In this century, what most people seek is peace of mind. Of course tension has always been there, but now more and more people are becoming aware of it, and are beginning to experience it in various unpleasant forms. As man undergoes a process of evolution, he accumulates tensions within, but few realise that this process is internal. They attribute the source of their inner tension to the outer environment.
In yoga, we come to realise that the source of tension, is internal. Therefore, instead of wasting our energy on the external environment, let us look deep within ourselves. Once we learn to do that, we will know how to tackle the problems of our personality. It is not mere realisation of the symptoms of the mind that is yoga, it is realisation of the fundamental mind stuff. Anger, passion, anxiety, neurosis, hatred, jealousy; these are the symptoms of the mind; they are not the mind. The intelligent people of this century have become aware of the symptoms of the mind, but they have not been able to comprehend the mind in its totality. In order to comprehend the mind, it is necessary that we are able to look within.
When you throw a pebble into a pond, ripples are created. In our modern psychological system we have been trying to treat these ripples; we have not tried to stop the person throwing the pebbles. Psychology treats the symptoms of the mind, yoga manages the mind itself. The main subject matter of yoga is the mind; the body is the dwelling house of the mind. Because the body is the carrier of the mind, it has also been included within the framework of yoga practices, but just by taking care of the body and neglecting the basic structure of the mind, we are forgetting the very purpose of yoga. We talk about meditation, we know about relaxation, but what exactly are we trying to do when we want to relax ourselves? Is it sufficient that we sleep at night with the aid of a few pills?
What is relaxation? For those who have not been exposed to the science of yoga, relaxation has a negative connotation. Many people think that as we become tension - free, the activities of the mind regress; indolence and passivity predominate; and life becomes almost boring. We have not been able to define relaxation in terms of tension. If there is no tension, there is no need for relaxation. We must redefine tension, become totally aware, and avoid indolence or indifference. If we can adjust our awareness properly, while also attending to the duties and obligations of life, then tension and relaxation can occur side by side. But the trouble is that our method of gaining awareness creates tension. This in turn forms a block which impedes the flow of energy.
In order to understand the nature of tension, we must refer to the three types- muscular, mental and emotional. If tension is of a particular kind, then relaxation must also be of the same kind. We cannot treat a disease with a medicine which is not relevant to it.
Muscular tensions belong to the body, to the nervous system, to endocrinal imbalances. When we subject someone to a medical examination, we can measure tension in his muscles, in any part of his body. We have been doing this research for some time. Our initial experiment occurred when an American doctor came to our ashram with his sophisticated instruments. While one of the swamis performed bhujangasana, he measured the areas that appeared to have tension. To my surprise, the machine recorded no tension. That was the first time I realised that in practising yoga postures, you are relaxing the tensions of muscles. Muscular tension belongs to the level of the gross body - inside and out. Muscular tension can be eased by practising hatha yoga - asanas, pranayama, bandhas and mudras.
Emotional tensions are intricate problems, resulting from various dualities such as love and hate, separation and union, profit and loss, success and failure, birth and death, happiness and unhappiness. Whenever emotional tensions arise, the individual becomes confused, and every part of the body is shaken. Frequently, these tensions are the most difficult to erase, because we refuse to recognise them. As a result, they are released in frightening dreams or other areas of human experience. Expressing emotion honestly and clearly is very difficult, and many people cannot face that. To overcome this obstacle, the practice of karma yoga and bhakti yoga is necessary.
Although human beings can bestow their love on family, friends and various objects, surplus emotion remains, which produces frustration and discontent. Through bhakti, this emotion is channelled to a higher object, beyond relativity and the mundane world. This higher object may be a guru, a god, an incarnation or a saint. By directing one's emotion to this deity, it may be possible to dedicate all love and devotion to him, as he is infinite in nature, while other people are finite. Man's love is boundless, therefore, how can it be totally absorbed by finite surroundings?
This is precisely the reason why one has to become a disciple and have a guru. Our thoughts, actions and aspirations are inspired and guided by him, even though he may not be living in his physical body. The love for him becomes the controlling factor, the guiding light, and we act as his instruments. If this divine love or bhakti is not practised, then our emotions run riot, chasing the pleasures in life which are ultimately perishable and cannot fulfil the purpose of our love. Thus, through bhakti yoga, the worldly love and emotion is channelled into higher, divine love.
Karma yoga is action performed without ego or expectation, in the spirit of sacrifice. We can practise this by converting work done at home, in the shop or anywhere, into karma yoga. This conversion principle involves a transformation of ideas- a realisation of the importance of action in our day to day life. If we work only to amass wealth, or for prestige or fame, we destroy the absolute objective. Through karma yoga we can purify ourselves, discipline the senses, the mind and the emotions, thereby discovering the real purpose behind life.
Mental tensions are caused by excessive intellectual activity. In raja yoga and gyana yoga we eliminate mental tension through the thought process. If you know how to manage the process of thinking and analysing, then whenever a problem casts even the slightest shadow on he mind, it can be immediately counteracted.
The intellectual process is not merely superficial; it has the power to create balance or imbalance. In the process of meditation, the intellect is trained properly so that you may read books, listen to the wise and reflect on their words, thereby creating a happy equilibrium between the mind and the experience that is taking place. It is important for everyone to realise that meditation is not only a process of entering the inner being of man, but that it also creates a condition in this physical body whereby the mental tensions stop influencing the physical and intra-physical processes.
