Spontaneity in Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

If yoga is all about discipline; is there any place for spontaneity in yoga?

There is a fine line between discipline and spontaneity. If one becomes spontaneous, that spontaneity will still be according to dharma and won't go against the precepts of dharma. And dharma is discipline.


Spontaneity is an invention of the human mind. People like to think that they can be spontaneous and free without realizing that their physical, mental and spiritual dimensions follow a rhythm, a pattern, a system, a discipline.

If all the stars and planets in the galaxies suddenly decided to become spontaneous, it would be chaos. There is discipline in the universe. If all the thoughts, emotions and feelings suddenly decide to become spontaneous, the human mind would be unable to handle the influx of emotions, thoughts, feelings and desires.

In emotions there are trigger points. One can only express anger when a shift takes place in the mind. One can only experience love, compassion or jealousy when this shift happens. This is known as the law of karma, or the law of cause and effect. In this law there is no spontaneity.

From the rational perspective one can talk about spontaneity and freedom. However, if one analyses the human system, the life system, creation, God, energies and vibrations, everywhere one will see a pattern and no one is free from that pattern. Ultimately, when one becomes part of that pattern one attains mukti, freedom.


When one flows with the current there is no struggle. When one tries to go against the current, or in a different direction to the current, the pressure and pull of the current will be felt. The current is flowing north to south, but someone suddenly decides to flow east to west, just to be more spontaneous. It is more spontaneous to flow with the current for it is only the rebellious nature which makes one think that the rebel is spontaneous.

Whenever an individual tries to go against a predetermined system or path the thought comes, "This is too rigid. I need to come out and be more free, more natural and spontaneous." Struggle and conflict take place, but if one becomes part of that process and there is no struggle, pressure and conflict, that flow makes one free.

In all the eastern thoughts whether it be Zen, Shintoism, yoga, Buddhism or any other ‘ism', or belief structure which developed in the eastern part of the world, it has always been maintained that there is no free will. Buddhism says clearly that there is no free will and no spontaneity. Buddhism says that the effort in life should be to free oneself from suffering. That has been the entire thrust of Buddha's teachings, which means from birth to death everyone is in a cycle of suffering. Free will or spontaneity make only about 5% of one's life. Nothing more.

In Shintoism every individual is subject to a natural law and the nature of the elements. The forefathers can either assist a person to evolve and grow, or they can bind a person to a particular state of life and mentality, by creating barriers and blockages in one's life.

The Vedic tradition has always said that karmas and samskaras are the two key factors in life. The yoga tradition declares that the desire for transcending the present lifestyle must follow certain regulations and disciplines, as everything which comes from inside is pre-determined.

In northern countries, the ground is covered by snow for eight months every year, but when the snow melts, flowers suddenly bloom. That means for eight months the seeds of flowers and grass were dormant. The cold did not kill them, but at the same time, there was no opportunity for them to emerge.

In the desert there is only sand, but when it rains it suddenly becomes a valley of flowers. The heat did not kill the seeds which were underground. When the time was right and the waters came, they bloomed. In this way, the law of life is waiting for the right moment.

Free will

While waiting for the right moment, one has a free choice, free will and spontaneity to pass the time either at this restaurant or that restaurant, read this newspaper or that newspaper. However, it is only a momentary gap between the old and new. It is a gap between the end of one situation and the beginning of another. In that gap one can experience spontaneity and free will.

When a traveler goes to the railway station, he may have to spend fifteen minutes waiting for the train. Those fifteen minutes are his free will and free choice. He can go and stand in front of the newspaper stand and look at the books and magazines, but when the train comes he will jump on the train. The journey is already decided. It is only the gaps in between which allow for the perception and vision of spontaneity and free will.

19 December 1998, Ganga Darshan, Munger