The word jnana means total awareness. It’s not total forgetfulness. It is not total unconsciousness. It is not a state where you lose yourself. Jnana yoga is a system in which the awareness is expanded, not eliminated. But what is awareness? By awareness you ‘know’. It is through awareness that you have the knowledge of the existence of the whole world. When the awareness is external it becomes sensuous, physical and material, and associates itself with the body. But when this awareness internalizes, then it reveals genius, and becomes infinite. Jnana yoga is going to be the panacea of human ills of our century and of our cultures. I’m not going to use the word ‘meditation’ very much tonight. Meditation is an inadequate expression for jnana yoga. When the awareness is conquered, and when the flow of awareness is constant and consistent, that’s jnana yoga. There is no science or religion anywhere that teaches this except jnana yoga.
Jnana yoga has been experimented with by scientists and they have found that during the different stages of jnana, the physical body registers changes. Changes in metabolism, in the brain wave frequencies, and in the inner body temperature. This is a clear indication of the functions of the autonomic nervous system. An increase in the energy level of the body, the consumption of oxygen, the rate of respiration, and many other factors have been properly investigated by scientists. They have found that jnana yoga is going to be the nectar or ambrosia of mankind. This means that jnana yoga is not just philosophical acrobatics, nor abstract practices. It is not even a deliberate escape from reality, nor a forgetting of the problems of daily life.
When you practise jnana yoga through pranayama, it influence the central nervous system. Pranayama is a practice in which you breathe in, you then retain the breath, and then you breathe out. Many teachers in European countries translate pranayama as ‘breathing exercise’, and say that, by pranayama, you inhale more oxygen. But I tell you, as an authority, and I’ve done a lot of research and investigation, that in pranayama, you do not take in more oxygen than when you inhale normally. Therefore, pranayama is not a breathing exercise.
Pranayama is an aid for influencing the sympathetic, parasympathetic and autonomic nervous systems. When you breathe through the left nostril, it influences the right hemisphere of the brain. When you breathe through the right nostril, it influences the left hemisphere of the brain. When you breathe through the left nostril, the temperature is lower and, when you breathe in through the right nostril, the temperature is higher. When you breathe through the left nostril, you achieve a lower temperature in the right hemisphere and, when you breathe in through the right nostril, you achieve a higher temperature in the left hemisphere. When you retain the breath, then you are forcing the prana, the life force, into the central nervous system. Now, the basis of jnana yoga, in medical terminology, is the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the central nervous system. In yogic terminology it is called ida, pingala and sushumna. In symbolism, it is the moon, the sun, and the spirit. Let us say, for the time being, the mind, the life force, and the spirit or atma.
Jnana yoga is not forcing the mind; it is not fighting with your tendencies; and it is not suppressing your thought waves; you have nothing to do with your mind as it does not come into the picture at all. You can influence the mind indirectly. How can you do this?
First of all, you should harmonize in your physical body the two forces: the mental force and prana, the vital or life force. These two forces compose my existence and everybody’s existence. Imagine you have life and no mind. Just imagine you are living, but you have no mind. Or imagine that you have only life, and no mind. Again imagine that you have only mind, and no life. These are the two cosmic forces in this body.
One is called prana, the vital force, or bio-energy and not the breath, oxygen, nor the air. This prana, which you are born with, is the cosmic universal energy. It is shakti. So, let us say, prana shakti. Energy moves a motor and prana moves the body. The motor organs are moved by prana. If there is no prana you cannot see or eat, and you cannot do anything. And if there is no mind, you cannot think, hear, or coordinate. So, the mind is also another shakti. Through the practice of pranayama, the balance has to be brought about in the spheres of prana in the mind.
19 August 1979, discourse at Holiday Inn, Athens, published in History of Satyananda Yoga in Greece, Volume One with Swami Satyananda Saraswati