Stress, Yoga and You

Paramahamsa Niranjanananda (Bombay, 25.5.93)

Yoga is a method through which we can integrate the faculties of head, heart and hand; body, mind and spirit. We have to understand Yoga today not as a spiritual science but as a science of moulding an integrated personality which is very much needed in today's strife-torn and tension-ridden society. The tension which we experience in our day to day life in different intensities manifests in the body, mind and spirit differently, and then imbalances in our behaviour, thinking, physiological structure and emotions manifest.

The elimination of these imbalances is the main thrust of Yoga and in the course of the growth of Yoga, there have been many experiments carried out to try to improve the functioning of body and mind. In order to improve behaviour and mental faculties, Yoga has become an integral part of the educational system in many countries.

Initially, we believed in the two extremes of Yoga for the spirit and Yoga for the physical health of the body. Our identification with the physical body is known as deha dhyasa, and is related to the sensory and sensual experiences and the cravings for happiness and fulfilment. We all desire happiness and fulfilment in our life, and in order to attain these states we perform actions which are physical, emotional and spiritual. Our actions are influenced by the inherent weaknesses of our personality, the ambitions which we take as the goals of life, the needs which we try to fulfil, and also by the strengths or the abilities which we express through action in order to attain fulfilment.

When the aspect of strength is predominant, then there is an increase of ego, and when the weakness in our personality is predominant then there is dissatisfaction and loss of self-confidence. When our ambitions become high, then we lose mental clarity. When the needs of our life become important, then we tend to shut ourselves off from the other realities of life. Our total life experience revolves around these four factors which are inhibiting our creative nature. This is the meaning of deha dhyasa, identification with the world of sense objects, deep identification which leads to attachment.

The Hindi word asakti is generally translated as attachment. There is both attraction and repulsion in our life. At the time of pleasure, happiness, contentment, or fulfilment there is attraction to that experience. At the time of dissatisfaction and unhappiness there is repulsion to that experience. The Yoga Sutras state, "Sukhaanushayi raagah" meaning that in pleasure and happiness there is attachment.

The Yoga Sutras further state, "Duhkhaanushayi dveshah" meaning that in pain, in suffering, in dissatisfaction there is repulsion. There is a turning from the experiences of life, so we constantly swing from raga to dwesha, from dwesha to raga, from attraction to repulsion and vice versa. These are the two poles of life.

As long as we swing between these two poles there is bound to be craving, conflict, unhappiness and suffering. According to Yoga, raga and dwesha are the main causes of stress and tension in life, which manifest as physical disease, mental imbalance, and spiritual dissatisfaction. The yogic theory of stress goes one step further and says that the nature of the human personality is to experience life in its totality. That is the aim of life and if we are to experience life in its totality there has to be an awareness of raga and dwesha. Along with this awareness we have to gradually find a point of balance where we are not buffeted and thrown around by every wind that blows in the garden of our life.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has given a very simple formula for attaining this balance in life. He says you have to use an instrument which cuts the bondages of pain and pleasure both: "Asanga shastrena dhirana chittwa". The shastra, the instrument with which we sever the bondage of pain and pleasure, is the aspect of non-attachment, anasakta bhawana which has been called asanga. Sanga means company, asanga means not in company. We are in the company of raga and dwesha every moment of our life, but when we are not in their company, then there is attainment, peace and happiness.

To complete the background for the actual subject there is one more thing I want to say. The nature of an individual is always pure. This pure nature is clouded by the vrittis. In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna states, "Ma maivan shol jiva lokhe jiva bodha sanathana. Manashasta nindriyani prakriti stanhi kashati" This means, my aspect, which is known as jiva, is attracted to the world of the senses, to the dimension of prakriti, and when it comes within the confines of prakriti, then this jiva is accompanied by the five senses and mind. "Manaha shastha indri yani" the five senses, including mind, accompany the jiva. The jiva has to be viewed, not in terms of an individual soul, but in terms of a reality of life which is giving us the experience of 'being here now'.

When we are 'here now' we have the senses and mind with us. Then the senses and mind cloud the clarity of consciousness. We are trying to view the beautiful and vast horizon of life through a pipe. We simply see what is in front of us and block out the peripheral vision. Thus the senses, mind, and desires are limited in their expression. This confined experience of the senses clouds the clarity of our consciousness.

So, there has to be a process through which we can remove the confines of the mind and senses and develop a broad vision of the self as an active participant in relation to the universe. This view has been presented in a very beautiful sentence of the sages. "Vasudevah kutumbakam", the entire universe has to be viewed as part of yourself, as part of your family, not just the confines of your home and society.

The senses and mind create a problem here. In their limited nature they do not express their full potential. So how do we deal with the senses and mind? Because the moment we are able to deal with the senses in a positive way we can eliminate stress and fine tune our personality. The fine tuning of the personality is an integration of the faculties of head, heart and hand. The head represents rational power, the heart represents feeling and the hands represent action and behaviour.

