Yoga and Present-Day Living

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Yoga is the common heritage of mankind, though it was protected, kept secret, and carefully guarded on the Indian soil by rishis and mahatmas. There have been people throughout the world, who were great yogis, but unfortunately, this science was not preserved by any race, by any nation or by any religion, except in India and yoga. This is because the Indian people have respect for higher life and a spiritual life, and it is also because Indians look upon those who practise and preach yoga with great respect. As such, the rishis, the saints and sages of India were protected and patronized for centuries and centuries.

Need for a brake

We have to note one important thing about yoga: that it is a method by which we can control the anarchical tendencies of our mind. Please remember this. Also, please remember, yoga is not for suppressing the mind. No, yoga is not an act of suppression. To illustrate this: as we control the waters of a river, through the method of channelization, and use those channels for the constructive purposes of irrigation in agriculture, in the same manner, the mental energy which gets dissipated and distorted in emotional breakdowns, in worries, in jealousy and hostility, in pride and egoism, in passion, anger and greed, all that mental energy must be channeled in the proper way or one will suffer dire mental problems.

Who can say that a car doesn’t need a brake? It may not be necessary to use a brake when the traffic is clear, but then still the car must have a brake. In the same manner, we have a mind, and the mind has its instincts. Mind has its own inhibitions, and mind has its own anarchical behaviour. Not all people are calm, peaceful and compassionate; not all people have a good mind. People are filled with lower thoughts, lower tendencies, and if no brake is applied, one can have an accident at any time. Therefore, yoga is a brake and by this brake, we are able to control ourselves. How you may ask?

Coronary thrombosis is an ailment which is affecting millions of people all over the world. Why is this so? Coronary thrombosis is a disease of those people who are involved in competitive lives. It is not a physical disease; it is an act of the emotional human mind. Please go through the manuals of modern psychology and find out what psychosomatic diseases mean. Then you will understand that many of the prevalent diseases belonging to the heart and brain have their origin in competition. I get success, I want more, and when I want more success, naturally, I have a competitor. I must work day and night. This kind of anxiety, neurosis and this kind of life ultimately ends in what is called thrombosis.

Power of thought

Yoga brings us a message that there is a way out of this situation. Of course, medical science has got its own cure, but yoga gives prevention, and prevention is always better than cure. Understand one fact; there is no harm in working in the world. There is definitely nothing wrong with accomplishing something, but we must have a balanced way of looking at things. How will it come? It will not come in one day. You may read philosophy, scriptures; you may read a lot about bhakti and attachment and detachment, but nothing will work because you cannot control the inflexible cerebrum, the thinking mind. Man thinks. That thinking is an action, thinking is a reflection of the human cerebrum, the thinking mind.

The brain of man keeps on moving. Those tiny cells in the brain keep on working with the influxes of the blood: and our thoughts control these influxes of blood. Neurons in the brain, are controlled by thoughts (this has been proved by scientific experiments). A particular thought can bring about a heart attack. A particular thought can increase the blood pressure immediately. Asthma and similar diseases have their origin in emotional upsets. Now what are these emotional upsets, about which we have no training at all? You have been trained to get emotionally upset, through pictures, through books, through training from birth. Who can withstand emotional crises here? Nobody can withstand them; it is very difficult.

Emotions are part of human life. You must have love, you must have sympathy, you must give love, you must take love. When someone dies in the family, naturally you must feel sad. However, you must also have control, otherwise what happens is that people develop suicidal tendencies.

When this suicidal tendency becomes sufficiently strong, they commit suicide. But suppose they do not kill themselves? If I have a suicidal tendency and I do not commit suicide, that gets stored up in the unconscious mind and that brings about abnormal behaviour in the future and I become pessimistic in my outlook on life. I lose interest in life and then I turn to alcohol, to tranquillizers, and to so many other diversions of life.

It is therefore necessary that, since we have a mind, we must know how to control it. Yoga practices are very effective methods by which the mind can be controlled. The mind cannot be tamed by philosophy, not by reading a lot of books on this subject, not even by leading a religious life. Only by a yogic life can one control the mind, can one control the physical brain, can one control the physical heart, can one control the physical and psychological aspects of the brain.

Exercising the mind

When you take drugs, ganja or LSD, for example, you immediately see the effect. Some people experience a greater effect, and others less. In the same manner, in our society there are people who can develop their equilibrium, mental peace, mental calmness to a great extent; but there are those people who have absolutely no mental peace; they don’t even have a fraction of equilibrium.

Why talk of big things in life, when even the little things upset us. If I know that someone has been talking about me on the street, I don’t get sleep at night. Don’t you think it is the lack of yoga in me? Yes, it is yoga. Yoga means mental control. Please go through the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. It talks about control, it does not talk about renouncing life; it does not talk about renouncing your wife and children, property and accomplishments. It says, “Have everything with you, but have perfect control over the reactions, over the effects of the actions of the mind.”

You do your karma, you do your duty, but they should not affect you, they should not bring about a crisis in your life. This is the fundamental teaching of yoga according to the Bhagavad Gita. Another scripture, the Yoga Sutras of Rishi Patanjali, which is the most important one in yoga, says in the beginning: “What is yoga? To have automatic control, to have voluntary control, to have spontaneous control over the mind, its tendencies, its fluctuations, its dispassions, is yoga.”

