Life struggles, stress and disease

Life struggles, stress and disease

Thu, 9/9 5:09PM • 50:11


life, stress, mental health, awareness, wisdom, self-knowledge.  people, journey, yoga, impurity, struggle, swami, means, connection, pain, life problem, opportunity, spiritual teaching, mind, order, perfection, peace of mind, happiness, progress, spiritual growth.

Learning to drive our vehicle:

Today we talk about life struggles and about the relationship between life struggles and stress, what is stress, and the relationship between stress and disease so we become aware of what we are doing. The most important thing we need to remember, Swami Sivananda said that life is a struggle. If you cease to struggle, you cease life. We are equipped with all the tools in order for us to lead our life.

It’s like when you have a good vehicle, but you don’t know how to drive. If you drive in the wrong manner at the same time accelerating and at the same time pushing on the break, what happens? You damage the vehicle. You are not going anywhere and you create stress and tension and harm the vehicle. We need to understand with clarity what life is. Why is life so difficult on earth? Sometimes it is more difficult than other times. What do we do in order to win the battle or to come out the other side somehow, not too damaged, even winning? The idea is the more we understand the battle of life the more we are able to use our tools, our equipment correctly and get help.

I am here teaching yoga trying to reach out to as many as possible. We are here to support this life struggle. You need to understand why yoga discipline will support you. When we do not understand why we need to practice yoga and to make use of the yoga discipline in order for us to be strong and winning the battle of life, then we neglect our sadhana or our yoga practice.

Life is a conscious stream:

First, I am going to read from Swami Sivananda words on what is life. He says that life is a conscious stream. That means that life is constantly moving like a river. If you stand at one place and watch the river flow it is different water, it looks like the same water, but it just keeps flowing past without stopping for a moment. Life is like that. It is a conscious stream. It is constantly moving. We have to pay attention that sometimes we stop the flow and that is a problem. We have to understand that life is flowing so we can go with it.

There is life in everything. Sometimes we think that there is life only if there are certain conditions met. That is wrong thinking. There is life in everything. The idea or challenge is to find the meaning, to find life, in all situations. It is a conscious stream. That means that we need to be aware, to know. Our challenge is to know what the meaning is of our life. Yoga teaches this.

Life is a journey, a trip, but you need to know from where to where so that you can interpret the struggles of life. Interpret means you become aware that this is what you are struggling with and then you can wisely find the tools in order to support you. Sivananda said life is a voyage in the infinite ocean of time. It is important to understand that life does not start at birth and does not end at death. He said “infinite ocean of time”. That means you have gone through different experiences in this life, but also in past lives. According to the theory of karma and reincarnation, there is past life, and there will be future life also. There will be future opportunities to experience different experiences in order for you to pay off your karmic debt. In order for you to have other kinds of experience, to complete the picture so you can eventually become perfect. Life is a voyage in the infinite ocean of time. Scenes are perpetually changing. This life is only a chapter in the book of your life. When you read a novel there are different chapters. Different chapters have other people coming in, new characters, new plot, and different scenery all together. 

From impurity to purity:

Life is a journey from impurity to purity. That means we go towards our purity, our state of perfection where there is no blockage, blemish or difficulty that comes from our wrong vision of who we are. Yoga philosophy says that we are pure light. We are pure consciousness. We are the source of life and light itself. However, sometimes when you use a seeing glass to see, and there is a crack or dirt on the glass, then you see everything with this dirt. That is impurity. We need to remove the dirt in order to see clearly and that is the process of life.

According to the theory of yoga, there are three kinds of impurities. There is the impurity that comes from egoism – which means the wrong idea of self. There is also the impurity that comes from the nature of the mind all the time jumping and restless and projecting different ideas, stories and scenarios and we need to calm that mind down in order for us to see correctly the beauty that is behind the movies. The mind is constantly projecting different stories, different movies, and different drama. The effort is to calm the mind in order for you to see the beautiful picture behind. The third impurity according to the philosophy of yoga is the veiling nature of the mind. The mind not only projects false ideas about yourself and about things and makes you restless and you run after it, but also it veils your true nature, it veils your consciousness, your awareness or your  knowledge of the True Self. You can learn all this if you take Vedanta courses in our yoga teacher training course. The impurities that we are born with create our sense of  struggle. Life is a journey from impurity to purity, is a journey of purification

From hatred to cosmic love:

Life is also a journey from hatred to cosmic love. We start with a lot of hatred in our heart, or you can say disliking and liking. When you have a lot of dislikes and likes in your mind then you would have hatred and bits of love that is not satisfied. In order for us to experience this cosmic love – that means this very complete, very freeing, very expanded, unconditional love – we need to go through the journey of life that presents to us many opportunities to hate in order for us to develop the capacity to love unconditionally.

Recognize the true story about your life:

I share with you the pointers that Swami Sivananda gives in order for you to recognize what is the true story about your life. When you struggle with life, we always blame some external force, somebody or circumstance, but it is not true. It is something that is happening inside of you independent from what is happening externally, or the thing happening externally is only to help you to understand something that is happening internally. The journey of yoga is the journey to understand that journey that is happening within you. Know where you are at and find the tools and resources in order for you to help yourself on that journey so that you do not spend so much energy, so much effort, sometimes uselessly and end up in stress and disease.

Prevent disease and premature death

What does disease mean? The system breaks down. When it breaks down you become sick and then you die. That’s all. You die earlier, but if you help yourself then the system becomes stronger, resistant and you do not have to die so early. That means you have more opportunities to continue your learning. If not, according to the theory of yoga, life is not finished when you die and you will continue another time. However, it’s a waste. It’s too bad, like you say when you see people who are young die. It’s too bad because they had an opportunity to experience life. Again, we need to understand what experience of life we need to all experience. Sometimes we think it is the experience of sensual enjoyment. It is not. We think we are born with the body, the mind, and the senses in order for us to enjoy life. Swami Sivananda, who was a wise sage and teacher, explained that this is not the case. We are here to learn certain lessons. The meaning of life is to learn certain lessons. If you learn it faster, it is better.

Now we continue to figure out what is the meaning of life so you can cooperate with it and you can understand where you are from and where you are going. You are from that mind that has strong likes and dislikes, strong hatred. You are going toward love that is not selfish, that is unconditional. We call it cosmic love.

Journey from death to immortality:

You are going from death to immortality. What that means is eventually we understand all our lessons and we do not have to be reborn. We become complete and fulfilled and that journey, that cycle of life and death will automatically cease because we have attained the complete full knowledge of ourselves. I just talked about this connection between disease and death and destruction of our instrument faster than we need because we do not know how to drive our vehicle and the spending of energy and spending of prana that makes us actually die early. The journey is you need to come from mortality to eventually the realization of our immortality, from imperfection to perfection.

From imperfection to perfection:

You started in life imperfect and we move towards perfection. Don’t try to condemn people when you see their imperfection because if you look at yourself also you have had some kind of trait of character that is quite difficult and then you struggle with it for a long time and now you become much more peaceful or stronger with it and you can look at somebody else. Know that everyone is progressing. Everyone is moving from imperfection to perfection. Have compassion when you see people struggle, but also hold the space for them – that means have a vision of them that is the highest, because they might not be able to see themselves, but you will be able to see them. You hold the space for them. Let’s say somebody struggles with anger. You have a vision of them completely peaceful, no anger. That thought of yours also will help them.

Journey from slavery to freedom:

Life is a journey from slavery to freedom. Sometimes you see people alienated. Not because of the external condition, like now some of you live in a condition where you cannot be free to go out, be free to shop, be free to entertain yourself, be free to travel. The whole world is subject to that by the universe, there is some universal teaching here to the whole world to turn inward and to slow down. I say that the world is somehow feverish, has caught a sickness. When a person is sick we tell them to go to bed, rest, take it easy. All the plans of “I need to do this and this and this” calm down, modify, and change. You start to realize, “oh, it’s not so important. I can change my plan and conserve my energy and turn inward.” So the world now is forced to turn inward, to slow down. Everything is contradicted. Our normal way of life is contradicted, we cannot go on. We are in some sort of crisis situation and life struggle becomes stronger than normal.

Life is a journey from slavery to freedom. Even in that condition, when you feel you cannot do anything, you can find your inner freedom. This is the yoga teaching. You can find the freedom from within you. Freedom is from within you. Freedom is not from outside. Some people in different circumstances are “free”, but the more they are free – to travel, eat what they like, think what they like, talk what they like – they feel very alienated. There is a false freedom. We need to discover the true freedom from within.

From diversity to unity:

The journey of life also means the journey from diversity to unity. From seeing the differences between you and me, different cultures, languages, religious beliefs, characters, genders, colors. We are looking out and seeing only the differences. That kind of vision creates the unnecessary struggles that we have. Sometimes we get into war, we get into crimes, and we get into all kinds of conflict. We need to understand that our journey is from diversity to unity. Seeing our diversity, but seeing at the same time the oneness that is behind.

From ignorance to wisdom:

Our journey also is a journey from ignorance to eternal wisdom. Some people want to study and they get a certificate in university, they finish, and they don’t know what to do with their life. They get another certificate, and another, and another, but they always feel empty. What is the reason? They feel the lack of knowledge because they are not in connection with the Self. That state of ignorance is not the intellectual ignorance or the technical ignorance; it’s a state of darkness not being able to connect with yourself. According to yoga, that is ignorance. The more you are able to understand that you do not know, the more you have a chance to know. The problem is that people think that they know and they act out and create a lot more trouble for themselves, but if they slow down, like now how the world is forcing you to slow down, then you start to know that you do not know. Then at that time, you switch your thinking, your priority and try to find true knowledge. That is eternal wisdom. You become wise. All the life crises we go through are to teach us to become wise.

Journey from pain to eternal bliss:

Life is a journey from pain to eternal bliss. Life is full of pain. Physical pain. We go to the doctor and we hope that the doctor will heal us, give us this pill, that pill. Some people eat a cocktail of pills because they have so much different pains. Sometimes the doctor interpret the pains as only external symptoms. Sometimes modern medicine cannot see the connection between the different pains. Then they give you different remedies for different kinds of pain in different systems of the body, but do not quite understand the connection. The connection between the physical body and the astral, or mental, body is very important to understand. The connection between the mental body, or the mental state of affairs, and our spirit is very important to understand. That’s what we try to understand in order for us to not self-create more pain and if there is already pain, to be able to detach from the pain, to be able to accept the pain and find happiness or bliss within the pain. It looks impossible, but that is the teaching of yoga. Every topic in yoga takes a lot of explanation in order for you to understand.

Our journey is from weakness to infinite strength. If you are suffering right now, it is because of some kind of weakness. This philosophy of yoga can be difficult to accept. We always think our suffering comes from some external source, but our suffering comes from our own weaknesses. We have to understand what is it that we need to equip ourselves in order for us to become stronger. Life is a journey to become stronger and stronger. Sometimes we think that strength means to push, to make an effort and to display violence toward ourselves, or outside of ourselves. We call that strength, but it is not. Actually, it is weakness. The yoga philosophy will define for you what is real strength. There are scriptures that teach about the ways to behave in order for you not to be caught in reactivity, in conflict, in unnecessary comparison or competition with others, and how to become strong by yourself, how to overcome your weakness. What is the way to interpret our strength and our weakness at the same time? Similar to muscles in the body, sometimes we like to exercise certain muscles, do certain postures that we like because the muscles are strong so we can do it. When we have a certain weakness in the body then we don’t like to do it. We like to skip this weakness. The yoga teaching is that you need to exercise the weak muscles more and you exercise less the strong muscles so that we avoid the compensation. If there is a weakness and a strength, there is always what we call compensation. The idea is you need to be very patient to work on our weakness and eventually everything will balance out.

