Integrating Head, Heart and Hands

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, presentation of certificates to Yogic Studies Course students at Ganga Darshan, January 14, 2007

Today is celebrated as Makar Sankranti in India. Makar Sankranti represents a change in the direction of the sun from south to north. In winter the sun moves southwards towards the Tropic of Capricorn and in summer it moves northwards towards the Tropic of Cancer. We have chosen this day to present the certificates because today the sun begins its journey northwards. Spring is coming.

Gurukul system

Although Ganga Darshan may seem like an academy where you come to learn yoga, in nature and spirit it is an ashram. An ashram is a place where there is an environment and a lifestyle conducive to spiritual growth. This ashram carries the tradition of a gurukul, where the vision and spirit of the masters of a tradition is kept alive. It is an environment which is spiritual and where the vision of the guru can unfold. The gurukul represents a tradition of visionaries. Swami Sivananda envisioned that yoga would emerge as the need of society at large. He was not a preacher or a teacher, but an inspirer who had a vision. Yoga for society was his vision and the inspiration he gave to his disciples. We are talking here of a tradition which is evolving, not of yoga brands that emerge overnight and disappear overnight.

Swami Satyananda structured the vision of Swami Sivananda, the philosophy, practices, applications and lifestyle, into a very practical and scientific system. As a tribute to the work of our guru, Swami Satyananda, we have called this type of yoga Satyananda Yoga. Swami Satyananda did not focus on yoga as a practice but as a lifestyle. He did not focus on any particular branch of yoga, like hatha yoga or raja yoga or meditation yoga or kundalini yoga or kriya yoga, but developed a holistic or integral yoga system, where the tools can be found to fine-tune the different aspects of the personality, rather than focusing on the expansion of one particular area.

Swami Satyananda developed a system through which we can harmonize and improve the efficiency of our head, heart and hands – intellect, emotions and actions. This is only possible through the lifestyle that one imbibes in the ashram. So the real qualification is not the certificate, but the yogic and spiritual lifestyle that you have imbibed throughout your stay.

From the inception of Bihar Yoga Bharati, the courses have been conducted according to the academic system. However, the students who come to BYB are educated, graduates, with experience of life. Sitting in front of a blackboard and teacher seems like being in a primary class. Our intention has always been to learn the yogic sciences in a gurukul environment where personal experience and participation are emphasized. Therefore, this current course has been an experiment, a shift from the academic structure to the gurukul system, in which there are no exams but only personal experience. The only criterion for participation was 90% attendance at classes, although it should really be 100% because you are all living in the same locality.

Yoga is not an academic subject. In the beginning, everyone comes with the idea of practising six hours a day of physical yoga. However, as you are now aware, physical yoga is only a small component of the entire yogic subject. If you look at the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali, asana is only one of the eight limbs. As an institute of advanced studies in yogic sciences or as a university, we look into the whole structure of yoga, not just one aspect. Therefore, we have tried to bring to your experience the different branches of yoga.

Developing the whole personality

Ultimately, yoga is integration and development of the entire human personality, not only the body. In a yoga class there has to be a balance between asana, pranayama, pratyahara and dharana. In asana we have the physical practices, in pranayama the breathing practices. In pratyahara we have techniques to help us relax, focus and expand our awareness. In the dharana component we have concentration techniques, knowing fully well that dhyana or meditation cannot be taught. Meditation is a commonly used word all over the world. People say, “We are meditating,” but that is incorrect because nobody meditates, everyone concentrates. Meditation is not a practice; it is a state of mind you attain after perfecting asana, pranayama, pratyahara and dharana. Samadhi is the deepening of that meditation in which you experience unity within and without.

During the course, you have been exposed to different aspects of yoga. In the beginning you were given the task of practising one yama and one niyama, to experiment with and experience those attitudes and perceptions and their role in your life. Adherence to yama and niyama leads to an inner transformation. It helps you to connect with your own inner qualities and strengths.

Apart from ashtanga yoga, your studies included swadhyaya, self-study, which is a part of jnana yoga. You were exposed to bhakti yoga in different ways as a tool to channel, transcend and sublimate the gross emotions. You may have had that experience, even if it was 0.0001%, in programs like the Sat Chandi Yajna, where all you had to do was just be in the environment and the entire mind became focused. And of course seva was an important part of the course routine. In this manner, directly or indirectly, you have been exposed to different aspects of yoga.

