Swami Satyananda Saraswati
In this modern age, people are very concerned about vitamins and minerals, but they have forgotten one important thing. Physical health is not the ultimate; it is the state of the inner being which constitutes real health. In the good old days, people used to face epidemics of smallpox, plague, cholera, yellow fever, sleeping sickness and many others. Now, however, despite the advancement of modern science we have been facing a crisis in so far as the health of mankind is concerned. Never in history have we had such terrible diseases. During these times, we are compelled to think, ‘Is there any way to achieve the best possible health?’ In recent years we have come to the conclusion that yoga is the answer.
The mental component
We have been taking care of the physical body, trying to meet our nutritional needs with adequate vitamins and minerals, but for a moment let us think about the inner being. What about the mind? We have not been trying to supplement the necessary needs of the mind, therefore, man has become mentally ill. He does not even know how to think, what to think, or why to think; what to feel, how to feel, or why to feel. His mind is like a motor car being driven by a driver who is heavily drunk. By chance the car may reach its destination, but more than likely it will meet with an accident along the way. Thus it is very important that we have knowledge about controlling the mind, training the mind as a whole, and thereby improving the quality of mental health. This is the main subject matter of yoga.
Why do you take bath every day? Why do you keep your house clean? It is because you believe that physical cleanliness, external cleanliness is necessary for good health. In the same way, have you ever considered that particular thoughts have to be cleaned out of the mind? You clean the kitchen and bathroom twice a day, but what about your mind ? When a thought of fear, anxiety or sorrow comes into your mind, what do you do? You just let yourself go; you fall into it; you do not even try to clean it out of the mind. That is why you are suffering from anxiety, fear, depression, dejection and anger.
These thoughts are hitting your mind, infecting your mind just like a virus causes havoc in your body. But a thought is more dangerous, powerful and effective than an ordinary physical virus. When a virus enters your body, it can be treated by certain drugs and medicines. But when a thought enters, when fear strikes, when passions and anxiety get into your mind, do you know what far reaching effects it is going to have? Therefore, when we talk about health, we must definitely understand that we lack proper knowledge about the health of the mind, the health of the inner being.
The three shaktis
Yoga is a perfect practical system of physical, mental and spiritual health. According to the basic yoga philosophy man is a composition of three basic constituents: life force (prana shakti), mental force (chitta shakti), and spiritual force (atma shakti).
Prana is the universal life force, and this body has a certain amount of it. Our existence is a miracle of prana shakti. It is on account of prana that we live, move and grow. This prana shakti is not the air we breathe, it is inherent in us; we are born with it. For up to four months the foetus lives on the mother’s prana, but from the fifth month on, it develops an independent pranic unit. Life is the manifestation of prana.
When prana is flowing in the correct voltage, you feel strong, energetic, enthusiastic, and all your sense faculties are sharp. But when the voltage falls, you feel physically weak and exhausted.
Besides prana, there is another shakti in the body called mind or consciousness through which we are able to think, remember, analyse and differentiate. There are so many mental faculties within us and they are all the play or manifestation of the mental shakti.
Prana shakti and mental shakti are represented in this physical body by two important flows known as pingala nadi and ida nadi respectively. The word ‘nadi’ means flow. In every electric bulb you have two wires, positive and negative. In the same way, in every organ and part of the body, there is a combination of both of these shaktis. Prana shakti and mental shakti pervade the whole body of man.
Pranic force is positive and mental force is negative. When these two are connected, they create energy. If there is any disconnection, what happens? If you remove one of the wires from a switchboard, the light will not burn. It is the same in the lower and higher organs. If one of the energies flows and the other does not, then the organs do not function. Therefore, according to yoga, there should be a balanced distribution of energy to every part of the body from head to toe. If there is any imbalance, there is illness.
Prana shakti and chitta shakti are both physical energies. Atma shakti, the third type of energy, is spiritual. It is non-physical, transcendental, formless energy. Mooladhara chakra produces both the physical and spiritual energy, but the spiritual energy is produced by a larger generator. This energy cannot be conducted by either ida or pingala. For this there is another line called sushumna which conducts the spiritual energy from mooladhara straight up to sahasrara in order to open the whole brain.
