Effects of Ashram Life on Emotional States

Sushant Pandey, Lecturer, Dept of Yoga Psychology, Bihar Yoga Bharati & Ashwini Kumar, Yoga teacher, Dept of Yoga Psychology, Bihar Yoga Bharati

The ashram lifestyle is based on yogic principles designed to bring about changes in the cognitive, affective and volitional aspects of an individual. Many emotional problems today are generated due to faulty lifestyle, negative thinking and undisciplined behaviour. The purpose of the study reported herein was to show that a disciplined lifestyle, positive thinking and self-restraint can influence emotional states.

Today man faces many problems which have gone beyond the bounds of scientific thinking. In his conscious thinking he has become more rational and scientific, but in his unconscious he remains an unscientific creature. Due to the inability to adjust, his inner life is full of tension, frustration and insecurity, termed anxiety complex in psychology. The modern technological age is an age of anxiety, and there is a great need for emotional stability. Lack of harmony in lifestyle and interpersonal relationships leads to stress and anxiety. A lifestyle based on yogic principles helps to harmonize the emotional structure of the mind.

Effects of emotions on our whole being

Emotions are designed mainly to help our bodies prepare for appropriate short-term action. If that action, i.e., the expression of the feeling, is suppressed, the brain will tend to continue producing the hormones which generate the action appropriate to that particular feeling. As a result, the body may be kept in a physiologically aroused state long after the trigger which produced the fright has disappeared. All this unnecessary activity causes a terrible strain on the physiological system. There is now a substantial body of research evidence which indicates that this 'stress' does untold damage (often irreversible) in the long term, and also affects the immune system.

The good news is that we also know that by altering the way we think about what is happening or has happened, we can sometimes switch off the brain's emotional response. In experience this only seems to work in the early stages of an emotional response. Once a response has become 'set-in' for a long period the brain does seem to require some appropriate physical expression of the feeling before it stops its activity. So the role of positive attitudes and harmonious interactions in the world becomes clear. Right living and behaviour affect our whole being. The concept of cognitive levelling mentioned above is found in ancient texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras.

There is a clear relationship between emotional states and psychosomatic disorders. The basis of psychosomatic conditions involves intense frequent emotional responses which ultimately lead to physiological and structural pathology. Psychosomatic disorders caused by emotional upheaval may be cardiovascular, dermatological or gastrointestinal, as well as psychological.

Causes of emotional suffering and yogic management

According to Samkhya, the three gunas produce feelings of pleasure, pain and dejection. Feelings are experienced by the antahkarana (the manifest mind), not by the self. In the Yoga Sutras (2:24) it is said that avidya, i.e. false knowledge, is the cause of the self's experience of pleasure and pain. It is the recollection of pleasure experienced on a former occasion that leads to attachment towards objects. Samkhya elucidates three kinds of pain: (i) adhyatmika dukha - bodily pain and mental pain caused by emotion and passion, (ii) adhibhautika dukha - pain caused by beasts, reptiles, human beings, etc., and (iii) adhidaivika dukha - pain due to natural calamities.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras also identify three kinds of pain: (i) parinama dukha - pain due to change, (ii) tapa dukha - pain due to anxiety, and (iii) samskara dukha - pain due to past impressions. Patanjali states that the causes of pain are the kleshas (afflictions) inside our very being at the subconscious level. The whole spectrum of emotion manifests due to the presence of the kleshas. The kleshas are avidya (ignorance), asmita (I-feeling), raga (liking), dwesha (repulsion) and abhinivesha (fear of death).

Emotions are generated because a trifling incident or insult is magnified. Avidya is considered to be the source of the other kleshas and the main culprit in causing emotional upheaval. In other words, emotions which arise due to affliction are traced to delusion regarding the real nature of the self. The five kleshas are the building blocks or the substrata of the collective unconscious. Any emotional state can be traced back to one of the five kleshas. So the root matrix of these kleshas is avidya, which results in identification with the world of name, form, idea and time. As the principle of duality starts to prevail, the true nature of the self is forgotten and the individual becomes fully involved with the transient world, which again leads to attraction, repulsion and finally fear of losing the self-identity (which here is conditioned by the external world), i.e. fear of death. The kleshas generate violence in thought, speech and deed and are abetted by greed, anger and delusion, causing endless pain to oneself and to others.

