Yoga as a Way of Life

From Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume I

All of you should know of the instructions of Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna about the possibility of the integration of yoga into one’s daily life. At one point, Arjuna asks Krishna, “Tell me, what am I to do; should I work or should I renounce?” Here Arjuna implied he believed that yoga was something other than living life, and many people think this today. Lord Krishna re-emphasized that yoga and karma should go hand in hand.

If life is expressed without integrating it with yoga, then it brings unhappiness, frustration and agony, which most of us experience. But when the mind is disciplined and the body is healthy and able to cope, we can maintain the efficiency of action side by side with balance of mind. Therefore, yoga is not just a pastime for recluses, it is not just some kind of sport, and it is not an escape by which we try to forget the realities of life.

I know that there are many sects in the world which try to escape from the realities of life, but yoga is neither a sect nor an escape. Yoga is a science which teaches us to be strong enough physically, emotionally and mentally to face anything, whether frustrations, disappointments, ill-health, passions or the invariable concomitants of our emotional attachments.

In the first chapter of the Gita, Arjuna has all the symptoms of a nervous breakdown, just as we all face nervous breakdowns in life when we are not able to resolve conflicts. Yoga doesn’t start with purity; yoga ends with purity. Yoga doesn’t start with peace of mind; it starts with a disturbed mind. Yoga doesn’t start with saintliness; it ends with saintliness. Yoga starts when the balance is lost. You know it. It is not just a philosophy.

When you are angry, what do you do? You try to control yourself, and trying to control yourself is yoga. When the scales are heavily loaded against you, what do you do? You try to balance them, and that’s yoga, the attempt to balance them. You attempt to balance the mind in the face of adversity. Yoga deals with depressions, with disappointments and with the breakdown of our usual coping mechanisms.

Now, coming to the practical side, yoga is not only philosophy; it is more practice than theory. The practices of yoga are spread all over the ancient culture of humanity, called vedic dharma. For many thousands of years, wise people have been researching, assessing and realizing newer and newer ways of tackling man’s eternal and never-ending problems of body, mind, emotions, intellect, subconscious and unconscious.

Even as the modern West is tackling the problems of material life and producing new things every day, the rishis of India, for thousands of years, have been discovering ways of self-control, self-discipline, self-understanding and self-realization. There has only been one thing in the minds of these sages – how to deal with the mind.

In the tantras, in yoga, in Vedanta, in the Upanishads, and everywhere, the subject is: how to deal with the mind and how to realize the highest consciousness in ourselves. Thus, they codified it, and as you know they called the different systems karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga. Through the practices of these systems, one can deal very efficiently with the four aspects of one’s nature: one’s dynamism, emotional, intellectual and psychic propensities.

—4 September 1982, at the residence of Surendra Purohit, Denver, Colorado