From Practice to Application

Swami Shivadhyanam Saraswati

The theme of this webinar is about taking yoga from the level of practice to the level of application.

Swami Niranjanananda says knowledge by itself is not of much use, only when knowledge is applied does it become wisdom. Applied knowledge is wisdom. Today the need of the hour is to be able to apply yoga in the right and proper manner. The years of yoga propagation are now over, people know about yoga and about the benefits of yoga. Now the challenge before us is to apply yoga in our day-to-day life to see what the benefits and the potential can be in our own lives.

Personal application

There are three main levels of yoga application: the first level is applying yoga at the personal level with the two main components of sadhana and lifestyle. As yoga sadhakas we need to deepen our own sadhanas and apply the principles of yoga in our day-to-day life. This is the theme of the second chapter of yoga, launched by Swami Niranjanananda after the World Yoga Convention of 2013: to live yoga from moment to moment with seriousness, sincerity, commitment and with positivity. For yoga sadhakas the first challenge is to integrate yoga in our life and not let it remain something that is just practised on the mat; rather we should live it from moment to moment. In the struggles and challenges that we face in our daily life, when we find ourselves becoming agitated, anxious or tense, that is the time to put a little practice of pranayama into practice. That is the time to put the raja yogic concept of pratipaksha bhavana into practice. Fine-tuning our own responses, attitudes, our awareness from moment to moment, so that each moment becomes a joyous moment, a moment of positivity, which not only uplifts us but the people around us. This takes us to the second level of application, the social level.

Social application

We may use yoga as a system, a science, a technique which allows for the harmonious development of our head, heart and hands, but then what we gain through yoga has to be shared by the people around us. The social level is another important area of application of yoga. This means applying yoga to different sectors of society which have different needs, and tailor yoga to the needs of that particular sector. Yoga can be applied with children, youth, women, the elderly, the corporate sector, sports people, policemen, fire fighters, in prisons and rehabilitation centres, the field is vast.

A lot of wonderful work has been done by both BSY and the Ghantali Mitra Mandal under the guidance of Swami Satyakarmananda. I remember when he had come for the convention and his talk was about the different programs that the Ghantali Mitra Mandal has been conducting for the young people, for the youth. He even mentioned a project that was done for people who have computer vision syndrome – people who work on a computer for long periods of time and get eye-related problems. That is an example of taking yoga and applying it for people who are in need of a solution.

For this kind of application, three things have to be kept in mind. The way to apply yoga in society has to be: 1. simple, 2. practical and 3. inspirational. We have to inspire people to take up those practices, attitudinal changes and lifestyle changes which yoga recommends.

Swami Satyakarmananda was a genius in the way he was able to present yoga and inspire people to adopt those techniques in their lives to reap the benefits. For us who would like to contribute and improve the condition of people around us, it would be worthwhile to look at his example and the example of the work BSY has been doing whether it is for the army, the police force, sports people, children, or differently abled people. With a degree of compassion and sensitivity to each group we should take the message, system and science of yoga and let it work its own magic.

This social aspect of yoga is all the more relevant in these present times of the pandemic which has brought its own share of problems, stresses upon the family and social fabric. The social connections are weakening, and it is time to use yoga in novel ways. Use yoga as a complete science for head, heart and hands: physical health, mental peace and well being, emotional health and spiritual development. Yoga has different limbs through which each of these areas can be targeted.

The challenge is to be able to take these little principles of yoga and apply them in practical and simple manners. We can use them for people who are living in different situations, and we need to help them overcome whatever problems they may be facing whether it is physical, emotional or psychological. Especially the social connection needs to be strengthened. With the lock downs and other restrictions on movement that we see now all around us, problems of loneliness, of distance between people need to be bridged. Yoga can play a very useful and important role in that.

Environmental application

The third level of the application is on the ecological level. We are a part of nature, we are not living in a vacuum by ourselves, nature around us is not just something that is there to be exploited for our own selfish utilization, no. When we talk about yoga for ecology, for sustaining ecosystems, the nature around us, it is not just conserving nature, forest and rivers. It is much more than that. Yoga has believed and emphasized throughout our vedic traditions the interconnectedness of everything. Whether it be the plants, animals, trees, rivers, mountains, at their basic levels all are composed of the same tattwas, the five elements, of which we are composed. There is a synergy, a give and take between all animate and inanimate beings.

Yoga teaches us to respect that connection and respect that fundamental unity. That is why in our tradition, a river was not just a river it was considered like a mother. Forest was not just a forest; mountain was just not a mountain. We anthropomorphized them, not for the sake of giving them a name or making them a deity, it was to emphasize the connection and to know that we are connected. We are connected with the river, the forest, with all of prakriti.

In these times when through human greed and exploitation, nature is being depleted at an alarming rate, and we are faced with environmental and ecological disasters, I think this is one aspect of yoga that assumes all the more importance. As sincere yoga sadhakas and lovers of yoga, I think we should definitely pay attention to this aspect as well.

To conclude, with these three levels of applying yoga at the personal, social and ecological levels, we take yoga from being simply a practice to becoming a sadhana to living it as a lifestyle and eventually a culture. And this is what Sri Swami Satyananda had predicted years ago, when he had founded Bihar School of Yoga – that yoga will be the culture of tomorrow and will direct the course of world events – and his words are coming true.

Webinar given 31 August 2020, on the occasion of the first punya smaran, commemoration, of Swami Satyakarmananda, founder of Ghantali Yog Mitra Mandal, Mumbai