The mind is a whirlpool of fantasies, confusions and oscillations. Throughout our life, every experience which is registered by our consciousness remains stagnant in our mental body; If a lazy man does not clean and sweep his house, surely it will deteriorate. Similarly, if our experiences throughout life remain unanalysed, they accumulate over the years into a tremendous quantity, so that eventually they affect the whole of our physical and mental systems. To alleviate this, the practice of meditation is necessary.
A thought is very powerful, especially when it is registered or embedded in the consciousness. A tragedy or a comedy, a profit or loss, these are experiences that pass through the area of human consciousness, finally being stored up in the inner mind, where they explode from time to time, affecting our body, mind, behaviour and reactions. When we are sad, angry or irritated, we often attribute that condition of the mind to some superficial cause. But the underlying cause behind man's normal and abnormal behaviour lies in the accumulated tensions of the mental plane.
When thoughts flow unchecked and experiences swarm through the mind like clouds in the monsoon season, you feel dissatisfied with yourself because you have not been able to concentrate your mind. But there is no need for this. The purpose of the practice is to eliminate the toxins of the body, mind and emotions. Therefore, in the art of meditation, the first success is awareness of the thoughts, of the deep rooted experiences that surface either symbolically, or in the form of emotions, colours, sounds or visions. They are expressions of stresses and strains in human consciousness.
Just as toxins are removed from the body in shankhaprakshalana, the deeper realms of the mind require cleansing through meditation. If you suppress these subconscious toxins, surely they will be retained and surface some other time. Perhaps they will come up when you are with your family, friends, business colleagues, or when driving a car, handling a machine, sitting in parliament, or when you are holding a gun in your hand. These toxins affect people's behaviour and consequently the society in which we live becomes negative and dangerous. If we expel the poison of our mind, body and emotions through our everyday actions, then we pollute the entire atmosphere and become a victim of these toxins as well. Even with yogic techniques, it will take time before the mind is purified and experiences shoonya or nothingness, but that state of inner tranquillity will ultimately be reflected in our outward behaviour.
Meditation is a general term, but in fact, we should start with the practice of mantra repetition. Mantra repetition delves into the human mind where experiences remain in seed form. It disturbs these thought patterns and brings them to the surface. There, fore, in the initial stages of mantra practice, the mind becomes restless, and for a long time this expulsion of thought is necessary in order to free the consciousness from this burden. Thus, to decrease mental and emotional tension, mantra plays a significant role.
Two other useful practices for releasing tension are antar mouna, inner silence, and yoga nidra or psychic sleep. Antar mouna is a practice in which you observe the behaviour of the mind without any partiality or obstruction. You allow the mind to behave as it wants to; let the thoughts pass through without stopping them. Watch the activities of the mind like a silent spectator, without being affected by any of them. The past and future, worries and anxieties will all pass through the mind, but you are only an impartial witness.
When your mind is brooding over a thought, usually what happens is that you either become panicky or very happy. In its fantasising, the mind sometimes reflects on the past, which can be either pleasant or unpleasant. When it is pleasant, we like it; that is attachment, identification. But when the thought is unpleasant and forcing itself on us, we become disturbed, restless; we don't like it. That is called repulsion. We are either attached to a particular thought, or we are repelled by it. This attraction and repulsion to your thought patterns should be carefully avoided during the practice of antar mouna. Before meditation you should practise antar mouna to see what is happening to your mind. Go deep and just try to be a witness. This is how deep seated tensions are released.
Next we come to the technique of yoga nidra, psychic sleep, in which you do not sleep but you develop a dynamic consciousness through relaxation. During this practice you relax every part of the body and then probe the mind to express the archetypes or deep rooted criminals of the inner consciousness. We have witnessed marvellous results through yoga nidra. If the technique is practised once a day for half an hour, you will not only experience tranquillity, you will also develop a dynamic personality. In yoga nidra, the resolutions you make, the decisions you take, the thoughts you create, become potentially very powerful. They go into the depths of the subconscious and in the course of time become realities. In yoga nidra, relaxation is not a negative or passive state of mind. It is a dynamic state where the mind grows in the internal dimension.
Here is a simple technique which you can practise by yourself at home to release mental tension. In the morning, sit in a cross legged position, spine erect, eyes closed, and concentrate the mind on one of the psychic centres - eyebrow centre, nose tip, heart centre, or navel. Then become aware of either the breathing process, a mantra or a symbol, and follow it. Do this for ten to thirty minutes. Thoughts will arise - the greater the impact of your practice, the greater will be the volume of thoughts coming from the depth of your consciousness. As they come, feel a sense of relief.
When we are discussing tensions and their eradication through yoga, we suggest not only meditation, but the entire system of integral yoga. There are four major branches of yoga. The first is karma yoga- the yoga of selfless action; the second is bhakti yoga - the yoga of devotion; the third is raja yoga - the yoga of the psychic body in man, of which hatha yoga forms a small part; the fourth is gyana yoga - the yoga of wisdom, of self-analysis.
These are some of the important aspects of yoga for our day to day life, but apart from everything else, there is one thing which every person should not fail to realise One may be a theist or an atheist, it doesn't matter. The important thing is that we all have a mind, and this mind is subject to evolution; it is not a static entity.
In human beings, the consciousness is evolving and the speed can be accelerated by a practice of yoga called dhyana yoga, the yoga of meditation. There is nothing priceless in life except meditation. Material things can fail you, life can fail you, anything in life can fail you, but not meditation. He who knows the technique of stepping within and can spend at least ten minutes every day in the quietude of his own consciousness, he who is able to be aware when all the names and forms of this external existence have been wiped out and transcended, such a man is approaching the state of perfection in life.