Ever since I can remember, I have suffered from some problem or other. Two things stand out in my memory: a bad stomach and a seldom satiated appetite. When the diarrhoea was treated it led to constipation and the nightmare of piles. The highly competitive arena of medical studies started off a string of new problems and frustrations.
Even as a 30 year old doctor I always suffered some minor ill health, either a cold, headache, upset stomach or explosive diarrhoea. I was treated with courses and courses of anti parasitic drugs which made me feel worse than the disease itself. In spite of the parasites disappearing from my motions, the bowel problem continued under a new name 'irritable bowel syndrome'.
I was facing a snowballing situation of fear of loose stools and depression. I required tranquillisers to drive me out of the house in the morning to go to work. On returning in the afternoon I would sleep and require another tranquilliser to face the evening consulting session. Then came the fear of not sleeping, requiring another tranquilliser at the end of the day before bedtime. Slowly the dependence on tranquillisers started increasing. I was in a state of perpetual fear of my bowels, my sleep and my work; a state of physical and mental exhaustion. It was in this phase that I started on my journey to Monghyr on 15th September 1979.
I have always been interested in yoga and have dabbled in various practices which gave me temporary peace of mind and physical health. But I could never stick to it. I had also come across the literature of the Bihar School of Yoga and was quite impressed by its practical and scientific approach.
So when I was at my wits end I decided to take a forty day holiday and come to the Bihar School of Yoga, almost as a last resort, to see whether I could get initiated into a yogic way of life in order to surmount my apparently insurmountable problems.
When I arrived at the ashram the welcome was casual but cordial. I have been to other ashrams before but this ashram was quite different from all the others. My first impression was that the sannyasins and inmates were all suffering from 'institutional neurosis', but soon I found that behind the quietude was a hive of activity. It was not a negative quietness - they were quietly active and actively quiet, each doing his job with full awareness and application. I had a chat with two sannyasins and poured out my tale of woe. They were patient and showed a lot of empathy. I felt relieved and at ease and soon settled into the ashram life, much to my surprise, 'like a fish in water'.
The second day my yoga classes started. I found it quite trying in the beginning as I was physically and mentally 'down in the ditch'. Somehow I felt a tremendous force working behind me, pushing me into increasing activity and adaptation. What force I wonder! After about one week, I had learned so much that I had to really work full time to keep pace with all the things that were taught in the morning 1-1½ hour class. However, I enjoyed it and could feel its beneficial effects.
I learned many asanas, surya namaskara, pranayama and meditation. I enjoyed the practices. Occasionally I went through a bout of diarrhoea and a temporary state of depression, but unlike before, it never made me feel down and out Instead of thinking about the loss of water, electrolytes and energy from the lower end, I started viewing it as the body's reaction to overload and a natural process of elimination of toxins. I started getting more and more insight into my intestinal tract and my whole body. In this matter the book 'Yogic Practices for the Digestive System' a Bihar School of Yoga publication, was very helpful: "Behind poor digestion lies an inability of the mind to assimilate life situations and metabolise the problems correctly." Apart from the yogic practices and various kriyas, I found that reorientation of thoughts in regard to work and worship had a tremendous influence on my outlook on life. The accent on karma yoga in the ashram throughout the day is infectious and gets into your system without your knowledge. You imbibe the spirit of karma yoga by just staying in the ashram.
Kirtan in the evening gives a new dimension to emotions and feelings. You forget yourself and are transported to exalted states of devotion. The music reverberates in your mind throughout the night, and often you wake up with a kirtan coming spontaneously from the lips.
My karma yoga was mainly working in the library, reading, writing and discussing various topics - a mixture of karma and gyana yoga. This broadened my vision and changed my outlook. It also helped my concentration. When I arrived at the ashram every trivial thing looked like an insurmountable problem. I could spend a whole day gazing at one page of a book with little matter going into my mind. In the ashram, however, I soon found that my speed of reading and comprehension had improved to an extent which I have never had, perhaps not even under the stress of sitting up studying for my post graduate examinations. I absorbed ideas like a sponge. Ideas which previously would have gone over my head I now comprehended without any effort.
Yoga took on a new meaning for me. Until this time my idea of yoga was a series of asanas, pranayama and meditation - a rigorous course of discipline to improve yourself and express the potentialities hidden in you. I had always thought of it as a system which demands a lot of austerities, penance, strict diet and a lifestyle which is generally not practical for householders. Here I found that the yogic way of life is as applicable to householders as it is to sannyasins.
I always thought that yoga means wilful and severe effort to reach higher states of concentration. Now I know that concentration comes not by effort at concentration but by relaxation and the development of awareness. Awareness is the key to a yogic way of life. When you become aware of your body, its internal and external workings and reactions, you become aware of your mind. You become aware that you are aware of the activities of your body and mind, that the real you is not your body or mind but something greater. Once you start witnessing your actions and reactions, many problems that were getting you down, are overcome. By witnessing without reacting, we lift ourself over the problem. This practice is called antar mouna.
In the ashram I discovered the possibility of reprogramming the mind and becoming conscious of another's behaviour as a manifestation of the programming of his mind. Personal and interpersonal relations improve with a better understanding of your own behaviour and that of others.
Another point which I have cleared up in my mind is the yogic view on sex and sensual pleasure. I have always known that sexual energy had to be sublimated to reach higher life, but did not know how to go about it. This resulted in preoccupation with sexual thoughts, severe guilt and tremendous suppression which had a devastating effect on my personality. Finally in the ashram I understood that all pleasures are part and parcel of human life. For a worldly person, sublimation means not being preoccupied with sex all the time. What we should first try to sublimate is our preoccupation with sex. When the urge comes, experience it without any feeling of guilt or suppression. This releases a lot of energy, which is normally spent in preoccupation and suppression, for better pursuits.
I also learned about the important role of prana in diet. While I used to take heavy meals with plenty of sweets, a so-called balanced meal, I felt miserable and tired. On the simple ashram diet of roti, vegetable and dhal, I felt far more active and energetic. This makes one review and revise the generally accepted concept of food as the source of all energy. Granted, food is used to build the body but the source of energy, of vitality, is prana, not food. Large heavy meals decrease the pranic level in the body whereas light meals and yogic sadhana increase it.
Similarly, I used to find it difficult to force myself to take a cold shower in the early hours of the morning. But doing it regularly here has shown me that a cold shower is most energising and shakes off the lethargy that lingers after sleep.
In short, although I am left with minor physical problems, I have definitely developed a positive attitude to life; I have become aware of my body and its requirements, and I am reprogramming my mind for a better way of life.
Spirituality, serenity, tranquillity,
Ashram life gives all these things with felicity.
As Swami Sivananda said:
"Simplicity, regularity, fixity,
You can't get these things in the University."