In this episode I welcome back Swami Netyananda , spiritual leader and teacher at Awake Yoga Meditation (known as Dr. Juniper Ellis at Loyola University, Maryland).
We dive deep into her book "Awake, the Yoga of Pure Awareness" that delivers a message of hope, resilience, and practical tools for finding inner clarity and peace in challenging times.
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I'm your host, Dr. Heather Frederick, and today I welcome back a very special guest. As Dr. Juniper Ellis, she is professor of English at Loyola University, Maryland, where her teachings focus on liberation and hope. As Swami Netyananda, she is a spiritual teacher and spiritual leader at Awake Yoga Meditation, a meditation community, physically located in Baltimore, that reaches listeners all over the world. I'm so excited, swami, welcome back to the show. It's amazing to talk with you, Heather. So when we met last, we had a delightful conversation about trusting yourself. And listeners, if you haven't heard that episode, or you think it may be something that you need to hear right now, I will have that link in the show notes below. But at the end of that episode, I said I wanted to have you come back because we didn't even talk about your book. Awake, the yoga of pure awareness. And so I want to start by saying thank you for giving me the experience of your book. It was amazing. And I guess let's just start with where did the idea for this book come from? So good question. And thank you just for the kindness of the intro and for reading the book. It's so fun to talk with you. And I also really respect your book, the Happy Doc Student Handbook, so appreciate the light and the joy that you share. So always the teachings that I share are inspired by humans. And so we meditate in person in Baltimore, as you mentioned, and there's almost like a silent call and response that happens. Like you're standing there in a room and on an inner level, it's almost, you can feel the questions that are being asked without being spoken in words. And so the meditations always come from that. They come from the questions that humans have in time and space. Those questions of, I'm here in a human body, I have these human emotions, I have these human thoughts and experiences, and I've got my family, I've got my work, I've got, I know a lot of your students also have PhD programs that they're advancing forward in. And so, any listener from any background, we have our portfolio. We have the strengths, the things that we love, the things that come easily to us, but we also have a learning edge, areas of our life where we are growing. And so the teachings in AWAKE, the Yoga of Pure Awareness, help us to identify what our strengths are and be very calm and confident and clear in relation to those, and then help us build on those strengths in a way that helps us transform from within so that we are more easily able to expand in the areas where we are expanding, or grow in the areas where we are growing. And so "awakeness" is just being alive to that. It's a very dynamic process. It's very joyful. It's very full of inspiration. It's very full of wisdom. And it's also just a lot of fun to live in this, there's almost like a freshness and effervescence that is available to us. And I absolutely experienced that when I was reading the book. I love the format, I love reading stories and parables, and you had a ton of questions in there. You know, you said this was kind of birthed from questions that we have. You had tons of questions that really caused me to pause. So much of my book is highlighted, and they serve as journal prompts, because it really gets you to ask yourself, what does it mean to be here in this human body and want to be awake when so much of the world doesn't seem to be awake? And we were talking about this before we started recording, that your book, it's not all about rainbows and puppy dogs, right? There's this joy within that we can tap into, but how do you do that when so much around you- and I'm talking, you know, listener, you've got your doctoral program, you've got work, you've got your family, you've got stuff going on. And all that is inside a larger framework, pandemic, , historical, social, political wars that are happening. And so I would love to hear your insights on how do we come to terms with all those things. Thank you so much for asking, and I think I would share in a couple of different ways, and maybe from a couple of different frameworks, the basic premise is that joy and peace and a sense of freedom and spontaneity are present within every human always, and that it's inner, so that I do not need to delay, I don't need to wait one moment, I can snap my fingers, and in that moment, I can decide that there is nothing that can keep me from loving this peace that is within me continually. There is nothing that can keep me from enjoying this sense of freedom and expansion and dynamic joy and good humor that are always available from within me. When I have contact with that -so now I'll start to deal with a couple of contexts- that will allow me, and I'm giving very specific examples from my daily life that will allow me to teach literature about racial justice to young people who are coming to terms with the I'll horrendous inhumanity that humans are capable of creating for other humans. And so the young people I teach are deeply committed. They're so brilliant. They're so brave. They're so courageous and they want to be here to help the world be a better place. And