Why is hatha yoga recommended as a system for creating mental harmony?
Swami Satyananda: It is said that when the mind is restless, the prana becomes restless. In the same way, if the prana is agitated, the mind becomes disturbed; therefore, to control the mind and the prana, the same truth can be used. Those who have strong willpower can control the prana by controlling their mind but those who have no willpower and whose minds are weak and distracted, should control the prana first and thereby bring the mind under control.
Most people find it very difficult to control the mind. Any of the raja yoga techniques may be practised, but for many, it is still not possible to control the mind. When control of the mind is forced, the result may be a headache, heaviness, depression and lethargy. Often people try very hard to concentrate and after this effort a lot of anger is felt. Therefore, one has to find out how to handle the mind and how to handle the prana.
One point must be remembered – that control of the mind and control of prana are not separate, but go hand in hand. Each person has to find out which one he can control more easily. When the mind and prana both come under control, then the awakening of kundalini begins and samadhi expresses itself. It is stated in Hatha Yoga Pradipika (4:24):
Dugdhaambuvatsammilitaavubhau tau tulyakriyau maanasa-maarutau hi;
Yato maruttatra mana pravrittiryato manashtatra marutpravrittih.
Mind and prana are mixed like milk and water. Both of them are equal in their activities. Where there is pranic movement or activity there is mind (consciousness). Where there is consciousness there is prana.
The mind is difficult to control as it is such a subtle substance, and to control the mind there must be an efficient controlling power. Therefore, start with prana, as pranas are grosser than the mind. Prana can be comprehended, prana can be handled, but one cannot handle the mind. The mind is handling the mind and therefore one cannot depend on it, as the mind which is handling the mind does not cooperate with the person whose mind it is. With prana, however, it is not like that – if the pranas are not ready to cooperate, they can always be manipulated.
How does the hatha yoga lifestyle liberate the mind?
Swami Satyananda: In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1:14) it says:
Evamvidhe mathe sthitvaa sarvachintaavivarjitah;
Guroopadis-htamaargena yogameva samabhyaset.
In this manner, dwelling in the hermitage, being devoid of all thought (excess mentation), yoga should be practised in the way instructed by the guru.
‘Dwelling in the hermitage, being devoid of all thought’, means that by living in a place of spiritual vibrations the mind is free from unnecessary thoughts cultivated by society and the modern lifestyle. Under normal conditions the mind can never be thoughtless. Yogi Swatmarama is actually saying that the mind should be devoid of all thoughts that are irrelevant to spiritual life. Anxieties and worries caused by family and business should be absent during sadhana, as such disturbances affect one’s ability to concentrate. It is a natural tendency of the mind to dwell on past events and to contemplate the future, but this tendency must be controlled. The mind must be concentrated on the practice at hand and it must be kept in the present. There is a constant and habitual mental chatter which has to be nullified, and for this the practice of antar mouna, inner silence, is very useful.
An undisciplined mind is like a boisterous child, telling stories, continually distracting one from sadhana. If one is working in one’s study, children are not allowed to come in and create disturbance; the same principle should apply during sadhana practice. When the mind is assailed by unwanted and irrelevant thoughts, cultivate the habit of putting these thoughts aside until later, when the sadhana is finished. This does not mean that those who have no control of the mind are excluded from practising. Few people have real control of their mind. At man’s present stage of evolution the mind is weak. However, one has to start somewhere so it is better not to be concerned with mental activities; just do the practices and let the mind do what it likes. If one does not try to constantly block and suppress the mind, it will automatically become obedient and concentrated through the process of sadhana.
In the days of Yogi Swatmarama, people may have been more sattwic by nature. Nowadays people tend to be either tamasic or rajasic. A sattwic person will have a quiet mind and his sadhana will progress unhindered by the chitta vrittis or ‘mental modifications’. However, a rajasic person will have a very restless and oscillating mind, while a tamasic person will have a dull and lazy mind. Therefore, concessions must be made.
It should also be remembered that in Swatmarama’s day, more people were able to devote their whole lives or a considerable portion of their lives to sadhana. It is not possible for people today to leave all their social commitments and simply practise sadhana all day. Few people can even manage to take a month off work to retreat into seclusion for intensive sadhana. This is highly recommended, but if impractical, further lifestyle modifications need to be made. For the average person it is enough to have a room set aside and to devote thirty minutes to sadhana each day.