We all have our own understanding, our own ideas, our own theories as to what yoga is and what role it plays in our life; however, I prefer that we do not understand yoga in its traditional way, rather let us look at the various components of our life and how yoga can help us harmonize and balance those components which create some kind of restriction in the expression of human creativity. It is easy to say that yoga is only asana, pranayama, meditation, relaxation, and so on. Initially, people are very much attracted to yoga without knowing what it aspires for, so it becomes difficult to maintain continuity. That is why we find that after an initial experience of yoga, because of the lack of our own understanding, we are not able to follow it through.
In order to appreciate the spectrum of yoga, its beauty and the purpose of yoga, it is necessary that we become aware of all the different components that govern and influence our life. In this context, let us start by looking at the social and the family environment and how it affects the human personality and the human nature.
Whatever form of lifestyle we may lead, whether it be that of an affluent person or a beggar, in both lifestyles and in all other lifestyles we find that we are subject to stress and tension. Now this stress and tension is one experience of an imbalance in handling that situation properly, thus increasing the level of stress and tension.
This is one point.
Second point, lifestyle and habits. Despite our understanding of human life, we are unable to change our habits and these habits reflect in our diet, in our daily routine and in our acceptance of different life situations, whether they be external or internal in the form of mental and emotional experiences. When we are unable to compromise, when we are unable to come to terms with the lifestyle and the habits, then diseases are created and this is the modern concept of disease also.
Why do we suffer from different physical, mental and emotional problems? The basis of physical problems in the form of gastric problems, diabetes, asthma, back pain, headache and so forth; of mental problems such as anxiety, irritability, anger, frustration and depression; and of emotional problems; is non-adjustment in life and not finding life to be fulfilling and enriching. The different problems, diseases and illnesses which we suffer from have no treatment.
Modern medicine can provide symptomatic relief, but it is not able to go to the root cause of the problem or the disease. Some people may say that external stress or the factors which create stress are the cause of diseases and illnesses. They may be, yet apart from the stress factor there is also the habit the routine factor. The habit and routine factors are linked with the receptors of stress in our life. They are linked with tension in our life. The combination of so many things creates illness, disease, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction.
The aim of modern therapies is to provide some form of relief so that we can change our habits, change our lifestyle, become more aware of ourselves. For example, if I am having a problem with diabetes then the modern therapist will tell me that I have to restrict many of my habits too, not only the stress factor, but also the habits have to be restricted, especially diet. I am only giving this as an example of different life conditions that we face.
Before we begin the subject of yoga, another important aspect in the optimization of human personality is development of awareness. Awareness is a major factor which controls life and the activities of life, and this awareness is not only an intellectual concept, rather it becomes a lifestyle, a way of living.
Let me clarify this by saying that in the life of every individual there are four stages of understanding and experience. These are known as personal strengths, personal weaknesses, personal ambitions and personal needs. Now all of us have within us some strength which can manifest in life, in the form of willpower, clear mind, or what we may call the activities of a genius. These strengths are the main motivating factors which can help us progress and evolve in life, but they are overshadowed by our weaknesses: lack of willpower, lack of clear thinking, and so on. These weaknesses dominate our personality. If we objectively look at our own life, we will feel that our strengths are not that many and weaknesses are many.
In a similar way, if we look at the ambition and need aspects of our life, we sometimes feel that our ambitions have become our need and we are not able to differentiate between what our desires are and what our actual needs are. The imbalance in understanding the qualities of strength and the limitations of our weaknesses, and being able to differentiate between ambition and need, leads to acute and chronic frustration in life. These are the four major areas which cover the entire human spectrum, and our habits, routine, awareness, stress and tension.
27 March 1995, Bengal Club, Kolkata, published in Yoga Sadhana Panorama, Volume Seven