Coping with the Challenges of Everyday Life

Sannyasi Divyadrishti (Dr Inge Friedrich-Rust), Germany

“It’s really not so hard – it’s just not that easy.”

It is the aim of every living being to live in peace and harmony, without being thrown out of balance by the ups and downs of life. From a yogic perspective this means to live life fully, to flow with life and to accept whatever life brings, rather than fighting against life and the circumstances we live in. Yoga, as an age-old system, is a very practical science of living which teaches us the tools for a balanced, harmonious life. In fact, yoga has always been a practical science. It is a system which explains the functioning of the human mind and the various levels of consciousness with the aim of unfolding the dormant potential in everyone. It offers practical ways of mastering the mind and evolving the consciousness from the gross to the subtle (or superconsciousness).

Yoga psychology

Yoga psychology is the oldest and broadest body of knowledge about human psychology. It is as valid today as it was 5,000 years ago, encompassing self-management as well as the management of relationships, and dealing with all issues of life so one may live harmoniously. How can we manage ourselves? How can we overcome conflict, and have peaceful and co-operative relationships with others? How can yoga help? Before trying to answer these questions, let us first examine the yogic understanding of human nature.

The yogic model of human nature

According to Swami Satyananda, the true nature of every human being is love and joy (ananda). Happiness is to be found inside. Love knows no boundaries. A child expresses love and feelings freely, uncensored. A child expresses the personality in a natural way.

The developmental model proposes that due to pain and suffering, however, contraction arises and a protective wall is built against further suffering. Every person experiences suffering – pain is inevitable in life. But if the share of suffering exceeds the tolerable limit, the protective shield becomes impenetrable. The individual forgets about his/her true nature and feels an emptiness inside. Then people begin to search for happiness outside – in people, drugs, media, consumerism, power, money – to discover that this happiness is only short-lived. The thirst for happiness and love cannot be stilled outside, and an ever-progressing cycle of addictive behaviour is set in motion in the quest for happiness and peace. As Swami Niranjanananda said during the Sannyasa Festival in 2001, “Because there is no peace, no harmony, no stability inside, we search outside. We are afraid to stay at home.”

The value of yoga

Regular practice of yoga over an extended period of time can interrupt this vicious cycle of increasing alienation. Yoga can help us to get in touch with our inner core. For example, the physical postures (asanas) harmonize the body and balance the nervous system. The breathing practices (pranayama) calm and balance body and mind. The relaxation practices (yoga nidra) release tensions at various levels of the body and mind and lead to an inner sense of harmony.

Other practices to open the protective shield that hides our true nature are: selfless service (karma yoga), truthful self enquiry (swadhyaya), seeking the company of the wise or reading inspiring books (satsang), doing good and developing compassion (seva), chanting sacred sounds (mantra), singing devotional songs (kirtan) and having an intensity of purpose (sankalpa).

Yoga psychology and modern psychotherapy

It is interesting to note that some schools of modern psychology have a worldview and a view of personality development quite compatible with the yogic perspective. This is demonstrated below with the model of Transactional Analysis (Born to Win, M. James & D. Jongeward. Reading: Addison Wesley, 1971).


To become master of oneself – in the sense of disciplining the mind including one’s thoughts, actions and speech – is an ideal aspired for by schools of philosophy and spiritual traditions alike. As the saying goes: “The journey across the world starts with one step.” So the first step is to practise mastery of oneself in daily life. This can be a complete practice in itself and lead to perfection.

Transactional Analysis Yoga (Samkhya)

We are born as princes and princesses.
In the unmanifest form we are one and forever unchanging.
We are born as princes and princesses. At birth we are one (no separation between self and others), whole, and we experience constant change.
Life and circumstances transform us into frogs and we the world, others and ourselves as limited. In the course of development we perceive separation and continuity.
The purpose of life is to realize our true nature as prince or princess. Our purpose in life is realization of our true nature (oneness).
The aim of Transactional Analysis is to bring subconscious or unconscious patterns of inner and outer transactions (interactions) into conscious awareness. The aim of yoga is to bring the unconscious into consciousness, to transform the quality of consciousness so that it can experience its true nature.
Observing ‘what is’ (bahir mouna). The method is to witness the inner and outer dialogues and to recognize the interacting protagonists. The therapist/coach supports the client in the attitude of dispassionate witnessing and utilizes methods of external representations of inner transactions, the method of thought stopping and others. The meditation technique of antar mouna develops the faculty to witness patterns in the mind (thought processes, emotions) without judgement and evaluation, and eventually the ability to elicit or stop thoughts at will.


