Why Meditate? Seeking beyond the Pattern of the Mind

Why Meditate? Seeking beyond the Pattern of the Mind

yoga camp Satsang Fri, 9/17 8:25AM • 36:04


meditation, mind, yoga, meditate, karma yoga, attachment, meditation practice, happiness, yoga meditation, self- development , self-realization, meditation life, emotions, problem, mental pattern, meditation methods, seeking peace

Today I opened the book and the message is about meditation again. I’d like to talk about meditation and why we meditate.

Why  meditate? What is Yoga meditation?

You need to understand why we meditate, then you can practice meditation for a long time and more seriously. The reason why we meditate, or we do yoga, is because in classical yoga, and yoga means meditation – meditation means yoga, there’s no separate thing. People think yoga means we’re doing some exercise and going to meditation is Zen meditation, or vipassana meditation or something separate. However, In the ashram,  everything we do is included in the word meditation, and everything is preparation for meditation. Everything is meditation, everything is preparing you for meditation.  

Why do you meditate, why are you more serious about following the discipline?  Because the discipline of yoga and meditation – can you give me some answers? To seek enlightenment?  It’s just a word, enlightenment. I want something more real, an answer that is more real.  What’s the real reason?  To calm the mind, thank you.  Somebody else, please.  To calm the mind – why?  Because too many thoughts.  Past, future, so much restlessness in the mind.  Somebody else?  To become conscious.  You have taken the workshop this afternoon.  Why do you want to become more aware, more conscious?  It will create happiness?  More correctly, you want to be happy in a stable manner. 

Happiness is your true nature

If anyone is seeking for happiness and happiness is our true nature, we seek for our true nature.  And the mind is always projecting different things. That’s why we run after that. We waste a lot of energy, and we don’t find what we want and then we think something’s wrong, and we change. Changing, changing, changing, changing of the mind – all the time changing. Always finding fault with something. But we find ourselves, very often times – tell me if I’m correct – often we find ourselves feeling like we are repeating the same kind of thought or dissatisfaction. The same.  Then at that time, after some time – because in the beginning, we think that it is the fault of somebody, or something or the circumstances – we change, we change, and we find the same thing. And then we change again, and we find the same thing.

After some time like this, what do we do? We start to realize that it is not in the external condition. And with that, we ask ourselves the question – maybe it’s my mind? That’s how you start meditation – to seek to know your mind and seek to know the truth behind the mind. Because you’re starting to realize that the mind doesn’t give you the answer. Whenever you come up with a change, or with a different idea, it’s always coming from your mind. I repeat again, whatever you come to as a solution to your life, or whatever you complain about, this solution comes from your mind, that’s the problem The solution when it comes from your mind, will again be repeated. Because your mind is never ending, telling a different story. Different things that you want to try. You start to seek meditation when you understand that the mind is going through this pattern and you want to undo the pattern, you want to figure it out.

Seeking beyond the Pattern of the Mind

What is behind this pattern of the mind? the pattern of the mind can be very deep. You want to find out the truth behind this pattern of the mind. That’s why you meditate. Because if you have this thing repeated all the time, some kind of unanswered question that is not possible to answer, then you would find suffering, you’ll be suffering. And you always find some kind of solution to your suffering, but it’s always there. It’s a problem. That’s why eventually you turn within – you try to find, you know, maybe that’s the way my mind thinks, that it will always bring me to the same place.  By this time, you will be seriously seeking within instead of always looking for something outside of yourself.

This question of why meditate is very, very important. Because if you have the right reason why you meditate, you will continue for a long time. If you don’t have the right reason why you meditate, for example, you want to meditate out of curiosity, or because some people or books influence you,  it will not last long.

Only when you realize that your life always goes around and round and round and comes back to the same place, that you want to break through, you want to understand what is behind it and this is when you become more serious with meditation.

Do you agree? Yes. 

There are a few techniques of meditation that you need to explore, and you need to practice, and you need to become very good at it.