Life is service an sacrifice:

Life is a great opportunity provided so that we can evolve. Life is service and sacrifice – a different meaning of life that Swami Sivananda gave you. It’s not just for enjoyment of the senses and then sleep, eat, and then die. It’s not like that. Life is service. Understand the relationship between you and other people around you. Understand that if you work for other people, you love other people unconditionally, and you serve them you actually elevate yourself. There is a story of a disciple and a teacher going through the different compartments of hell. They come to one place and they see the people there very much suffering. Why? Because all the people in the room have a fused elbow. The elbow cannot bend. They cannot eat food, pick up things, or scratch their head. The main thing is that they cannot eat food. They are very frustrated and angry. Then the disciple and the teacher go to another compartment and they see that these people are very happy and they have the same problem. All the elbows are fused and yet people are very happy. Why? Because they feed each other.

We need to help each other. We need to serve each other because it serves ourselves. It makes ourselves happy. Life is service and sacrifice.

Life is love. How to find love in this life is the most important question. Life is relationship. Through truly developing relationship, correct relationship, positive relationship with each other we enhance our life. Swami Sivananda says that life is poetry, but not prose. That means not dry. It’s poetry, it’s a song. Life is a song. Life is art and imagination. We are here as passing pilgrims, which means temporarily. Our journey here on earth in this time, circumstances, and body is temporary. Remember that. Our destination is our perfection. Our life is a quest, or the questioning for the lost inheritance, for something we had, but somehow now we don’t have. We have forgotten something that is very fundamental and that’s how we feel very empty and sad.

The central goal of life is realization of oneness:

Understand that the goal of your life is to come into the conscious realization of our oneness. Conscious means that you see it, you know it, and you understand it. Realization is where you say, “oh my god, I did not understand that. I did not understand that when I harm somebody I harm myself. I did not understand that I abuse the animals and how now it creates some problems in climate change. I did not see the connection between my violent behaviors toward some being and now the flood, the virus, the fire and all those things are happening  to me. I did not see the connection.”

There is a connection in everything. We need to come to the conscious realization of our oneness. The opportunity to understand it is now. It is not tomorrow. It is not in the book. It is now. The more that you are in a challenging space, the more you need to dive deep within and find the reason. Transform yourself. You cannot transform something outside. The more we tried to change something outside, the more we are powerless. The more we equip ourselves with this right attitude and the right practices in order for us to elevate our immune system – that includes the positive thinking and positive lifestyle – then the more we improve our immune system, then the more we become strong. We become immune to diseases.

The central goal of life is the coming into a conscious realization of our oneness. If within the difficulties that you find yourself now, within the struggles, and you start to have these wise insights: “Oh I am not alone. My life is not that bad really. Look at this other person’s life. They struggle much harder. They have no food to eat. They are starving and I am complaining that the food that I prefer is not being served.” We start to see this connection. We start to open our heart and understand consciously this oneness. At that time the challenging condition, the difficulties you have, is an opportunity only and you become grateful. The moment you open your heart and you understand the meaning of life you become so grateful, because you have your life back immediately. You don’t feel empty, you don’t feel blameful, you don’t feel resentment. You have your life back. You connect to the source of life. Then you become so joyful.

Swami Sivananda said that life has no meaning as a separate life. In the time of challenge, of Covid pandemic, we have the tendency to become more isolated because we cannot meet with our friends, we cannot mingle, we cannot touch and talk and we become almost suspicious of other people. At the same time, you have to open your heart. It’s a delicate kind of balance. How? You have to be very careful of opportunities of infection by some kind of contagious disease. At the same time, how will you open your heart more to find the oneness? That is the challenge. That is why we say this is a challenging time. How to find unity in diversity? How to find joy in difficulties? How to find peace when we are not peaceful? How to find strength when you find you want to collapse? Know that you are going through a test. The whole world is going through a test. Knowing that you are going through a test will give you more strength. It’s not like this forever. It is a test only, so try to be strong.

Life on earth is a school to learn to see spirit in matter.

One more teaching that is important is life in matter and life in spirit. Swami Sivananda says that life in matter, that means life on Earth, is a school. The struggle of life is that you need to fight. Not fight with each other, but fight with your own negative tendencies. Boldly face all the difficulties and tribulations of this earthly life, be a person with courage, and know that life is a school. Live a simple life in an unassuming manner. Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate and Realize. See life as one, as a whole. See the unity of life. Smile with a flower and a green grass. Smile with everybody and everything that you meet.

Stress & anxiety stop the flow of life force:

If not, if you don’t follow the flow of life then you will stop the flow and that’s when you come into stress. You will spend the prana or the life resource uselessly when you try to do things that are impossible or not worth it. You will waste your prana when you don’t know how to connect with nature, connect with the source of prana or life source that is within you and you are very anxious so you become more rigid. When you are fearful, you become paralyzed and more rigid. The more you become rigid, less accommodating, less flexible, fearful then the more that the flow of life obstructs and the more the thing that you are afraid of becomes even more serious. You aggravate the problem to yourself. I wish for you to understand the mechanism that challenges you for a reason. Face the challenge, become strong and don’t create unnecessary problem for yourself by this negative reaction that one has toward the challenge. Think of it as a positive opportunity and try to cure yourself from anxiety.

Anxiety is a big word these days. People are very anxious. It is said when you are anxious it is because you think of the future. You are regretful when you think of the past. You are anxious when you think of the future. If you find yourself anxious, you need to think of the present. You live in the present. If you can apply yoga techniques, they help you live in the present. Do the breathing, do the relaxation, and do the meditation so you can be in the present, so you can face the challenge that your own mind creates. You solve this big crisis of the world. How do you solve it? You solve it from yourself, not expecting someone to solve it. There is just you. You solve the problem by turning within and trying to control and elevate your mind.

Know that from stress comes disease. Research shows that 95% of the diseases comes from stress. If you are stressed that means you become rigid and you are not adapting. When you stress, you have disease. From disease comes destruction of the body, the cells, and death. Face that. Is it a message that you like to hear? This morning is a very serious message and you might not like to hear this, but this is what we need to face.

Thank you very much for being here. Anything that we, all the yoga teachers, can do to support you – there are many yoga teachers all over the world that understand this teaching. Go to the yoga teacher or the wise people and get yourself support and help. Don’t be alone because you are not alone. Your problem is not a personal problem. Even though you have to solve the problem from yourself, but your problem is one of ignorance of this whole world.

Hari Om Tat Sat.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

satsang by swami Sitaramananda Aug 2021

Thu, 8/19 11:36AM • 47:34


mind, fear, Covid pandemic, people, prana, anxiety, faith, life, stress, stress responses, energy, mantra, relaxation, detachment, attachment, crises, mental health, physical health, spiritual health, yoga teacher, emotions, positive thinking, meditation, yoga lifestyle.

The topic is fear, anxiety and stress.  It’s a topic of our time.  Some countries are experiencing the COVID situation, they are in lockdown.  In some other countries, like in the US, it’s not currently locked down, but still the increase of COVID cases is very big and there is a different situation that creates anxiety and fear.  So it’s very important for us to understand what is  fear and anxiety, their symptoms, and also a few methods on how we can deal with this.  It’s a short talk, but we also have some other videos and articles that we can share on the topic.

What is fear?

Fear is a primitive emotion. It is  a very basic emotion for survival.  We are afraid when there is a sense of threat, imaginary or real, and we feel that we are being threatened.  We develop fear as a way to protect ourselves.  We have different ways of stress response.   For some people, it will be to fight, for some people it will be to run (flight), and for some people it will be to freeze.  Fight means you go against, flight means you run away, and freeze is when you cannot do anything.

I remember one time one of my students was visiting India with me, and she opened the closet and a big rat climbed into her hand and walked up her arm.  And she looked at it, and she didn’t scream, she didn’t move.  She didn’t do anything. And she just looked at the rat moving on her arm.  So, that is the freeze response, she could not do anything, she was paralyzed.

Different people have different reactions depending on their  temperament, their type of nature. You need to recognize how you function and recognize how the people around you function so you understand them.

Fear and anxiety can happen any time. You develop fear when you encounter an unfamiliar situation. Normally, you have a routine, you go to work, everything is orderly. Now everything changes, your routine changes. So already that creates a certain kind of anxiety and then your imagination aggravates the emotional condition. You have a lot of imagination. Your mind starts to create different scenarios and different imagined outcomes, then you believe in it, because you believe in the mind.  You do not have the practice to be detached from the mind and to be the observer of the mind and to know that what is in the mind is not necessarily true.

If you have not developed this technique of yoga to observe the mind, then you believe what the mind says. And at that time, you know it will be cascading, that means the thought which is in your mind and your imagination will be cascading into something more and more serious. The entire mind will become distorted. 

The drama when the mind becomes distorted is that you lose the connection with your True Self. When you lost this connection,  you don’t know what to do.

Manifestations of fear and anxiety:

The main thing that you know about fear, please remember this point, is that fear paralyzes you.

 It means normally you have a lot of inner resources or creativity and you know what to do, but when you have fear, all of a sudden you don’t know what to do.  You are paralyzed.

Let’s say you are watching TV or something and it happened to be a horror movie and you are very afraid. So the TV is just about three feet away, or one or two meter away, but you cannot switch it off. You cannot move, you cannot switch it off. You are there completely frozen, not able to breathe, because you are so afraid.

Then you react and you do things that are not reasonable when you are afraid.  I heard somebody says that in Vietnam, some people are so afraid of catching COVID virus that some people go and tape their doors and windows, as if they can prevent the virus from entering. Obviously, they did not have the right information to know how to deal with COVID . When they tape the doors and windows or hold their breath so they do not breathe, what happens?  They will not have sufficient energy, prana, life force and will get sick. So it’s a completely wrong reaction. In the contrary, you need to breathe deeply and you need to open the windows so that air, new air, can come in and change the air in your room. This is one of the examples when your faculty becomes paralyzed and then you make wrong decisions.

You also can have other kinds of impulses that also come from fear.  For example, you will be hoarding, buying, buying, buying, to prepare yourself in case something happens.  Another possibility is  you will be in isolation, you don’t want to talk to anybody.  You think people are a bother and you don’t want to talk and you’re afraid of people.

You also become blameful.  You blame yourself, your father, your mother, the government, etc. If you are blameful, you have become negative.

 You develop shame and guilt as well. This is quite common that you think that you’re not doing enough, you blame yourself for not taking enough precautions. You are afraid for your children and you want to protect everyone, so you develop a guilty feeling. 

Then the other negative reaction is that you become depressed. You lose your motivation to live, because things are different, and then you don’t know what life is about, and then you become depressed.  You’re not coping very well.

You can also develop what we call “ hyper-vigilance”. Hyper-vigilance is when you have extreme intensity in your mind, checking and double checking all of the information surrounding you. In an intense manner, you try to control everything around you.

This extra vigilance and control takes a lot of your energy.  It makes you very tense, and then you imagine all kinds of things. Eventually, hyper-vigilance will take a toll on your system because you spend a lot of energy in tension.

The other problem of reaction coming from stress and anxiety is addiction.  Addiction is a self-destructive habit. When you have addiction, you lost your sense of self control and you indulge in things that you did not do before.  You can eat tons of sugar for example, which is an addiction, you can drink more alcohol, or you drink more coffee, something that you already have a certain weakness about. Addiction and over indulgence in self destructive habit is another side effect of fear.

Sometimes we don’t know that we are afraid, but we say that we are stressed. It’s the same phenomenon. So with stress you can see that you cannot solve the problems, you cannot be very clear in your mind because you have low prana, low energy and your negative emotions are plenty, you have a lot of negative emotion, for example anger.

Stress takes your prana away and consequently,  you cannot adapt to a situation.  Your mind fixates on a certain scenario, what you like to do. When things are not the way you like or expect and you cannot adapt, it creates a blockage in the flow of prana, and makes things worse.

The fear that you already have at the bottom of your mind which we call existential anxiety comes up.  Normally when you function in daily life,  you can control more or less this existential anxiety by having a life, a kind of a normal life, where you do things or you produce things, and then you enjoy yourself, more or less.

