadan (Rishikesh)
Parmarth Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh)
Yoga Niketan Trust Ashram (Rishikesh)
ISKCON Delhi Temple (East of Kailash, Delhi)

Related Posts:

10 Tips for Women Traveling Alone in India

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

Five Main Benefits of Traditional Hatha Yoga

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja

 

Do Crash Diets Really Work?

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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The short answer is, no – they don’t. The health experts were right. A healthy, balanced diet will do more to help you lose weight in the long term, but starving yourself is always a bad idea.

What happens with most ‘starve-yourself-skinny’ diets is this: while you may lose weight temporarily by depriving yourself of food, you’ll also mess up your normal metabolism and shock your body into ‘starvation mode’. When this happens, your body will start preparing to conserve more energy instead of burning it.

The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more true. Think about this; the food you consume is constantly transforming into bits and pieces of your body – it gets digested and broken down, then replaces old, worn and dead cells. The better the quality of your food, the better the ‘quality’ of the body built from it. Now, what kind of results can one expect from a diet consisting of mainly factory-processed, synthetic-additive-laden or stale food?

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So guess what happens when you start eating normally again, or lose control and go on a food binge? Bingo. Your body stores more calories than usual. This is why on-and-off dieting (and extreme dieting) is bad for you in the long term.

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So what’s a better solution? Eating better and ‘eating cleaner’ consistently. Practise moderation and make educated choices when it comes to your food. Think long term, because it takes time for diet changes to reflect in your body.

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What you should aim for is healthy weight and a fit, strong body. Also, be realistic about your expectations. If you have a naturally bigger frame, you may never be skinny, even at your healthiest point.

On the other hand, if you’re lean no matter what you eat, it’s unwise to push your body too hard to artificially ‘bulk up’. This will put unnecessary strain on your system. Respect your body and how it naturally works. If you know you’re exercising adequately, eating clean and nourishing food, getting the rest you need and generally living a fairly healthy lifestyle, that’s good enough. Keep your fitness and health goals realistic and don’t harm your body.

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Dieting Myths

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates, oils and fats are not bad for you. You actually need them in your diet so your body functions at an optimum level. For instance, you do need healthy fats and quality oils in your diet to keep your skin supple and your systems well-lubricated – you can get these from extra-virgin olive oil, ahimsa dairy products, unprocessed nuts and grains and ripe avocados (monounsaturated fat).

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The real culprits are overly-processed foodstuff with cheap, synthetic ingredients (preservatives, artificial color, etc). These are hard for your body to break down, digest and absorb effectively. These foods also leave all kinds of unhealthy residue in your system (known as ama in Ayurveda) and can cause various health issues like gas, bloating and allergies.

And that’s not all. Hardcore dieting can leech your body of important nutrients, causing lethargy, weakness, fainting, weak immunity, dry skin, acne, cracked heels and worse. Always aim for fresh, vitamin and mineral-rich foods.

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Here are a few quick lists (with examples) to help improve your diet as a long-term solution to weight management.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Processed carbohydrates (factory-made noodles, instant porridge)
  • Refined sugar (white cane sugar)
  • Low-grade cooking oil (recycled cooking oil)
  • Leftovers (no longer than 2 days in the refridgerator)
  • Margerine (all kinds)
  • Unrefrigerated cooked food (Ayurvedically considered unfit for consumption after 3 hours)
  • Processed fruit juices

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Healthy Food Substitutes:

  • Honey, brown sugar, palm sugar, molasses and jaggery (instead of white sugar)
  • Wholemeal bread (instead of white bread)
  • Unpolished, parboiled or brown rice
  • Fresh milk (instead of recombined or powdered milk)
  • Extra virgin or virgin vegetable oils (instead of fractionated oils)
  • Whole grains (instead of processed grains)
  • Wholemeal flour (instead of white flour)
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (instead of canned or preserved)

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Additional Eat-Healthy Tips:

  • Consume something fresh every day (fruits or vegetables)
  • Match each serving of carbohydrates with an equal-sized serving of fresh produce
  • Eat normally for breakfast and lunch, but prepare a nutrient-dense, low-carbohydrate dinner (e.g. a large bowl of salad with a few cubes of feta cheese, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil)

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A Final Note

Never torment your body for the sake of unrealistic ideals portrayed by the media. You may never be supermodel-skinny even at your healthiest point, and that’s perfectly okay.

