What does yoga have to do with students, with developing the mind, the brain and the body? I am not going to tell you what the scriptures say, I will tell you what the scientists say. Do you know the definition of a scientist? A scientist is one who tries to know and discover the truth by objective analysis and not by faith. Religion is based on faith; you believe even if you do not really know. In religion there is belief; in science there is analysis. If I say that pranayama is good for intelligence, it is not necessary that everyone believes it. But if a scientist does research and finds out how the brain behaves during pranayama practice: the chemical changes, the type of brainwaves which are emitted and so forth, we can then come to conclusions based on solid scientific evidence that yoga is either good or bad for the brain.
In America, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Europe, Japan and Australia, scientists and doctors are using sophisticated instruments to test the effects of yoga on the mind and the body. Yogic practitioners are exposed to scientific scrutiny. During the practice of a particular asana or pranayama, instruments register the effects and changes that take place in the body and the mind From these tests, scientists have come to the conclusion that yogic practices make the brain very efficient; memory and concentration become very sharp and grasping power and the ability to recall facts and figures increase.
Even children who are mentally retarded, who have intelligence much below average, are being taught yoga practices in clinics and in institutions. For a period of one full year they are taught a few asanas, one or two types of pranayama, concentration on a yantra (psychic symbol of a geometrical nature) and by these practices their brain faculties and intelligence improve, Therefore, yoga has to become the prime subject in schools. Without intelligence, learning in school is of no use, because whatever the teacher teaches is completely forgotten, or it does not even enter the brain. So, more emphasis has to be given to scientific yoga tuition in schools. Not only considering what is to be taught but how it should be taught effectively.
What then is asana, pranayama and concentration? These points need to be understood by all. Certain postures are known as asana: bhujangasana (cobra pose), shalabhasana (locust pose), sarvangasana (shoulder stand pose), and matsyasana (fish pose) are a few examples, but there are many more. These asanas are physical positions which are maintained for a minute or so, and during this period of practice the endocrine glands in the body, the thyroid, adrenal, pancreas etc., are stimulated and balanced. When these glands start working efficiently, there is a state of balance created in the body, due to which many types of diseases are removed.
Each and every asana has its own specific effect on the body. Bhujangasana, for example, is good for the liver and spine; sarvangasana is good for the thyroid and the abdomen; halasana together with paschimottanasana influences the pancreatic glands; garudasana is good for strengthening the ligaments of the whole body. There are certain asanas which improve eye sight, others improve digestive power, and there are those which improve memory. Some asanas increase height and weight and others bring control into the mind. This control of mind is most important for students because without it they cannot study properly. And when they cannot study properly, they have to do some dishonest business during examinations.
In regard to the practices of yoga, it is necessary to understand one fact: asana and physical exercises should not be equated and compared with each other. The exercises and physical training you do is necessary for the development of your body and muscles. But asanas are curative; they are therapeutic, and they act upon the internal organs, such as the heart, lungs, nervous system, excretory system, reproductive system and the other systems that we have in the body. Yogasanas improve the overall condition and health of the inner organs of the entire body.
Pranayama are breathing practices in which you breathe in a particular way or retain the breath for a fixed period of time. You should get yourself properly trained and corrected by a good teacher because pranayama is a very scientific and exact system of techniques. Merely breathing through the nose is not enough. Your health depends on the way that you breathe. If you breathe incorrectly, you will have a tendency towards disease. Many people breathe only from the chest. Others contract their tummy during inhalation and expand it during exhalation. This is totally wrong. First the breathing has to be corrected.