You know that only one part of the brain is functioning; nine parts are locked. These nine parts of the brain contain infinite knowledge, experience and power, but we are not able to utilise it because there is no conscious force. When sushumna conducts this spiritual energy to sahasrara chakra, the dormant parts of the brain become active. Then they not only give you mental health, but also spiritual wealth. When the practitioner of yoga is able to awaken kundalini and connect it with sahasrara through sushumna nadi, he becomes the master of the body, mind and spirit.
Therefore, the secret of human health is the proper distribution of the three shaktis – prana, mind and spirit. In yoga this is done through the practices of hatha yoga which purify the physical body; pranayama which purifies the channels or nadis through which energy is distributed; and meditation which stops the flow of prana and mind and leads the spiritual energy directly to the brain, sahasrara chakra.
The different branches of yoga such as hatha, raja, kriya, etc. are very powerful systems for the health, not only of this external physical body, but the health of the whole man in totality.
In order to gain total health, it is necessary for the spiritual life to become the base of our ordinary life. The people of this century have been thinking that spiritual life should be led for the sake of improving the physical life. We have put the cart before the horse. We consider the physical life as the base and the spiritual life as an adjunct, but it should be the other way around. Man’s life is essentially spiritual; the physical life is just one part of his existence. In the same way we have been making many mistakes. We say, ‘Oh, the divine is within us’, as if we were the containers of the divine. When actually it is we who are in the divinity, not the divinity which is in us. This is a different way of thinking which must be developed in order to correct the errors of body, mind and soul, and create harmony on all levels of our being.
There is no doubt that we have been making mistakes on the mental plane, that we have ignored the mind; and this is how we have become sick and unhappy. When we take to the path of yoga the most important thing for us is the spirit, then the mind, and then the body. In the materialistic philosophy, body is alpha and omega, but in yogic philosophy, body is not the first and last. This physical body is not everything; it is just a small portion of our infinite existence. We have to maintain this body correctly, but not through medicines, tranquilliser and nutritious food alone. We have to supplement right thinking, philosophy, principles and beliefs.
More than that, we have to develop the art of dhyana yoga, wherein the eyes are closed but the mind is expanding and becoming more and more brilliant, more aware. Where this little world of name and form alone is not there, but where the infinite existence is before us in an ever expanding vision of universal life.
Satsang on Mental Problems
What is peace of mind?
Peace of mind is a balanced vision of life. It is not subject to achievements and losses; it is an understanding of everything in life. The external life is full of ups and downs and for a weak man it can become tiring, or even exhausting. But for a strong man, every ascent is a joy and every descent is a game.
What are the spiritual methods for relieving tensions of the mind?
If the tension is too acute, one should leave home for some time and stay in a peaceful environment such as that of an ashram. This is the first step. The second is satsang. When something is wrong with your car you take it to a garage and leave it with ,a good mechanic for a few days. He will find out what is wrong with the car and clean and service it. Likewise, when there is a lot of tension in your mind the best thing to do is to put your car into the hands of a good mechanic. Satsang is the best way. If the tension is not acute, then a few asanas, pranayama and the practice of yoga nidra can be undertaken.
Tensions are threefold: muscular, mental and emotional. If muscular tension is due to over exercise you need to rest a little more. If it is due to lack of exercise then you have to make yourself more active. If your tension is mental, due to a lot of thinking and daydreaming, then you should work hard through karma yoga to give direction to your mind. Mental tensions arise when you have too much time to think. Emotional tensions, due to love, hatred, death, etc., are more difficult to eliminate and have to be handled with accurate precision through bhakti yoga. For the relief of these threefold tensions one has to follow the spiritual path.
What is the way to stop thoughts from going deeply into the mind?
When a thought comes to your mind, your approach to it is of the utmost importance. Suppose, for example, you either like or dislike the thought Of having diarrhoea, that thought will always re-enter your mind. It has the potential to go deeply into your mind. However, if you see the thought but refuse to have any relationship or association with the idea, i.e. if you are completely neutral towards it, then it will quickly cease. When you just remain a witness, a seer of an experience, it ceases, but when you become involved with a thought, or emotionally affected by it, either positively or negatively then it will go back into the mind and be recycled.
What is the secret of happiness?
The secret of happiness lies in connecting the mind with its source. Once you are able to do this, happiness flows. When you know the source, you become an elevated person in thought as well as in action. Happiness is within your reach, and you can hold it firmly, but incessant and noble efforts are necessary.