But when something happens that makes this fear , this anxiety of living comes up to the surface. Existential anxiety comes not just because something happened, but just because you are born in this body, and you don’t know,  “Who am I? Where am I going and what is this life about? What is life? What is death? Why are so many people dying? And why are so many people suffering?” So all of these existential questions all of a sudden come up in the mind. If you can follow them and relate to them and you understand them, this is good. But sometimes you cannot formulate them, and this unknown anxiety attacks you. Then you can be depressed and do wrong things. At that time, it’s good for you to have some counseling, some kind of spiritual counseling. To deal with existential anxiety, you have to use spiritual counseling and philosophy of living.

Karma and stress:

There are certain life situations that you are experiencing which we call “karmic situations”. These difficult situations that normally you are already trying  to manage, might come up to the surface and become aggravated in stressful situation.

Let’s say that your karma in this life is already having difficult relationships with people.  But when you’re stressed out, yeah, this relationship issue becomes more serious as  it takes more energy from you. You then go back to your old pattern, your negative pattern of reaction and  you get things more entangled.

Stress resilience skills:

You need to build stress resilience, i.e. learning  how to become stronger to face difficulty. You need to:

1. learn  the basic skill of how to increase prana, how to have more prana, more energy, more vitality. For example: 1. going in nature and eating natural good food will give you more prana. 2. doing nice exercise like yoga exercise will help you to move your energy even though you think that you’re just moving your physical body. It’s not true, when the body moves, the energy will move the mind and the mind will become more flexible and will become more flowing when the body is moving.

You don’t have to go and run excessively, you just have to take some walks, move the body, do some asanas and breathing.

 It is very important to have prana. So very important that you learn, that when you breathe with your diaphragm, you double the capacity of your lungs, you double your oxygen intake, and you also increase your prana, your vitality.  And when your vitality is there, your mind will be uplifted, immediately, it changes wavelength.  Instead of having the fear and the anxiety and the frozen rigid state of mind at its very low wavelength, now your mind will change wavelength and go higher.

So understand that prana intake is  part of the breathing, not just intake of oxygen, but also the vitality, the life force that come into your system.  And when life comes into your system, then your intelligence starts to work, your mind starts to think and then you know how to do and what to do, how to take proper decision.

So you need to learn to increase the prana, the life force, you need to build up your resilience, your strength and how to resist the stress so that you are not stressed and fearful, yeah, so that you can have some positive thoughts in your mind.

2. Skill of Adaptability:

Adaptation is an important skill to learn to reduce stress. As example, the situation of Covid virus is constantly requiring us to adapt to new situation.

For example these days, one day you close the business, then next day you open the business, and then you have to close the business again, and you have to open it again. You thought that you could be free to travel and then you cannot be free to travel, you have to cancel your journeys and your traveling plans, your meeting with friends plans or your meeting with family plans, you have to constantly change. This situation can become very unsettling. But that is how we exercise adaptability. 

3. increase faith:

Faith allows you to have a vision because when things change, you don’t have a vision, you cannot see. When you are in the normal situation you can see.  I can make the plan that in three months I will do this, in six months I will do this, in one year, I will do this. You have some long term plans. But with a situation of stress, negativity and fear, you don’t have long term plans, you have to do a few days at a time, one day at a time. That’s part of adaptability. Some people are more flexible, they change, they change, they change, and they are fine. And some people cannot change, they are slow in changing by nature. So when you deal with family members or friends, you have to know, you cannot expect people to be on the same level as you. Some people will change and some people will not be able to change, because of their nature. So don’t blame them.  Don’t be upset.

Anxiety taxes your system:  

Anxiety is a form of fear.  Anxiety is a fear that has no name.  It is the same as fear for survival and perceived threat, perceived danger. Perceived means it’s a subjective thing, it’s not certain that it is there.  And then you become very anxious that you are hyper-aroused, that means that all your systems are on alert.  The nervous  system is built in order for you to save yourself. For example, when the system is on the alert, then all of a sudden you cannot digest your food because all of the energy goes to the extremities to get ready for running, and then you cannot digest food that normally you can digest, because there is no energy going to the digestive system. That’s called hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance when you monitor the internal and external environment intensely.  There is not necessarily any cause.  Fear will can create a paralyzed state for the body (which means that you are not moving), but also a paralyzed mind which means you do not have resources, you cannot think.  Normally, when you are relaxed, you know this and that, and you will always have some solution because the solution comes from inside, but when you are in that fear and anxiety, you have no solution, you panic!

Attachment is the root cause of fears and anxieties:

 If you feel that you are desperate, that you have no solution for your life, and you have all kinds of negative thoughts, yeah, you need to know that you are

afraid. It is helpful to just being able to be aware of that state of mind and be able to name it, be aware that “for some reason I am very stressed and I’m very fearful”. The second thing very important for you to please understand is the yoga teachings say that fear comes from attachment.

Do enquiry: Why you are  afraid? Of course it’s because of your survival instinct. It’s for the preservation of your life, but also it is because of your attachment to some aspect of this life. “Attachment is the root cause of fear and anxiety.”

What is attachment? Attachment is the identification, with something that you think that you will not be able to live without.  That means that you are losing yourself in the thing you are attached to. Attachment doesn’t have to be equated with love.  You still have love without attachment.  Sometimes we make a mistake, we think that love and attachment are the same. They are not.

You can be loving but not necessarily attached.  When you become very attached, that’s when you become very fearful.  If you want to lower your fear and anxiety, you need to lower your attachment.  But when you are strongly attached, and you identify yourself with it, it’s very difficult to detach, because you feel that you are losing your life.

When you feel that you have to detach, it’s like you are losing that which is your life itself, so then you cling on to it even more. That’s the reason why you have hyper vigilance, you want to control everything and you cling on to the thing that you are attached to. You go in the opposite direction of what will lead you to your well- being, you develop an opposite reaction.

Affirmation of courage:

So, there are a few things that you need to do.  You need to know that the mind is imagining different things and projecting different ideas and reacting. You need to feel courage, do self-affirmation of courage, write it down or repeat it out loud, “everything will be fine.”  You know, “I am fine.” and affirmation of courage, “I can do it.”

Let’s say you lost your job.  If you have the courage and the inner resources, then you know that you can create a new way of living.  But if you are feeling completely desperate and hopeless, then you will not be able to, and then you will fall down even more with the situation.

The power of now:

Fear and anxiety, often time, come because you’re thinking of the past, your mind is in the past, and then you project your future. When your mind is in fear, it’s either in the past or in the future.

So what do you need to do then?  You need to be in the present.  You need to know the power of now.  Yoga techniques are helping you to have less fear and anxiety, by bringing you to the now.

How to be in the now?  You have to be able to control the mind and put the mind in a concentrated state.  Concentration of mind needs to be on  something that is positive in order to bring you to the present.  For example, repeating a mantra, which is a sacred sound, is very positive. 

So instead of worrying and worrying, thinking of 10,000 scenarios, running here, running there, or running here, running there in your mind and lose energy,  you can repeat your mantra with faith, devotion and concentration. You’ll be in the now, because your mind is not moving in the past, nor projecting into the future, because when the mind is calm, it can be in the present.

When the mind is calm, it can be in the present because it can look at something without zooming on something,  then it just relaxes. When the mind is calm and relaxed, the prana is flowing, you are connecting to yourself and everything is working. Then you can be in the now and then when you are in the now, you can have resources.

Relax in the power of being:

Trust in what is called the power of being.  The power of being comes when you are not all in your mind, your mind is not you.  The power of being comes when you are relaxed.  Yoga helps you to relax and to be yourself.

Improved breath and body awareness:

When you practice yoga, you need to be more aware of the relationship between breath and movement.  So also, the yoga teacher will help the student to be more connected to their breath coordinated with  their movement.  The more that you’ll be able to do that, then the more that you will be able to regulate yourself in the breath and the movement.

It’s very important, this will bring in relaxation, because when you are stressed and when you are fearful, you have much tension in the body, and you cannot really relax. That’s why doing asanas is a  very important practice. Then eventually you can do savasana relaxation which is successive series of tensions and releases.  

So number one in being aware of  body and mind is to slow down, slow down. Improved awareness happens only when body and mind slow down. When your mind is racing, you cannot slow down.

Elongate exhalation to switch the mind to relaxation state:

When you are breathing,  the exhalation has to be longer than the inhalation in order to bring about relaxation. If your inhalation is for three seconds, then your exhalation will be for six seconds, if your inhalation is for four seconds, then your exhalation will be for eight seconds.

You can put a pillow or something heavy on your belly, so you can connect with the most important and basic aspect of life, which is your breath.  You feel when you inhale and you feel when you exhale. Something heavy on your belly will help you to really exhale as it pushes on your tummy and helps you to exhale. You can do restorative yoga, which is basically the same.  You put yourself in a very comfortable posture, breathe, relax and allow all the tension in the body to release. 

Balance the prana with pranayama:

You also need to balance your prana.  The best way is to do “anuloma viloma”, the alternate nostril breath.

What ratio, with retention, or no retention, and how long retention?  For that you can ask your yoga teacher, but you need to balance the flow prana (that will directly influence your emotions) and balance your right and left brain activity.

Increase awareness and be gentle:

Increasing awareness means to be very gentle with yourself and others. When you are in a stressful situation, when your family member is in a stressful situation, or fearful, or paralyzing, you need to be very gentle with them. Be aware that they actually are very anxious and don’t force them. The one thing is don’t force them in anything,

When people are strong and healthy, yoga teacher can push them a little bit to break through their limitations, but not when they are anxious and weak. At that time, yoga teacher needs to give a lot of encouragement: “You are doing well. It’s very good.”  And then, “Relax, you are fine.” 

Increase Ojas, the power of sustenance and endurance:

How to increase Ojas Shakti, i.e. the power of sustenance and immunity?  Increase  immunity through breathing, relaxation, through deep good sleep.  When people are anxious they cannot sleep. 

Also, Ojas Shakti or the power of sustenance of life, comes from your deep heart when you have faith. When people are anxious, they are cut off from their faith, they don’t have faith, they only worry.  You need to give them good quality food, that’s very important, good quality food, in order for them to nourish themselves and nurture Ojas, avoiding nervous eating which aggravates anxiety even more.

Gratitude and faith:

The general attitude to encourage is the attitude of trust and devotion, of love for God.  When people are anxious, they do not think that God exists so they will be hyper vigilant and super controlling thinking that they are going to solve their problems that way.

Yoga teachers can help people to relax and encourage them to increase their faith.  Because the moment faith returned, the fear and anxiety disappear. The feeling of gratitude is a good stepping stone to the feeling of devotion. Replace doubt with gratitude.  As homework, ask to make a list of gratitude and repeat it daily. The heart will change.  

Let go of desires, adopt attitude of contentment:

A very good attitude to adopt in the time of restlessness is the attitude of being content. Normally the mind is always restless motivated by desire. Now, the mind is content and  turning inward. Tune into the heart and feel contentment, gratitude and relaxation.

Group of students practice proper relaxation or savasana

Create security and emotional relaxation:

In Yoga practice,  use props, blankets, pillows, to create the security, the warmth, the quiet and the support of you and your family members. Do comfortable posture and experience emotional relaxation.  Listen to some nice music.  For those who have a connection with a mantra, you can play the mantra such as, “Om Trayambhakam Yajamahe Sugandim Pushtivardanam Urvarukamiva Bhadanan Mritror Mukshia Mam Mritat”, the mantra that says that everything is happening by the will of the universe, everything is evolving, and it’s a prayer to help you health, healing and liberation. It’s a good mantra for disease, for healing, for everything!  So you can play at very low volume the recording of this mantra, all day long, even when you’re sleeping.  all day long, in a low voice, not loud. It will become the  background of your mind and you will become  reassured that everything is okay, everything is as it should be, you do not have to worry about this.

