Mouna is periods of silence where we continue our yoga practice and daily lives without speaking. It is a key part of ashram life.
At the ashram we practice mouna every day from 9pm until breakfast the following morning, for the first half of lunch and supper and for longer periods during some of our courses and residents retreats.
Through the medium of speech, our awareness is directed outwards into the external world. This is fine when interacting with the world around us but just as important in the ashram is interacting with the world within us. The practice of mouna prompts the mind to go inward and to get in touch with our thoughts, emotions, desires and ambitions on a deeper level. Mouna also helps us conserve energy which is normally dissipated through speech. This energy can then be used for other spiritual practices. With continued practice, mouna helps us to sharpen our perceptions and awareness and bring a sence of stillness to the mind and emotions.
It can be strange at first not to speak but many people enjoy the solitude and also the companionship of others on a spiritual path without the need to talk or listen. We discover we can communicate on another level. It creates a peaceful environment from which an inner stillness can grow, allowing our yoga practice to extend into our daily lives and to touch something deeper within us.
The ideal of karma yoga is to be totally in the here and now, to do what is appropriate under a given set of circumstances, to the best of our ability. There is no expectation of any reward, gratitude or recognition, and we are not overly concerned with the outcome.
An invaluable part of ashram life is the practice of karma yoga, which is doing work with the attitude of service (seva) and with Awareness. It is an essential aspect of yoga but we tend to think that work has nothing to do with yoga and don't realise that it could be transformative.
On a mundane level, it is work around the ashram, such as gardening, cooking, housework, maintaining our buildings - whatever needs doing at a particular time. On a deeper level, karma yoga implies that we are fully engaged in doing the work in hand whilst simultaneously being in touch with our inner being.
Work is not regarded as a chore, but rather as a tool to increase sensitivity and Awareness. By working with Awareness we are focused on our actions in the present moment. We are able to observe, and then deal with, the inner patterns and insecurities that plague our minds. It also develops a conscious interaction with life situations, improving our concentration, steadfastness and intuition. As a result, the quality of our practice of meditation is enhanced and we are enabled to go deeper.
For further information see Swami Nishchalananda's booklet Karma yoga - the yoga of awareness in action, available from the Ashram Shop.