The practices of pranayama directly influence the mind and brain. Those students who suffer bad cough and cold, migraine, poor intelligence; who sleep too much and whose minds are fickle and restless should definitely practise five minutes pranayama daily. There are over thirty types of pranayama, but one in particular is good for students and for children. This is known as nadi shodhana and it can be practised as follows:
Sit in padmasana (lotus pose) or siddhasana (perfect pose) with your spine upright and straight. Close your eyes. Inhale through the left nostril; exhale through the left. Do five or ten rounds and then change nostrils. This is the first stage. When this has been perfected, inhale through the left nostril, then slowly exhale through the right nostril. Again inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Do this practice very slowly with a short rest in between each round. Practise five rounds daily.
Then you should learn how to stop your breath. After inhalation, hold your breath for five seconds; if this is not possible, then hold it for three seconds. Stopping the breath for this short period of time is very useful for the improvement of intelligence and memory. If the breath can be easily held for longer periods then so much the better, but there should be no strain.
These practices should be done in the morning when the stomach is empty. Remember this point very well: asana and pranayama should not be practised with a loaded stomach. Children and students come to school after eating their breakfast. If they do asana and pranayama with a loaded stomach, they will not derive full benefits and it may even be harmful. Therefore, school and college authorities should arrange things in such a way that yoga is taught at school, but the children should be asked to practise it at home.
Yogic practices to concentrate the mind are also very essential for children and students. Concentration is of two types: on one point and on a series of objects. For the second type you should sit down quietly with eyes closed and remember a number of items, which you should know by heart, and try to visualise them. You can visualise anything, whether a banana leaf, an apple, the rising sun, the half moon, tidal waves and so forth according to your choice. However it is much better to select things from nature which are soothing to your mind like the sky, the stars, flowers, fruits, birds and animals, and not such things as a motor car, a factory or an engine. Choose as many things as you wish; ten, then twenty, then thirty and then forty. You can go up to one hundred items.
By doing these types of practices, you will improve your memory power. First start with ten objects. But you must remember that the sequence of objects should be the same every day and should not change. If you can remember and visualise one hundred objects in one sitting and go on seeing them like a dream, you will develop a fantastic memory. These objects should also include colours and mantra such as Om or Om Namah Shivaya, etc. Even yantras (geometrical figures) can be utilised and visualised. If you have not seen any, then ask your teacher. These yantras are very powerful in influencing the subconscious and unconscious mind. Psychologists and scientists say that these geometrical figures work directly on the deeper levels of mind. There are numerous yantras: sri yantra, tara yantra, surya yantra, gayatri yantra, baglamukhi yantra and so on. Many yantras are associated with chakras or psychic centres, each of which has a specific mantra, colour and ishta devata (presiding deity). All of these concentration practices greatly improve memory.
It is not, however, sufficient merely to have a good memory. You must also have the ability to recall at any time what is in the mind. This is very important, for example, at the time of examinations. When we talk about memory, we must know that side by side with the power of retention, we should also have the capacity to recall facts efficiently when required. Many children are very bright but they cannot write or pass examinations etc. because they do not have the power or capacity to recall. To be able to recall facts and figures it is necessary to practise this type of dharana (concentration) on the flow or sequence of objects, mantra, yantra, etc. You can try your own sequence, and you can start practising from tomorrow. The best time is at night before going to sleep. You will have good dreams and also a deep, restful sleep.
The other type of concentration practice is on one point. Decide on one point. Close your eyes and try to visualise, to develop that point. Try to manifest that point. Try to make that point as clear as you would see it outside, but with the eyes closed. Suppose you are trying to concentrate on a sunflower. Close your eyes and try to see it. If you cannot, then try again. Keep on trying for days, weeks and months, and ultimately you will be able to see that yellow petalled sunflower with perfect clarity. It will manifest suddenly, and when it comes to you, it is an indication that your mind has attained a state of one-pointedness.
A concentrated mind is a powerful mind and a dissipated mind is a weak mind. Those who want to develop willpower must first of all develop a concentrated mind. A dissipated mind cannot have willpower. Take a magnifying glass and put it in front of some paper in the sun. The rays of the sun will quickly burn the paper because the rays have been concentrated. Remove the magnifying glass and the rays of the sun can do nothing to the paper. Why? Because now the sun's rays are dissipated. When the rays of the sun are concentrated, they develop such power that they can burn paper or almost anything.