Another point is that we tend to become insecure if we come to realise that in order to attain harmony, we have to create certain changes in our lifestyle. We have become so used to it, so conditioned to a pattern of life that it becomes difficult to alter it. But purushartha, effort, has to be made in order to reach the state where we are able to make these changes. Purushartha is Yoga. When we are told to make changes in our lifestyle, then immediately the fear arises that we will have to leave certain things behind. This concept of leaving behind or renouncing is actually a fear psychosis manifesting.

Frankly speaking, if you seriously and sincerely study the yogic tradition you will not find a statement that you have to leave this and that. The yogic tradition always speaks of attainment, which can be described in a very simple way. You have to go from ground floor to first floor by climbing a series of steps. Before you place your foot on the step which is in front of you, you do not leave the ground. First you have to put the foot on the first step. Once the first step is achieved, the second foot automatically leaves the ground and goes to the second step. When the second step is achieved then the first foot automatically leaves the second step and goes to the third step. This is the experience of Yoga, that attainment always comes before renunciation or leaving behind. You cannot renounce anything. You can only attain something, and in the process of attainment the limiting and negative tendencies, the dross of life automatically falls away.

So, I have presented three ideas here in relation to Yoga. The belief of Yoga is that stress is caused by the fear of leaving something behind - point number one. Stress is caused by not having a clear perception -point number two. Stress is caused by identification with the world of senses and objects - point number three. In the yogic tradition different systems and practices have been devised to enable us to overcome these various limitations.

Let us take, first of all, stress and tension caused by intense identification or attraction and repulsion in the world of senses and objects. This stress is experienced in the form of muscular, cerebral, emotional and rational tension. Excess of any of these is the cause of illness.

Something which we do every day is sit. We are sitting right now and in this sitting posture we are accumulating stress and tension which is experienced in the form of lower back pain, lack of circulation in the legs and stiffening of the nerves and muscles. It can also be experienced in the form of congestion of the digestive system. If these conditions continue to affect our body then there is going to be a serious problem-possibly lumbago, spondylosis, migraine, digestive problems, hernia, ulcers, constipation, and even malfunctioning of an internal organ.

What is diabetes? Insulin is not being produced in the body and the level of glucose increases. It filters out in the blood. Glucose is monitored in the blood and comes out through the urine, and it is due to stress in the abdominal region, in the digestive system.

In order to deal with physical stress, Yoga has prescribed the techniques of asanas. Asanas are not physical exercises but postures which eliminate tensions from the muscles, joints and organs. If you practise an asana properly when you are suffering from some problem, that imbalance will be removed and you will experience health. Yoga is not a therapy, it is not for treatment of physiological conditions, but diseases go away after the body attains harmony within itself. To have a disease-free body is not the aim of Yoga but it is a symptom of the yogic practices through which we experience equilibrium, harmony and balance. In order to relieve cerebral tension, Yoga prescribes the techniques of pranayama or breathing techniques. In this way we are gradually able to harmonise the entire structure of the personality. This harmony is the aim of Yoga. This is how we deal with physical stress.

How do we deal with mental stress? Through concentration and relaxation techniques. We never relax properly in our life. In sleep we do not attain relaxation. We can never provide relaxation to the mind, through the bottle, by creating pleasant experiences, because it is the nature of the mind to be always dissipated and distracted, running in one hundred directions without our conscious knowledge. You may think that you are concentrating on my talk, but I can assure you that you are not. There are subtle experiences which are constantly bombarding the mind on the subconscious and unconscious as well as conscious levels, about which we have no understanding and of which we are not aware. Only our ears are attentive, the other senses are doing their job. The inputs of the other senses are being received, processed and filtered by the brain even now. Many things are happening simultaneously within our personality. How can there be concentration in that state? Yoga has devised a way to provide mental, rational and emotional relaxation through a process of mental discipline.

Maharishi Patanjali describes Yoga as "Atha yogah a anushaasanam", Yoga is nothing but a form of control over the subtle faculties, experiences and expressions of mind. Anu means the subtle aspect of personality, shaasan means to have control over. This beautiful sutra defines the total yogic process. The subtle experiences are beyond the range of our awareness. You are thinking right now but you are not aware of the thoughts. Right now in the deeper mind many emotions are coming up, but you are not aware of them. In the deeper mind, many desires are manifesting, but you are not aware of them. How do you relax this state of mind? The formula is very simple. Focus your mind on one point. There has to be intensity of concentration. There has to be a merger of your awareness with the object of contemplation. When you do that the majority of the faculties of mind and consciousness are pinpointed at one centre. Then there is greater relaxation, because all the faculties are drawn towards one direction.

Consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously we are doing a thousand things at any given moment. The sensory faculty which is active in one situation is the sensory faculty which is making us aware of the present experience. Let us say that if the air conditioner in this room fails and we all begin to sweat heavily then your total attention will go to the feeling of heat. Despite your best efforts to listen to what I am saying, there will not be that much awareness or attention.

Let us take another example. You suddenly remember that you forgot to lock your house. Then, despite your best efforts to be attentive, eighty percent of your awareness will be at the door of your house, not here. A faculty that becomes predominant at any given time is the state of which we become aware. This way the mind blocks off many of the areas where we can extend our awareness. In Yoga, by focussing all the faculties together, we provide concentration and relaxation of the mind. Instead of one hundred things happening simultaneously, maybe ten things will happen simultaneously and ninety percent of the faculties will be at one point. This is the concept of pratyahara and dharana, the aspect of the mental training in Yoga.