Detachment and remembrance of Self:

You can learn detachment when you can remember your true Self. In the beginning, if you cannot remember your true self, then you can do self-affirmation so you can eventually remember, because the Atman or your Soul is untouched by any kind of diseases, any kind of separation, any kind of threat.  Affirm “I am satchitananda (existence, knowledge and bliss absolute), I am eternal. I am present all the time. I am knowledge and light, there is nothing that is in the dark for me.  And I am bliss and happiness. You use the language with which you can connect and you assert your healthy Self, instead of thinking of disease.

The power of autosuggestion:

What you think is what you become”.  Instead of thinking:  “I might get the disease, I will die and I will lose everything”, keep repeating, “I am healthy in body and mind.”  The healthy thought that you repeat to yourself will help you to be healthy because the body listens to you. 

The body is the subconscious mind. It listens to the order of the boss, and you are the boss.  So you have to say,  “I am healthy.”  And the subconscious mind will say, “Oh, really?”  And then it will start to produce, to work, to connect and do all these things that make you healthy.  The moment that you give the auto suggestion to your mind, “I’m not healthy and I’m going to die,” this kind of thought is not going to help you.  Do use the power of auto suggestion, of positive thinking, and know that at the bottom line, you are healthy all the time.

Cultivate the faith. 

Faith is not blind faith, but it’s the knowledge that everything is fine. There are 3 aspects of faith.

First is faith in yourself, faith that you are not hopeless.  Second is having faith in the Yoga practice. If you do pranayama and you don’t believe that it will do anything, it doesn’t help you. If you do breathing exercises, relaxation exercises, and you don’t believe that it will work, then it will not help you. So you need to develop the faith towards the practice. Now is the time for you to practice more.  It is not the time for you to be worrying and to be criticizing or blaming.  It is a time where you need to just really focus on the practice. Third, you trust inside that you know the answer.  You have faith in the Divine Mother or in the universe, in Mother Nature.

Trust Mother Nature:

Of course the epidemic and the virus are here for whatever reason, but it doesn’t matter. You do what you can, use faith but also use the logical mind, the scientific mind, wear a mask and use social distance. Many people have studied all this. Now open the doors and windows to have air.

Be in nature. Be in the sun. It is very important to be in the sun,  for 10 to 15 minutes a day, be in the sun.  If you are not able to go out, stay on your balcony. If you cannot go to the forest, look at the tree in front of your house. Be friend with your tree. Love nature and  try to see the big picture. Meditate, see the big picture, that everything is in the hands of the Creator and it is not in your hands.

The whole universe is in the hands of the Creator. So you do what you can and then you relax, you trust, okay? Life will never disappear. Life will always be there,  it just changes from this way, that way and you trust and you will find.  Don’t be too attached and let go of your attachment.

Avoid negative company.

 Another thing I want to add to the list is try to avoid negative company.

When you are weak, don’t watch TV all the time.  You do not need to see on news channel everyday that there are how many new cases, how many casualties how many people died.

From time to time, you need to be aware of the news. But if you indulge in news every day, the news become your sacred mantra. “How many people died? How many people got sick?” It doesn’t help you. Stay away from negative company.  Negative company will kill your faith.


Try to control your fears and anxieties yourself. Be very gentle with yourself and others. Don’t be angry. Don’t be violent because when you are stressed, oftentimes you cannot control yourself, you become angry, and you are  expecting more  from other people.

Be aware that when people are anxious, it takes all their energy. They may be at home, but then they cannot do anything. Avoid blaming them: “Now you’re useless, you’re at home, you have so much time, why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that.”  But we have no idea that they are consumed by their anxiety.  They’re at home, but they cannot do anything, because they’re consumed by their anxiety, because their life has changed.

Okay, so, live a simple life, because the more your life is complicated, the more you have fear of losing things.

 You’ll notice that your children might be clinging more to you, they become more demanding, because the anxiety of separation might be there in the atmosphere sometimes now, children can pick up the anxiety, and you can pick it up also, because it is in the environment.

You need to be more positive. Any kind of faith that you have will make you stronger, so develop faith, any kind of faith, as it will make you stronger. Any religion, any faith that you have, it doesn’t matter which kind, just have faith that everything is taken care of, and then you will become stronger. The opposite of faith is doubt. So don’t allow doubt to enter your mind.

And ask the experts. Don’t be alone, don’t be isolated, don’t think that you are unique, okay? Use your logical mind because fear is an emotion. So therefore when you have fear you are not able to use your logical mind. At that time you can use the logical mind of somebody else who is logical, who is scientific, to balance out your emotions. So ask for help. We are here to support you.

OM shanti

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

Transition in Relationships

Transition in Relationships


people, mind, yoga, life, spiritual knowledge, family condition, mental health, karmic relationship, raja yoga, strength, balance,  emotionnal balance, karma yoga, adaptability, flexibility, avoidance, isolation, responsibility, personality, relationships, equanimity, loss, bhakti yoga, yoga life

The Flow of Relationships

Today we continue the topic of the Yoga of Relationships and how to handle transition. How do we manage our relationships? We said yesterday that everything just flows from one thing to another. Life is in transition at all times. Life is a flow. We just need to follow the flow in its many different aspects. One of the aspects is relationships, human relationships.

When we talk about relationships, we talk about the idea of “me” and “others”. We ask the question, How do I manage my relationships? There’s one very nice analogy from Swami Sivananda who compares people to logs floating on the river. The logs sometimes gather and travel a distance together and then split. Then, one log will travel by itself for a time and then again it will meet with other logs on the river.

It is the same for us. Sometimes we meet, we travel some time together, and then through the ebb and flow of life, we go somewhere else. That’s how life goes. How are we going to accept these changes in our relationships, in our life? This is the question. Take for example the case of Narayani. I did not communicate with her for many years. From time to time, I would send her a photo. Say hello. That is it. All of a sudden, I said, “I’ll be in California, would you like to come?” She said yes. Then she got her visa, booked her ticket, and showed up in person in California. So, you do not really know.

Why do we have conflict in relationships?

The most important idea that we talked about yesterday is the idea of “adapt, adjust and accommodate” from Swami Sivananda. It is the idea that in the river of life we will be meeting all types of people who are very different from each other.

In Raja Yoga, Patanjali says that “conflict arises from the interaction of the mind and the three qualities of nature”. This is such a nice and complete description of our condition. Because our minds are changing all the time, we have different minds at different times. Plus, no two minds look alike. The gunas keep playing. That means our own mind is changing between tamas (indolence, darkness), rajas (activity, passion, egoism) and sattva (purity, harmony). We try to regulate the mind with yoga meditation. ‘Regulation of the mind’ is the new modern phrase as well as is the term ‘self-regulation’. We try to regulate the mind which means we are adjusting.

We constantly have to adjust, just like when we are driving a car. Sometimes it’s out of regulation. Sometimes we are attacked by a wave of tamas and other times we are attacked by a wave of rajas. We’re not attacked by sattva. Though we may slip somewhere in between. And then you say, ‘because of the weather’, ‘because of everything’, etc. When you are in the hot sunlight now, then everything around you seems dark. For example, you take a nap in the afternoon after eating and you slip into tamas. If somebody asks you to do something, you get irritated.

Another time, like springtime – it is very beautiful in the springtime here – everything is green, there are spring flowers and all kinds of animals and beautiful flowers, yet there is spring fever. Young people want to leave this very austere life, they want to meet someone, they want to do something, etc. This desire comes with the weather. So also with the time of the day, right? Morning time is very quiet, the air is good, you sit and meditate and chant together. In the evening, when I teach online from 8 to 10 pm, I am fully awake at 10 o’clock pm. After talking for two hours my mind is like a machine and I cannot go to bed, I cannot sleep. Then I have to walk and do things to regulate my mind and my energy.

Sometimes we interact with others, you know, at the wrong place, the wrong time, we make the wrong request, and we don’t understand what the other person is going through, what they are experiencing. Sometimes we flare up, or we put our foot down and make judgments about other people, “She always does this. He always reacts like this”.  We say that it is ‘always’, but the truth is that it is not always. But it’s this particular time, in that particular moment and in whatever circumstance that you might not understand.

“Adapt, adjust and accommodate” in relationships

So We have a lot of difficulty in our relationships like that, because we hardly can understand ourselves and be aware of what’s going on in our own mind and our own energy when we interact with others. The fact is we have to live with others. Some people hide away from others because they think they have peace of mind that way. According to yoga, it is very healthy to live with each other. When you live with each other, you have to adapt, adjust, and accommodate.

When you adapt, adjust, and accommodate, you grow, you mature, you expand your consciousness. You have to continuously accept other people and love people as your own self. There is the idea of oneness that says we are one and there is no stranger, there is no other, there is only one. We can embrace it; we can realize it slowly. It requires a lot of effort and practice to accept others, to adapt, adjust, and accommodate others, to keep even-minded and to keep loving them. Eventually we become good at it and when we become good at it, it’s very good.

Practice of flexibility and strength

We need to practice flexibility and strength. Everyday life is like a beautiful yoga posture there is flexibility, ease, and there is strength. If you don’t have strength, you collapse, you cannot hold a posture, because there are different forces pulling you in different directions. You have to have strength to hold the posture. That means in life, you have to have yourself, have self-confidence, and be able to tune to your own true Self to receive infinite strength.

If you are able to tune-in to your true Self, you will be strong in all conditions. But if you only tune to some aspect of yourself, sometimes you will be strong, and when conditions change, then you will lose it. Therefore, you need to put yourself through different tests, different conditions, to see how you perform, to see if you are able to keep your balance and not resort to blaming someone else; and see if you can keep calm. Keep yourself happy, not just calm. You have to be joyful. Tuning into the heart that is joyful. All is nothing but a test of your strength and flexibility.

You need to know what to do and tune-in to your Self, stay very firm on your path and not lose yourself, because you are under the influence of other people either living with you or on the internet. Nowadays, people can enter your house through the internet. And they can touch and pollute your environment. On the path of yoga you have to be with yourself at all times, then you have to work out the relationships with people, because they are karmic relationships.

Karmic relationships

People that you come into contact with are the manifestation of your own karma, your own mind, your own thoughts, that you have accumulated throughout time, i.e., from past lives. We do not choose only one life. We have met many people from the past and we have reacted to them and thus we have drawn many conclusions and made many decisions that might be wrong. So that is how mental patterns are created. Mental patterns can be very deep and can feel like a prison. You feel that you need to get out. You encounter people in your life so that you can work out your own samskaras, your own impressions. You have a chance, an opportunity, to revisit your patterns, how you think about your own self, manifested as people around you.

This is a very deep and nice theory, you know, of yoga, that everybody is your own Self. And if you have some problem with another person, it is because you have a problem with your own Self. Because you have the problem of yourself and it has manifested in those particular circumstances with another for you to see it and correct your own thinking about yourself. There is nothing but the Self.

And then there is our ego idea, our attachment to yesterday. Again, Raja Yoga is very nice as it talks about our attachment, our association with the Antahkarana.  Antahkarana means our own mind, our own subconscious mind, our own intellect, our own ego and our own Buddhi, our own intelligence. The problem is  the association of  your Self with your own instrument, your own mindset and you believe “this is me”. This is called egoism.  There is egoism when you’re going to meet someone you think is different than yourself, the “other”.

At that time, your mind will just churn up, right? Because you take the information in your subconscious mind, you think, “I have been there, I have met this kind of person before.  I have reacted like this. It worked before. I used this tool called a ‘hammer’ and it got me out of the situation.” Do you know how it works? When you have some difficulty, you just use a hammer and you jam it, in other words, you will just be very rude. And then people are scared of you and run away. Then, as you solve the problem, you might develop the habit of, you know, using the hammer, okay? Or you might use the habit of running away, of escaping, of avoidance.

It has worked, it has worked some time, but it can come back the same or a little bit different, you know, for you, and then you see that eventually your tool doesn’t work anymore. That tool of avoidance will not work, because it’s always the same thing coming and bothering you. The same reaction. So, you have to develop more tools, you have to be more sophisticated in your way of reacting. You have to unearth or uproot the tendency to identify with a certain habit of the mind.