In the same way, your thoughts are either dissipated or concentrated. If they are scattered, then they can be brought into concentrated focus by specific yogic practices. Then your mind will become so powerful you can influence other minds. You can influence your character, your whole life and your own health or sickness. If you have a stomach disorder, mental disorder, breathing disorder, or any disorder, you can remove it by willpower alone. How then can one develop willpower? The secret is to learn to concentrate the mind on one point.
What type of point should be utilised? Any point can be used: a black dot, a star, a little flower or the flame of a candle. You can select any one point for yourself upon which you can focus your mind. Gradually, with practice, you will find that the mental focus becomes smaller and smaller. You will start to develop enormous willpower and then many benefits will come into your life. If you want to get up at four o'clock in the morning it will not be necessary for you to put on the alarm clock. You will be able to tell your mind to get up at 3.50 or 3.55 a.m. and at exactly that time you will wake up, because the mind is more capable than an alarm clock. Of course, at present, if you have weak willpower, you will have to continue to depend on an alarm clock to wake you up. Otherwise you will miss your bus or train in the morning, or you will arrive late for your examination.
What is meant by a strong mind? A strong mind is one which can fulfil its decisions. In contrast, a weak mind is a mind which thinks but does not do. From tomorrow I am going to work hard in my studies; from tomorrow I am going to do asana and pranayama; from tomorrow I am not going to do this or that... but next morning you forget everything. You are still the same wretched being. Why? Because your mind is dissipated. All those great men about whom you have read in history, whether they were painters, artists, sculptors, saints, politicians, statesmen, writers, novelists, engineers or scientists - all those great men were not made by a freak of nature. They became great just by the quality of their mind. Rabindranath Tagore became a great poet, not because he had faculties that you do not have, but because he had a strong mind. He had a concentrated and hence a gifted mind.
Remember that you cannot be anything or do anything worthwhile without quality of mind. If you are ambitious, if you want to do something in life and if you want to get to the top in your career and in your education, merely thinking about it is not sufficient. The quality of your mind has to be improved. If you have a low quality mind then your performance in all spheres will also be poor. If the quality of your mind is very high then your performance must be correspondingly great. To develop a high quality mind you will have to analyse yourself and your aims. And you will have to give some time to the practice of yoga every day, both in the morning and in the evening.
Swami Vivekananda used to go to a library in America and borrow big, thick books and read them in one night. He would borrow one book and the very next day he would return the same book to the librarian. The librarian thought that this fellow was playing games. How could he read such big books on philosophy or science in one day. It should take at least a few weeks or even months per book. He asked Swami Vivekananda, 'What do you do with the books, do you really read them?' Swami Vivekananda answered, 'Yes, you can ask me anything about the contents and I will answer you directly'. The librarian asked him many questions and was surprised to find that Swami Vivekananda not only read the books from cover to cover, but that he also read the back titles, publishers' names, editors' names, etc.
How did Swami Vivekananda do it? There are two ways: one is through the mind and the other is through what we call intuition. The first method utilises the lower mind: you read all your lessons and try to understand and remember them. The second method requires that you look at the reading matter and mentally photograph it. This is only possible when you are able to concentrate and meditate.
Yoga is essential for everyone who has a body, a mind and emotions. You have a head, a heart and a body. In order to keep these together, you will have to do something. Don't merely depend on medicine, on recreation or on the study that you are doing. You should look after the welfare of your body, head and heart. If these three things work in union with each other then you will be successful in life. You will be happy, and in the course of time the country and your community will be very proud of you. Today you are studying science. After a few years you will leave school and start work. You will become officers, factory workers, housewives, doctors, nurses, engineers and so on. If you improve the quality of your personality and mind... then and only then will you become a useful member of your community and the country.