I am on a world tour. The purpose of the tour is to disseminate yoga throughout the world, because it seems that in recent times yoga has become very popular and the intellectual class of people have been asking more about it.
The question can be raised as to what has an ordinary man to do with yoga? It has been heard often that yoga is walking over fire and water, sleeping on a bed of nails and remaining underground for hours. This is a misconception of yoga.
Now people have discovered that in spite of the prosperity and technological advancements made by the different countries, there is something which has occurred in recent years; they have found that mental diseases have greatly increased and have gone beyond the control of the modern medical science.
I do not want to go into great detail about yoga, but I can tell you, yoga means just one simple thing: to give complete rest to body, mind, and your entire being so that it is given enough time to relax and be able to work again the next day and for months and years to come.
The mind is like a battery. Sometimes, it gets discharged due to over-action, due to over-activity. When you do not charge the mind with proper exercises then it fails to help you in your daily life. As such, you will find many people whose brains do not work properly and whose mind is not able to concentrate. The moment they start their studies or their work, they find themselves completely incapable, because their mental battery has been discharged.
You must have seen a lot of people, who finally go somewhat insane and abnormal due to a lot of mental labour for days on end. Their mind does not retain that much power after constant work for months, without rest.
Therefore, we need some method by which we are able to use the inherent capacities of the brain and yet continue our work over the whole lifetime, without any disturbance whatsoever.
When the mind becomes concentrated, it gains power, and when the mind is dissipated on different thoughts, it becomes weak. Therefore, the primary hypothesis of yoga is to concentrate, to bring the mind to one point, one object, one thought, continuously and for as long as possible. When this power of concentration is achieved, and when your mind becomes capable of retaining one object or one form for a very long time without disturbance, then it becomes strong.
Conversely, if your mind is unable to retain one thought and keeps on dissipating itself among many hundreds of thoughts at the same time, being crowded by thoughts, it becomes weak.
You know, a weak mind cannot work very well whilst a strong mind can work very efficiently.
The hypothesis of modern psychology is that the human personality is undergoing a state of suppression. There are inhibitions, complexes, obsessions, neuroses and they are all buried underneath, unseen and unknown. Through the method of psychoanalysis, it is possible to know the errors that are lying underground.
After we have a fundamental knowledge about the psychic errors embedded deep in our personality, we can exhaust them, we can rationalize them, we can express them in a proper manner.
Thus, we can get rid of complexes, inhibitions, phobias, and so on; it is then and then alone that our personality that has been suppressed can be fully expressed. This state of personality in psychology is called an integrated personality.
Now what is the method of exploding those suppressions? How to take off the cover from the top of our personality? It is a very difficult question.
In modern psychology, different methods have been prescribed, but those methods are beyond the reach of the common person. You know, there is not one person who is free from psychological complexes; everybody has them and as a result, our memory is dimmed. Our mental faculties do not manifest themselves. We do not have confidence. We lack willpower. For example, there are many boys and girls who cannot face their superiors with strength. They stammer, they stutter, they cannot express their ideas clearly. They think that this is one of the defects of the articulatory system. But it is not.
What about memory? People think that by studying a number of passages in a book, they can remember it well. But memory is a faculty. That memory-faculty is completely clouded by so many complexes of our life. As such, if we want our faculties to manifest, we will have to do something positive to remove these complexes.
In yoga, we have a wonderfully effective method. It is called the yoga of meditation, or dhyana yoga. By using this method, we go deep into ourselves. This is point one. Point two, we see within ourselves. Point three, we are able to know and identify our obsessions and the mental aberrations within ourselves. Point four, we are then able to attain sufficient concentration of the mind to develop the inherent faculties within.
Meditation should be learnt and practised by everyone for at least half an hour in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening. It is a powerful method of cleaning and at the same time sharpening the mind. Meditation will not only give you what we call mental relaxation, but will gradually enable you to develop your mental faculties and your brainpower. This is true of everyone, whether student, professor, technician or whatever. It will help you to make decisions quickly and correctly.
Before you start meditation, however, you must know a few more things. It is not the first stage in yoga, but the last. As such, you must perform some preliminary exercises that give mental tranquillity and relaxation. These are practical exercises that relax not only your mind, but also your senses and your body. After their completion, you should start meditation.
There are various practices of relaxation, too many for me to explain now. However, I will tell you one important exercise, which you can start practising tonight. This exercise should be performed in the evening and in the morning after your bath. Sit in a comfortable posture, in a particular asana, such as vajrasana or padmasana, the lotus pose in which Buddha is normally depicted. Ensure that your spinal cord is erect and then close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath for about fifteen minutes, counting each respiration very carefully. If performed with concentration, this exercise will produce a remarkable degree of relaxation.
There are, however, certain tensions which this method of relaxation cannot remove. Those tensions are caused by excessive carbon-dioxide in the brain. This carbon-dioxide can be effectively removed by practising a yoga method called pranayama. This is a method of breathing in a certain manner and thereby recharging the brain. When the brain is tired, it becomes faulty and clouded. Pranayama brings about an awakening of the brain and so is a wonderful method of removing tensions in people who are dull and unable to think clearly.
Before I finish my speech, I would like to impress upon you that yoga begins with the practice of asanas, the yoga of physical exercises. Everyone should start their yogic career with asanas. Meditation should not be taken up in the beginning; for if your blood is impure, if your system is not good then meditation will not give concrete results. Thus, asanas should be practised first, to purify your body, to rectify any faulty secretions of your endocrinal glands, and so on.
After learning and performing a few asanas, you should practise pranayama. Finally, after you have practised these two stages of yoga for a few months, you should start the practice of relaxation or pratyahara. When you have attained reasonable proficiency in this technique, you should start meditation. In this way, you will gradually develop your personality.
Remember that yoga is not for old people, but it is for youngsters; yoga is not for those who have renounced life, but it is for those who are actively involved in life. Lastly, bear in mind, that yoga is not for those people who are without problems, like myself, but for those who have difficulties and tensions and who have to clash with life constantly, yet at the same time maintain mental equilibrium.
Printed in Yoga, September 1972 & November 1973