Yoga and Education

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Yoga is one of the few traditions that have survived the accidents of history and the ravages of time. It has given a sense of discipline and spiritual direction, not only to India but to the whole world. The basic purpose of yoga is education and I have dedicated myself completely to the teaching and preaching of yoga in every sphere of life, particularly in the education of our children.

When I talk about yoga in the field of education, it should be understood that I am not talking about physical exercises. We don't intend yoga to become another subject for examination where teachers have to mark a paper to pass or fail a child.

Beyond the body

Up till now yoga has not been understood in the right perspective. We think that yoga builds the body, improves blood circulation or increases the supply of oxygen to the lungs. Maybe it does, but this is not the actual purpose of yoga. Asanas are certain postures of the body which were revealed by the great rishis and munis who were the scientists of their age. Each particular posture stimulates certain glands in the endocrinal system.

Sarvangasana, the shoulder pose, stimulates the thyroid gland which has a profound effect on the physical, emotional and mental development of the child. If the gland secretes too little hormone the child may become sluggish and sleepy, because the body's metabolism slows down. This leads to intellectual dullness and mental retardation. If the thyroid gland secretes too much the child will be hyperactive, both physically and mentally, and unable to sit still or relax.

When you teach children shashankasana, hare pose, they bend forward in the same way as one prays in the temple. Shashankasana influences the adrenal glands. By regulating the secretion of adrenaline, you can help the child to overcome outbursts of anger, irrational fears and other types of frustration. Adrenaline affects the degree of tension and relaxation in the body and mind.

Some children are so afraid of the dark that in the dead of night they are not able to go to the bathroom alone. They imagine ghosts coming to take them while they are sleeping, and so on. These irrational fears can be tackled by the practice of shashankasana because it exercises an influence on the adrenal glands which need to be regulated. Other useful asanas which balance the glandular system are surya namaskara, salutation to the sun, and marjariasana, cat pose.

To use the whole brain

In schools we find that children are not able to concentrate. Their minds are like jumping monkeys. Through the practice of pranayama we can help them integrate the dissipated forces of their personality while they are studying for school. Pranayama has long been misunderstood as merely breathing exercises, where as it is actually intended to create a balance between the mental and physical forces.

In yogic terms these two forces are represented by the ida and pingala nadis respectively. When these two nadis flow at the same time and when the temperature is equal in both, the third nadi, known as sushumna, begins to flow. When ida is predominant the right side of the brain is active and when pingala is flowing the left side of the brain is operating. When both flows are equal, sushumna opens and the whole brain is activated.

If you are able to awaken sushumna nadi in a child by the scientific process of pranayama, you can awaken his full, creative potential which now remains dormant and hidden, but which is nevertheless a reality. You are bringing the participation of the whole brain, not only into his studies but into all spheres of his life.

If a child is not able to concentrate on his studies, obey his parents or develop his social consciousness, it does not mean he is bad. It means he is incapable. The ability to understand situations, retain black and white images, memorize, interpret and reproduce, are all faculties of the brain. If the child is not able to do these things, it is because his computer is incapable. So, we have to tackle the problems of education from this angle. Through the practices of yoga we can readjust the computer and make the brain work more efficiently.

Re-education of teachers

The practices of yoga are going to pave the way in solving the problems of education which have become a great headache for teachers and officials of the education department. Children want to rebel, they want to kick. They think, "If I cannot understand what you are going to teach me, how will I get through the examination? If I am not going to get through the exams, to hell with your education system. Are you going to give me a new capacity, are you going to show me a way of emotional balance? I am tired of you telling me, ‘Look here, your father was a great lawyer, your grandfather was a governor. What will happen to you?'" This is the wrong way to talk to an ignorant, unevolved child.

When I talk about yoga in schools, I don't mean long classes or complicated syllabuses. Syllabuses cannot change children no matter what you teach them. I am very definite in my view that it is the teachers who have to be educated first along scientific lines. Unless you have teachers, you cannot have students. If you are going to teach children yoga, what are you going to tell them? When you teach them surya namaskara and they ask you why they are learning it, what will you say? If you cannot answer them, they will not practise it. Instead they will prefer to play tennis, golf, football, cricket or hockey. You must arm yourselves with sufficient knowledge of the scientific background and basis of yoga.

It is the teachers who must first be given a thorough reorientation of their knowledge about yoga, and trained in the practices and theory of yogasana, pranayama and yoga nidra. Then yoga can be properly introduced to the students as a new and creative subject whereby they can learn to relax and become more familiar with themselves. Yogic exercises must never be repeated monotonously as part of a routine. Do not introduce yoga as physical exercise. Teachers must understand how yoga differs from physical education. It should not be presented incorrectly by equating it with physical training.

For the future

Yoga is a process of self-training which leads to self-discovery. What are we? We have a body and we have a consciousness. A process of awareness is going on all the time. We are following a process of evolution at all levels of existence and there are many factors to be worked out. The children we are teaching today will form our culture tomorrow. We have had our turn, now let us help the children understand the secrets of themselves and the mysteries of life. Using yoga as a remedy, let us try to soothe the minds of our restless youth by bringing more happiness and purpose into the field of education.

15 March 1979, All-India Tour, Tata Auditorium Bombay House, printed in Sivananda Math, No. 4 (December 1988)