To cope with this state of mind and body Patanjali recommends practices from raja yoga, jnana yoga, karma yoga and bhakti yoga, and a way of leading one's life. Many physical and mental states which create obstacles in the path of yoga arise due to the mental and physical symptoms of emotional conditions. These obstacles, which include disease, dullness, doubt, procrastination, laziness, craving, errors of perception, instability, pain, depression, irregular breathing, etc., need to be removed in order to progress on the path of yoga. According to Patanjali they can be removed by one-pointedness, or by cultivating friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference for the happy, the miserable, the virtuous and the wicked respectively. In this way the mind becomes purified and peaceful. For this to happen an attitude of vairagya (non-attachment) needs to prevail.

It has been the experience of the great saints and seers that all the different yogic techniques or practices are effective when the environment, both internal and external, is supportive. Observance of a disciplined lifestyle, as in the ashram, harmonizes the aspirant's energy and sublimates it by facilitating the process of pratyahara. The daily ashram routine is tailored in such a way as to make the whole process of transformation spontaneous and permanent. In the Bhagavad Gita (6:17) it is said, "Yoga becomes the destroyer of pain and misery for one who is moderate in eating and recreation, whose engagement in action is balanced and whose sleeping and waking is balanced."

Effects of ashram life on emotional stability

In the ashram people come to live in a disciplined environment and to put their whole effort into sublimating their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energies towards the higher dimensions of existence. Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati explains the purpose of ashram life as follows: "If you wish to maintain the ashram atmosphere in your home, then convert your home into an ashram. If you cannot do that, then try to become a walking and living ashram yourself, where you are at peace with yourself and there is no war and conflict within you, where you are able to face all situations with a balanced frame of mind and where you can maintain your spiritual identity while being surrounded by material attractions." So ashram life has the potential to make one more stable by establishing harmony at the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.

The ashram lifestyle places more emphasis on expansion of awareness and consciousness. As we expand our awareness, we slowly move from a world of ever recurring conflicts, discord and suffering, both internally and in our interpersonal relations, to a gradually spreading sense of abiding joy and harmony. Ashram life aims at this transformation.

Psychologists differ about how to deal with emotional problems. Some encourage emotional release (catharsis), while others teach control or sublimation. Yoga psychology offers a clear, precise and easily understood conceptualization and training program in which the energy which gives rise to such unpleasant emotional states as fear, depression, jealousy and anger can be channelled towards the experience of positive emotional states such as love, devotion and bliss. This becomes a reality when a lifestyle based on the principles of integral yoga is adopted.

Ashram routine

The components of ashram life at Ganga Darshan include practical yoga classes, course studies, yogic diet, seva yoga and disciplined living. The following chart shows the daily routine of students.

4.00am - Wake-up 1.00-1.30 - Tea
5.00-6.30 - Yogasana Class 1.30-2.30 - Yoga Nidra/Meditation Class
6.30-7.00 - Breakfast 2.30-4.00 - Studies
7.00-8.00 - Cleaning Seva 4.00-5.00 - Gardening
8.00-11.00 - Studies & Dept. Seva 5.00-5.30 - Dinner
11.00-12.00 - Lunch 6.00-7.00 - Kitan/Mantra Chanting
12.00-1.00pm Self-study 7.00-9.00 - Self-study
  9.00pm - Bed

Ashram life at Ganga Darshan includes Patanjali's eightfold path and also jnana, hatha, mantra, karma and bhakti yoga. In this way one develops tarka (understanding), tyaga (renunciation), mouna (silence), dehasamya (body stillness) and drishtisamya (stillness of vision) awareness. In the book Yoga Darshan Swami Niranjanananda has explained these aspects which help the yoga aspirant to develop a well organized personality with high integration between head, heart and hands.