Love your body, respect it, appreciate it and help it stay healthy. It’s been working hard for you since the day you were born, through millions of complex bodily processes every single day.

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Related Link:

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Five Main Benefits Of Traditional Hatha Yoga

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

Everyone seems to be into yoga these days. It’s also getting more and more confusing for those looking to get started in yoga due to all the ‘variations’. So what’s the big deal about it? Is it just another exercise fad? Does it really work, and if so, how?

Hatha Yoga – A Complete System of Well-Being

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Traditional (or classical) hatha yoga is a complete health solution – that’s the secret to why it’s so effective. True health and well-being must extend to all aspects of life. For instance, person X may look amazingly slim and fit. However, if person X also has irregular sleeping patterns, high stress levels and inadequate nutrition due to constant dieting, these imbalances will eventually lead to one health disaster after another. All bodily systems must work together in harmony for a person to be considered truly healthy.

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Traditional hatha yoga is far more than just exercise. When practised correctly, it is a way of life. According to Swami Vishnudevananda, the core of traditional hatha yoga is made up of five aspects: Proper Exercise, Proper Breathing, Proper Diet, Proper Relaxation and Positive Thinking and Meditation. When yoga is practised this way, with the corresponding yogic diet and lifestyle changes, various diseases are eliminated and prevented. The body and mind become youthful and energetic, and the yoga practitioner’s whole being is infused with positive spiritual vibrations.

Related Post: Stretching Safely for Complete Beginners

Five Main Benefits of Traditional Hatha Yoga

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1. It can be practised by almost anyone. Most people (including senior citizens, children and pregnant women) can practise hatha yoga safely. Even in most cases of serious disability, injury or illness, hatha yoga asanas (poses) can be modified to suit the practitioner’s ability.

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2. It is convenient and easy to practise. All you need for a session of hatha yoga is a yoga mat (or thick cloth) and a little space. This eliminates the need for a gym membership and complicated exercise equipment.

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3. It is a safe form of exercise. Classical (or traditional) Hatha Yoga is gentle with no strenuous or jerky movements. Student are encouraged to go at their own pace and to never over-stretch or over-exert the body in any way. If the student is struggling with balance or flexibility, props like chairs and foam blocks can be used until the student gains more strength and control.

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4. The health benefits show up quickly. The physical, mental and spiritual changes that come from the practise of yoga can manifest in as little as two weeks of consistent, disciplined practise. The early signs of positive health changes include a feeling of lightness and inner peace. Lethargy and insomnia are progressively cured, along with various bodily aches and pains. Persistent conditions like sciatica, constipation, back pain, shoulder stiffness and urinary tract infections show tremendous improvement within a matter of days.

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5. The benefits are backed up by Vedic scriptures. From the Patanjali sutras to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Bhagavad Gita, numerous Vedic scriptures consistently back up the fact that the practise of yoga has immense health and spiritual benefits.

Related Post: Stretching Safely for Complete Beginners

 

Stretching Safely For Complete Beginners

by Jayna Valen

Why Should I Stretch More?

The human body loses flexibility as a natural part of the aging process. General body stiffness can lead to various problems in later life. This includes inexplicable aches and pain, which is often a result of ‘tightness’ in certain parts of the body. Incorporating stretching as part of your regular exercise routine will ensure your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints stay healthy and youthfully supple.