The drama of identification with the habits of the mind

That is the beautiful analogy of association between the Atman or your own Self with the mechanism of your mind. In other words, Patanjali refers to the association of the seer, meaning you, and the instrument of seeing, the mind. You just lose yourself in the body and mind and believe that it is you. That’s a drama, a very big drama that is going on all the time.

Patanjali said that the cause of suffering is egoism and the likes and dislikes —the raga-dvesha. Raga-dvesha means the tendency of the mind to swing this way – liking, attraction – and to swing the other way – repulsion, avoidance. If you are subject to that egoism, believing what you feel and think is yourself, you will perpetuate your suffering.

Your mind will then be swinging this way, affirming what you like and swinging the other way, affirming what you don’t like, affirming what you would rather not have in your life, rather than learning from it. That is a beautiful teaching, the idea that you perpetuate the root cause of your suffering. Therefore, yoga comes with different kinds of teaching. Yoga suggests that you don’t follow your tendencies.

The practice of equanimity

If you like something, don’t like it too much. If you dislike something, don’t dislike it too much. Make the extremes slowly, slowly come together. If the extremes come together and you’re still happy, it means you are becoming stronger. When your mind swings to this end and you get what you like, then you are happy. And then when it swings back – because that’s the way it works, you have to swing back to the other side – when it swings back, you will meet with something you don’t like, and you are unhappy.

Your happiness is conditioned by an external factor. You cannot control things that come into your life. Even things that come into your life, you want to hold on to them to perpetuate your happiness. But it never really works because things are changing. Let’s say you like the circumstances of your relationship with this person, and you find that it’s just perfect. But it doesn’t last because it changes and you suffer.

So, you will have to be wise. To be wise means to understand how your emotions work, how your mind works. You have to consciously manage this condition of your mind for you to have peace or happiness that is stable for a long time. Because when you swing, the mind will go up and down like a roller coaster. You are happy in one condition and unhappy in another condition. But if you can manage your mind -we call it Yoga, equanimity-, you can temper these extremes. Then you don’t identify yourself with it and are more detached towards your own way of thinking.

Practice, practice, practice one thousand times to… 1) look away so you don’t react, 2) forgive so you don’t condemn, 3) keep loving when you feel hatred and judgment. This is how you can keep your mind steady and even.

The theory of yoga says that when your mind is calm and not agitated by thoughts or by likes and dislikes, you can then perceive your own true nature. It means, you perceive that beautiful Self, that joy, that happiness that is derived from within. We become stable, steadily happy if we are able to manage this, the mind.

Otherwise, it is hit and miss. Sometimes you’re happy and sometimes you’re unhappy. Up and down, up and down, hit and miss. And you know, it tortures you. It’s not like you can accept this condition, but it tortures you when you are in that unhappiness, when you are disliking somebody or something, you are worked up. You are tortured by your own mind. It’s a terrible condition called affliction. Affliction is a misery.

Patanjali said, “The misery that is yet to be manifested is to be avoided”. That means, if you have this tendency of the mind to function like this, you will suffer, it will come up, it is not someone else’s fault. But if you understand the condition of the mind, you will work on it with yoga and meditation and positive thinking tools, and Bhakti Yoga tools. You just have to learn to work on your mind, to massage your mind, to not let it be too strong, to not let it be too soft.

An image that I like very much is “to be strong like steel and flexible like a blade of grass”. That’s what you want. You have to keep practicing, until you are able to do that. You can be extremely strong and extremely open. Extremely tolerant, extremely flexible, extremely loving. To be able to function in life you have already managed and learned many things, how to manage yourself with people, but you need to be better.

And you need to see your weaknesses. Some people are not able to speak their own mind. They are not able to speak their own mind without emotions, or calmly just discuss to help the other person see their own point of view. There is no harm in communication, but you will not be able to do that because you are too sensitive, you are afraid, you do not want to be hurt.

Or you have that prejudiced idea about people that they are stupid, they will not understand what you are saying. So, then you condemn them before you even open your mouth. These are the habits that we have.  We need to tune and we need to become better and better and better every day. You will become better.

Self transformation with meditation

The best way is to meditate. When you meditate you to some level erase  the samskaras, habits, and impressions in your mind and you become a new person. It’s like you refresh, you start everything fresh. And then all your judgments, your ideas, your tendencies evaporate and disappear. You will be surprised to see how you react in that state of meditative mind. You will say, “I am a new person. Normally I am so upset with the situation and yet I don’t see that I’m upset at all. Actually, everything is fine!” In this manner, you learn a new way of being!

Be vigilant – keep guard against your past tendencies

But if you don’t pay attention to your energy, you can fall down, like falling down from a posture. Because of this and that, you don’t pay attention, your prana goes down, your energy goes down, your sense of balance that was very good before, when you were able to maintain equanimity and balance, accidentally drops. You feel yourself functioning at your lowest level, with all the other tendencies that were already buried in your mind coming back up to attack you.

Then you start to condemn people, you start to fall into the bout of self-pity, you know, “nobody understands who I am,” and then, “I’m always like that,” and, “How terrible, the world is so negative and bad”. You have fallen into that whole habit you had before, of condemning, avoiding, or hiding, or running towards something you think will be better, escaping. Yoga says, “No,” you don’t run anywhere, you will not go anywhere, there will be no other place that is better. Now is better. The condition that you find yourself in is the ideal condition. Face it, whatever you have to face, face it, be strong, be calm.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice more yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the best way. Practice Yoga asana, pranayama. Pranayama is very important. Pranayama will directly influence your emotions. It is quite effective to practice Japa Yoga, the repetition of mantra, with love and devotion. Get back to your high state of being, balanced, this is what you want. When you are awake, aware and poised in all conditions, you don’t run away, you just welcome everything with equanimity.

You are now a strong person going through life. You are not afraid of anything or anyone. You attain union. Union means you no longer function out of your habitual mind. But you function with your own Self, constantly connecting with your own Self and become very stable. You become, as we say, “the lighthouse” for others. You radiate that light all around you.

These are just a few things to explain why we need to “adapt, adjust, accommodate” and why in the event of an extreme situation, we have to “bear insult and bear injury”. Even when people insult you, create injury to you, and hurt you, you have to bear it. Why? Because you are paying your karmic debt.

I don’t really like to use the words ‘paying karmic debt’ because it feels negative. You’re not paying. You are learning new lessons. The lesson is there for you to learn. You need to learn it.

Even in extreme situations of feeling insulted or being injured you have to be calm, not lose your sense of self. You have to tap into your knowledge of what forgiveness means for you to be able to handle the situation. You have to forgive or change your perspective completely. You have to detach and step back so you can begin to see the big picture.

Yoga tools to self-regulate and to be free

Let’s say you have a problem with someone, but when you look around, thousands of people are running away from their homes because of fire, because of flood, because of COVID. You look at your little problem. Someone says an unkind word and you build it up into a whole big drama, wasting your energy.

Now you don’t see thousands of people, maybe millions of people, are suffering terribly. So, change the perspective. Do not think that you are so important and so big. Your ego makes you feel like that. Please remember this definition, it’s so nice, “the association of your Atman with your inner instrument”. This is the problem.

Jnana Yoga

To detach means to step back. It means to think: “It’s not about me here. My reaction, my thinking, my feelings are not so important. I am the immortal Self. I’m going to detach. I don’t want to continue this association that imprisons me. I want to get out.”. Detachment is the key. Detachment comes with remembering the Self.

Jnana Yoga helps you to change perspective. You might think, “This is not real. No, this is just Maya, it’s just a movie. It’s not real. So, step back.”

Bhakti Yoga

In Bhakti Yoga you say, “It is God’s will”. You say: “I don’t know. It’s not my will at all but it’s God’s will,” or “I don’t understand, I don’t control everything. God must know what he or she is doing and I’m going to accept this and be at peace.”

You can practice Jnana Yoga, you can practice Bhakti Yoga, also you can practice Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga. You can balance your energy and concentrate your mind. Instead of letting your mind drop down, you strengthen your mind by focusing on whatever you like. All the thoughts disappear and your mind will increase vibration, become one- pointed. That mind is strong and healthy. When that same challenging situation comes back, you will not react the same way. You react the same way only when your mind is weak.

Raja Yoga

Make sure that you are concentrating on something that is neutral, something that is inspiring, something that is sacred. And then, let go of the distraction. You can say it’s just a distraction. If I spend time condemning people, it’s a distraction. I focus on myself instead of spending time looking at other’s faults and condemning them. That is Raja Yoga. Positive thinking means to work on yourself, replacing the negative thoughts with contemplation on the opposite thought. Let’s say you have the feeling of hatred and you replace it with the opposite thought.

You say, “Love, love, love, forget it. I cannot love and this person is not lovable, it is not possible.” The practice is not just replacing one word for another. You would have to contemplate on the virtue of love. You would have to contemplate and think about the virtue of compassion, of being soft, of being accommodating, of living in harmony, of non-violent communication. You would have to think about the opposite virtue quite a lot. That’s what Patanjali means when he said,  “… constant pondering over their opposites.”  (Chapter 2, verse 33) 

It means to understand the thought, where it comes from, what ego trait aggravates it… then contemplate, think about other virtues that might work to counteract this thought. That is Raja Yoga.

Hatha Yoga

In Hatha Yoga, you use your body, you involve your body and your prana. You can change your prana, because prana is like electricity. If you change the flow of prana, or you cut the prana out from a certain place, or you divert the prana to another place, then the mind will not flow there.

Let’s say, you have too much power in your left brain, too logical, but life is not just logic. Then you have to cut the prana there, switch it to the opposite side. That’s called pranayama. You then have more feeling, more acceptance. You can say, “Anyway, I love you.” This love cannot come from just one side of the brain. That is called Hatha Yoga, that practice of balancing the energy that will help to balance your mind.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the idea of serving other people as your own Self. You think, “It is not about me, it’s not my time,” or “Nothing belongs to me,” or “My time is not mine.”

Usually, I do things only to serve myself. Karma Yoga teaches us that it’s not about me. I serve something bigger than myself. That will have stronger repercussions for the world and help a larger number of people. That’s what my life is about. I offer this energy. I am an instrument of the higher will to uplift this world. It is not about me gaining anything. Because if I gain something, what do I gain? I gain wealth. What do I do with money?

If you have too much money, you’re going to waste money. When you have a lot of money, what do you do? Most of the time, you are not really serving yourself, or serving anyone else. When you have lots of time, what do you do with your time? We waste our time a lot. We just waste time. It doesn’t help us and it doesn’t help other people.

But if every moment of your time is helping something bigger than yourself and you help to uplift other people just as you want to uplift yourself, that is a much better formula for happiness. That’s called Karma Yoga. Serve others as yourself. And let go of all ideas about yourself. It is called “giving up the result” or “offering up the result of your actions”. It means, “Let go of all ideas of what you gain or what you lose from your action, feel that you are the instrument and that you are serving other people as your own self or as God.”

These are all tools of yoga: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. These tools help you to handle your relationships, these karmic relationships.  They help you to learn these lessons about yourself.

People may use these teachings wrongly also. When they say karmic relationship, and go and point to the husband or the wife, the mother or child and say, “You are my karma, you are my debt. You are in my life and you are my debt. So, I’m going to live with you because I have to pay my debt”.

Take responsibility

This is a misunderstanding. It is not like that. The teaching says: “This is you. Don’t blame anyone else, ok?” A karmic relationship means you understand that it is you that are 100% responsible and involved in this situation, in this relationship. There’s nobody out there to blame. And there is nothing to be complaining about. But there is something that you need to do to uplift yourself and make your mind a little bit less angular. Swami Sivananda uses the word ‘angularity’ of the mind. That means a mind that is too fixed in a certain angle of vision.

You need to just round up the corners, make everything a little bit smooth. The person that is sattvic looks like a person that has no opinion, or has no kind of strength, but it’s not that. There is inner strength, they know that inner strength, they watch everything with detachment. They just go with whatever it is without losing their balance. That is absolute strength. It’s not just, “Look at me, you know how powerful I am, how intelligent I am, how experienced I am”. That is not strength because it will pull at your feet another time. That same strength will make you fall.

