Relaxation of Tensions through Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Talk at Bihar School of Yoga, 1973, originally printed in YOGA, Vol. XII, No. 2, February 1974

Many years ago great psychologists predicted that the technological revolution would create new psychological problems for humanity. Their predictions have come true. Throughout the whole world the modern mind has become burdened with so much tension and anxiety that peace of mind has been lost.

The advent of machinery has given the present day generation more leisure time than at any other time in the history of mankind. Yet people do not know how to use their spare time usefully. They spend their time in nerve exciting amusements through which they try to forget themselves. Mental problems accumulate as each day passes: family problems, economic problems, worries regarding their state of bad health. People today are assailed by many problems, jealousies, hatreds, sorrows, fears and so on, and all these influences make the mind continually restless.

Modern civilisation has placed all sorts of comforts and amusements before man, but unfortunately he has lost his appetite for them. His mind prevents him from having a positive, healthy and trouble free attitude towards life. Life is to be enjoyed to the full, yet why are people today unable to do so even among the many aids to happiness bestowed by modern science.

There was a time in Indian history when the same crisis occurred. It was at a time when people reached a peak of material prosperity and education. People at that time found themselves in the same boat as people of today. As their wealth increased, their mental tensions increased to the same degree. At that time a great sage by the name of Kapila looked at the prevailing situation and propounded his system of Samkhya yoga. It was formulated with the express purpose of giving happiness to the neurotic and confused people of that time.

Later, during the period of Buddha, Rishi Patanjali modified Kapila’s philosophy and presented it in the form of the Yoga Sutras. In these sutras, yoga is defined as the science of mental control and of control over all the dimensions of personality and different patterns of behaviour. Though the type of civilisation at the time of Kapila and Patanjali was a lot different to the civilisation of today, the mind has not changed very much, if at all. In other words, although yoga was developed many years ago, its techniques are nevertheless of immense use today to help people find stability in this tumultuous world.

What is tension?

Yoga is the perfect practical system for relaxing tensions. Modern psychology has defined three types of tensions which create all the agonies in human life. These are muscular, mental and emotional tensions. These tensions cause various troubles, such as diseases, inhibitions, complexes and neuroses. Without tension a person does not suffer, yet with tension a person can do nothing but suffer. Most people associate the word tension with a kind of muscular or mental blockage, which is partly correct but does not convey the deeper significance of tension.

Let us take a case history of a man who was suffering from mental troubles. He was studied by a team of medical scientists. Electroencephalograph readings revealed that he had no tensions in his brain, yet the man insisted that he could not sleep at night, that he had no appetite for food and he felt generally tense. Thus a disagreement arose between the man and the medical experts. He told them in strong terms that he felt uneasy, whilst they demonstrated that nothing was really wrong with him.

Eventually he was taken to a psychologist, who analysed his whole personality. These probings revealed that the cause of the tension was to be found in one incident in his life which occurred when he was a baby. This incident was so deeply rooted in his mind that at the age of thirty-five he began to suffer tensions as a manifestation of the incident. This is an unconscious emotional tension or disorder. Even though the patient’s problem was diagnosed by a psychologist, the same psychologist could not cure him. So what should the man do? He knows his problem, but he cannot remove it. He is actually one step up the ladder to cure, for most people do not even know what causes their tension, but of course the patient wants to remove the tension.

A changed mind

These emotional tensions are very difficult to remove and in fact they can only be removed if one undergoes a process of reorientation. Suppose a person receives a telegram informing him that his son has been killed. He is shocked and this shock manifests in the body in the form of pain, loss of appetite and so on. This is only one incident in a person’s life. Yoga tries to change the individual’s reactions to the ups and downs of life, not by analytical understanding, not through intellectual understanding, but by understanding through a changed mind. When you understand through a changed mind, then all the complications of life will not influence you, all previous tensions will disappear and no new ones will replace them.

Some people would suggest hypnotism as a method of removing emotional tensions. In fact, hypnotic techniques will only give temporary benefits. Hypnotism might give you peace of mind for a short time by removing the deep-rooted problems, but what will happen if some other crisis occurs in your life? You have removed the past tension, yet other problems will occur in your mind because you do not have a mind trained to resist further incidents in life.