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My Personal Challenges

I’ve got one major disadvantage as a yogi. Namely? I’m stiff. Yes, weird as it sounds, my body, though naturally slim, is extremely inflexible. I envy my yogi friends who can do splits in mid-air, turn into wheels and perform superhuman feats in flexibility (Sivananda Acharyas, think Osheyani). It’s amazing what some of them can do. What takes me ages to accomplish in terms of flexibility, my friends do it like it’s a walk in the park. It doesn’t help that I am desk-bound most of the day due to my job.

 But guess what? I can’t complain because I choose to do it. Complaining doesn’t make things any better either. In other words, I can eventually push myself to do things like full splits – it just takes a lot of pain and an insane amount of effort.

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A Note about Stretching and Strength-Building

Flexibility and strength-building must go hand-in-hand for optimal health results and to prevent injury. Think ballerinas – they look frail, but they’re incredibly strong for their size. Can you imagine the strength required in the various leg muscles and joints to dance en pointe for long hours? It comes from a lot of intense and varied muscle training exercises, plus a ton of discipline. So, if you’d like to start working out and stretching more to gain more flexibility, I’ve got a few tips for you.

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Follow these 4 easy steps to stretch safely and prevent injury.

Step 1: Have a hot bath. It may seem odd to shower before you work out. However, if your body is really stiff, this is an excellent way to warm up those rigid bodily tissues. You’ll find that after a hot shower, your body becomes more fluid and pliable. You can also stretch more easily and hold the stretch with less pain.

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Step 2: ALWAYS warm-up before you start stretching. Any kind of light to moderate full-body exercise is considered adequate warm-up. About 20 reps of hatha yoga Sun Salutation, light jogging, brisk walking or cycling will all work. The key here is to get your muscles warmed up enough to be stretched. Attempting to stretch cold muscles will almost certainly guarantee an injury or serious damage.

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Step 3: Go slow and take it easy. If your job requires long hours of sitting down, you may quickly realize that your body has gotten pretty stiff from all that forced immobility. If you haven’t done any serious stretching in a long time, it’s important to take it easy for the first 2 to 3 weeks. Trying to push yourself too hard too fast will only backfire, especially if you tear something. Be gentle and ease into stretches gently. Stop if there is pain. Breathe deeply when holding your stretches – this gets more oxygen into your blood and subsequently, your muscles. Try holding each stretch longer and longer each time, gradually building up the waiting time. Finally, try to stretch every day or as often as possible, as persistence equals progress.

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Step 4. Increase your range of motion on a daily basis. The last thing you want after all that pain and effort is to become stiff all over again. Increasing your range of motion means using your body in ways you don’t normally do in terms of exercise; for instance, kicking higher or stretching into a front split while watching TV. You need to ‘use’ every bit of flexibility you gain with your continual efforts, or you will eventually get rigid. Try some ballet inspired exercises – if you don’t have a dance barre to stretch on, improvise with household furniture. If you play sports, try kicking or jumping higher.

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Related Post: Five Main Benefits of Traditional Hatha Yoga

Part 3: How To Know If Your Rudraksha Beads Are Genuine

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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It’s not difficult to tell real Rudraksha beads (or seeds) from fake ones if you know what to look for. The best way to be sure, of course, is to pick fresh Rudraksha fruits and get the seeds out of them yourself. However, if you decide to purchase Rudraksha seeds (or have received them from someone), read the steps below to learn how to differentiate the genuine ones from the fakes.

Note: Remember, Rudraksha seeds must not be chemically treated, heated, dyed or painted as these damage the subtle spiritual vibrations of the seeds.

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

1. Weight. Real Rudraksha seeds feel heavier than they look. The weight of the seed is focused at the core. Roll it around in your palm and you’ll be able to feel this. Fake beads carved from wood are light and have no noticeable core weight.

2. They sink in water. Genuine Rudraksha beads always sink in water. If they float, they’re likely fake. In rare circumstances, genuine beads treated with strong chemicals may also float (this is due to damage done by the chemicals; it’s best not to use these beads).