How are we influenced by living in ordinary society? Does the constant suggestion we are subjected to from advertising, newspapers, etc. affect our minds?
Everybody is under hypnosis. Constant influence is being exerted on all individuals and it is totally structuring their minds. The whole lifestyle is a hypnotic process. Delusion hypnotises you and you are continually exposed to newspapers, advertisements, television, radio, books and magazines which keep you under hypnosis.
How are you going to de-hypnotize yourself? If you manage it, you will be disillusioned about the whole scheme of society. We live within a family pattern; a man and a woman live together and call themselves husband and wife. That’s hypnotism. If you de-hypnotize yourself, the family will break up. In fact, man lives under constant hypnotism right from the time of his birth up to the point of his death. Perhaps only a few people are not under that hypnotic state.
Once I tried to de-hypnotize myself, and I found that I had no faith in anything. I was full of doubt and I couldn’t be sure of the honesty and sincerity of anyone. Therefore, it is easier for most people to remain hypnotised. But as you grow in spiritual life, you automatically become de-hypnotized.
How can I stop my mind from criticising other people?
There is no harm in criticising other people in your mind. If you stop this mental process then you will criticise others openly and will harm them. I think criticism is a part of evolution. You have to accept it and face it, no matter how bitter it may be. If you don’t want to criticise you are going to be criticised. Then what will happen? You will be wounded. You are going to get a shock, because you are an idealist and you have failed to accept the realism.
So, when these kinds of negative thoughts come into your mind you must understand them, not from the religious point of view; you must understand them from the point of view of the laws of nature. Nature has certain laws and negativity is one of them. If there is no negativity, there can’t be progress in life. We hear people say: “This is negative”, or “Oh, my mind thinks negatively!” What do you mean by it? If there is dark, there should be light. Day and night balance each other. Positive forces and negative forces of the mind indicate the constant evolutionary process of the mind. If a baby tries to walk and falters and falls, it means he is evolving. If he doesn’t make the move, it means he is paralysed.
During life there are many times when you are negative, and then you become positive again. Just like the cycle of day and night, the attitude of your mind changes from time to time. When evil thoughts come into the mind, religious people shudder. We are kept from the reality of nature by religion. We ought to be told that evil thoughts are as much a part of the human mind as good thoughts. Evolution is a constant movement like a quantum – forward, backward, forward, backward. The evolution of life that you have reached in your human incarnation has never moved in one straight line. It has moved back and forth, back and forth. This is how the energy moves. When these thoughts of criticism come into your mind, let them come. You should have an attitude of understanding towards them, they are your off springs. A thought of criticism has not been imported from outside; it is your own creation.
If you disagree with one of the attitudes of your mind you are creating a friction between yourself and yourself, between one part of your attitude and another. This is what leads people to schizophrenia. All schizophrenics are those who have been unable to maintain amicable relations with themselves. It is most important that you have a friendly relationship with every dimension of thought that comes into your mind. After all, what is a thought? It is not an emotion; it is a bubble of energy, this way or that way, it is a negative and a positive energy. Don’t worry about the thoughts of criticism. Sit down quietly and go on criticising as much as you like.
What is the best way to overcome complexes?
Ashram life and karma yoga are the best therapy for people with many mental problems. In my ashram I tell people to work so hard that they have no time to think or be unhappy. Complexes disappear miraculously when the mind has no time to dwell on them.
I am disturbed by so many distractions, how can I get rid of them?
Distractions are natural for every man. Even if you live in seclusion at the top of the mountains, you will still have distractions. If you close yourself off in a soundproof chamber you will still have distractions. Distractions are born of desires, of ignorance and unawareness of the spirit.’ When you are not following the inner path side by side with external life, you will have more distractions, whether you are living in the country or in a busy city. On the yogic path you can learn to live to the fullest without being affected by distractions.
Is it possible to control anger and jealousy?
Anger is one of the biggest barriers in life and jealousy is absolutely unnecessary and useless. When you are angry with somebody at least it has some kind of advantage- the person with whom you are angry obeys or respects you, but jealousy has absolutely no reward at all. In my opinion you should never worry about jealousy or anger, but practise shashankasana and it will help. Sit in vajrasana, bend forward and touch your forehead to the floor. Bring your arms forward and rest them on the floor or clasp the hands together behind your back. Remain in this posture for 2 to 30 minutes. Shashankasana helps to control the adrenal glands and calms the mind.
