Which yoga practices should we do and how do we apply them in life?
Every asana exerts a mild influence on the glandular system by stimulating the chakras slightly. Pranayama has a deep influence over the nervous system. Just as cigarette has a mild influence and ganja has a more intense effect, so it is with asana and pranayama. Pranayama is a powerful tool. It acts like a bomb in transforming the human personality. The yoga shastras say pranayama is a means to control not only the prana but also the chitta and the whole concept of time, space and object. It is a system in which you extend the possibility of prana shakti into other spheres of your existence, beyond the waking, dreaming and sleeping dimensions.
Although the practices of yoga have become well known to people in all walks of life, still many businessmen do not understand how the chanting of Om, for example, can affect their business relationships. I quote the experience of a well-known company in Germany. Whenever their board of directors gathered together for meetings, there were always major disagreements, conflicts and problems, ultimately ending in bitter relationships and lack of cooperation. As a solution they introduced certain practices of yoga into their program. Before the meeting began they extinguished their cigarettes and closed their eyes for five to ten minutes. First they chanted Om several times together with a long O and short M. Then they concentrated for another three to five minutes on the natural breath which flows continuously, repeating mentally the mantra Soham. After finishing the practice they began their business affairs. They found that this short and simple practice of yoga helped them not only in maintaining harmony and vitality in the meeting, but also in tackling the crucial problems of business in an efficient way.
For Hindus Om is a sacred mantra, but for scientists of the future generation Om may become a powerful tonic for tuning the whole mind. In the Medical University of Barcelona, doctors have conducted research into the effects of Om chanting on the brain. Men and women of all ages, executives, students and house-wives chanted Om in a variety of ways. They used short O and long M, long O and short M, equal O and M. They recorded the results on a sophisticated polygraph machine including ECG, EEG and GSR, registering hundreds of impulses simultaneously taking place in the body, as well as the alpha, beta, theta and delta waves.
Apart from changes recorded in different parts of the body, the most outstanding result was that the brainwaves alternated between alpha and theta. When O was being pronounced, alpha frequency was registered and theta frequency was recorded when M was chanted. A state of alpha intensity corresponds to a deep state of relaxation, and theta frequency represents a state of creativity and inspiration associated with states of deep meditation. Now the overall effect of these two alternating waves in the brain is a state of dynamic tranquillity. On the other hand, the state of relaxation normally experienced by an executive during a busy working day is one of passive tranquillity, where the mind feels lethargic and regresses back into the state of tamas. This dull state of relaxation can also be induced through the use of narcotics, tranquillizers, alcohol or fatigue.
As a human being living in this period of modern technology, you must pause for a while and become aware of a bright light on the horizon. You are at the crossroads. You must decide whether your life will continue in the same rhythm as in the past or whether you will take a better, higher way of life through the practices of yoga.
Have you any advice on how to introduce a yoga discipline into one’s life?
In yoga we say get up in the morning at four. Practise twenty minutes of asanas, ten minutes of pranayama, fifteen minutes of dhyana, and in this way prepare yourself for the day ahead. Not only is this a part of yogic discipline, but it should be an important discipline for any businessman, because he has to mobilize all his mental, emotional and psychic energies for managing the conflicts, worries, competition and financial problems that he faces daily. Sometimes your spiritual energies are also needed, for without intuition you will not succeed in business affairs. Business is not only dependant on logic and mathematics. Although they play an important part, they do not always work as well as intuition.
These energies combined constitute a state of dynamic tranquillity. When the mind is made wholly dynamic through the practices of dhyana yoga, it gives you excellent results. A concentrated, yet relaxed mind can do the most intense work for long periods of time without tiring. It is less disturbed by both outer and inner distractions and able to remain focused on the work in hand. This one-pointedness renders the mind more powerful, enabling it to act and think with great force. The practice of dhyana yoga can also be done in the evening when you return home from work exhausted. Practise a meditative technique for ten to twenty minutes, not more, instead of reading the newspaper, turning on the television or relying on the cigarette. Please do not think that I am against these things. Yoga does not disagree with smoking, after all, Lord Shiva also did it! Yoga only questions one’s dependence on it and its effectiveness in helping a person to relieve tensions. One of the best ways to relax is to go into your room, switch off the lights, sit down quietly for fifteen minutes and concentrate on the spontaneous natural breath which has been going on from the moment of your birth, but you were never aware of it. This practice is known as ajapa japa, awareness of the natural breath combined with mantra. The mantra is the silent rhythm of Soham, heard within the sound of the breath. Follow it with every inspiration and expiration. Hear So as you breathe in and Ham as you breathe out. The daily practice of ajapa japa can make you feel refreshed and dynamic once again within a short time.
