Revitalizing the Nervous System

From Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume VI

If one has a weak sensitive and exhausted nervous system due to heritage, how can one help it be revitalized?

There are two important practices that I can cite at this moment. In fact, one of the most important practices through which you can overcome nervousness for the time being is japa yoga, which has been known to Indians for centuries. Japa yoga is the practice which is done with the mala, based on your mantra. If the nervousness is acute then you can have a mala in your hand all the time.

Mala means ‘garland’, through which you can practise mantra. If your mantra is Om Namah Shivaya, you repeat, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya as you turn the beads. If the nervousness is acute then have a smaller mala and you can go on practising all the time unconsciously. You can talk to your friends, read the newspaper, shave, do whatever you like, or if you take breakfast eat with the left hand while all the time you practise mantra. If you practise mantra as many times as you can, it will be wonderful for coming out of an acute nervous condition.

All about energy

Besides japa there is the practice of pranayama. Nervousness is a breakdown in the system of energy in the body. I’ll give you an example: all these lights are burning on positive, negative and earth. There is an earth wire somewhere in the building. Go there and cut it – what will happen? You may get a shock. In the same way, in our body different movements take place according to the energy.

I have been talking and you have been listening. You eat food and you digest it. You breathe through the twenty-four hours of the day. If you are a typist you are typing the whole day, if you are a housewife you are cooking and looking after the family or driving your motor car. All these actions demand energy. First of all you must realize this truth – the body is not only a physical machine, it is electrical as well. When you think, this also needs energy; anger, passion, worry, anxiety, love, hatred, all these things demand energy.

In this body there are millions of pathways which conduct this energy to remote corners of the body, and they are known as nadis or the nervous system. Broadly they are classified as sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Not only the major organs of the body, but also the processes of thinking and feeling are controlled by this nervous system. These nervous systems are known as yin and yang, and in yoga as ida and pingala.

When we overuse the energy in our life, nervous breakdown takes place. For example if you bring a very big heater and plug it into any normal house plug, it will fuse immediately. If you put in a stronger fuse, the wire will burn. It is the same system in the body. Your body has its own set capacity and limitation. Your nerves have their limit and yet many times you are putting demands on your nervous system. A little emotion is okay, a little passion is all right, a little bit of anger is better, but too much is no good. When you are unnecessarily emotional, too much anger, vengeance and animosity, and too worried about little or big matters, then that withdraws the energy from the nervous system.

Energy breakdown

Remember that the nerves do not produce energy. This electrical cable does not produce energy, it is only the conductor of energy. Within the body there is a point where energy is produced. Energy is produced in different chakras and if there is a breakdown in the chakra your nervous system cannot carry the energy, the electricity, through the body. Even if the wiring is all right in your building, if there is a breakdown in the generating station, will you get energy there? So when you talk about nervous breakdown you must be clear on two points. Sometimes I laugh when people come to me because they don’t understand the difference between nervous depression and nervous breakdown. They are not suffering from nervous breakdown, but energy breakdown. There is no breakdown in the wiring; energy doesn’t come because there is a breakdown in the generating system somewhere. So people who are suffering from nervous breakdown should remember that they will get nothing from taking a nerve tonic.

Do you know the name of the energy in the body? Inside we call it prana, outside you call it electricity. Electricity is generated in the powerhouse. You know how? Hydraulic, nuclear, solar and so many other methods exist. How do you generate energy within the body? The pranas are in the atmosphere in the form of negative and positive ions. These negative ions are plentiful in the mountains, by the side of a clean river, in forests and gardens, but there are very few in a city room, in the streets. In mountain air they found 5,000 units per 300 cubic feet as against 50 in a room.

When you breathe in, the air enters through the nostrils and immediately messages are sent about the quantity of ions which the air contains, and it affects the brain and nervous system. If the air is polluted the pollution is immediately thrown out in the form of cough or cold because nature wants to stop pollution lodging in the body as much as possible. Sometimes when you begin the yogic practices of neti and pranayama you do get cough and cold in the beginning as the cleansing mechanisms are stimulated. Then the receptivity of the body to the ions gradually increases in a balanced manner. This adjustment in energy and balance is basic in yogic therapy for nervous breakdown or nervous depression.

These and other practices of yoga re-adjust and balance the body back to its natural way of functioning. So, even if we are not able to live by the pure river in the mountains, still we begin to move our body and energy back into their simple, natural rhythms.

8 April 1981, Hotel Nepheli, Thessaloniki, Greece