In reality, it is said that strength is actually more dangerous than weakness. Weakness makes you fall all the time. But when you fall from weakness, you slowly, slowly, build up your strength because you know that I’m not that strong. So, you are very careful. You gain a little bit and you are happy. When you are strong, you are absolutely not careful. You just lose yourself, you lose your vigilance, you lose the big picture. That’s when you fall. That’s when you go completely crazy, when something happens because you are not willing to accept it.

In summary, balance out your strengths and weaknesses. Be very careful. The blanket tool is to just keep doing sadhana every day, on good days, on the bad days, keep doing sadhana every day. It gives you that poise. It gives you that countenance in all conditions. Manage your mind. Manage your relationships. Manage your schedule. Don’t be too intense even though you can be. At the same time also manage your tamas, your laziness.

Hari Om Tat Sat

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

Journey of Self Development

Journey of Self Development

International Yoga Day Mon, 6/21 by Swami Sitaramananda


Sadhana practice, yoga, life, self-development, learn, emotion, mind, people, spiritual progress, feel, prana, teaching, healthy, happy, conscious choices, conscious living, yoga life, self-growth, life skills.

Happy International Yoga Day. Practicing yoga is very important for the world nowadays. We pray that more and more people will practice yoga around the world.

To practice yoga is to feel that we are progressing

It’s not nice to feel stuck in life. If you feel that things are not moving and you are stagnant, the best way is to practice. Go back to your yoga mat, to your meditation cushion, to your diary, to your journal and try to renew your practice. What does it mean to practice? What to practice? And how do you develop yourself and not feel stuck?

Conscious practice is the key

The key is to be conscious in whatever you do. Self development has to come consciously. We call it yoga, we call it sadhana. Sadhana is a conscious practice. This is not something you do without thinking. Because the goal of all practices is to transform and renew yourself. Transform what? Transform consciousness. Transform the way you feel about yourself and about the world. You are growing towards physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Self-development requires conscious effort

First, for you to self-develop, you need to make an effort, a conscious effort. And second, it is important for you to receive guidance. You need to follow a system of teaching or teachers. Why? Because you want to self-develop but you don’t know what to do and therefore you might waste a lot of time. We have the system from Swami Vishnudevananda, and Swami Sivananda, which we call the five points and the four paths. You need to practice this in a systematic, uninterrupted manner, for a long time to change the old habits. Let’s say you do asana three, four times a week, satsang meditation, three, four times a week. It is fine, but you need to do it consistently, for a long time to achieve the transformation of body, of head, of heart, of energy.

And you need to have guidance from teachers but also from scriptures. That means you need to spend time studying a little bit from scriptures. Ideally, you have a teacher that speaks the language that you understand. Swami Sivananda wrote 200-300 books. Until now, we are not able to read all his books. But it’s the same idea, same system. Try to study his books. And we are trying to translate for those that don’t understand the language. The teachings coming from the Vedas are very old teachings about the Self and about the lifestyle that help you to tune in and help you to feel that you are progressing. We call it classical yoga, and follow the lineage of teachers and follow scriptures.

Here are the five points of yoga that you need to practice daily

The first point is proper exercise, the asanas done in a certain manner. The way we perform the asanas is also meditative. Then proper breathing – pranayama, proper relaxation – savasana, proper diet – vegetarian sattvic diet and positive thinking and meditation, which is Vedanta, Jnana Yoga and the Raja Yoga meditation system.

One ounce of practice is equal to tons of  theory

One important thing to remember, if you want to feel that you are progressing, self-transforming and self-developing is that you need to practice more than learning only theory.

This is what Swami Sivananda said, “one ounce of practice is equal to tons of theory”. You can read books, you can hear satsangs, but mainly what you need is to practice so then you can have direct experience of the teaching. The teachings are practical, sometimes technical, but we also try to keep the overall view. Sometimes you learn and apply the technique and you forget the whole picture. You have to understand how the practice fits into the big picture, how it influences your overall life. It’s like a puzzle game. Piece by piece, slowly. You don’t quite understand the picture yet. But piece by piece, you put it together and all of a sudden, the whole beautiful landscape or picture emerges. Therefore you need to practice for a long time, and have guidance, so that you don’t lose heart. And then the whole picture will come about.

The eight limbs of yoga

Besides the five points and the four paths, the other system or guidance is the eight limbs of yoga. You need to practice the whole eight limbs of yoga, not just asana or not just pranayama. But you need to practice yamas and niyamas. That means the ethical foundation: nonviolence, sense of control, no stealing, no accumulation. Practice purity, contentment, austerity, practice of self- study and self- surrender.

Before every little thing that happened, you get very irritated and angry and blame yourself and have self-pity. But now you need to practice self-surrender, which means the idea that you don’t really know everything. You have to accept the cosmic intelligence, that’s also part of the basic practice in order to keep your mind calm. You practice steady posture, that means not just running around all the time, but sitting still. Practice the control of vital energy – the prana, control of the senses, concentration, meditation, contemplation, and eventually the last practice is Samadhi. This is the goal when there is no more sense of separation and when everything comes together.

Take care of your physical health

So in this system of practice, it is very important that you are aware in the beginning to take care of your physical health. You practice the asanas to be healthy. And when you are healthy, you need to understand that the practice of asanas strengthens all the systems of your body.  First, the musculoskeletal system:  You work on your alignment so that when you sit, when you stand, when you walk you have a better alignment. Keep your spine healthy. Second, the digestive system: If you digest well then you’ll be healthy. Third, the respiratory system:  If you breathe well you’ll be healthy. Fourth the cardiovascular system: You need to move the body. And finally, the nervous and endocrine systems need to be strengthened.

Turn inward

And in order for you to self-develop, you need to know that you need to turn inward, you cannot carry on with the life outside, all the time active externally. You need to balance your life with time that you spend on turning inward. So, that means that you will become more aware. You have to become more aware of your emotions and your state of mind and you need to slow down in order to be aware. You need to slow down. Sometimes you need a temporary withdrawal from your busy life, your emotions, your work life. You can be more alone, one hour a day, one day a week and you go to the retreat at the ashram three days minimum one month if you are close by, but the idea is you need to program your life so that you have time to recharge and to be with yourself.

Mental and emotional health

Part of your self-development training is you need to make sure that you are mentally and emotionally healthy. We are not aware of that, but we do not know that we are not really mentally and emotionally healthy. What does that mean?  That means you need to develop a balanced personality and you are not going to extremes.

So you observe yourself and you see that you go to extremes. You like something very much and you dislike something very much. Yeah, for a yogi you need to remove the word hatred from your vocabulary.  Also, intense attachment towards something does not help you.  Develop a balanced personality.

Don’t be a victim of the past

And also you need to take time to heal from past hurt and past trauma. You must not become a victim of the past, you need to live in the present. The more that you are able to do that the more you feel that you are on top of yourself, you are developing and you’re not stuck. Because something that is unresolved from the past will make you feel that you are stuck. Develop peace of mind and strength of mind and calmness of mind all the time.

You need to also develop the capacity to love selflessly, to concentrate and not be distracted, and to have your heart open to enjoy life. So if your life is miserable, something is not right. You need to be able to enjoy life. There are lots of reasons for you to enjoy life. You look at the tree, the sunrise you are happy, the wind blows and you’re happy. You notice that sometimes if you are in a good state of mind, just a very small thing, seeing little flowers that come out makes you happy. This is called a healthy mind. Live fully in the present. You notice you are aware of everything happening in the moment. You don’t just go through life in a sleep-like state.

You need to also have a clear intellect. The way you eat, the way you think helps you. If you are on the internet watching games and other  things, then you see that your mind will fall very far down.  You need to keep your intellect very clear so that you can make your decision more clearly.

Transform your emotions

The big portion of emotional health is knowing how to transform your emotions, how to elevate your emotions, instead of being controlled by emotions such as fear and anger.

 Why do people want to see horror movies? And you know, horror movies are very popular. Why? Because they want their emotions to be excited, because when they are emotionally excited, then they feel that they are more alive. But this situation is not helping you to progress. This actually makes you go backward. You need to elevate your emotion, all this fear, anger, resentment, and turn the emotion into pure love or devotion. In order to do it, you have to learn to surrender your personal idea about things. Let go of the expectation of your ego. You need to know that there is something more than you that is there. It’s very important that you practice self-surrender, acceptance, flexibility of mind, a non-egoistic approach to life. And chant the Divine Name, it’s called “kirtan”. Practice every day, open your mouth and chant. That will regulate your emotion right away.

Learn to listen

There are nine kinds of practice in bhakti yoga, slowly you have to learn, but start first with the practice of listening. If you try to listen, then you will not be so self-centered. And you’ll be able to understand a rich world out there of different people, different personalities, different animals, and then you’ll become more enriched instead of being stuck.

Learn to detach from your attachments

Attachment will make you feel stuck. You need to be detached, and experience true love and experience more faith. And then you will have more joy. You need to learn to forgive also. You need to learn also from your painful karmic lessons. Life is not just a straight line, as sometimes very painful. Actually you develop yourself a lot in the most difficult time of crisis. That’s when you develop a lot. You have all the chances to become better. You’re always learning. The purpose of all these painful lessons is to help your evolution. So have a larger perspective and don’t feel down when life doesn’t go the way you want. Stop blaming every circumstance, it is actually perfect for your growth. Slowly you are working out your karma. But know that whatever circumstances in which you find yourself, you are more than your experience. You experience things then you can understand from them but inside of you, you know that you are more than your experience, you are perfect inside. That’s what it means.

Develop your selflessness

And a very important thing that we cannot forget: You need to develop selflessness, selflessness in Karma yoga, it’s a practical step. So you need to change your attitude towards your actions, towards your life. Learn the attitude of non doer-ship, of egoism and open yourself up, to give yourself to others. Mahatma Gandhi says, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Therefore, you need to become a role model for yourself. That means you need to have an idea of the self that you want to become and the best way to become a role model for yourself is to teach yoga. Because when you have to teach yoga for other people, you have to practice yoga. So, learning Yoga means learning to teach yoga selflessly. The best way to learn Yoga is to learn to teach yoga, selflessly. So those who have not taken the Yoga teacher training course, please do.  

Become curious about yourself

Then one thing, I noticed that people feel stuck or feel down, because they are not interested in themselves. It is a strange thing to notice. Throughout the years that I deal with people, I notice that people are not curious about themselves. They are not interested. They’re very lazy. They’re interested in politics and about what to buy and what to shop and you know, what’s happening in the market. All these they know in detail. But about themselves, about their personality, their life, why they think that way, they are not interested. So the first thing you need to do is be curious about yourself. Know that you don’t know your inner being, know that you do not know about yourself. Because people are like that because they think that they know, but actually they don’t know. When you know that you don’t know then you start to be more seriously looking to know the truth. You become humble. At that time you become open. And when you open up to new ideas and you start on your yoga path, you become curious about yourself.

You are much more than your body and mind

The reason our knowledge is so limited is that we get our knowledge through the senses and through the idea of self-identity that is attached to the body in the mind and the ego and through the fabricated opinion that people have about us.  You live in that world of the senses, of the mind, of the ego, with the opinion of others, all the time. That’s why you are not able to know yourself. You need to start a yoga life to purify yourself. Because all these thoughts are there in your mind, opinions about other people, opinions of people about you, your mental stimulation habit, all these are there. You need to start to learn to purify and the yoga practice is very, very powerful to purify yourself and make you become more what we call sattvic or clear. So then you will start to love your own Self instead of loving everything else around and neglecting yourself. Yeah, so now you start to love yourself. Because you realize that the truth is within, the power is within, the answer is within. You realize that the body and mind is only your instrument, and it is not you, you are much more than your body and mind.