Self-management relates to the ability to deal with one’s emotions, to cope with conflict, pain (physical/psychological), illness, losses/separations, to manage one’s needs, desires, ambitions, to fully do one’s allotted duties with a stable mind and a strong and healthy body.

Awareness is the key

Awareness is a key principle underlying all yogic practices and the key to unlocking the door to our true nature. Awareness is also the foundation for managing one’s emotions and relationships, for achieving excellence in one’s work and activities, and for acceptance of oneself – for any skilful action, for that matter. The practice of awareness during the day is an important practice in itself (and an essential part of karma yoga). You may find that practising awareness during the day has multiple benefits, such as: heightened concentration, a relaxed and focused mind, gaining control over one’s actions, changing from being driven to setting one’s own pace and choosing the most appropriate action.

Practising awareness during the day

Take ‘time out’ at regular intervals or whenever certain signals occur (when the telephone rings, before meals, walking up the stairs, washing your hands, looking at your watch, or whenever you remember).

Watch ‘what is’. Witnessing the breath and breathing rhythm, the surroundings (sounds, colours, smells), witnessing one’s thoughts and feelings – and becoming aware of how you automatically slow down by being aware.

The management of emotions

To be able to handle one’s emotions is the foundation of inner and outer harmony. Witnessing emotions as they arise, and ‘embracing’ the emotions with awareness and an attitude of acceptance and kindness, will help to transform unwholesome emotions (e.g. outbursts of anger) into wholesome emotions (e.g. compassion).

If anger arises, witness the fact that anger has arisen and embrace your anger like a loving mother embraces her little child. If you feel depressed, notice that there is depression and witness the feelings with compassion and understanding. It is very important not to criticize, blame or condemn yourself for unwanted feelings, but rather to witness the emotions arising with compassion and understanding.

Remember that feelings, emotions – and thoughts for that matter – usually come without being asked for. Often, they take us by surprise. With regular practise of awareness, it will become easier to remain stable in any situation that arises and to regain clarity of mind. This gives you the freedom to act as you wish and not as you feel compelled to by your emotions and compulsive thoughts.

It is important to distinguish between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. One key is to bring ’Head, Heart and Hands’ into harmony. As Swami Niranjanananda puts it: “Emotional management means bringing intelligence (head) into the expression (hands) of emotions (heart).”

‘Emotional intelligence’, the concept made popular by Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books, 1995), encompasses the skills of: knowing one’s emotions (self-awareness) – in contrast to suppression or repression of emotions, managing one’s emotions (emotional skills), recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships (social skills).

Attitudes of kindness, understanding and fearlessness

As beginners in yoga, we often only realize what happened (witness) after we have shattered the porcelain – when things have got out of hand. This gives you the opportunity to practise patience with yourself. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the same chance that a child is given when learning to walk. The child that is learning to keep balance while walking on two feet will stumble and fall many times – and we would not chastise the child for every fall.

The only cure for the ‘wounds’ of the past is the attitude of acceptance and kindness. Suppression, on the other hand, or fighting against the emotions makes sure that they will express themselves at a later time with additional force.

Swami Satyananda has said, “Deep inside each of us is a little child sitting in a corner and crying. And no one is there to take care of it.” I am the child who suffers and I am the one who takes care of that little child. In addition to kindness and understanding, the ‘fearless attitude of a hero’ (Swami Satyananda) is required in order to become master of one’s emotions. C. G. Jung said, “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has not overcome them.”

Breathing and the management of emotion

There is a close connection between breathing patterns and emotions. With some experience in breathing techniques we can influence our emotions in a positive way. For example, in situations of high stress or when fear or anger is aroused (in situations of high emotional arousal) the practice of slow deep breathing (diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing) or breath awareness, particularly alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma or nadi shodhana), are very effective in calming down and re-establishing one’s balance and clarity of mind in short periods of time.

In addition to regular yoga practice at home, breathing practices can be incorporated into daily life. An example may illustrate this point. A lawyer with very long working hours and two small children to look after, when arriving home, uses the daily subway ride to work to practise yogic breathing techniques (pranayama). He practises the ‘baby-snoring breath’ (ujjayi pranayama) while gazing into space and alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana pranayama) while hiding his face behind a newspaper.