If yoga is to become part of your life and not just remain a practice, you have to recognize that yoga works not only at a physical level, but at a mental, an emotional and also a spiritual level. The gurukul environment and the ashram lifestyle help you to experience yoga as it is meant to be experienced, to have a different understanding of yoga and a different understanding of life.

Remaining connected with your inspiration

We have seen a very beautiful flowering of your natures during your stay in the ashram. The flame of bringing inspiration into other people’s lives is in all of you. How you nurture and maintain that flame is up to you. The most difficult thing in life is to maintain the focus. In 1993, when we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the sannyasa diksha of Swami Satyananda, he sent us a message in which he said: “You are celebrating the 50th year of my renunciation, but that is not my achievement. If I have any achievement in my life, it is the memory of the moment I dedicated myself to my guru, Swami Sivananda. To this day I have always remembered it as a great moment of dedication. That memory makes me aware of the direction my life has to go in. As long as I have that memory, I am a disciple, a student, a learner.”

Anybody can say they are learning, but that learning belongs to the present moment. If you are able to remain connected to your inspiration, then learning becomes a lifelong process, not the achievement. Once you dedicate yourself, all achievements are just results of that dedication. Paramahamsaji says that the only thing worth carrying in your heart is the memory of the moment when you dedicated yourself, because that was the start of your journey.

Once people receive their certificate or degree, they think they have become what the certificate states. But that is not the right attitude in yoga, because the certificate represents the culmination of a part of your studies. Now the certificate should become an inspiration to experience and live what you have learned. Therefore, receiving your certificate today is only the beginning of your independent yogic journey. How you are able to integrate yoga and the yogic concepts in your life in the future will decide your mastery of the subject of yoga. So you have not become anything. Your individual yogic life is starting, and from today you are your own teacher and your own student. That is what you have to remember.

Integrating head, heart and hands

As long as you are involved with yoga, remember that it is the integration of the faculties of head, heart and hands that you have to aspire for. If you can integrate these three components, then you become a yogi. Flexibility in performing asanas is not practising yoga. The secret of yoga is that the mind identifies with the performance, no movement should be unconscious. Even if you are practising pawanmuktasana, the mind is in the movement. The mind is observing each and every movement taking place, not only the clenching of the fists, but all the way through into the upper arms. The breath has to be combined, the awareness has to be combined, there has to be focus and concentration. Body and mind have to function as one unit. When you are practising asana, or pranayama, and even in pratyahara and dharana, body and mind have to be combined. It is not lying in shavasana thinking you are practising yoga nidra while your mind is wandering off in different directions.

In the 1960s and 1970s Paramahamsaji taught the yoga practices in a particular manner. For example, during the three year sannyasa training course, for one month, 12 hours a day, the 108 participants only practised asanas. If you were in the peacock pose, then you had to stay in that pose until Paramahamsaji had corrected each person’s posture. For one month we practised pranayama for 12 hours a day, and all we had were liquids, no solid food, because for every practice there are dietary rules that have to be followed. We went through every stage of the classical yogic system in this manner.

Today, if you can practise surya namaskara combining all the components of the personality, then you don’t need to practise any other posture at all. If performed in the right manner, surya namaskara will give you the benefits of all the 84,000 asanas. Therefore, remember that the integration of head, heart and hands, body, mind, is the primary requisite for perfecting yoga. Otherwise you can go to the gym and practise yoga, but that will not give the desired benefits of yoga. This is what you need to keep in mind when you are practising independently.

Connecting with happy memories

We sincerely wish that the memories of Ganga Darshan you take away are good ones. That is the biggest challenge of life. One can remember a harsh word for years and easily forget the good that one has received. That is the human mind, identifying with the negative and ignoring the positive, despite wanting to attain the positive. If you look at your whole life, you will find that your strongest memories are of suffering and the dormant memories are of happy moments. If you can connect with the happy memories, they will become an inspiration for all times to come. It will connect you with a place, with people, and with the world in a positive and joyous manner.

So go with happy memories, and whenever you wish to reconnect, come for an hour, a day, a week or to stay. The doors of Ganga Darshan will always remain open to you, and also the doors of the heart. But remember that we always follow one rule from the Yoga Sutras: “Be friendly with those who are happy, be compassionate to those who are suffering, be happy for those who lead a virtuous life, and ignore or reject the crooked.” If you can lead a virtuous life and be happy, then you will always find the spirit of yoga alive in you. But if you try to manipulate other people by falsity, and also yourself, then the light of yoga will become extinguished, no matter what you try to do. That has been the message of yoga I have adopted in my life as a sannyasin and as a practitioner of yoga. I wish you all the best in life, good luck and God bless you.