Self-Control

Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, World Yoga Convention, 1993

Control of mind is the biggest problem that we face today; humanity has to find a way to face mental turmoil. How do we deal with our fear? How do we deal with our anger? How do we deal with our desires when they are not fulfilled and also when they are fulfilled? How do we deal with the worry of what might happen tomorrow or the insecurity when we face having to look after family and friends or when we suffer from illness? This problem has not been fully dealt with.

Medical science has opened the doors to a logical, concrete approach and we, as doctors and scientists, realise our limitations. Therefore, having studied for six or seven or ten or even twenty years, we recognise that we will never find the answer completely in medicine. We realise that as human beings, as people with minds that need looking after, as people who are in the role of helpers, it is necessary to try somehow to give guidance to our patients or to people who ask for advice.

The best advice comes from the practice of yoga because yoga provides us with self. help. It allows us to help ourselves and it gives us a concrete way of balancing body and mind. If we think that we can deal with the mind alone and ignore the physical body, we are mistaken. If we think the mind is an entity separate from the body, we will never find the answer, and this has been the great mistake of modern science, of the materialists who say the mind is an extension of the brain, or is an organ on its own.

We have not, as scientists, fully understood the connection of mind and consciousness. We have not understood that consciousness is the root, the capacity to know, to awaken, to directly experience the mind as a function of ourselves, as an integral part of our body. As scientists we have not seen this. We have not been able to measure it. But in yoga texts, and especially in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the sublime text on Hatha Yoga by Swatmarama, it is clearly stated that if you want to affect the mind you must work on the body, you must work on the prana, because only when the prana is stabilised can you start to deal with the mind.

That is why, as yoga practitioners, we begin with asana to tone down, to control the major fluctuations of the gross physical structure, because it is this structure that is the noisiest. This is the gross part that has to be dealt with first. If you don't get rid of the outside noise, then you can't hear the subtle noise. You can't hear your mind because you are distracted. You cannot practise mental techniques if you have a toothache, if you have a stomach ache or if you are hungry.

Only when you have dealt with the physical body can you go into the more subtle realm of pranayama. Pranayama is designed to calm the nervous system, to allow the nerves to find a rhythm. A fast rhythm is necessary if you want to think or to cross the street, but a slow rhythm is necessary when you have reached your destination and want to relax.

Pranayama allows you to develop a broad range of experience. Relaxation is only one half. Sometimes you must be tense, you must be alert, but that tension must be in balance with your need, with your relationship with yourself and with your environment. Pranayama allows you to move between a fast rhythm and a slow rhythm and to keep the brain under conscious control, to use the switches in the brain. You can speed your mind up if you want to. You can slow your mind down if you want to. You can slow your breath. Your breath is linked directly to the centre of your brain. As you breathe slowly in ujjayi or brahmari your brain waves become calm.

If you want to increase your force bhastrika or bandhas increase the energy. First there is relaxation and on top of the relaxation is added this strength, this energy. A relaxed base and a strong mind come from the practice of pranayama. Pranayama gives you dynamic peace. Only when your physical prana is within your control do you enter into the subtle realms of mudra and dhyana (meditation).

In this way you allow the mind to evolve towards a one-pointed state, a state that is free from fear, not in the sense that you will never be frightened again, but you will not be frightened of your fear. You can become angry when it is appropriate and not become enraged to the point of violence. You can use your anger in a productive way and channel your emotions towards your goal.

You can develop your iccha shakti (determination) and your prana, so that whatever you decide to achieve in your life, you can do it. Just as Paramahamsa Satyananda made a sankalpa to build a seven storey yoga headquarters in Munger and he did that, so we too in our own lives can build whatever we want if we can channel our energy in a constructive way.

The Hatha Yoga texts probably provide the most widely known, most useful, simple and efficacious way to calm the body and to calm the mind by integrating and cleansing the prana, by making the prana sattwic. By cleaning the antah karana, the inner organ composed of manas (thought and counter-thought), buddhi (discrimination), ahamkara (egoic process), and chutta (substratum, memory) and by harmonising these two forces, prana and mind, you awaken this third force called consciousness. You become more conscious of your life, you become more conscious of who you are, where you have come from and where you are going.