How yoga removes tension

So how does yoga actually tackle the problem? First, it helps to remove tensions through the practice of asanas. It has been shown scientifically that these practices bring about complete physical and mental relaxation in the system. Scientists have only recently realised the enormous influence that the endocrine glands have on physical and mental behaviour. These glands include the thyroid, pancreas, pituitary, pineal, adrenal glands, and so on.

Scientists have now come to the conclusion that if you are angry by nature, there is something wrong with your glands. If you think too much, some of your glands are overactive. If you worry too much, if you sleep too much, if you are too self-conscious, then the reason lies partly with the endocrinal glands. Of course the mind has a big influence, yet these two systems, the mind and the glandular system, are very closely linked with each other. Regular practice of asanas keeps the glandular system in balance and so removes many tensions. This is a fact that has been verified by modern scientists.

Asanas also relax muscular tensions, something that is essential for people today who find this most difficult. In many cases people consider themselves to be relaxed, yet the muscles remain in a state of tension. Asanas will remove these tensions and give the practitioner real muscular relaxation. If the asanas are done with concentration, they will quickly eliminate mental tensions and induce tranquillity of mind. The practitioner will find that he feels elated and carefree and is able to face the problems of the day with confidence and without anxiety.

The next practice recommended by yoga is pranayama. This ensures that the brain receives a good supply of oxygen, the fuel it needs to function properly. If you do not give a car petrol, it will not run. In the same way, if the brain does not get a sufficient supply of oxygen, it will not work correctly. Believe me, many people do not nourish their brains sufficiently due to incorrect breathing. Also it is very easy for toxins to accumulate in the brain. Pranayama helps to remove these poisons and, therefore, allows the brain to function more efficiently, which helps to remove all kinds of tensions.

Watching the mind

Now we come to the yogic practice which removes deep-rooted emotional tensions and strengthens the individual’s ability to face the ups and downs of life without being dragged into the mire of unhappiness by accumulating new tensions. The method is meditation. The fundamental technique of meditation brings about a state in which the tensions in the different spheres of your personality are removed and it makes the mind more resistant to future causes of tension.

Modern psychology tries to teach us to shed our fears, but this is easier said than done. It seems impossible to get rid of the deep fears and phobias. First of all, one must be aware of their causes and to do this the mind must be relaxed so it can examine itself. How can the mind relax if the subconscious realms are in a state of tension? The method is through meditation.

If you sit down quietly and try to lock yourself inside your own mind, it is almost impossible. What happens is that the mind conspires against itself. It is almost the same as the house owner who feels complete security. He pays no attention to the activities of his servant. He does not notice that the servant is conspiring to steal his belongings. One morning he wakes up and finds that his house has been looted. It happened because he was not paying attention to what was happening.

We neglect our minds in the same way. We are normally so extroverted that we do not devote any time to what is happening in our minds. As a result most people find it impossible to watch the inner workings of their minds and so they cannot remove the tensions that arise. If you want to develop the ability to be aware of your inner feelings, you will have to observe yourself very carefully.

Certain things can be stopped at their inception. The tensions could be stopped before they manifest in the form of unhappiness if only people were to watch their minds. In the hectic activities of the modern world, people do not listen to their minds. They have no time to listen to the good advice given by the mind. If you watch your mind carefully, it will tell you why you are unhappy, why you feel tense and why you feel pessimistic about everything.

Everybody should devote a little time to meditation and, of course, to other techniques of yoga. You should carry on your daily life, but set aside a little time when the mind can tell you why it feels unhappy. Half an hour in the morning and evening is not much time to allocate, in view of the mental peace that can result. Just sit in a quiet room and forget your accomplishments, failures, personality, social status and your happiness or lack of it. Understand the mind. After some time you will be able to understand the language of the mind, not the outer mind but the inner mind, the part of the mind that has a much greater control over our lives.

Peace of mind

Yoga is the only sure and permanent science for giving people peace of mind. In bygone days a person was more likely to have peace of mind because of the slower way of life and because of fewer interactions with other people. To maintain peace of mind in the modern world is not easy, as the rise in mental patients has indicated. It requires the individual to take definite steps to ensure that the mind is cleaned of tensions and that it remains in this condition. The method that all people must adopt now and in the future is yoga.