The True Spirit of Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - Given at the inauguration of the new Satyanandashram, Barcelona on August 26th

There is nothing wrong with the worldly life or the pleasures of life, but there should be some kind of restraint. When you drive your automobile, you have every right to race, but at the same time you must see that your brakes are operating. If your brake is not intact, you should not drive the car at all. With bad brakes or no brakes, you are sure to have an accident.

Yoga has come as a philosophy of balance. Yoga is not against pleasure or for abstention. You must tune your instrument. If the strings are too tight, they will break; if they are too loose, they will produce horrible sounds. Therefore, the life must not be adjusted either too high or too low. When the senses and the mind are too tight, you develop tension and suffer from blood pressure or heart attack. Even your faith in God does not help you. There has to be a balance in life; this is very important. Yoga means balance between the two extreme forces of life. You don't have to be a puritan on the one hand, or addicted to pornography on the other. These are extremes, but extremity is not yoga.

In the practices of yoga, it is necessary to maintain an absolute balance in relation to life. All day you are working at the office and at night you are closed in a matchbox flat. You get no exercise, no time to breathe, no chance to become introvert or one-pointed. All day you are tense and at night you are still tense. Even the rooms of the house are full of tension. Where there is simplicity, there is relaxation; where there is complication there is tension. So when you expose yourself to yoga, you are learning how to be simple, not only in dress, sleeping and eating, but in every aspect of your lifestyle and being.

Most people do not even breathe well. There is a natural rhythm of breathing and when this is disturbed, you have psychological problems, emotional and social problems, and most important, you have sexual problems. This happens because you always live in very unnatural conditions. Doctors and scientists have shown that when one is worried, the heart beat is abnormal. When one has anxieties, the adrenal glands are malfunctioning. When one is under stress and strain, the pancreatic glands are suppressed. When one does not get enough exercise, the digestive system is impaired. Therefore, the science of yoga has been designed to fulfil these defects of life. The practice of asana, pranayama, relaxation and concentration are the main aspects of yoga and these are necessary for every man who is involved in life, as well as for those who want to go higher in spiritual life.

Man is like an iceberg, which is half in the ocean and half out. Part of your personality is in the world and part of it is above. If you think that the fulfillment of your worldly obligations alone is life, you are wrong. If you think that your relations with matter alone are final, you are miscalculating. Matter is one phase of your being, but it is not the potent phase. You are above the world as well, but you have not been caring for the spiritual necessities of life. Therefore, you are unhappy, and this is the condition with most people.

Of course, everyone has a religion, but this makes no difference in life. Religion does not liberate man unless he practises it in his life. Religion is one aspect of life, not totality. This is one thing which people have to remember. For most people religion is just an intellectual affair, a ritual, or a belief. It is a socio-political creed which does not liberate the mind. So, most people throughout the world, although they follow a religion, are very unhappy. They have mental, emotional and sexual problems. Therefore, it is very important that we find time to practise yoga.

For many years the people in western countries have been wanting to practise yoga and for some time provisions have been made to teach them. But frankly speaking, most of the teachers did not teach yoga, because they had no concept of it. They just thought that yoga was a form of exercise, not realising that it has a deeper meaning.

When I came to Europe in 1968, I thought that it was time to take yoga to the west. So I created a very strong base for preparing teachers. Then many people came to Bihar School of Yoga in Monghyr and stayed there for one to five years. During this period I not only taught them yoga but I also gave them a concept of yogic life. We now have many ashrams ran by these dedicated swamis and staff. In the course of time we are going to have more. So, in order to spread the consoling message of yoga, it is first necessary to have a very clear concept. Then you will know what has to be done.

Ashrams must be organised along communal lines with no personal ownership. They must be very simple, without a lot of pictures, photographs and furniture. At night just lay down a sleeping bag, and in the morning when you get up, put it away. It has been said by Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Guru Nanak, that the more you possess, the poorer you are. Those who have nothing, have nothing to lose and no fear of losing it.

You have to understand what is meant by poverty and wealth. If you have nothing to eat, no place to live, no modern dress, lipstick, shampoo, TV, this is material poverty. People say that Indians are very poor because they don't have all the things which the people of other countries have. This concept of poverty is confined to material things, but I think that real poverty is when you lack peace of mind and self-control. That is spiritual poverty. So poverty should be understood in its total sense.

There are right types of wealth and right types of poverty. Indians are poor in material, but they are the richest people in spirit in history. Even when they were ruled by inimical people, tortured and executed, they still kept their contact with the spiritual attitude of life. True, there are many Indians who run after riches the same as there are many Europeans who run after spiritual life. But this is necessary, because in the world that we live in, there must be a balance between materialism and spirituality.

Unnecessary desires lead to unnecessary worries and meaningless attachments. This is called unhappiness. But if you scrutinise and screen your desires, if you pick and choose the proper desires, you can eliminate unnecessary worries. Then your mind becomes carefree and this is happiness.

But how are we going to develop this philosophy? How can we think like this? It is possible when you expose yourself to the influences of yoga.

The light of spirituality has to shine. When the sun shines there is life and when the sun sets there is darkness. In the same way, when the light of yoga shines, you will be very happy, otherwise there is darkness. In the darkness you have fears, insecurities, and misunderstandings.

So it is important to think how we can tell the people to practise yoga more and more. Yoga is a way of life. We don't care what religion, nationality, social or political creed people follow. Yoga is mainly concerned with the personal life of man and how he can make it better.