Take care of your prana level

In this journey, I remind you it’s very important for you to have prana. Every day when you wake up, check your level of prana. Your level of prana depends on what you think and what you eat and your lifestyle. What do you practice to increase your prana? Through pranayama and asana practice, you balance your prana, you resupply your prana, you conserve your prana, you save up your prana because prana will make you feel progressing. Practice of Hatha Yoga will help you to balance your two flows of energy, Yin and Yang, heat and cold, male and female. And that in itself will make you feel you are progressing. And everyday day, when the prana is high, learn to keep your mind concentrated. Because if your mind is distracted, you lose prana very quickly. But if you keep your mind concentrated through the practice of yoga, practice a mantra, then you have strength, calmness, peace, it leads you to successful meditation and helps you not to be so restless. Restore your sense of self, knowing the healthy holy sense of inner strength, inner knowledge and inner power within you.

Develop yourself spiritually

That’s part of your spiritual health. It means number one, recognizing that the body and the mind are your instruments and they are not you. Just that will give you a feeling of detachment, of spiritual health. Number two, leading a conscious life. Whatever you do, try to be conscious, just to be conscious. That is called self-development or leading a spiritual life.

And know that when you connect to yourself, your consciousness within, you connect also to nature. It is very important to connect to nature, live in harmony with others, everybody around you, it’s a must, that you live in harmony with them, and live in harmony with nature. Therefore, connect with yourself and live in harmony with nature and others. That is your most important task.

Learn to think properly

And last, in this long list of different things that you need to do to self- develop, is to learn to think properly. Earlier we said learn to feel properly, to live properly, to behave properly, but also learn to think properly. So worrying is not thinking. Thinking of the past and rehearsing the past is not proper thinking. Dreaming about the future is not proper thinking.


So in yoga Vedanta, we say try to develop the power of discrimination, which is the deep thinking about what is changing and what is not changing, what is real and what is not real, what is the Self and what is not the Self.

Let’s say you eat the coconut bliss ice cream, and you feel very happy. But at the same time inside your mind, you have to know this is a temporary happiness, and you don’t live your life for this experience. And you enjoy the coconut ice cream but you have to eventually let go of it and you’ll be fine. Learn the proper way of thinking, making the choice between what is temporary and what is permanent. Then,

don’t be attached to what is temporary, and try to dwell on what is permanent.”  Please think about this.


That is the number one and then number two is learn to detach. Detach is also another way of thinking. That means instead of thinking about something and jumping into that 100% with all your body, your mind, your senses, your emotions, everything and losing yourself in it, try to be detached. Do what is necessary to do in your life but don’t give it all. Don’t lose yourself in it. Keep yourself for yourself, be detached from everything else. The more you are able to be detached, the more you’ll be in connection with yourself. and you will not lose the big picture. Whatever you need to do, do it. But at the same time, don’t lose the big picture about yourself development, and don’t lose yourself. Learn Vedanta philosophy and some techniques of self-inquiry. That is wisdom.

Learn Self reliance

And a very important thing is to learn self-reliance. Self reliance is a capacity to be self sufficient. Self sufficiency means you’re not needing anything. You’re happy just being yourself. If somebody helps you, fine. If somebody doesn’t help you, you don’t get angry, upset. You do it yourself. So, self reliance also means you are tuning to your own true self. And you know that you are perfect. And you know, that if you do your own self effort, everything will improve. Many things are involved in the quality of self reliance.

Learn to be patient

So last, be patient. You need to be patient. Because you make a little effort and you think that you will get there. It’s like you just learn a little bit of exercise and you want to run a marathon. It is not possible. So go on your journey, day by day, bit by bit.

Be patient. And have a sincere desire to know the truth about the Self. Qualify yourself, learn with a teacher, but know that the teacher cannot do everything for you. The teacher can guide you. But you have to do everything.


That is my long list of advice for international Yoga Day. Again, Happy International Yoga Day for all the Yogis of the whole world. The more people practice yoga, the more the world will be a better place. Now we pray for the world. And we pray for your health, for your success in life and self realization. If you know the prayer, please repeat it together.

OM Tat sat

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training program, an 800 hours program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is the author of Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy (translated in Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese) Positive Thinking Manual, Karma Yoga Manual, Meditation Manual as well as two poem books. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of The Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda. Some of her audio lectures on Yoga Life, articles, and webinar presentations can be found on the website.

How to find your purpose in life

How to find your purpose in life

Transcript from talk of Swami Sitaramananda Aug.15 2021


purpose, karma yoga, atman, selflessness, dharma, karma yogi, skill, karma, life, instrument, offer, ego, means, selfless, happy, happiness, practice, meaning, destiny , self realization, Bhagavad Gita, spiritual teaching.

The topic of today morning is about how to find your goal and your purpose in this life. Very often we find ourselves in transition, asking ourselves questions “What I’m going to do? What’s my next step? I like this, I like that, but I like this too. I don’t really know what to do”.  Often times, we find ourselves in mild or severe depression, due to the sense of lack of direction and a feeling of meaninglessness. This is when we need to know about what our Dharma is.

What is Dharma?

Dharma means your highest duty or your mission in life, the right thing to do. We can talk about Dharma only if we understand the word Karma. The reason why we do not understand our Dharma is because we are functioning out of Karma. The level that you can get out of your karma or be detached from your karma is the level that you understand your Dharma. People know what they like, but they cannot do it, they cannot fulfill it. They live life and always feel frustrated, or always feel that they want to do something, but never can really do it.

The lucky ones are those who are able to do it, because of the circumstances of life and their inner motivations meet together and they feel fulfilled inside and outside. But you cannot blame the circumstances. If the circumstances are not favorable and you are not able to express yourself and fulfill your Dharma, you cannot blame the circumstances because it’s also your Karma. You have to work it out. Every situation is just perfect for you to work it out. It might take a long time, but if you do the correct practice, then you’ll be able to one day fulfill your Karma and Dharma both together. So, how to do this?

We need to understand Karma

When you are steeped in the karma, usually you are kind of in the dark. Karma means specific circumstances that you have to experience and live through because of the result of what you have thought and done in the past. And oftentimes it can be difficult, which means you are struggling. You are in the dark is not necessarily a happy state. Sometimes you might be happy and then again unhappy, happy and unhappy. It is not really the true picture. You’re still trying to understand what is asked from you. You are trying in this life using your means, your skills in order to be happy to get what you want. Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes not. So, karma is something you have to experience, and it comes from a distant past. It sets up certain circumstances of your life.

Karmic relationship

Karmic relationships would help you eventually to see who you are, which is the immortal Atman that is in everybody. And it’s not the separate self that is different from everybody. Karmic relationships help you to find yourself. The purpose of struggling in work is not exactly the same as the purpose of struggling in relationships. Relationship is the question of love, the question of how to love and serve others as one’s own Self.

Your work – you are not the doer

Your work, your activity and what you find yourself doing, also can become your means to find yourself. You struggle with it, you try this and try that and eventually in that struggle, it’ll help you to know that you are not the doer or actor. The question of struggling in activity or in work is to ultimately find out that the energy that I have, the skill I have does not belong to me, and I’m only the instrument in the hands of the Divine. God is the supreme actor or doer and this body and mind are the instruments.

The moment you understand that, you will find peace. When you still have the idea of the doer-ship that means you are still thinking: “I am doing this, because I want this, and I like this”, “I don’t like this, and this is me against the world”.  Then at that time, you’re still struggling, you’re still steeped in karma. Like I said at the beginning this means that you’re still looking, you’re still not finding peace.

Finding your Dharma starts with selflessness or Karma Yoga

It’s so simple. Dharma has to start with selflessness. If you want to find your Dharma, if you want to find your mission in life, “what is the purpose of my life?” then you need to practice what we call Karma Yoga or the yoga of selflessness. It means, in daily life, you would have to offer yourself to something higher and bigger, larger than yourself without condition, acting as an instrument of something higher. And then you will say, “I will be abused if I am selfless, I will be then taken advantage of”. It is not true because nobody can take advantage of you unless you allow it.

Because you are the one that owns your consciousness, yes or no? If you decide from your end this is what I like to do, then you can do it and offered it up consciously. Whether the person decides to take more or not it doesn’t really matter because it comes from you. You are the one that decided I want to offer this energy of mine. This time of mine is still mine. I offer to this person who is there, or I offer to God in my heart, it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is you are selfless, you are working on your selflessness. When you are working on your selflessness then you have no sense of “I own this, I own this effort, I own this work, I own this result.” This teaching is quite deep. It’s in the Bhagavad Gita, the main scripture of yoga. And Swami Sivananda wrote a book on “the practice of karma yoga”.

It is a spiritual question if you want to find your mission, your meaning, your highest purpose in life.  It’s a very deep question. How do you know what your soul wants? Your mind always wants this and wants that and wonders and changes every time. Therefore, how do you know your highest purpose? How do you know your mission in life? Or how do you know why you’re born? It’s very difficult to know.

Starts with using your actual skills to serve selflessly

You have to sort it out from what you can do now in terms of selflessness, whatever that you can do selflessly. The more you can do this, the more your purpose will be revealed to you. You get that? The more you are able to be selfless in whatever you do, in your mind, independent from your circumstances, the more your purpose will be revealed to you. Whatever your circumstances, you still can find a way to be selfless, yes or no?

Put your heart into it and give up the results

Let’s say you are a mother. And you can be a selfless mother. Let’s say you are an employee, you can also be a selfless employee. Let’s say that you are a teacher, you can be a selfless teacher. What I mean is you put your heart into it, and you do the best you can, and you offer the result. Now, what does that mean? It means that you are detached from the results of your actions. If you are doing well, fine and good, if you are not doing well, fine and good. If the company becomes successful, fine and good or the company becomes bankrupt, and they think that it is your fault and they fire you, it’s fine and good also. But from your point of view, you practice selflessness. It’s not easy to do.

Egoism and selflessness

I believe in the talk yesterday, we brought up the definition of Patanjali about egoism. It is very nice. I’m still really enjoying the meaning of egoism: the association of the Atman with the instrument of seeing – the Antakarana. It is a technical term, Antakarana is the inner instrument. When the Atman is associating with the instrument, the mind, with what you like or do not like, with your personality and so on, then it becomes egoism. Self-realization means then the detachment or non-identification with your instrument of seeing, non-identification with your personality, non-identification with your ego, non-identification with your separate sense of self. That is selflessness.

Detach from the sense of I am the doer

Therefore, try to practice selflessness in whatever you do. Try not to think: “I like it, I don’t like it, and this is about me” or think: “Is people going to praise me? what do I get from this?” or feel:” it is a waste of my time!”. If you think like this, you’re still functioning out of your ego, you’ll still function out of that tight association of your Atman and your instrument of seeing.

What is Karma Yoga?

That’s why Karma Yoga is turning it around. It says just do whatever you need to do in front of you, do your duty, but turn it into selflessness and turn it into becoming an instrument. Because this is about action and it is not necessarily about emotion. Therefore, you use the word instrument, “I am only the instrument for this to happen”.

Then when you do that, you cancel out your Karma. You cancel out the strong attachment to your action, the strong attachment of the Atman – yourself, towards the action and the result of action. You detach from what you do, and from the result of what you do. So, in that way it works.

Also, karma yoga works to liberate yourself from this separate self, this body, this mind, or this separated life which you are very much identifying with if you are able to detach from what you’re doing and detach from the result of action.

This is why Karma Yoga- selfless action is being prescribed by all the teachers as a starting point on the journey of Self Realization. Why? Because we are very much identifying with this ego, or this separate individual self. Therefore, you have to keep turning it into something selfless, it’s very practical. You can actually see it when you work out of your own ego, and you can see it when you become selfless. It’s very practical.

How it works

Mark is a carpenter, he came here at the ashram. I don’t know how he came here. And then his skill was being used every day. I remember, all the time we said to him “this is a project for you, this is a project for you”. And then he did it. He didn’t complain. “Yeah. Okay. Let me see.” Yeah. He’s a very good karma yogi. People were praising him. “Oh, you did a good job. Thank you very much for fixing the screens of all the doors of the kitchen. No flies can come in and everything looks good. Thank you very much.” I see he did it and he did a good job. This is a karma yogi attitude, the attitude of selflessness.

