The Growth of Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

If you are aware of the changes that have taken place in the dimension of yoga, you will see that in the last forty years yoga has been accepted in different ways at different times. In the 1960s, yoga was seen more as a physical practice. Yoga teachers taught yoga for trimming the waistline, for getting rid of facial wrinkles and for beautifying the body through asana. In the 1970s, there was some interest in meditation, relaxation and managing the mind for stress management. The concentration and relaxation techniques of yoga came to the forefront.

In the 1980s, the application of yoga was more in specific areas of society - prisons, rehabilitation centres, for the elderly. It took on the flavour of a family practice - my grandmother can do it to be mobile, the children can do it, young people can do it to manage their habits, the housewife can do it. Yoga came with that flavour. In the 1990s, there was a renaissance in yoga philosophy. People wanted to know the purpose and aim of yoga and to define it from the perspective of our modern needs.

The first decade of the twenty-first century will be a period when yoga will combine both theory and practice. That is very evident with the establishment of Bihar Yoga Bharati, the Yoga University. After all, we have been exposed to yoga in the form of asana, pranayama, meditation and relaxation as well as some kriya yoga, some laya yoga, some nada yoga, some this yoga, some that yoga. But all that understanding and knowledge is only fringe knowledge and understanding of the entire body of yoga.

A deepening of yogic knowledge in theory and practice is going to happen now. What is the effect of asanas on the body and mind; the effect of meditation on blood pressure, hormones and glands; the aim of the kriya and kundalini yoga practices? What does the tradition say? Which scriptures have talked about different human needs and how they relate to us today? How can we increase our understanding of yoga to make it a part of our personal culture?

Once upon a time, people believed that yoga was a religion or part of Hinduism, but today we find that even that mentality has changed and yoga is seen as a subject in its own right. From my perspective, as a person involved in the propagation of yoga, I see a very big future. I see yoga becoming part of the personal culture of people everywhere. Just as most people have a basic understanding of medicine and keep a first aid kit in their home, similarly, the basic concepts of yoga will be known to everybody in the course of time. "Today I am feeling a bit stiff so I will do this asana. Today I am feeling a bit dull so I will do this pranayama. Today I am feeling low in energy, my digestion is not good, so I will practise agnisar kriya for a few minutes." We are going to come to that point where yoga becomes part of our personal culture and we will understand the relevance of yoga for the maintenance of the body, mind and spirit. Therefore, there has to be in-depth teaching and training in yoga.

Some people come to our university with the idea of learning advanced yoga for spiritual emancipation. When we tell them they will learn basic yoga to begin with, many people leave. They say, "Why? I want to learn how to meditate eight hours a day. I want to use my time for my spiritual development. This is what we are here for." If that is the case then they should have a clear concept of what spirituality is. Spirituality is not escaping from life, it is escaping into life. If you have to escape into life, become aware of the areas through which you interact and be in control of those qualities which you express in life. That is the first point.

The second point is management of the gunas to maintain the sattwic state of mind or being. One has to be in control of the three gunas - tamas, rajas and sattwa. After all, how many people make the effort to maintain a sattwic state of mind for an extended period of time during the day? When we are feeling lazy, lethargic, sleepy or withdrawn, do we have the ability to come out of that state and maintain our mental harmony? No. When we are feeling aggressive and agitated, do we have the ability to pacify the mental and emotional fluctuations? No. It seems that rather than accepting such ups and downs in the human personality and nature, and working to balance, channel and harmonize them, we have chosen to escape from them. Those who choose to escape from such situations can never perfect yoga in their lives.

If I am frightened of my fears and insecurities, I can never perfect yoga. Human beings need to become much stronger when it comes to self-acceptance. Another tendency that we have is to accept the good and reject the bad. But can we apply it to ourselves? Can we accept and work to transform the bad in ourselves? It becomes difficult. The aspirations can be very high, but the efforts don't justify the aspirations.

Yoga has to be understood from this perspective now. Rather than reaching for instant solutions, you have to search for long-lasting solutions. You also have to know which system or tradition can be continuous and evolving. Yoga has proved to be continuous and evolving. From the sixties onwards, so much New Age stuff has come and gone without leaving any trace, but yoga has been constant. There was never a time when people could say, "Ok, this is the final limit of yoga and there is nothing beyond it." Every time somebody reached the final understanding of yoga, there was something more beyond it. It is this 'something more beyond it' which has made yoga accepted in today's world as being relevant to the human personality and nature.

The third point is channelling the energies of emotion. After all, what is emotion? Energy in motion. When we are feeling the motion of a loving energy, it becomes an emotion. When we are experiencing the motion of an aggressive energy, it becomes an emotion. So emotion is energy in motion, and channelling that energy is the third component of yoga in today's world.

Management of the gunas will ensure that your behaviour is appropriate. Management of emotion will ensure that your focus is proper and not egocentric. Acceptance will ensure that you are able to have a clear understanding of life as you go through it. These are the three teachings of yoga relevant for this decade. The teaching and understanding of yoga must happen in these areas in order to bring a human being to a point of excellence. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, we should be able to define yoga as a process of attaining excellence in life.

As yoga teachers, it is our duty and our obligation to ensure that this understanding develops in our students. If you wish to meditate, let there be excellence in meditation. If you wish to work hard, let the work be viewed as excellence in meditative work. Work should become meditation and there has to be excellence in it.

How can we defend ourselves from the aggressive energies you mentioned?

If you try to defend yourself from an aggressive energy, the energy becomes more potent and powerful. If there is a storm outside and a tree decides to stand upright against the storm, the storm is eventually going to break the tree. But if the tree decides to bend, the storm will pass over and the tree can stand up again, like the palm tree.

Similarly, if you are facing a storm outside and you decide to be rigid, then be ready to face the consequences. If you are facing a storm outside and you decide to bend, be assured that you will walk straight again one day. It is a human characteristic that needs to be cultivated - not to defend but to bend. Those people who bend become immortal. Those people who stay upright break like twigs and are never heard of again.

Ganga Darshan, December 4, 2000