they're also deeply aware of the structures of pain and the structures of inequality, the structures that do not make humans feel joy. And so to help them connect with people who have walked this way before us, and I mean that's everyone from Frederick Douglass, to Harriet Tubman, to Zora Neale Hurston, to all of the literary and cultural ancestors that students might like to claim, but it's also our own ancestors. Like our own grandparents and our own great grandparents, the people in our lives, the teachers in our lives who have supported us and inspired us and sustained us. And when we take this deep, long view of human history, we're able to see that in every human era, there are humans who have lived with courage and clarity and brilliance and have lived hope, Have lived peace, have lived justice, and they have changed the face of the planet because of the way that they have lived. And so students walk out of these classes with a felt direct awareness that the choices each of us make matter deeply. The choices each of us make, the thoughts we think, the words we speak, the way in which we interact with the other humans in our lives go out beyond us. They have ripple effects. They touch hundreds of people. They touch thousands of people. We are making a difference, all of us, in our daily lives continually. So, I'll pause there. I mean, that's just one example but we all do this continually in our daily lives. What I noticed was that you didn't start with the issue and then how you reconcile to a state of peace. You started with connecting with yourself first. I would agree with you very much. So the, the basic premise from the Yogic Traditions, and I would also say at Awake Yoga Meditation, we welcome people of all nationalities, all backgrounds, all walks of life, all traditions. So whatever tradition any listener identifies with, connect with the way that you connect with light or truth or the divine by whatever name you call light or truth or divine. Respect for that and connect with that. That is with you and within you continually. You are never separate from that for one moment. And so this is about much more than -I have a meditation practice- but it's about much more than my seated meditation practice. What happens is as I sit in my seated meditation practice and then I get up and I move through my day, eventually there becomes no barrier. All of it becomes meditation. All of it becomes peace. All of it becomes kindness. And the same is true, so for a person who has a practice of connecting with the breath, the way that you talk about in your, the Happy Doc Student Handbook, that we can be connected to the breath always. Because after we notice in a specific breath awareness practice, then we notice the breath is with us continually. And so we can have this continual renewal and refreshment, just breathing a breath of freshness into our own heart. And it can give us a reset. So say that we've had an intense meeting with a board of directors or a board of trustees, or we've had some really challenging situation at business or in our family lives. That breath of freshness, that breath that allows us to resetinstantly:
it's right there. It's free. It's always present. And so we're just connecting with that first. And then we're able to connect with this sense of resourcefulness and ideas flow to us because we're actually connecting with a different part of our brain. We're not connecting with the fear based part of our brain. We're connecting with the part of our brain that has access to inspiration and insight and ideas and is aware that when we are not coming from a fear based part of our brain, we're in contact with the light and the peace within ourselves, which helps us connect with the light and peace within others. And so this means we're always operating at a level deeper than labels, deeper than judgment. And so the community, the cooperation, the solutions, the agreements that that emerge from that, they're unprecedented and they're also not predictable. So when we live in this way, our lives will be very dynamic and it's really fun because then we're sort of curious and we're always exploring, we're back to that-, we keep the adult wisdom, but we're back to that childlike innocence and wonder and continually asking questions. So when you were, talking, I recollected back to when I first really started understanding my nervous system, my vagus nerve, this being stuck in a state of fear. And I see that a lot, not just in doctoral students, but I'd say especially post pandemic. And now it's almost like it's being irritated with everything that's happening in the news. So you can't turn on the news or scroll through social media now without, your nervous system being activated into a state of fear. And then when you're in that state of fear, I love that you brought up -it's a totally different part of your brain. And the fear based part of our brain- and so for listeners, I would invite each of us to be aware of, I think a contemporary way to phrasethis is:
What are my triggers? Like, what are the areas of sensitivity? And it can just be something simple in your family that's not based on the news. Like your sister could have a way of quirking her eyebrow at you that just sort of makes you want to shriek, whatever it is. I don't have a sister, so that's not a, not a biographical example, but just, it's that way. And so it's for each of us to have a sense of humor and wisdom and kindness and awareness, like what are my triggers? And then to also be able to be very judicious. Like I would say I read the news, but I also am I'm going to be careful and mindful about the way in which I read it. I wouldn't read it right before going to sleep, for example. Wouldn't recommend it. And after I read the news, I will allow time. If I need to go take a five minute walk and just say "Hi" to the nice trees in my neighborhood, I would go do that to sort of, I think it is, it's a grounding, calming, centering. It refreshes and resets. It connects you with the healthy, beautiful, good things of this world. And so it's really important for all of us, whatever our line of work is, to be connected to the healthy, beautiful, good things of this world. That's what gives us the strength to keep working on behalf of what we believe in. That's what gives us the strength to keep working on behalf of our kids or our grandkids or, you know, our businesses, our clients, whoever we're being ofservice to, to connect with just:
this is what I know at the core of my being. This is what I know to be true. And I will live out of that truth. And there is nothing that happens in time and space that can detour me from being nourished by that sense of strength and that sense of aliveness and light that is always here within myself. And so then it also becomes incumbent upon me to nourish as well that sense of inspiration. So for example, if I spend whatever, let's just say 15 minutes,. Let's say I spend 15 minutes reading the news or social media, as you mentioned. What if I also then spend 15 minutes reading an inspiring, peaceful, joyful book that helps me connect to that strength of spirit that I always have present within me, or that helps me know the way incredibly calm and courageous, very brave and beautiful humans who have walked this way before me have handled situations that seemed impossible to them at the time, and they came out of it on the other side. Having lived with integrity, having worked on behalf of peace, having worked to create understanding and build bridges and make it possible, the horizon in so many ways is brighter. And so for us who are here right now at this particular juncture, to be aware that we are here at a time of transformation, we're here at a time of Transition. We're here at a time of change, and so to live from that calm, focused, centered awareness within ourselves always makes it possible. A lot of the change can be positive if we work toward that. If we allow the changes that we encounter to help us always keep choosing what's noble, what's kind, what's good, what's honorable, what is beneficial to the good and the wellbeing of the whole and of all. Your book has a prevailing theme of kindness, and what a friend and I have been having this intellectual discussion about lately is where is this balance between being immersed in things that are uncomfortable. Things that are happening in the world are things that are happening in your life, and balancing this with what we believe is our divine right of inner joy, peace, stability. And it kind of came back to being kind to yourself and prioritizing self care so that you could make decisions about how to navigate the world. And I get that through your book the questions that you ask, and that you ask the reader to delve into, really do bring to the forefront of how are you being kind to yourself? That's a really lovely question. And so for a listener, before you get out of bed in the morning, before you look at the phone in the morning, to connect with what you love most deeply, that gives you a sense of inner hope. Inner courage, inner strength, inner confidence. That truth which you know with the whole of your being, that goodness, that beauty that is present in your life and it's present within the lives of each of us. There's so much goodness and there's so much beauty present in the lives of each of us that energy of love, if you want to use that word, that energy of pure love that is within each of us. It's very sweet, it's very simple, it's honorable, it's innocent, it's noble to connect with that energy before we look at anything in the external world, and to allow that energy to come to life within us. So that we are amplifying that feeling in our heart before we get out of bed in the morning. We're amplifying that feeling in our brain, in our mind, in our thinking. We're inviting that feeling to energize the cells in our body and to help us have a feeling of joy and vitality. And then if we think through our day, still lying in bed, connected to this current of inspiration and wisdom. Think about the events of our day, the humans that we're going to encounter, it could be our family members, it could be our partner, it could be clients or students or colleagues, it could be high powered business associates whom we're going to be encountering, but to pre- pave the way so that this energy of clarity, this energy of peace, this energy of joy from within yourself is moving through your day in advance of your being there in time and space, and it will give you a completely different orientation to your day. All of a sudden what you're doing is you're encountering your day and all the events, all the persons, all the happenings from this sense of spaciousness, clarity, and peace that is within yourself. Nothing in the world can give you that sense of spaciousness, clarity and peace. Nothing. It comes from within. And then when we have that sense of spaciousness, clarity, and peace within ourselves, independent of what is happening in the world, inwardly