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3. Hair-like fibres. Look very closely at your Rudraksha seeds. Genuine Rudraksha beads have a ‘thorny’ surface, and between the thorns you should be able to see some hair-like fibres. These come from the dried pulp of the fresh fruit. It’s rare for anyone to be able to completely scrub away the pulp from the seed, so if the seed looks too ‘clean’, it may be fake.

4. Color. Rudrakshas naturally come in creamy-white, yellow, dark red and black. Remember that drying darkens the seeds, so it’s natural to see shades of dark gold, dark brown, reddish browns and brown-black. Beware of odd or bright colors like chilli red, orange and purple. The seeds may be genuine, but coated with dye or paint.

5. Shallow grooves and ‘chunky’ thorns. The uniqueness of Rudraksha lies mainly in the way the surface thorns are formed. These are usually fine, but irregular in a way that makes it very difficult for human hands to replicate (by carving). Use your judgement when it comes to this; natural thorns are almost impossible to copy perfectly.

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5. Shape. Rudraksha seeds are not always round, especially those with more than five faces, but the seeds generally have a round-oval shape. Familiarize yourself with Bhadraksha seeds, so you can recognize and avoid them (Bhadraksha seeds should not be worn as they don’t have the right spiritual vibrations).

6. Energy and vibration. Some people are sensitive enough to feel the spiritual energy and vibrations emitted by Rudraksha seeds. Try meditating with the seed (or seeds) in the palms of your hands. Rudraksha seeds radiate positive, grounding, serious vibrations. The energy can feel like a human pulse. With deeper spiritual practice, you’ll be able to feel these vibrations.

7. Number of faces (mukhi). Among the most expensive Rudraksha beads sold commercially are the one-faced (ekmukhi) and certain other types claimed to be ‘rare’ by the sellers. Keep the following in mind: one-faced Rudraksha seeds are EXTREMELY rare, so there are high chances of you purchasing an expertly-made fake seed. Rudraksha trees themselves are not very common these days, and the most trees produce the five-faced seeds. The more faces a bead has, the higher your chances of being cheated. Besides, if you read the Upanishad, even the more common seeds (three to nine faces) give great spiritual benedictions and blessings, so why risk it? So-called ‘Rudraksha experts’ have been known to insert metal pieces into fake seeds to make them react with magnets, copper and so forth. This is Kali Yuga, the age of tamasic values and corruption, so be careful when you make decisions and be wary of claims that are too good to be true.

Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About Rudraksha

Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

~An Excerpt from the Sama Veda~

 

English translation by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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1. Sage Bhusunda (Sanatkumara) asked Lord Kalagni Rudra: “What is the origin of the Rudraksha seeds, and what are the effects of wearing them?”

2. Lord Kalagni Rudra answered:

3. “When, in order to destroy the Tripura demons, I closed My eyes, tears fell from them to the ground and became Rudrakshas for the benefit of all.”

4. “Merely uttering their name (Rudraksha) produces the benefit of giving 10 cows in charity. The seeing and handling of them produces twice the said effect. I am unable to give it any higher praise.”

5. Sage Bhusunda asked: “Where do Rudrakshas come from? What are their names? How are they to be worn by men? How many faces do they have? What are the mantras to be chanted when wearing Rudraksha?”

6. Lord Kalagni Rudra answered: “I closed My eyes for a period of a thousand divine years. From My closed eyes, tears fell down on the earth. These drops became the great Rudraksha trees of the plant kingdom for the purpose of blessing My devotees.”

7. “The wearing of Rudraksha removes the sins of the devotees committed during the day and night. Seeing it (Rudraksha) produces one lakh of virtues, and handling it, one crore. The wearing of it by man results in one hundred crores of virtues, the wearing and making japa (chanting) beads of it results in one hundred million crores of virtues.”