Synthesis of Yoga

Swami Sivananda taught what we call the synthesis of yoga, and it is a combination of different yoga practices. That’s what you are learning here at the ashram. When you are immersed here, you learn these different methods and they are all intricately working together for that same goal. The goal is to bring you closer, to make your mind calmer and bring you closer to the realization of the happiness that is already there within you.

There are different methods of meditation. And it’s all in the book of Swami Vishnudevanandaji called ‘Meditation and Mantras’. For those who do not have the book, you can buy the book, you can read it and study. But the main thing is you need to have a teacher. To meditate by yourself alone is very difficult.

Karma Yoga

What are the different methods for meditation? Number one is called karma yoga meditation. That means how to meditate on your life itself , on your karma, so that your life is not a burden and your life is meaningful.  That is called karma yoga meditation, but you have to turn your karma around, so that it becomes meaningful for you. And then it gives some kind of meaning to all your daily activity. That is meditation. Normally in normal life, you have work and home and work and traffic, and entertainment, all different things are separate, not integrated, not understood. But yoga is the method to transform you so that you can come closer to who you are, closer to the happiness that you are seeking. Karma yoga meditation is the method of selflessness, the method of turning your activity from fulfilling your personal gain to something selfless. The other way to say it, you have to give yourself out in order to find yourself. If you don’t give yourself out, you cannot find yourself.  That’s something you need to meditate about. That means that you need to turn your karma into your dharma.  It’s a lecture in itself. So, karma yoga meditation.

Bhakti Yoga

Then you have bhakti yoga meditation, that means how to turn your emotions into pure love. We talked about that a little bit yesterday, how to become devotional, how to channel your emotions so that your emotions are not going to repeat the pattern and make you feel stuck. Meditation is for you. It’s not for me or anybody. Meditation is for you in order for you to find yourself. You feel that your emotions are the problem, and you have a lot of attachments, and it creates a lot of pain. You get attached to people and things. Then you need to learn how to channel these emotions, so that they can give you more satisfaction or more happiness, more peace, more satisfaction for a long time.  One hundred percent sure that this is what you want, but you don’t know how. Everyone at the bottom line, wants to have one hundred percent love and all the time. True?  

Yoga gives you the answer, but you have to practice. You have to learn to observe your mind and see the problem.  Because if not, then, like I said, it could repeat the same pattern. The same pattern of attachment and then forced detachment and attachment to something else and forced detachment and romantic ideas about this, romantic ideas about that, and pain. You don’t want that. Bhakti yoga meditation is teaching you how to love and to be fulfilled for a long time. One hundred percent love, this is what you’re looking for.  You think that is possible? Who believes it is possible?  You have to believe it is possible otherwise you will not even try.  I believe it is possible, that’s how I tried. I practice it because I believe it’s possible. I believe that I deserve it. And I believe one hundred percent love exists. That is called turning this emotion into meditation. Bhakti yoga meditation. Study the saints lives, they tell their own stories and it is are very inspiring. They have beautiful devotion, so beautiful.

Raja Yoga meditation:

Raja Yoga meditation is what you practice at the ashram. You practice controlling the prana, you practice turning  the senses inward,  withdrawing of the senses, being more with  yourself and less external.  You practice concentration and calmness of mind. You practice one pointedness of mind so that the mind will be still and will not hide your treasure within.   

The mind is like a snake guarding your treasure.

There was a snake that stationed in front of a cave. Inside the cave there is a treasure, and this person wanted to get to the treasure but there’s a snake guarding in front . The snake was guarding the door of the cave so no one  cannot get in and get to the treasure. That person had a brilliant idea, he called a snake charmer, an Indian snake charmer with a flute. The snake charmer came  and played the flute, beautiful flute music, and the snake started to listen. The snake shook its head, shook its body,  charmed by the music.  Then this person sneaked in the cave and got to the treasure.

