According to yoga it is important to keep the body healthy, free from disorder, free from toxins and free from excretory matter. Similarly, for a healthy mind it is important to be free from tension, worry and depression. The method given in raja yoga is the practice of pratyahara. Pratyahara is extremely vital for letting go of stress.
The meaning of pratyahara is to become aware of oneself. Right now you are not aware of what is happening within you, the actions and reactions going on in the mind. You are unaware of the thoughts that are coming, the sensations that are produced. In the state of pratyahara, which in raja yoga comes after asana and pranayama, you develop awareness of yourself.
The process of developing pratyahara starts with yoga nidra. As anyone who has practised yoga nidra knows, it is one of the practices of relaxation, done lying down. In this practice one does not have to do anything; one just lies down on the floor, the way one lies down to sleep, and follows the instructions of the teacher. The teacher takes the awareness to different parts of the body and makes one conscious of its states.
Through yoga nidra, one brings the body, the nervous system and the internal organs to a state of relaxation. When the body attains a state of relaxation, it has an effect on the mind, as the mind and the body are integrated. The mind is subtle and the body is gross. Everyone experiences the body because it can be perceived by the senses. The experience of the mind only takes place through thoughts, desires, wishes and ambitions. The body is tangible and therefore visible, whereas the mind can be experienced, but is intangible. One can know the experience of the mind by looking at the thoughts which are coming, the emotions which are arising, the desires which are springing up: that is the mind. So, it can be said that experiences come from the mind.
When the body attains a relaxed state, the mind is influencedby the body. Its extroverted tendency reduces, and it becomes internalized. Once the mind becomes internalized, it achieves relaxation.
Someone once came to me and said that he had been unable to sleep for the past two years. Even if he took a sleeping pill, one pill was not enough. He had to take two or three pills to fall sleep. When he did not take a pill he would toss and turn all night in his bed. He asked for a remedy.
I told him that I would not talk of a cure as it did not depend on me or on yoga: “The remedy depends on your wish. If you do the practices of yoga in a proper manner then their benefits will surely be seen.” Saying this much, I made him do only yoga nidra for one week. On the fourth day he slept in yoga nidra. He slept there in the classroom for three hours. When he woke, he saw that the teacher had left the classroom. He woke up in a daze. He came running directly to me and held my feet, with great happiness on his face. He said, “Swamiji, today I slept.” I asked him how he came to know that he had slept. He said that he knew by looking at his watch and by the absence of the teacher from the classroom.
I am just giving an example that when you consciously and with awareness de-stress the body and remove tension, the mind becomes internalized. Once the mind becomes internalized, it attains a state of relaxation. This is the state of pratyahara, and the firstpractice of pratyahara is yoga nidra.
The second important practice for people whose life is full of tension is pranayama. What should one do if stress is making it hard to sleep and, as a result, it is also difficultto stay alert and awake?
You are travelling in a vehicle. Your eyes are open; let them be open. Become aware of your breath. When you breathe in through your nostrils, sense a slight coolness. When you breathe out, sense the warmth in your nostrils. Focus your awareness on the feeling of coolness and warmth which you are experiencing. When you breathe in repeat the mantra So; when you exhale repeat the mantra Ham. Soham, Soham, Soham is the mantra of the breath. This is not a religious mantra; this is the mantra of the breath. Kabirdas said:
Aisa jaap japo man layee, Soham Soham surta gaayee, Chhah sau sahasa ikison jaap, Anahad upje aapahin aap.
Absorb your mind in japa in such a way that your memory and mind ever sings Soham, Soham. The daily japa of twenty-one thousand and six hundred mantras produces spontaneously anahad nada, the unstruck sound, the unlimited sound, the divine sound.
When your mind focuses on the breath, spontaneously the breath starts singing Soham, Soham. Soham soham surta means ‘the breath starts singing Soham, Soham, Soham’. Even in a moving vehicle, with the eyes open, if you focus on the breath and do japa of the Soham mantra for five minutes, your mental tensions will go away and clarity will come. Your judgment and decisions will be sound. The only condition is to manage the mind; and the method to manage the mind is the breath and Soham mantra.
—26 July 2014, Swabhoomi Rangamanch, Kolkata, India