8. “Rudraksha seeds which are as big in size as Amla fruits are the best. Rudraksha seeds which are the size of Badari fruits are declared by the wise to be second-best. The third-best seeds are the size of Bengal grams. Thus are My instructions.”

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9. “By the command of Shiva the trees have sprung up from the earth in four classes, namely, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra, and each type (Rudraksha) brings benefit to its own order.”

10. “The white Rudraksha seeds are called Brahmana beads, the red ones the Kshatriya beads, the yellowish ones the Vaisya beads and black ones, Sudra beads. The Brahmanas should wear the white ones, the Kshatriya the red ones, the Vaisya the yellowish ones and the Sudras the black ones.”

11. “The ideal bead is that which is well-shaped, well-sized and has thorns. One should reject six kinds, namely those that are damaged by worms, broken, without thorns, diseased, produces a hollow sound or is not well-shaped.”

12. “The best type of Rudraksha is that which has a natural hole. One which has a hole made by man is secondary in quality.”

13. “The wise should wear on his body and limbs a garland of beads that are well-formed and of a good size, strung on a white silk or cotton thread.”

14. “The bead that produces a golden colour when tested against a rubbing stone is the best, and this should be worn by worshippers of Shiva.”

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15. “One should wear a single Rudraksha in the tuft of his hair, 300 on the head. He should make a garland of 36 for his neck, of 16 for each arm, and of 12 for each wrist. He should wear 500 on his shoulders. One should make a garland of 108 in the form of the sacred thread (Yajnopavita).”

16. “One should suspend from his shoulders a garland of beads consisting of two or three, five or seven rounds. He may wear the same on the head, on and around the ears, neck, arms, wrists, and across the shoulders like the sacred thread. He should wear it especially around the waist.”

17. “One should always wear Rudraksha, regardless if one sleeps or eats.”

18. “The wearing of 300 is said to be the lowest; of 500 ordinary, and of 1000 the best.”

19. “He should wear it on the crown, chanting the mantra ‘Isana’; on the shoulders Tatpurusha’; on the neck and against the heart ‘Aghora’. Recite the Aghora Bija Mantra while putting it on the wrists. One should wear a garland of 50 around the waist while chanting the Vyomavyapi mantra. He should wear, in all the places related to sense organs, a garland of five or seven beads, chanting the Panchabrahman and its supplementary mantra.”

20. Sage Bhusunda then addressed Lord Kalagni Rudra: “Tell me about the different kinds of Rudrakshas, their nature, the result of wearing them, and also about their different faces (mukhis). Tell me about those that drive out evils and those that give desired objects.”

21. Lord Kalagni Rudra answered: “The following are the slokas pertaining to these.”

22. “The one-faced Rudraksha represents the Supreme Reality. One who wears it with completely controlled senses merges with the Supreme Reality.”

23. “The two-faced one, O best of sages, represents Ardhanarisvara (the form of Shiva united with Shakti). One attains the grace of Ardhanarisvara by wearing this bead.”

24. “The three-faced bead represents the three sacred fires. Agni, the fire god, becomes pleased with him who wears this.”

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25. “The four-faced Rudraksha represents the four-faced god, which is Brahma. Brahma becomes ever pleased with him who wears this.”

26. “The five-faced Rudraksha represents Panchabrahman, the five-faced form of Shiva (Sadyojata to Isana). The wearer of this bead attains the grace of Panchabrahman and relieves himself of the sin of homicide.”

27. “The six-faced Rudraksha has Kartikeya (Muruga) and Ganesha as its presiding deities. The wearer of this Rudraksha will enjoy great wealth and very good health. One should wear it to heighten intellect.”

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28. “The seven-faced Rudraksha has the Saptamatrikas (seven mother goddesses or deva shaktis) as presiding deities. The wearer of this Rudraksha will enjoy great wealth and very good health. It blesses the wearer with purity and mental clarity.”