Meditation is sneaking pass the limitations of the mind to get to enjoy your immortal spirit. Our mind is guarding us from enjoying the treasure of our soul. There are many different techniques that you have to do to charm the mind.

Concentration; Keeping the Mind Busy:

Here is the list of  different methods of meditation that keep your mind busy in the right way.

  • Focussing on a mantra (Japa) is one way to keep the mind still.
  • Chanting outloud kirtan with the spirit of bhakti yoga  is a way of charming  the mind and keeping it somehow not obstructing you, your experience of connection.
  • Keep yourself involved in Karma Yoga activities all the time. Our problem is not that we have too much work. The problem is we have too much time on our hands. – 50 years ago, things are different  Before you had to chop wood, carry water, you know, light the lamp and then pull the water from the well and now everything is just push a button. You push the button, you have electricity, you push the button, the car drives by itself, you push it, and you have the laundry washed – everything is done automatically, so you have a lot of time.  
  • Keep the mind grounded: Do physical work like gardening at the same time leading a meditation life. Keep your life simple. This will keep your mind  grounded. When you have a lot of time and stuff, the mind will have different needs, and different preoccupations. Don’t complain when your life is difficult.   When your life is difficult, actually, you will have to chop wood, carry water. It will keep your mind very busy and actually, very healthy. The mind needs to concentrate so it doesn’t dream different things.   Different ideas all the time and these ideas are non-essential.
  • Travel and move less. During COVID pandemic time, people starts to distinguish between what is essential and what is non-essential.  Even before all these lock downs and social distancing campaigns nowadays, we taught it in yoga.
  • Reduce needs and distractions:   The governments in pandemic time distinguish what is essential and what is non- essential. They close first non-essential things – they close the bars, entertainment places, the coffee shops, the movie theatres, the clothing stores, the gyms. [Unfortunately, yoga is under the same thing as the gym ]. But Yoga has said for a long time the same thing:  Yoga says stay by yourself, don’t run around, be indoors, turn within, be content, be happy. Now the government says the same – I think the government should hire me to help people to stay indoors and be happy!.
  • That is Raja yoga meditation. That one-pointed state of mind, concentrating so that your mind will increase the vibratory wavelength and then you start to find peace and happiness. That’s very simple. Don’t have too many distractions. Don’t have too much desire. If you have too much time, your mind doesn’t know what to do.
  • Keep the emotions happy at the same time disciplining the mind.

Swami Vishnudevanandaji created this concept of a yoga vacation when he saw people left the city and go to the Laurentian mountains on the weekends. He understood that people needs to relax from their busy life and learn to integrate the yoga and meditation practice with their busy life at the same time.

  • Recharge the prana with regulated  Yoga life:

People comes back from their weekend get-away exhausted and they need to have a vacation from their vacation. That’s how he created this concept of having places like this where people can come, and they are on vacation but in a disciplined manner. They get up early, they exercise and they eat the right food and go to bed at the right time – That’s meditation the yoga way. When you try every day to control your mind, be more positive, be more focused, less distracted, less complaining, you are preparing yourself for meditation. Meditation is not just sitting with your eyes closed.

Self-Inquiry practice:

The last aspect of meditation is called self-inquiry.  Do Self-inquiry practice so you don’t go on believing yourself to be something that you are not. Thought is very fast and you are what you think. But you have to develop the capacity to turn your mind inward, to watch your heart and watch your mind and question yourself and try to find a different way to think about yourself that will be more correct or more truthful.

That practice of turning the mind to watch itself, to observe itself and to switch the thoughts from non-essential to essential is called self-inquiry practice. You can do it anytime, anywhere, but you have to be aware of yourself and you have to be able to learn, to learn to think about the way you think. You cannot just think and believe everything that you think is true. Yoga says to you no, no, no. Learn to discriminate between the real and the not real, the Self and the not Self, the Permanent and the temporary. You need to be more aware, and you need to watch and contemplate your thoughts. Keep only the good positive thoughts in the mind, and the thoughts that are illusory, temporary, not true about yourself and others– let them go. 