What is a yogic attitude towards life?
Life as a sannyasin does not mean non-involvement with the activities which a businessman faces. The Bihar School of Yoga has its wings all over the world. The work of spreading the mission of yoga involves the practicalities of life and business, finance, property, construction of buildings, institutions and constitutions, and is done by sannyasinis who are spread far and wide. Do not believe that I am a man without complications. Everything in life is not smooth, but the mind has to be smooth. Your way of thinking, your method of tackling the problems of life must be smooth.
I have been able to involve myself in the activities of life both spiritual and institutional, and in such a way that the mind has remained in a tranquil but dynamic state. I don’t believe that you must stop thinking or you should punish the mind by imposing restrictions on it. Rather, you must know how to think. The mind is your friend if it is properly tuned by the practices of yoga. However, an undisciplined mind will be your enemy in life. A good car can still kill you if it is not serviced, maintained and driven by a careful and trained driver.
The mind is like an ocean. When the devas churned the ocean they extracted fourteen jewels from it. These jewels symbolize the positive and negative qualities of the mind. These two natural tendencies of the mind stand opposite each other in conflict. One is trying to balance the mind, the other is trying to distract the mind. We must use sushumna nadi as the base and churn the mind into awakening with the vast practices of dhyana yoga.
Let things come and learn how to manage with life. Pravritti marga is the life of involvement. Nivritti marga is the life of renunciation, or non-involvement. Everyone, including sannyasins and children, belong to the path of pravritti. Let us involve ourselves in the pravritti marga with a mind that is basically tuned by nivritti. In this way we will be able to manage the affairs of life so efficiently that we will succeed without suffering from coronary thrombosis, which is the unfortunate complaint of most successful businessmen in the world today.
Swamiji, how can one learn to accept failure in life?
You may fail in your enterprises, but everyone at some time has failed. Napoleon and Alexander failed; the Mahabharata war was a great disappointment for Krishna. Nevertheless, failure should only affect one particular aspect of your life. It should not affect the totality of your personality. Why should failure disturb your digestion or your sleep? Why should failure change your attitude towards your wife and children? Failure is failure, accept it.
A warrior like Arjuna had to carry a bow and arrow in his hand; a man in the battle of life must also carry a bow and arrow in the form of yoga. You are riding in the chariot which is the physical body. It is being driven by five horses, the senses. The chariot is being guided by the spirit or atman. Do not put down your bow. Yoga has to be heard and yoga has to be practised, not only in a hermitage, monastery or ashram, but in the face of difficulties, conflicts and possible defeat.
You must understand and convince yourself of the great potential of yoga. A life of fulfilment backed by the power of yoga should be your conviction. You must say, “I have heard about yoga and my ignorance has been dispelled. I have no further doubts about yoga in my mind.” In the Bhagavad Gita (18:78), Arjuna said to Krishna, "Wherever is Krishna, the lord of yoga; wherever is Partha, the wielder of the bow; there is prosperity, victory, expansion and a sound policy. Such is my conviction.”
Life offers great possibilities. Each person has a duty to perform and we cannot remain inactive. The world has become aware of the great boons of yoga, irrespective of religious or national affiliations. This yoga has been lost for a long time, but now it has arisen and is producing good teachers armed with complete knowledge of yoga therapy, yoga science, yoga psychology, yoga history and yoga culture.
Whatever their profession in business, medicine, scientific research, education or family life, people all over the world have accepted yoga with open minds. They are learning it, practising it, propagating it, and above all, living it. Yoga is going to be a mighty culture in the future world order, more powerful and more permanent than any socio-political creed.
21 March 1979, Chamber of Commerce, Bangalore, printed in Early Teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Volume II