29. “The eight-faced Rudraksha has the Ashtamatrikas as its presiding deities, as well as the goddess Ganga. It also represents the eight-fold form of nature (the five elements plus mind, ego, and matter) known as the eight Vasus. The wearer of this bead will attain the grace of all the above gods and goddesses, and become truthful in nature.”

30. “The nine-faced Rudraksha has the nine Shaktis as its presiding deities. The mere wearing of it pleases the nine Shaktis.”

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31. “The ten-faced Rudraksha represents the ten forms of Yama. Merely looking at it will decrease sins – there is no doubt in this.”

32. “The eleven-faced Rudraksha has the eleven forms of Rudra as its presiding Deities. The deities increase the prosperity of the wearer.”

33. “The twelve-faced Rudraksha represents Maha Vishnu and also the twelve Adityas. The wearer of it is accordingly blessed.”

34. “The thirteen-faced Rudraksha has Kamadeva as its presiding deity. The wearer of it attains the grace of Kamadeva in achieving all that he desires.”

35. “The fourteen-faced Rudraksha originates from the eye of Rudra (a form of Shiva). It blesses the wearer with good health and aids in the elimination of all diseases.”

36. “The wearer of Rudraksha should avoid prohibited food such as liquor, flesh of the boar, onion and garlic.”

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37. “By wearing Rudrakshas during eclipses, Vishusankranti (the end of Mina and beginning of Mesha Masa), new moon, full moon and other such auspicious days, one is freed of all sins.”

38. “The root of the Rudraksha tree is Brahma, the fibre of it is Vishnu, the top is Rudra and the fruits are all the Devas.”

39. Sage Sanatkumara (Bhusunda) asked Lord Kalagnirudra: “O Lord! Tell me the rules for wearing Rudraksha beads.” At that time, Nidagha, Jadabharata, Dattatreya, Katyayana, Bharadvaja, Kapila, Vasishtha and Pippalada all came before Lord Kalagnirudra.”

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40. Lord Kalagnirudra asked them, “Why have you all come here?”

41. They replied: “We wish to hear the rules of wearing Rudraksha beads.”

42. Lord Kalagnirudra said: “From the eye of Rudra, the Rudrakshas have come forth. Sadashiva (Rudra) closed His eye of destruction, and from that eye came forth the Rudrakshas.”

43. “The mere utterance of the name ‘Rudraksha’ brings forth the spiritual benefit of 10 cows given in charity. The Rudrakshas have as much virtue as that of the bright Bhasma.”

44. “By handling Rudraksha, and by the mere wearing of it, one acquires the spiritual benefit of 2000 cows given in charity. Wearing Rudraksha on the earlobes will result in the benefit of 11,000 cows given in charity, and the wearer will attain the spiritual state of the eleven forms of Rudra. Wearing Rudraksha on the head brings forth the benefit of one crore of cows given in charity. Of all the places on the human body, the benefits of wearing the beads on the earlobes is beyond speech to describe,” replied the Lord.

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45. “He who studies this Upanishad daily, regardless if he is a boy or youth, becomes great. He acquires the blessings to become a universal guru and teacher of mantras.”

46. “One should perform fire sacrifice (homa) and worship (puja or archana) while reciting this Upanishad.”

47. “One should tie a single Rudraksha, received from a spiritual master or Guru, on the neck, right arm or in the tuft of his hair. This Rudraksha is called Mrityutaraka or ‘crosser of death’ (liberation from death).”

48. “Even the gift of the Earth surrounded by the seven continents is not sufficient to pay dakshina (spiritual fee) to that Guru. The gift of a cow, given to that Guru with sincerity, is appropriate as a spiritual fee.”

49. “A Brahmana who recites this Upanishad in the evening purges himself of the sins committed during the day. Recitation in the noon removes the sin committed over six births. The study of this Upanishad in the morning and evening removes the sins accumulated during many births; this action also brings forth the spiritual benefit of six thousand lakhs of Gayatri Mantra japa (chanting). He also purifies himself of the sin of killing a Brahmana, of tasting liquor, of the theft of gold and of intercourse with his guru’s wife.”

