Sow a thought, reap an action, sow an action, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character, sow a character and reap a destiny.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Nowadays, if you ask someone what yoga is, they will probably tell you that it is a series of postures that bend and stretch the body and a few breathing techniques for health and peace. This is partly true, but shows a very limited understanding of yoga. Yoga is a complete way of life; it is the most simple, practical and healthy way in which to live, for an individual and for the planet.
Yogic lifestyle is based on the vedic culture which is both an attitudinal and spiritual culture. The lifestyle is based on the cultivation and development of the human personality by encouraging positive qualities and samskaras. Our samskaras or impressions are the experiences which mould character, attitudes and beliefs. When we live positive experiences we create positive samskaras, and positivity will manifest in the character and in life. This moulding of character takes place through our daily activities and lifestyle. According to the vedic culture, there are sixteen main samskaras which represent the beginning of new conditions or situations in life. This process begins before birth and continues throughout life and until death. Each major transition in life, such as pregnancy, name giving, first solid food, education, marriage, is welcomed, acknowledged and blessed with success and auspiciousness and acts as a doorway to divinity and the beauty present in the cycle of birth, life and death.
The vedic society lived in harmony with nature and the daily lifestyle followed the natural biorhythms of the earth and sun. Nature was not seen as something to use and abuse for one's own selfish needs but it was to be respected and revered as divine. Through mantra people connected and communicated with nature and the elements.
The vedic rishis lived and taught a balanced lifestyle for the head, heart and hands. They taught that through proper diet, sleep and exercise people could apply themselves properly to other areas of life such as marriage, profession, sport, self-study and reflection, time management, relaxation, aradhana and havan. They gave tools, methods and techniques to manage the instincts of fear, sleep, craving and sexuality.
The vedic rishis gave guidelines for living each day permeated with the attitude of sanyam which literally means restraint. Swami Niranjanananda explains that the word sanyam is composed of two Sanskrit roots sam and yam. Sam means total, the total personality, all the dimensions of human nature. Yam is yama, a state of mind which you maintain, cultivate and develop. Therefore, sanyam means all dimensions of the human personality and lifestyle are taken through a process of transformation and beautification and that state is maintained and developed. The main attitude that must be cultivated in a holistic yogic lifestyle is sanyam.
For the majority of us, there are certain aspects of our lifestyles that we cannot easily change, such as culture, climate and environment, governments and language. However, we can begin to change and regulate the small habits of our daily lives, and this will naturally lead to bigger changes and the evolution of our personality.
Changing to a holistic yogic lifestyle means replacing the destructive habits that do not bring positivity and health into our lives with nourishing habits that encourage health, positivity and contentment in head, heart and hands. This can be done through regulating one’s lifestyle and the cultivation of yogic attitudes and awareness.
We cannot expect improvement and change in life with- out facing the negative and destructive habits of our physical, mental and emotional behaviours. Dissecting one’s personality and examining the traits that underlie one’s animalistic behaviour requires courage and honesty. Using yogic techniques such as a spiritual diary, review of the day and pratipaksha bhavana, developing the opposite positive quality, we can learn to see, understand and accept that these habits exist. Only then can we recognize them and begin to replace them with positive and creative attitudes and behaviour.
We need to see how to make our interactions with other people and our environment more positive and uplifting. This process of change is not an intellectual exercise and it can take years, some say even lifetimes, of dedicated endeavour to re-condition and transform one’s personality. Otherwise we are just enforcing external disciplines. Swami Niranjan says that it is like placing a straight pipe over the curly tail of the dog. Once you remove the straight pipe the tail returns to its original curly nature.
When yoga becomes a way of life, identification with and expression of the balanced, positive and optimistic nature takes place and then one attains physical health, mental health and spiritual wealth.
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Life is too short to live without happiness and health in our daily lives. It is our birthright to live with happiness, but it is our responsibility to live with health and happiness through the choices and efforts we make in our daily lives.
For true learning, change and growth to take place in our lives there must be discipline and practice, for example if one wishes to play the guitar, then to achieve this goal one must practise daily with discipline and commitment to produce melodious music – this is sanyam. Sanyam means focusing and encouraging the growth and transformation of all that is good, creative and beautiful.
Sanyam is the process of transformation that applies to each and every expression in life, including behaviour, attitude, speech and thought. Through sanyam we are continuously developing better and newer qualities in life, and replacing the old, detrimental and destructive ones.
Through sanyam we can transform the limiting and the negative into positive and uplifting.
Sanyam will cultivate the right samskaras, and samskaras will cultivate the right character, personality, trait, behaviour and action.
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Printed in Janani – Holistic Yogic Lifestyle, Swami Prembhava Saraswati