THE STUDY

Proposal

The following two proposals were made for verification on the basis of data obtained in this study: That students living 'ashram life': (1) will score lower on dimensions such as anxiety, stress, depression, regression, fatigue and guilt; and (2) will show a positive change on the dimensions of extroversion and arousal.

Method of study

Sample: The sample for this study was drawn from the population of the 4 month Certificate Course in Yogic Studies conducted by Bihar Yoga Bharati on the ashram campus at Ganga Darshan. A total of 24 subjects, both male and female, in the age range 20-56 years, with a mean age of 30, participated. All students followed the ashram routine and discipline for four months.

The test: For this study the eight dimensions determining the emotional states (anxiety, stress, depression, regression, fatigue, guilt, extroversion and arousal) were taken as the dependent variables. Ashram life was the independent variable. The study was conducted in pre-post design. The eight dimensions were measured at the beginning and at the end of the four months. The test materials used for the collection of data were 'Personal Data Sheets' and the 'Eight States Questionnaire', which is a scale developed by Catell (1972) designed specifically to measure eight important emotional states and moods, by assessing an individual's or a group's emotional reactions.

Results and discussion

      Mean SD    
S. No. Dimension Subject's self-description Pre Post Pre Post t p
1 Anxiety Worried, easily, rattled, tense, emotionally upset, easily angered and annoyed 5.58 4.71 1.55 0.87 2.42 .05 level
2 Stress Feeling hectic, feeling of a lot of pressure, experiencing strain, unhappy with own performance, experiencing many demands 5.13 3.33 1.51 1.52 4.09 .01 level
3 Depression Unhappy, disagreeable, pessimistic, in poor spirits, disappointed 5.71 3.96 1.46 1.02 4.86 .01 level
4 Regression Confused, unorganised, unable to concentrate, experiencing difficulty in coping, acting impulsively 5.37 3.12 1.70 0.60 6.08 .01 level
5 Fatigue Exhaused, no energy, sluggish, tired, needing to rest, weary, below par in performance 5.21 3.58 2.04 1.25 3.32 .01 level
6 Guilt Regretful, concerned about own misdeeds, experiencing difficulties in sleeping, unkind, dissatisfied with self 5.96 4.38 1.30 1.35 4.05 .01 level
7 Extroversion Sociable, outgoing, adventurous, talkative, enthusiatic 5.33 6.04 1.25 0.81 2.29 .05 level
8 Arousal Alert, keyed up, stimulated, keen and sharp senses 4.79 5.75 1.25 1.00 2.91 .01 level

The results are summarized in the above table. A pre-post comparison of the responses showed that there was a significant difference in the emotional dimensions of the subjects. There was a substantial reduction in the first six dimensions, which substantiates the first proposal made at the beginning of the study. An increase in the last two dimensions of extraversion and arousal shows a positive change in the subject and supports the second proposal. In all eight dimensions the differences were found to be significant either at the 0.05 level or at the 0.01 level.

Conclusion

Based on the above finding we can say that ashram life has the potential to harmonize the emotional life of the individual. When the components of ashram life become a part of our life, then we derive the maximum benefit. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali states, "Sa tu deerghakaala nairantarya satkaara sevito dreedhabhoomih" - practice becomes perfect with continuity, regularity and conviction. So yoga teaches patience, restraint and how to live harmoniously. A disciplined, regulated lifestyle as found in the ashram relaxes the efforts of individuals and helps one to gear up for the inner journey to the realm of harmony and everlasting contentment.

References

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (1998), Yoga Darshan, Sri Panchadashnam Paramahamsa Alakh Bara, Deoghar.
Weiten/Lloyd (2000), Psychology Applied to Modern Life, Woodsworth/Thomson Learning, USA.
Swami Rama and Swami Ajaya (1976), Creative Use of Emotion, Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, USA.