50. “He gets the benefit of bathing in all the holy waters. He becomes freed from the sin of associating with fallen and corrupted men. He becomes the sanctifier of 100,000 generations of his lineage, and he attains the spiritual state (Sayujya) of Shiva. He never returns to this world, he never returns. Om, Truth.

~Thus ends the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad, as included in the Sama Veda.~

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Part 1: Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

Part 3: How To Know If Your Rudraksha Beads Are Genuine

Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About Rudraksha

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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Most people of Indian ethnicity are familiar with Rudraksha beads (or seeds), especially those with a strong inclination towards spirituality. However, there is much confusion about how or when to use Rudraksha, what type to buy and so forth. What color Rudraksha beads are best? Where does one obtain genuine Rudraksha beads? What are the benefits of wearing Rudraksha? Are there negative consequences if Rudraksha beads are used wrongly? Is information about Rudraksha mentioned in any particular Upanishad?

My Personal Experience

Edited
Gardening at Madurai Meenakshi Ashram, India (January 2017). These are Rudraksha beads I purchased at the Chinmaya Mission, Rishikesh.

I’d always wanted to use Rudraksha, but like most others I didn’t have enough information on the benefits or how to use them. I didn’t know if I could wear them ‘wrongly’ and incur the wrath of Shiva or some other deity. I didn’t know if women could wear them through menstrual cycles. I didn’t know if they could be worn to funerals, auspicious ceremonies or during sex. In short, I didn’t know anything about Rudraksha.

So me being me, what did I do? I embarked on a very serious, self-inflicted spiritual search to learn everything I could about Rudraksha. To make a long story short, I dug into Vedic scriptures, spoke to my gurus and went in search of a real-life Rudraksha tree.

Courtesy of my sister, we found a fully-grown Rudraksha tree, right here in Malaysia (I’ve been since told that there are more, though hidden in rural areas). I’ll never forget the sight; it was majestic and exuded a wonderful, calming energy, not dissimilar to that of a stone Shivalinga. I was ecstatic and moved at the same time, as I considered it a special blessing from Shiva for me to have had such a profound experience smack in the midst of Kali Yuga. I harvested my own Rudraksha beads from the bright blue fruits, peeled and scrubbed away the pulp, then dried them. Among the last few steps were soaking the seeds in milk and oiling them for preservation. I gave five to Agastya, my best yoga student, and kept the remaining ones for myself.

Here, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the spiritual vibrations and uses of Rudraksha, based on the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad. May you gain the full spiritual benefits of wearing these sacred beads, and the blessing of Lord Kalagni Rudra himself. Har har Mahadev!

Note: For the second part of this article, please see Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad.

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The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

There are varying pieces of information about the so-called ‘right’ way to choose and wear Rudraksha, and a string of supposed disasters than can happen by wearing the beads ‘wrongly’. The way I look at it, why get misled by the claims of mere mortals when the words of Shiva Himself are available for all to study? The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad is there for all to read and make their own decisions, based on Shiva’s clear and direct instructions.

This Upanishad was originally written in Sanskrit and is part of the Sama Veda. It makes up one of the 108 Upanishadic scriptures and is in the form of a profound conversation between Lord Shiva (referred to as Lord Kalagni Rudra in this scripture) and the revered sage Sanatkumara (sage Bhusunda).

The Upanishad begins with an invocation to Brahman, the Supreme Reality for the well-being of the physical body, the prana (life force), and speech. It concludes beautifully with a prayer of peace. The sage Sanatkumara (Bhusunda) asks Lord Kalagni Rudra various questions about Rudraksha beads, including their origins, spiritual properties, how to wear them and the benefits of wearing them.