In addition to abdominal breathing, the practice of alternate nostril breathing (anuloma viloma) has proved to be very effective in re-establishing calmness in a short period of time in any number of psychotherapy sessions and workshops on conflict management (including mobbing), stress management and self-management by the author.

The benefits common to all yogic breathing techniques are the following. They allow one to: slow down; take ‘time out’ to interrupt conditioned reaction patterns and block the impulse to react; establish full awareness of one’s own mental state, one’s emotions, the situation, and the needs of others; take self-responsibility for selecting the most appropriate response.

Managing relationships – understanding others

A frequent source of conflict, stress and even illness has its root in our lack of true understanding of situations and of people (avidya) and – above all – of ourselves. In the course of development we have become self-centred (egocentric), seeing the world only from our perspective (the so-called tunnel vision). When our needs are frustrated, we take personal offence and interpret this as lack of love. We feel hurt and in turn withdraw, sulk and become depressed – or we react with anger, criticize, attack and shoot poisonous arrows. Conflict follows and since the other party also feels aggrieved and misunderstood, an escalation of the conflict and verbal or physical abuse and violence may ensue. Management of oneself is the basis of good relationships. Only if I am completely with myself can I be completely there for others. “The greatest gift of Love is to give your full presence,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.

As inside so outside

As I meet myself so I meet others, as I see myself so I see others. If I am very critical of myself, I tend to find fault with others. First there must be love for ourselves, then love can be expressed outside. First there must be the fostering and developing of our own inner goodness and then expressing that goodness in society.

The practice of active listening

This can be a practice for a group, in which case let the participants form pairs. It is also a very beneficial practice with your next of kin, and can heal many wounds.

The rules of the game are:

  • Decide who is to be the listener and who the speaker.
  • Decide on the length of time (suggestion: 5–10 minutes to begin with).
  • Close your eyes, become aware of your body and breath and practise a few rounds of deep breathing (to establish awareness in the here and now).
  • The speaker speaks truthfully on an issue of importance to him/herself.
  • The listener listens with full attention but does not ask any questions, make comments or sounds of agreement/ disagreement. Rather, the listener is fully present and concentrated.
  • The listener tries to understand what the speaker wants to express.
  • After the designated time, share your experiences. The speaker reflects upon the experience of having had as much uninterrupted time to being listened to as he/she needed, and the listener shares his/her observations about their listening habits (impulse to interrupt and comment, a wandering mind, etc.) and the experience of keen listening.
  • Reflect on the closeness and understanding that evolves from active listening.

Dealing with conflict – the culture of fighting fairly

To handle relationships well, it is important to learn to deal with conflicts. Conflict is a part of life and as inevitable as change. Conflict indicates that there are different perspectives, that there are a variety of interests and that something may need to be changed or given up altogether. Conflict is a chance to re-examine oneself, to re-examine the situation and to practise putting oneself in the shoes of the other person.

One way of dealing with conflict is learning some of the principles of fair fighting, summarized below:

Culture of Fair Fighting

Do's Dont's
Stating one’s point of view. Criticizing.
Considerate non-harmful speech (ahimsa): learn to speak truthfully and honestly when it is appropriate, otherwise be still. Blaming, shaming.
Skill of active listening, which implies trying to understand the message behind the words. Fault finding.
Inducing guilt.

Gaining control over one’s speech is one of the hardest practices and it is the most essential for harmony in relationships. Wisdom and discrimination (viveka) are required to know: what to say, when, to whom, in what tone of voice, and with what expression of emotion.


Living in harmony with oneself and one’s inner nature, and with others, are high goals as well as the secret wishes of most people. Yoga provides a system of practices that help approach that goal. Yoga can help develop the inherent goodness in people which can then be expressed externally. If we achieve that, we will undoubtedly contribute to a better world and live happier lives.

Love and laughter, compassion and a sense of humour are important ingredients in the delicious meal of a happy life. This is the greatest of all yogas. As Swami Niranjanananda puts it: “Learn to love, learn to laugh, learn to live . . . We are all cosmic jokes. We do not recognize that we are cosmic jokes until we realize that we are all sacred human beings.”