Hari Om to everybody here.
In the last thirty years, yoga has been subject to scientific studies in India as well as abroad. First of all scientific studies were carried out on the most well-known aspect of yoga called yogasanas.
Later, thinkers began to ponder over the possibility of whether or not yoga could influence the activities of the brain and consciousness. Even now research is going on all over the world and the results which we have obtained so far very positively indicate that some of the other aspects of yoga, not necessarily asana, can alter the behaviour, chemistry and waves of the brain. I will try to tell you in layman’s language so that you can carry home the knowledge.
I am not concerned about your practice, that is left to you, but for me it is more important that I explain to you how far yoga has been understood by the thinking people of the world today; not necessarily by Hindus or Muslims but also by agnostics who don’t have any concept of God, reality, atma or afterlife, who just believe in matter – total matter, and nothing beyond matter. They have come to the conclusion that, through the practice of yoga, the quality of the contents of the brain can be changed, influenced, transformed or completely metamorphosed.
If that be so, how are we going to apply this science of yoga to our own profession, to our own career and our own station in life? We are sannyasins, some are businessmen, and you are students. Everyone has his own career and profession. It is possible therefore to apply this science of yoga in such a way that it will improve the quality of our performance, the quality of our experience, the general experiences we have every day with the people we come across, including the experience in interaction with social and national problems. That mental personality should be developed through yoga. We believe it is possible, but how?
There is a general opinion now prevalent in western countries, and certain circles in India as well, that through the practice of pranayama, dhyana, yoga nidra and antar mouna, the mind of students can be improved. In Switzerland, educationalists have been working hard on this and on the behaviour of archetypes in the brain. These archetypes are in billions and trillions in the brain and seem to become a barrier in expressing our mental personality. Many times you feel that you understand things better, and sometimes you don’t understand. At times you are experiencing total clarity whether you study geography, mathematics or history, and at times it seems everything is clouded and you don’t understand. In this connection you will have to study the behaviour of that mechanism which is the seat of understanding, and this is the brain.
The archetypes in the brain come in the way of your expression. They are the substances which lie buried in the depths of the human mind, not the external mind which is connected with the senses, that is the externalised mind. Through the eyes, ears and other mediums of perception, this mind obtains knowledge; I am not talking of that mind. That mind is just a reflector, but there are other areas of mind, of chitta, which you should be able to touch if you want to develop genius; if you want to be a student of outstanding success. You don’t have to have much to do with this mind, particularly that part which depends on external sources of the senses, the indriyas; not even with that mind which depends on the storehouse or fund of knowledge which you have collected. There is an area of the mind which you do not know, which you have never experienced, which has to come out. That mind can only come out if you can fix the archetypes.
Scientists, particularly those in Switzerland, have developed, in connection with the educational system, a science called yantra and mandala which of course most of you know about or have seen, but you have not tried to understand exactly what these things are. Many times you see geometrical figures known as Sri Yantra, Kali Yantra or Tara Yantra. We thought for some time, even in our own country which is the origin of this culture, that these yantras were a mystical substance. People did not understand them, but now in order to improve the quality of understanding in terms of education, and with mentally retarded children in particular, they are using yantras. And what do they tell you to do? To concentrate on the yantra with eyes open, then close the eyes and visualize the yantra as long as you can.
When you are not able to visualize with the eyes closed, then open the eyes again and gaze at the yantra. Go on practising this system of trataka, dhyana on the yantra, twice a day for ten to fifteen minutes. What will happen? They say that yantra has the capacity and power to penetrate far into the depths of the mind, that area of the mind I was talking about, and manifest or express that mind. Through this practice of yantra meditation, mentally retarded children are helped in the countries whose cultural tradition is not yoga, yet in this country where we have the tradition, we have completely forgotten what these funny geometrical things are.
The second thing they have been talking about is mandala. For us it is a scientific process of conceptualising the subconscious and unconscious areas of the mind. They even go to the extent of saying (you will be surprised) that concentration on those mandalas can finally stabilize the alpha, beta, theta and delta waves in the brain which have got voltage, frequency, ampere and vibration. It is like electricity. If you can reorganize, reset or restructure the brain wave patterns, then you can manifest a new quality of brain, a new quality of understanding.
I am not talking about the relationship between yoga and the mind. I am talking about the relationship between yoga and consciousness, between yoga and man’s personality, his swabhav, prakriti or nature. It is true that yoga postures help everyone and you must practise quite a few of them every day (at least you must practise surya namaskara) but yoga does not end with that – with that yoga begins.
Scientists are talking about a very important thing. At the age of seven or eight the pineal gland begins to degenerate in every child and the pituitary is unleashed. It is opened completely, and with its opening the hormones come into the body unchecked, and imbalances in the personality grow. In order to maintain the health of this gland so that it may survive for as many years as possible, mantra, pranayama and surya upasana were introduced.
I am not going to talk about mantra and surya upasana. I will just speak a few words about pranayama. How does it affect the pineal gland situated at the top of the spinal column in the medulla oblongata? In the religious theme it is known as the ‘Third Eye of Lord Shiva’. We call it ajna chakra, the monitoring centre, from where the respiratory system, excretory system and all other systems of the body are given orders and monitored. Even paralysis, pineal paralysis, muscular atrophy and other diseases can be directly controlled by training the pineal, ajna chakra. Scientifically we call it the monitoring centre and that can be trained through pranayama.
Breathe in through the left nostril; breathe out through the right, breathe in through the right; breathe out through the left – a simple thing. Just control the breath for one second, two, three, four, five. We have seen in our scientific studies that when we breathe in through the left nostril the right hemisphere of the brain is acting – contracting and expanding, contracting and expanding, contracting and expanding. When we breathe through the right nostril, the left hemisphere acts. In this way you are training a very important part of your body – the brain and pineal gland. In the days when pranayama was taught it was with the view that our children would have this pineal gland maintained in a healthy condition for many years so that they would have a balanced personality: a balance between emotion, thinking and experience.
So, I did not talk to you about yogasanas and exercise because I thought many of you know about them. I wanted to give you this information because I am involved in scientific research into yoga. I still believe that just as you can improve the quality of everything, you can improve the quality of the brain also – it is possible. The brain is not a static substance and if you are an idiot, it does not mean that you have to remain an idiot; or that if you have a bad memory, you should always have a bad memory and nothing can be improved.
In this particular context I ask you to think about yoga but kindly remember that perhaps the only place in India that gives you this explanation about yoga is the Bihar School of Yoga.
—Printed in YOGA, March 1990