Pratyahara and dharana are the concepts of bringing the attention and awareness to a state where most of the faculties of body and mind are together. In pratyahara and dharana there is greater relaxation and greater concentration. This way we are able to train our mind, and with this mental training we become objectively aware of our surroundings and interactions. With greater awareness we are able to control the distressing traits of our personality, the negative traits and thoughts, feelings and emotions, the feeling of anger, anxiety, frustration, depression and so forth, because essentially we have the potential to fully express all the faculties at our command.

Yoga says that these faculties of body and mind are subject to the influences of prana and chitta. Prana shakti is the vital energy controlling the physical sensory body. Chitta shakti is the vital energy controlling the performance and activity of the mind. In order to understand prana and chitta and further clarify our concept of life and interaction with life, we have to understand one more thing. Pure or transcendental awareness, or divine consciousness, resides at a level beyond elemental consciousness. Elemental consciousness means awareness of earth, water, fire, air, ether and mind. Those of you who are aware of the theories and principles of Kundalini Yoga will understand this. Pure consciousness is represented in our personality as the experience of sahasrara chakra where there is no distinction, no duality. When this pure energy decides to manifest in the world of sense objects, then it has to go through a process of transformation. It is like raw electrical energy, which cannot be used in wires which simply conduct 220 volts. It has to go through different step-down transformers.

These step-down transformers are the six chakras. When we begin to manifest consciousness and energy in the material plane, the process of transformation first takes us to the level of mind, (the mental force which is ajna chakra) and one indriya, one sense organ through which we can perceive the world in any colour that we wish. The second stage is akasha tattwa or the ether element which is slightly denser than the mind. Then comes vayu tattwa, (the air element) an element denser than akasha. Next we have agni tattwa (the fire element) an element denser than vayu. After this is jal tattwa (the water element) denser than agni, and the final dimension is prithvi tattwa (the earth element) denser than water. This is the growth or the evolution of pure transcendental consciousness and I generally use the phrase, "Evolution from the sublime to the ridiculous". Matter is the transcendental awareness.

We are at the level of matter, and we function at this level. The senses express their faculties at this level. Even the mind which is next to transcendental consciousness expresses itself at the level of matter. Therefore, the problem arises of stagnation of the faculties. We are living examples of this stagnation of energy and consciousness. We cannot see beyond our blinkered vision. In order to evolve our vision from matter into higher realms of perception, we have to go through the process of meditation.

Meditation is a very beautiful science which transcends the totality of human experience. The ultimate aim of meditation is to take one to samadhi. The aim of meditation is to raise the awareness to the dimension where one does not experience the motion of consciousness and energy. It has been described as a state of consciousness, "Where the sun does not shine, where the moon does not give light and where the fire does not burn". Once a person attains that state he does not come back again to the lower planes of consciousness.

Chandra or the moon represents chitta shakti. Surya or the sun represents the energy that governs the world of matter. The moon represents the energy which governs the subtle dimension of thought and mind. Agni or fire represents the vitality of prana shakti and chitta shakti in this gross and subtle world. Through the meditative process we reach a point where there is total cessation of movement, where everything just stops and there is no activity. In this state of inactivity experiences happen very fast.

When we sit in a moving train and look out of the window, what do we see? Scenery flashes by us, mountains, trees, rivers, cities pass at a very great speed.

When the train becomes static, and we look out of the window, there is better vision. This clearer vision of life is what we aspire for in Yoga. At ground level our vision is limited. When we go to the first floor, we have a wider view, and if we go to the third floor the view is wider still. The higher we go the broader our vision becomes. If we go to the topmost floor of our building, which in our bodies is supposed to have only seven floors, then we have a broad vision of the world and ourselves. When we have this vision of life then we attain satya, we become one with reality.

Generally, there are two experiences of life, one is appearance, the other is reality. We are more aware of the appearance than the reality. Our vision has to change, we have to become more aware of the reality and less aware of the appearance. That is the direction that the practices of Yoga take through the vast systems of asana, pranayama, pratyahara techniques, dharana techniques, and dhyana techniques. At the same time, there is purification, non-attachment and attainment.

We cannot be fully detached. Detached means to cut oneself off completely. Attached means to link oneself completely. Non-attachment is the attitude which we adopt to either attachment or detachment. If we are non-attached then whether we are attached or detached does not matter, there is balance. We have to find this balance in our life.

Therefore, it is my humble suggestion that all of us make an effort to incorporate the principles of Yoga into our lifestyle. No matter where we may be - we may be suffering physically, we may be in a state of stress or psychological tension - at whatever stage we may be in life, we have to make an effort to incorporate the yogic principles. These are awareness, relaxation and concentration, and they are attained by the different techniques, whether of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Gyana Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Kundalini Yoga or any other Yoga that you may think of. Once we are able to incorporate these yogic principles into our life, we will realise that our life is a flower on the tree of creation and every unfoldment is beautiful.