If you have genuine interest in the spiritual benefits of wearing Rudraksha, I highly recommend that you study this Upanishad. I’m a firm believer that spiritual guidance or knowledge should always come from legitimate sources, which equates to:

  • (a) the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, and;
  • (b) teachings contained within the vast array of Vedic scriptures, plus
  • (c) some basic common sense to assimilate the knowledge received (in other words, you are your own teacher).

I have included the full English translation of the Upanishad here. This is a version I have edited only for language clarity. For the original version in the Sanskrit Devanagari script, please refer to this Upanishad within the Sama Veda.

Summary: Benefits of Rudraksha Beads and How to Wear Them

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Once again, I strongly recommend that you read the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad for your own spiritual benefit. It’s surprisingly concise as far as Vedic scriptures go and you should be able to complete it within 10 to 15 minutes.

However, if you’re pressed for time, here’s a summary on the important parts:

  • The five-faced Rudraksha (panchmukhi) may be worn by everyone for overall spiritual well-being. In the Upanishad, Lord Kalagni Rudra describes the benefits of the one-faced to the fourteen-faced type of beads in great detail. However, the five-faced beads have general positive vibrations which will suit all users. Lord Kalagni Rudra says, “The five-faced Rudraksha represents Panchabrahman, the five-faced form of Shiva (Sadyojata to Isana). The wearer of this bead attains the grace of Panchabrahman and relieves himself of the sin of homicide.”shiva
  • You can choose the type of benefits you want according to the number of faces on the beads. For instance, the wearer of a three-faced Rudraksha obtains the blessings of Agni for the three types of sacred fires.
  • Seeing, handling and uttering the word ‘Rudraksha’ results in amazing spiritual benefits and blessings. Read the Upanishad for full details.
  • The recommended colors for Rudraksha beads are white, yellow, red and black. I find that the red and black are the most common. Do note that fresh Rudraksha seeds will darken considerably after drying, and this is normal. For instance, red seeds will darken to a deep brown. Also, be wary of ‘painted’ or dyed seeds. The best beads are those that are not treated with chemicals, heat or paints.
  • Always choose beads that are well-shaped and undamaged. Broken, cracked, misshapen seeds or those damaged by worms cannot be used.
  • The best type (quality) of Rudraksha beads have a natural hole. According to the Upanishad, a bead which has a man-made hole is secondary in quality, so wear the best type you can realistically obtain.
  • Rudraksha beads are best strung on white silk or cotton thread. Some gurus have also said that gold and silver wire are okay to use, and generally these metals are good conductors of spiritual vibrations. However, I believe that with this particular piece of advice, Lord Kalagni Rudra is teaching us that simplicity and humility is all you need to gain even the highest spiritual benefits.thread-848501_640
  • There is no ‘incorrect’ way to use Rudraksha. There are no ill-effects of wearing any type of Rudraksha. Nowhere in the Upanishad does Lord Kalagni Rudra mention any negative consequences of wearing Rudraksha. Rather, the Upanishad focuses on the various types of positive effects exuded by the beads; it provides enough information for one to personally decide on the type he or she needs most.
  • No restrictions are mentioned for the use of Rudraksha during menstruation. A woman’s bodily energy field changes during the menstruation cycle. The effects vary from person to person, so women are recommended to make their own decisions based on their individual bodily energy during menstruation. I personally find that Rudraksha has a calming, grounding effect on me during my periods.
  • Wearers of Rudraksha are recommended to be vegetarian. There is no mention of any ill-effects of wearing Rudraksha as a non-vegetarian. However, bearing in mind the cyclical flow of Rudraksha’s energy in the form of a mala (rosary), it is best to refrain from non-vegetarian food as much as possible. Rudraksha amplifies one’s own bodily energy and vibrations, and as the consumption of meat is highly tamasic, it would be wise to reduce the consumption of non-vegetarian food and eventually cease it altogether.

Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

Part 3: How To Know If Your Rudraksha Beads Are Genuine