Without him knowing, he gained some points, you can say some “punya”, some merit. Normally, what he’s going do with the same skill, he can go and do some work somewhere else and get paid for it because as a carpenter, or skilled carpenter, you get paid for your job. Here at the ashram what he has? He has some food, a bed for sleep, but he gets something that he cannot find elsewhere, he gets what we called the “punya” or the merit. The merit is the points that go in your bank account of your progress in life. In Indian theory, it is said when you die, the chief accountant from heaven is waiting for you when you go there.

In the Western theory, there may be some other name, but the chief accountant is waiting for you with the big register when you die. He’s there because he has taken accounts of all your actions, plus, minus, plus, minus, plus, minus… And he says: “well, that’s your balance, you can go here, and you can go there”. That means your consciousness would be elevated to this level or that level according to your balance. At that time, you don’t have the body, you don’t have to do anything.

Then you enjoy life after life, you enjoy it according to your merit, and then you stay there until you finish your credit. It is like you go to live in a five-star hotel over a credit card. You have a credit limit. You can stay in the five-star hotel as long as your credit lasts. But when your credit finishes, then, sorry, bye bye. You have to go back and work again to put more money in the credit. That’s how it works. And then you have to be reborn on earth. And when you’ll be reborn on Earth, you will have the chance to have more credit, or to have more debit.

Therefore, to find your purpose in life, you need to practice selflessness and then it will be revealed to you. Mark for example does carpentry for the ashram because he has a skill. A skill is called your karma. He has a skill, but he offered that in karma yoga attitude.  And then he might find his Dharma. He might find himself so happy to be just a karma yogi.  Or maybe he will open a carpentry school for young men or young women to teach them skills to make a living. Yeah, he teaches them skills to make a living, but he does it in a selfless manner to uplift young people. And this is how he finds his dharma. Bingo! This is how you can find your dharma.

Turn it around

There is a story of an Indian woman I forgot her name, she’s kind of famous. Not famous like Mother Teresa but this Indian woman, she told her story. It’s a really heart wrenching story. She was abused when she was young, physically. And she was thrown out in the street, she went through quite a hard time. She had to do very bad jobs. She was also not only abused by the family, but also abused by the husband. The whole story is very long. Then she decided to open an institution. She gathered abandoned girls in the street and she started to open a home for girls that are abandoned, like her condition.

Slowly she adopted all these women that have been abandoned in the street and been abused. Her institution became so big. She became a really powerful force, to help these women. She told her story on the Internet. So, it’s like that. Her karma was being thrown on the street, and then being abused. But she turned that karma into her dharma. That’s what I’m talking about. Therefore, whatever happens to you, you can turn it around and you serve. At that time, you find your mission, your unique mission. Because God has given you the situation. Now, it might be difficult, because you still do not know. But that particular situation is your strength. Therefore, you turn it around, and you serve. And then that will be your stepping stone for liberation.

The moment that you become selfless, you detach yourself from whatever this life is about, whatever this personality is about, whatever this feeling is about, and then you’re free. So that’s it. That’s why everyone is yearning toward finding their dharma because they kept thinking: “I live my life, I go to work, I get the money, I can do what I want, but I don’t feel fulfilled, I feel that I have something to contribute to society, I feel that I want to be somebody, I want to have a purpose in my life.”

Now you have the formula, whatever you have, start with that. If you have a skill, how to sew for example. Let’s say in a COVID time, you are not a nurse, you’re not a doctor, to help people. But you know how to sew. You can sew face masks. And then you can donate to other people, that’s also your contribution. You start with this act, and eventually, you might find your mission. Gandhiji, he was a lawyer. What does a lawyer mean? He knows how to argue. He used that skill that he has to serve selflessly. He’s offering his skill. And he found his mission somehow to eventually help India free itself from colonialism. Now people still talk about his name. Whatever skill that you have, or whatever situation you struggle with, or whatever strength you have, offer it as selfless service.

MahaLakshmi, she’s doing a program called Good Karma Diet. She is a good cook. She turned it around and she teaches people how to cook. She got the proceeds from that and she wanted to help the animals. Then she asked if I could cook here and then get the proceeds and offer to the Animal Sanctuary that gathered these animals that have been mistreated, abandoned, and then to give the proceeds to the animal sanctuary. Swamiji said to MahaLakshmi: “I think I’m the one that tells you to cook.” In the beginning, she didn’t know how to cook, and then she learned how to cook.

She tried it on me in the beginning, then after she tried and tried, and she became good. She might find her mission in life, which is how to teach people how to cook vegetarian food and not to harm the animal and help the ecology and then this can open up to something else. It sounds like something very innocent. Somehow it comes to you with this skill and this intelligence because the moment that you start to find that connection with yourself and your contribution to society, and you serve selflessly, and the door opens, you feel better and better when you do that.

Bondage or liberation?

Dharma is to achieve Self Realization, Self-Realization cannot be achieved if you function out of your ego. Your Atman, which is your own True Self that you want to realize, is always associated with this body and mind, this likes and dislikes, this personality. So, when you offer up this personality and this skill, and this energy, this identification with your separate self, at that time, you slowly detach from that identification with the idea of who you are in a practical manner.

Then you realize the Self because the Self is always there, but it is obstructed by our mind, by our ego, or our false self. That’s why you need to work on that separation between the Atman and the ego, by detachment, and by offering it up. Because if you work, and then you want people to praise you, or you want some result, then it keeps you linked again to the mind. You understand? The mind likes something and wants the result out of that. The ego wants people to recognize you for that. And that will bind you instead of freeing you. You are going more toward being in bondage, being tied to this personality. Then you get so worried and anxious, you cannot sleep. Because you think that you don’t gain what you want. You are very much concerned about what you’re doing.

You can get yourself sick. So many people get sick out of worrying about how they perform. But if you do everything in the spirit of karma yoga then it’s okay. You do your duty, you do the best you can, you offer the result, so it doesn’t really matter. Therefore, you sleep well, you work hard. The energy comes from heaven because it comes from your soul, it comes from your Atman that is the source of everything, because you do it selflessly. So therefore, your Atman will make sure that you have the energy to do whatever is needed. And then you are free, and there is a light feeling to it, there is a happy feeling. If you experience it, you just want more of this light feeling. Consequently, you don’t want this feeling of worrying or feeling of heaviness, the feeling of winning and losing the feeling of being better than another person, or worse than another person, and the feeling that you are never good enough.

Karma Yoga spirit

The concerns about the ego really make you suffer. Because you are never enough, you can work hard, you can do everything, but you are never enough, you’re never perfect. You know this, if you do something it is never perfect. And if somebody comes and they destroy your work, you’re also angry, upset. You find yourself competing all the time with other people, and it takes all the joy out of life, but life is meant to be living joyfully. When you act selflessly you are joyful.

But if you do Karma Yoga and you are unhappy then something is wrong. I heard some people say I do karma yoga and I’m unhappy. It is because your ego is doing Karma Yoga, but your spirit is not embracing the selfless attitude of a karma yogi yet. You come to an ashram, and you are not being paid, does this mean you are doing Karma Yoga? Not necessary. Because it’s in the spirit. That spirit of Karma Yoga has to be built up for a long time because who wants to be selfless? Nobody. We like to be selfless, but it’s not necessary that we can cope with the practice of selflessness.

Well, sometimes we are selfless. And sometimes we are not selfless. Then we complain. So, in the process, sometimes you gain a lot out of this, like what I said, and sometimes you will feel you don’t like it. “When I came here, I thought I learned something and then I wash dishes all day long. I could do dishes at home why I came here and do dishes.” And then comes the complaining and blaming, “this cook doesn’t do their own dishes”, you look around at this person, “they’re not doing dishes, they’re just only sweeping, cutting flowers, they have such a nice karma yoga and they make me do dishes”. So, you complain. That’s normal in the practice of karma yoga. You don’t feel that unbounded joy. I’m telling you that it’s joyful.

But you have to practice long enough to find that joy. Don’t think that I’m sitting here, and I talk to you just like that. I have been a karma yogi for more than 40 years. Before yoga life, I was a social worker. I also did this selfless work, that’s part of my profession because people pay me to do social work, I had a big pay. But then I did selfless work at home in my free time without pay. I was full time selfless at work and my salary I gave to my family. And then the time that I dedicated to help other people was not paid. Eventually I quit, I quit that portion being paid, I retained a portion of not being paid. Then I became full time helping others without being paid. All the skills that I have learned I used for selfless service.

Karma Yoga spirit does not come easily, even though it’s the first yoga path. But I can guarantee you that after some time, if you do it one or two years you will start to like it. You’ll be surprised, we offer people to come and do seva-study here, that means study half and then work half. In the application form, we ask people to describe what is Karma Yoga, because we want people to know what they enter into, so they don’t come here and then feel that they’re being exploited or something. So, we ask people in the application form to write down what they are feeling about karma yoga. And the answers are amazing. We need to make a book out of that collection of answers. People come up with some extraordinary sentences in their application before they come to yoga. Before coming here, they already have an idea. To say that people are selfish it’s not exactly correct. Actually, I was surprised to see that people know what selflessness is, they have like a craving for selflessness. Many people wrote “I want to come to practice selflessness”. It is quite amazing. So please start and finish the book. Because the ashram is made out of Karma Yoga.


I have a lot of gratitude. I sit here, I always remember, wherever I look, a face of somebody just pop up, because I remember what they do. They came here, and they offer their skills. I have in my mind now the memory of all these people who did the flooring of the Yoga Hall, they were crawling on the floor to do the flooring. And this wood wall behind the altar was all done by Karma Yoga. You see that wall here, every bit of it is so beautiful. That’s why the ashram is beautiful, not because of the building. The building is just normal. There are many better buildings than the ones at the ashram. But the beauty of it is the energy that karma yogis put in when they do the work, because everything is built out of karma yoga.

When I came here, there’s only an old farm house and there was no money. How did the ashram build up? From the sweat, and effort and the love of the Karma Yogis. I still remember that case. There’s one girl, she came from Europe. At that time, many people came from Europe here. This girl, a young girl, maybe 25 years old, came in just for a short period of time, like a week, not even as a karma yogi. When she came here, and at that exact moment we dug the floor of the farm house. Because the old farmhouse was sitting on no foundation, so we had to dig in the ground through the wooden floor, and then put a post, and pour the cement to support the floor.

This girl, very innocent, she’s traveling and came for about a week, exact at that moment. I remember, she spent the whole time that she was here in the basement. We had to work with the wheelbarrow, fill it up with concrete, roll it in, and transfer it to buckets to bring it down to a person underneath. They had to pour cement concrete posts down in the basement. It took longer than we thought. This girl spent her time in the basement doing cement. And she was happy.  We don’t force people to do things. They’re happy to do it and they like to continue to do it. She was happy, and she was grateful when she left. And I’m grateful for my life for her doing this. Because it was a tough job and she was willing to do it. It was not an easy thing.

One day I will write a book about all the karma Yogis who have come to me. Because they have done incredible work. There were all kinds of people. There were also people that are angry. I still remember this man, a carpenter. For whatever reason, he came here. He was really disliking another karma yogi girl who was very devotional. She used to walk around with the basket of flowers singing like this. And this made the man irritated. One day he threw a chair on the girl. [it did not reach her, thanks God]. 

So, Karma Yoga is not all rosy, but it’s still one of the most important paths towards knowing oneself and being free from your karma. If you don’t practice this guideline of selflessness, you live your life and your karma will torture you. Because karma is never nice. It always comes as a contradiction, as a disillusion, as an unfulfilled feeling. You’ll be tortured by your karma. If you want to get out of your karma, then you can try baby steps to become selfless.

Hari Om Tat Sat.

Swami sitaramananda