What is the best way to deal with aggression in oneself?
Aggression can be combated by the practice of sheetali and sheetkari pranayama, but I think you should firstly make a thorough study of your personality. Aggression is a part of your nature which has developed during the course of your life and sometimes you can cause psychological disturbances if you try to arrest a natural aspect of your personality.
Although I have suggested pranayama, I personally feel that one should make use of one’s nature in constructive and creative work. A man with an aggressive nature can be very dynamic. He can utilise his personality to bring about great changes in society.
Which yogic practices can help a person suffering from fear of riding on buses, trains, planes and so on?
Normally children do not have this type of fear. They are afraid of darkness and particular personalities etc., but they are never afraid to travel in aeroplanes and buses, or even to go near a fire. This type of fear usually occurs in people over 35 years of age. There are two basic reasons for such fears. One is an accumulation of fat in the nervous tissues and physical organs of the body, especially in this age group. In younger people the rate of metabolism is much faster and this prevents the body accumulating excess fat in any organ or part of the body. In order to reduce these fears the accumulation of fat has to be eliminated.
The second cause is due to a physiological process that occurs in the body as a response to a frightening or confusing situation. When fear is experienced in the brain it is passed on to the body via the glandular and nervous systems which prepare the body for fight or flight.
Experiments conducted on thieves preparing to enter and steal from a house at night have shown that the flow of adrenal secretions is greatly increased. Their whole body is fighting their unconscious fear. As a result, at that time he may feel like going to the toilet, he may sweat profusely or experience heavy breathing.
There are two ways of overcoming the fear complex. In the first case one should try to metabolise the fat accumulation. In the second case one should practise antar mouna. Let the fear come and just witness it, observing the effects it has on your mind, body and emotions. After some time you will realise the cause of your fear and find that it is rooted in a forgotten childhood experience.
If you practise shashankasana for half an hour daily, you will be able to control the secretion of adrenaline and the fright and fear will then gradually diminish. If you practise shashankasana, antar mouna and pranayama regularly, after some time you will relive the childhood experience in your mind and all fear will vanish like a miracle.
Is there any specific practice that one can perform for immediate relief from feelings such as anxiety, grief, guilt, envy, remorse, jealousy, fear and so on?
One should practise awareness of the natural breath. This will bring immediate relief.
My adolescent daughter is not happy. She is an underachiever in school, angry at home, has few if any friends and is refusing any help. What do you suggest for her?
When your children have gone out of your hands and they need help, then you should encourage them to try ashram life for some time. If you expose your child to ashram life, a different environment, different people, different activities, freedom of speech, thought and deed, and then expose them to asanas and pranayama, you will soon find them reacting positively.
What can yoga do for mentally retarded children?
Some work has been done on the effects of yoga on mentally retarded people, especially children, and it has been found that if the child is properly guided through the practice of important asanas, a great deal of change can be brought about. The asanas that are particularly recommended are those which have a direct effect on the hormonal secretions of the pituitary body and so on, These include sarvangasana and sirshasana. After these asanas have been practised for some time, pranayama and bandhas should be slowly
introduced. These techniques will definitely make an improvement, but I think there is still a lot of work to be done. Parents tend to be very careless about their mentally retarded children and they are not obtaining the desired results from the systems they expose their children to. If you send the child to a school, some of his faculties may be developed, but what about the fundamental structure of the brain?
Sometimes a mentally retarded child has perfect brain structure, but there is some psycho-emotional block which has been created by the parents or by his environment. When this is the case, the practice of yoga nidra is beneficial. The child might not understand the practice, but that is not important. If the teacher utilises the right form of yoga nidra, he can get into the child’s deeper mind and influence his whole personality. Thereby he may be able to bring him out of the psycho-emotional confusion.
For the best results with yogic therapy it is essential that we have a clear cut diagnosis of the child’s retardation so we can determine the category to which he belongs and the correct method of treatment.
What is the place in the universe for people with an unbalanced mind? And what is the purpose of their existence?
Those who are crazy are the people that have completely rejected the whole scheme of your society. They are the people who have been searching for the truth. Because they did not find it in your society they lost every hope. They could not find what they were aspiring for in the environment society offered so they went what you call crazy. But in the next life they will become swamis like myself.