Sensible Yoga

Swami Karmananda Saraswati

Common sense comes when the mind is sufficiently clear of debris to see what is needed in a particular situation, at a particular time. Some people seem to possess a reasonable level of common sense during everyday life but are totally devoid of it when it comes to spiritual matters. They usually feel that spirituality is something to be practiced separately, something alien to their normal behavioural pattern. One reason for this is the presence of social and religious conditioning which often leads people to believe that spiritual life is separate from day to day life. It is not separate, however, and it should not to be thought of in that way. If one's spiritual development program does not extend into one's day to day life, then it is not spirituality that is being practiced. Spiritual living is practical living. If one's mind is trained properly, one cannot avoid moving more efficiently through life. Efficiency in living means doing what has to be done in the right way at the right time. Efficiency evolves with the mind as it matures and clears. This is the beginning of spirituality. Spiritual life is not just seeing visions and being wafted off on the gentle airs of mind. Rather it is jumping down into life itself and seeing it as it really is. One might entertain certain ideals to strive for, but unless they are practically interwoven with one's daily life, these ideals are unreal. One must make no bones about it - spirituality is a real thing, and it can be experienced by any person possessing a certain amount of common sense.

When sickness arises and one is unable to heal oneself, the first thing any sensible person does is to visit someone who knows about that particular illness. From there he will gain a method by which the illness can be alleviated. He certainly does not expect to undergo treatment for every disease known to man - he will undergo treatment for the malady he has and no other. Therefore, his main concern is to find out the most efficacious treatment for his particular condition and apply it according to his own needs. This is just common sense.

The same way of thinking also applies to spiritual practice, particularly yoga. Yoga is simply a means by which man can learn to communicate with himself and his environment. Individuals usually have a different concept of the end to which yoga leads, and so they come to yoga for a variety of reasons. This is why yoga has so many physical and mental practices. They exist for the sole purpose of providing each individual with a means by which he can begin to express his own personal traits and qualities. Therefore yoga must be approached sensibly. As with illness, one's yogic treatment, one's spiritual treatment should be carried out according to what one is personality-wise, body-wise, mind-wise. Few people realize the full importance of adapting yoga to oneself in this way.

Yoga may be compared with allopathic medicine. Allopathy has a vast system of drugs at its disposal, however, one cannot utilize all of them at one time for just any disease. One has to find which drug suits the case in question. Similarly, yoga's large number of psycho-physical techniques are not meant to be used by one person, all at one time. As with drugs, these techniques can only be applied in measured quantities to specific needs. After all, if one is sick and feeling pain, he may find that aspirin relieves the pain very nicely. What then is the point of taking a stronger pain killer which might have various side effects, when a simple drug can be used? If one has certain needs and a simple yogic practice is found which gives satisfaction and good benefits, why waste time running after the secret, esoteric practices? Any spiritual practice, whether simple or secret and advanced can only be performed according to individual capacity. Because of this, what one practices is actually not as important as many would like to believe. One has to exercise common sense in regard to this subject. If one is practicing something simple, and that practice is becoming part of one's life then nothing more is needed.

Spiritual progress is solely dependent on the individual capacity to adapt perceptually, to assimilate new perceptions of oneself. Thus a complicated abstract meditation given to one whose mind is confused is similar to offering a match to a man whose house is on fire. It has no practical value. As far as yoga is concerned, the simpler the method of maturing the mind and body, the easier and faster the mind and body will be able to assimilate these new perceptions. This is fact, not theory. All men who are established in spiritual life endeavour to present the path to mankind by the simplest possible means. Time is the medium by which that simplicity becomes misunderstood, changing a simple reality into a complicated truth.

One day a man went to visit a swami who was known to be established in wisdom. This man was a famous yoga teacher and upon entering the swami's room he immediately asked what meditation practice he should do. Before the swami could answer, the man launched into a somewhat lengthy monologue on what he knew. The swami sat quietly and listened as the man described this technique and that technique and all the gurus he had learned from. Finally the man finished with, 'so, which one should I practice?' The swami answered, 'Just sit and be quiet, that is what you should practice'.

This is a true story, and the situation which that man was in is a common one. Most people who practice yoga feel, at one time or another, that their practices are not as beneficial as the more 'powerful practices' which they have heard or read about, and so their daily routine falls off through lack of faith. This kind of evaluation arises from the same mental condition which leads us to believe that 'the grass is greener on the other side of the fence'. Because a technique bears the name 'kundalini yoga' and involves visualization of any number of psychic phenomena, surely it must be better than some beginner's practice.

Of course kundalini yoga and other advanced practices do have their place. Moving one's awareness along various psychic pathways is of great benefit at certain times, for certain people. But the actual arousal of spiritual energy which most seem to long for is not dependent on these practices. If spiritual energy is going to flow, along with corresponding perceptual changes, then it will do so regardless of what one is doing. Any spiritual experience is always spontaneous in its occurrence, and the arousal of spiritual energies is no exception. One only has to examine the lives of mystics to verify this. Spiritual experience will occur spontaneously when the mind has become open enough to allow it to occur. An open mind arises from ability to communicate with oneself and one's surroundings.

So why disturb the mind with worry about 'technique-value'. Remember that in yoga, simplicity of approach has greater value in that it holds less chance of clogging the mind with expectation. The mind can obviously grasp a simple concept more easily and for longer periods than a concept which is more complicated.