Preparing the Journey of Life

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Which asanas should be taught to children?

From the yogic perspective, one has to know why one wants to teach yoga to children. Is it according to the need of the children or one's personal wish that they should practice yoga?

From my perspective and according to our tradition, yoga begins from the age of eight. From eight to twelve, children should only do a limited practice of asana, pranayama and mantra - surya namaskara, nadi shodhana and Gayatri mantra. Anything beyond these three practices will affect the growth of the body, its hormones and other growth patterns.

From twelve to eighteen, a middle group of asanas should be taught. This group of asanas will give stability to the child's personality and bring balance and steadiness to the hyperactive and dissipated trait of their nature. They should not practice asanas like the headstand or wheel pose or other types of advanced yoga practices which people like to teach children.

If children like to do certain asanas because they have seen somebody do them, that is fine, but they should not be taught in a sequence or system by you. Children may be flexible and able to do the wheel pose, but it does not mean that you encourage them to do it every day, because it will be detrimental to their growth.

From the age of eighteen onwards, young people can do any kind of advanced asana.

When we conducted the BYMM research in 1990, only five asanas were practiced, not fifty. In their ongoing classes, BYMM do not practice more than three or four asanas for months at a time without being allowed to change them, and you should follow the same system.

The understanding and system should come into play once you are able to understand the process of yoga. You should not teach yoga to children just because you have a whim and then ask for guidelines or a syllabus. People who ask are incompetent, have a whimsical attitude and their request is without sincerity of intention.

—Ganga Darshan, 19 June 2011

How can one avoid the influence of sense objects?

In the Bhagavad Gita (2:62-63) Sri Krishna tells Arjuna:

  • Dhyaayato vishayaanpumsah sangasteshupajaayate;
    Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah kaamaatkrodhobhijaayate.
  • Krodhaadbhavati sammohah sammohaatsmriti vibhramah;
    Smritibhramshaadbuddhinaasho buddhinaashaat pranashyati.
  • When one thinks of objects, attachment for them arises; from attachment desire is born; from desire anger arises. From anger comes delusion; from delusion loss of memory; from loss of memory the destruction of discrimination; from the destruction of discrimination one perishes.

This is a simple yet profound statement which indicates how an individual's mind and nature associates with sense objects. Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah, closeness to a sense object will create a desire to acquire that object. Kaamaat krodhobhijaayate, when the desire becomes powerful then the aggressive quality manifests. You force yourself, and naturally the aggressive quality comes forward in order to acquire the desired object. The idea of the object revolves in the mind even when you are not doing anything. With the thought, "I am going to acquire it one day or the other and I am working for it," the aggressive quality manifests.

When by some fluke or chance you are unable to acquire the object, then the aggressive quality becomes anger, frustration, anxiety and depression. Krodhaadbhavati sammohah, anxiety, aggression, depression or frustration caused by unfulfilled desires deludes the mind. With a deluded mind you lose the understanding and wisdom of what is appropriate and in-appropriate. The loss of discrimination between the appropriate and inappropriate is known as smritibhramshaadbuddhinaasho. Once you lose the memory of what is appropriate and inappropriate, buddhi, the intellect, is destroyed. Buddhinaashaat pranashyati, when understanding and wisdom are killed in the life of an individual, then it is the same as dying.

The proximity to a sense object gives birth to a craving, to a desire. You have to detach yourself from the desire in order to separate and free the mind from the clutches of the sense objects. Here viyoga, separation, from samsara, the world, has to happen before you become established in yoga.

What are the wheels on the car of life?

Your association is with the world, the environment, your family, society and people. The mind of society is directing itself towards the attainment of comfort and pleasures in life, towards artha, material need, and kama, emotional need, whereas the spiritual mind goes towards dharma and moksha, duty and liberation.

These are the four wheels of your car. When you undertake a journey from one city to the next, you have to ensure that all the four wheels are of equal pressure and filled with air. When there is a puncture, you immediately stop the car, change the tyre and repair the damaged one. Until the damaged one is repaired you do not continue on your journey, but you ensure that the four tyres are intact and a spare one is in the back. If you are so keenly aware of the state of your tyres when making a journey, how come you are so ignorant of your journey in life?

In the journey of life, you have two punctured tyres. The punctured tyres are dharma and moksha. You are dragging your car with only the two wheels of artha and kama, saying, "The car doesn't move very fast." On the other hand, sannyasins and renunciates have the two tyres of dharma and moksha, but are flat in artha and kama. Dragging their car, they wonder why despite their effort the seed of desire raises its head.

The basic principles of our spiritual and material life have been separated, because we made a mistake saying that for people engrossed in society, artha and kama should become the path and for people engrossed in discovering the self, dharma and moksha should become the path. However, the four components have to go hand in hand. Twenty-five percent of one's attention has to be given to artha, twenty-five to the fulfillment of kama, twenty-five to the fulfillment of dharma and twenty-five to the attainment of moksha.

If you can give undivided twenty-five percent attention to all four components, you will be a good human being, but if you give undivided attention to only two and ignore the rest, then there will always be imbalance. When you are involved with the world of sense objects and have no idea of your inner or spiritual life, then the mind becomes tamasic and subject to the negative influences of the world.

If we want to ensure the survival of our society and civilization, then there should be people with the understanding of traditions and cultures. Children have to be given this opportunity and samskara, because what they learn through experience is greater than what they learn by reading a book.

—Chennai, India, 21_22 February 2007

Can parents change the behaviour of their grown-up children?

As individuals we have certain obligations and responsibilities to help each other. However, instead of helping each other, we try to impose ourselves on other people. When we find that our imposition has not really been accepted, then conflict takes place, aggression and suppression happen within groups and the individual.

Parents have the biggest psychological problems in the world, because they don't see their children as having their destiny and life. They see their offspring as an extension of their ambition, not as an extension of their life. Right from birth, they try to give the samskaras of their ambition to their children. How can parents say later on that they can't control their children, if right from the beginning they have given them the direction to move in? It is the parents who have the problems, not the children. Parents can overcome their problem by learning not to give the samskara of their ambition, but the samskara of their life to children.

Therefore, first cultivate the spiritual samskara within yourself, rather than trying to cultivate it in others. Cultivate the quality of being a friend to your child. Don't be a father or mother to your child, but be a friend. Develop this association and you will see that it can work miracles and will give the samskaras of life. Do not make children a carbon copy of your lost dreams and unfulfilled ambitions. Parents should not worry about changing their children, but be concerned about being a friend to their children.

What is mumukshutva?

The concept of mumukshutva, the desire to change, is spiritual, as well as social, physical, emotional and mental. It is the need to be free from the existing negative conditioning and restricted knowledge. Therefore, no journey begins without the undercurrent of mumukshutva. If there was no mumukshutva, yoga would have no meaning and there would be no interest in or attraction to any spiritual teaching, religion, philosophy or lifestyle.

When the desire to become better, transcend limitations, mature in life and evolve spiritually comes from within, then that is the recognition of sadhana. One is attracted to the practice of asana and meditation and desirous of changing the quality and condition of life only because of mumukshutva. It is the underlying force of transformation, without which yoga or any internal discipline is incomplete.

The success and perfection of yoga will depend on the response to different situations. Success in yoga is not decided by the practice of complex spine twisting postures. This is an achievement but not the finishing line. Perfection and success in yoga is seen in how one manages life with greater understanding, better awareness, through thoughtful and pure concepts and creative action.

—Ganga Darshan, 11 May 2006