we may feel spaciousness, clarity, and peace. And that will actually allow us to be more present to what we experience in time and space and to what other people that we encounter experience in time and space. So I want to be very clear. This is not about ignoring the reality of the world. This is about connecting. First, with a sense of quiet, first, with a sense of kindness and joy, and then we will be able to be calm and centered and focused and steady and sweet and grounded with whatever we encounter. And Swami, your suggestion to start the day out that way, it doesn't have to take a long time. Would you agree? Totally. I mean, so for a person who's just starting this out, three minutes, and the steps that I went through, I was doing them in words. If you practice this, you'll internalize it, and it becomes like a current of feeling. So then in like three breaths, you can connect with this current of feeling. And then also, once you've practiced this, you almost create a muscle memory in your body. And then in the middle of the day, if you need, you can take a break, wash your hands, take a drink of water, take three breaths, and you're back in that current of energy. And it will carry you throughout the rest of the day. So people who meditate with us, who are CEOs or doctors or lawyers or surgeons or dentists, like high powered people, they say that a mini meditation, just for a couple of moments, can help reset whatever it is that they're engaged in. And it increases the quality of the awareness, the focus, the decisions that they're making. It increases the quality of their interactions and their relationships. And you're absolutely right, it can be a single moment. It's so simple. So simple. It's a complicated world we're living in, and sometimes I think there's resistance to these beautiful, simple tools that can absolutely change your experience of being in a human body. I start out with centering in the morning. I shared this in detail in our last episode, so if listeners are curious, I'll let them click on that link. But I loved in your book, and you did it on the beginning of the episode here, you snapped. I love this practical suggestion of a snap. Could you share that with the listeners? Absolutely. So one of the teachings, this is from the Zen tradition in Japan, and the teaching is if you snap your fingers in that single snap, that's One moment. And there are 65 opportunities to wake up in every moment. So snap and there's 65 opportunities to enter into that current of freshness. Snap again if you need another reset. There's 65 more opportunities to enter into that current of freshness and aliveness. And I think one of the things that I love about this, you were alluding to this, but just to spell it out. If we've been I mean, I can give an example so hunched over the computer or, you know, surgeons meditate with us, so I'm thinking about how intense that can be, how focused that work has to be. It's so fine tuned and it's detailed and it really matters. I mean, that's some very intense work. And so then you straighten up like you've been bending over your keyboard or you've been bending over, you know, the operating table, and then you straighten up and you want to reset, snapping your fingers is a wonderful way to do that because it's a signal to your body and to your energy field -that's finished right now. I'm not hunched over the keyboard anymore. I'm not engaged in that intense surgical theater that I was just in, in that operation. And so I'm giving myself a kinesthetic reset. Like I can feel this in my body. And you were talking about the, the nervous system earlier. We were talking about the brain as well. Just that simple snap can give a reset to the brain and the nervous system as well. So, really accessible for every listener. And I would just play with it because for listeners, I'm a person, I love good humor, like the sort of healthy humor that doesn't laugh at people, but it's just laughing with life, with joy, like the good humored, good spirited kind of humor. And I find that just that ability to snap and to connect with that sense of humor is a gift. As long as we have our sense of humor, we sort of have perspective. We're able to take a step back. We're able to know, so that that expansive, clear awareness, part of our brain, we're able to access that, and we're able to work wisely. There's no human who is free from the fear- based brain. As long as we're here in a human body, the fear- based brain is there, and it could get activated. We receive a lot of invitations to activate it. The other parts of our brain can wisely choose to look at the fear- based part of our brain and say, Do I want to engage with that fear? Do I want to panic right now? Do I gain anything by feeling fear right now? Would I actually be more of service if I noted the situation, I retain the awareness of the situation, and I respectfully and lovingly decline to feel fear in my body? Because unless I actually need to run to get out of the way of an elephant or something, and I need that burst of adrenaline, chances are fear is not going to help my body. Chances are fear is not going to help my brain, it's not going to help my immune system, it's not going to help my nervous system, it's not going to help my relationships, it's not going to help the quality of my work. And so the converse is also true. If I have the ability to be aware, but also say, I decline to feel fear. Because I am aware that my nervous system is happier and healthier. My sleep