When your mind is happy, you must have the capacity to hold that happiness. If your mind is calm, you must have the capacity to hold it there. If the mind is taking you along the wrong path, you must say “No, I don’t want it,” and you must bring it back. You must be like a trained horseman. You must be like a good driver with a car, so that when your car is going at full speed, and the traffic is according to your wish, you should be relaxed but still in control. You should use your car by all means; it does not mean that you should keep your car in the garage as an ornament and then go on foot.

The message of yoga is to exercise the mind every day, just a little, so that you have conscious control over the reactions of the brain. This method is known as dhyana. It is known as concentration and meditation, and can be done by each and everyone. It is not necessary nor is it right to say that only sannyasins, saints, monks and mahatmas can practise it. Everyone can and should do it.

Transcending the outer space

There is one widespread misunderstanding about dhyana which is that those who want moksha, salvation or liberation, can do dhyana, but those who are worldly people, given to the human needs of life, should not do dhyana. This is an unscientific and untenable statement. Dhyana is for those who want to have control over their mental tendencies whenever they need it, whether they have strong or weak minds.

Now, this meditation or dhyana is very difficult as far as the practice is concerned. There are a large number of techniques. The first important aim in those techniques is to be able to transcend the outer space or the environment. This is the first practice in meditation, you must be able to transcend the outer space, so that you forget what is taking place outside.

Any practice that can bring you to that particular point is called the practice of tranquility. This space, this outer space about which you are aware all the twenty-four hours of the day, should be transcended for a few minutes every day, and when you have transcended the outer space or the outer consciousness, you develop peace and tranquility. within you. The blood pressure throughout the body is completely adjusted, and not only that, the carbon-dioxide, the toxins, the tensions in the cerebrum, in the cardiac region, everywhere slowly disappear. This practice of relaxation, this practice of tranquility. is so difficult that one has to study a little about it.

Many methods

There are numerous methods according to the Indian tradition. One method is nada yoga, the method of tranquillizing the mind with the help of sound. In nada yoga, you have two methods. One is the method of simple sound, another is the method of music.

Music is also a part of nada yoga; it is not a recreation, it is not an enjoyment, not a sense of enjoyment; it is a method in yoga in which the mind is helped, is assisted to transcend the outer space. So this nada yoga is one method.

The second method is japa yoga, that is to coordinate a mantra with your natural breath. A third method is trataka, to look at the flame of a candle or to concentrate on some point.

There are other practices also, such as the practice of kundalini yoga, in which the mind has to concentrate on the psychic centres in the body. These psychic centres are situated in the spinal cord, right from the bottom to the top. There are seven psychic centres. They are called chakras. You have to meditate on one of the chakras according to your temperament, inclination and also your evolution. Some people meditate on the navel centre, others meditate on the heart centre, yet others meditate on the centre between the two eyebrows, but all this will have to be decided after a lot of study by the individual.

You do not have to practise everything. If you know the right practice, fifteen minutes will be sufficient time to transcend the outer space. You don’t need years and years to develop the technique. However, if you are practising the wrong technique, I mean the technique which does not suit your personality, then it will take years and years.

One important practice, which is useful for all people is to close the eyes and follow all the thoughts that come into your mind. Do not suppress anything. That should be done for about ten or fifteen minutes daily. Do nothing, sit down quietly and ask yourself., “What am I thinking?” Thinking about business? family? relations? future? past? Useful, useless, negative thoughts? Good thoughts? Anything; let them come. You just remain a seer. You just remain a witness.

Don’t be attached and don’t be detached; just look at them impartially. After ten or fifteen minutes repeat your mantra. The tranquility. will come within twenty minutes. Then you must have a point or an image or a form for concentration. You must have! You can have a star, a flame of light, you can have a flower, you can have a deity, it’s all the same. You must have some image or form on which you are able to concentrate your mind.

Fusing of personalities

We people need a strong mind and this mental strength can come by doing yoga. A little yoga practice will save you from emotional crises. If there are conflicts in your personality, you can do something about them. Not just by a few days practice of yoga, but with time you can become free from conflicts. These are very difficult to remove, but it is true that by the practices of yoga, you can bring about harmony between your two personalities.

Bhoga means suppression and yoga means union. When two things become one, that is called yoga. Now what are those two things that become one in yoga? Well, the philosophers have been telling us that the individual self and the cosmic self became one. The bhaktas tell us that they became one with God.

What I feel is, of course as a student of psychology, that there are two personalities in every man, the ego and the superego, and they are always in conflict with each other. Every man has two personalities, the subconscious personality and the higher personality. You are something to yourself and something else to me. This schizophrenia is an attitude; it can be called a split personality.

Man has two personalities, we are two personalities, and the two personalities should be fused into one, and that is the ultimate aim of yoga, so that what you are inside, that you are outside. And what you are outside that you are inside. If I am a good man, I am a good man to me, I am good to all.

This particular fusion of the split personality into one, it is called yoga. It is not possible in one day; it takes time; but remember, according to the science of psychology and according to the science of yoga, as long as there is a struggle between these two personalities, the ego and the superego, your behaviour will not remain the same. You will always remain abnormal in some way. Your thoughts will be clouded, your decisions will never be true.

Surviving this phase

Therefore, in order to succeed in life, and in order to be happy along with success, it is necessary that everyone practises yoga. You know that man has wanted success and he has been working for it, but even after having achieved success, he doesn’t achieve happiness. There are some people who are successful, but unhappy, and yet there are some people who are happy but unsuccessful.

—YOGA Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 1973)