and my immune system and my relationships are happier and healthier. My work is higher quality and happier and healthier. If I decline to feel fear, I keep the awareness and I allow myself to connect with inspiration rather than fear. I allow myself to connect with wisdom and clarity and discernment so that I'm able to respond. Clearly, we all are here to respond. We must, but let us do so from wisdom and from kindness. And that compassion really is what creates solutions. The Sanskrit word for compassion has a root meaning that indicates compassion helps us move forward, whereas pity does not. The yogic teachings are very clear that pity makes us weaker and it makes those whom we are pitying weaker as well. Compassion strengthens us and it helps us find solutions, it helps us move forward. And whether you're in a doctoral program or not listening to this episode, so full of beautiful nuggets, I can't wait to listen to it again. Swami, I'm already looking forward to listening to this again. We all want to be a part of the solution. If you're listening to this, I know you want to be a part of the solution. And your teachings will help someone get there. I just want to say thank you for your book, for your wisdom, I'll have the link down below, but before we wrap up, do you have a favorite quote, a favorite story, or a parable from the book? Or some , final words of wisdom you'd like to share with the audience? Oh sure, I mean, so give me a question, like anything that you think would be helpful for your listeners and I'll, , I'll gladly share something. Let's see, what am I going to ask?Um, how about:
is there one, what's a good question that you can give people that they can ask themselves when they're struggling with wanting to get out of fear and tap into their clarity? Good question. I mean, a couple of insights, and I'll make it brief, but onething I could ask is:
how would I feel if fear were not present? And then allow fear to just melt away and notice what remains. Another thing that we could do if we are ready to transform fear iswe could just say:
fear, I notice you, I notice your present, be gone. I am choosing to activate strength and peace and courage within myself. And then also for listeners, give yourself the invitation, the opportunity to connect inwardly with moments in the past where you have had deep, profound strength and peace and courage and clarity. Notice how that feels in your body. So there's an openness to the chest and the shoulders and the heart. There's a confidence. There's a way in which we're sort of very fully present and also feeling very steady as well. But for each listener to feel that in your body and then to invite that feeling to move with you throughout the day. So before you have that meeting or before you have that conversation, or if you need a reset in the middle of a very busy kitchen, like the phone is ringing, and a kid is pulling on your leg, and the neighbor's knocking on the door, and your spouse is trying to talk to you all at the same time, to give yourself that sense of my own open heart, is continually here, and it gives me access to this peace, this steadiness, this strength, this wisdom. And then, when I'm in contact with that inner clarity, that inner wisdom, I'm able to know which is the first priority, which is the second, which is the third, and then just step by step by step, moment by moment, we're able to be graceful, able to be present, able to be kind, able to be aware, able to respond. And personally, I think that is the biggest, outcome I've seen personally from my meditation practice is the ability to prioritize and so therefore make better decisions. It kind of takes you out of this hamster on a wheel, into, okay, I see exactly what needs to be done now. This actually isn't an emergency, even though my reflex was to make it one. And when you can go about a hectic, crazy day with this feeling of: I know I'm doing what needs to be done right now, it totally changes I love what you said. There is, like, there's an inner sense of, like, I've got this., I'm not saying that, in an arrogant way, but in a joyful way. And also, like, a curious way. Like, I wonder what interesting conversation I'm going to have next? And, so then, like, you'll have conversations with your colleagues, and it'll be delightful. Like, even if you're just having a moment of a conversation with a colleague, because you're both rushing past each other, you just, have an inner feeling of connectedness, and it becomes so much fun to move through your day. And to just be here now, right? There's a lot of yucky things going on, but there are some benefits to being in a human body as well, and those really come through in your book. And if you're listening to this episode and you're thinking, wow, I'd love to meditate with Swami, how could they make that happen? So any listener of any background, all nationalities, all backgrounds, everyone's welcome. New meditators, longtime meditators. And we are at awakeyogameditation. org and we have all of our meditations on Zoom and YouTube and they're, they're free. So hop on. It's so much fun to meditate in community. Thank you again for spending your time with us today and really such a profound episode for this time. I can't wait to get this one out. I'm going to push this one to the front of the line because there are so many people in the world right now that need to hear this message of hope, so thank you so much. Thank you for sharing your light. It is an absolute joy to talk with you.