To summarize,

1/  think about why you meditate so that you break through the pattern of your mind, so that you will not be blocked by this pattern that will hide your true self and your true happiness. And so you can bring more light into your life – number one. Don’t blame anything outside.  It is your own mind that brings you disease or health,  happiness, or not. So, it’s like climbing a ladder. If you climb the ladder and you fall down and break your neck, it’s not the fault of the ladder it’s your fault. That means, how you use your mind is your skill.  You don’t know how to use your mind and your mind creates problems for you – that’s the problem. Everyone needs to learn how to use their mind better. And that’s yoga teaching – how to use your mind better. How to slowly, slowly control the mind. You know why you meditate, so that you go to the root of the problems, and you can control the mind. Or, if you don’t like the word control, you can say that you are tuning the mind. What it means, tuning the mind?  It is adjusting the mind to a higher wavelength, to a more correct way of thinking, the correct way of feeling that will last you a long time. You do this for yourself not for me, I do it for myself and I share. So why meditate? You need to ask yourself this question.

2/ The second thing is you need to learn the technique to meditate in daily life. You learn to meditate in your daily life activity – called karma yoga attitude, learn to be selfless. And to do your duty and let go of the results and don’t worry about what people think.

3/ Then, you learn to love correctly, selflessly, without too much attachment. Because attachment will make you suffer but love will make you feel happy. It’s up to you to figure it out – the difference between the two.

4/ Then you’ll need to learn to control the mind, turn inward, and to watch it.  To control the mind means to calm it down.

5/ And then you need to do self-inquiry, you need to observe yourself and ask yourself where does this thought come from? Is it important? Does it really help me or not? And then things that are non-essential, let go of them.  Keep only  something important that lasts a long time, keep this thought. And anything that is not important and changes – let it go.  Something that changes has no value, there’s no truth to it, but something that has value will last.

Additional story: Swami sita sharing story about how she chose community life :

Well, that’s it, any questions or anything? Enough? Time to go to bed. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much for setting up this beautiful place. Thank you very much for keeping this ashram so nice. It’s so valuable to see you sitting here. I’m able to sit here and share with you, with the Masters behind us, it’s all wonderful and the mosquitoes are not that bad. I used to live in the forest up here. I walked for half an hour to get there. When you cross the forest, there were so many mosquitos I had to wear a mosquito net over my head, so there is this round thing over my head when I walk through the forest.  And mosquitos, not mosquitos but black flies. So, I know this forest very well.

I used to have a house in the forest, I lived there happily. We built a house and one day, I still remember, on top of this hill, I crossed the forest and came to the top of the hill, and I looked down and I looked at the ashram, which at that time was very small, half size – one-third of the size. And then I said to myself, because I have a house, the house is a big house – twenty-four feet by twenty-four feet, two stories. Big, beautiful, in the forest. And I said, why do you want to live in your own house, far away at the top of the hill? I still remember, the words come – “no, I want to live here in the ashram.”  I followed that voice and moved in the ashram. And here, in the ashram, there’s no room sometimes. I had to live many times in the office, many times in the laundry room. And then one time I went shopping for something and I came back, and my room was gone, they gave my room to the guest!  I didn’t mind, but the problem was somebody moved my alter!  I was so mad. Then I realized my attachment again, when you’re upset at something it’s always because of your attachment, it’s nothing else.  I realized, well, whatever I want does not sit on this table, it’s not the altar, the alter is only a symbol of something that you hold dear.

That was the story of my choice of wanting to live in the ashram when there is no room for me instead in my own house and own space. Community life has something very good. Even though you feel that you don’t have time and space when you have to share but it’s actually very beautiful.

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.

The Guru Tradition

The Guru Tradition


teacher, disciple, knowledge, student, guru, people, swami, lineage, mind, means, seeking, Self-knowledge, Self-realization, self-discipline, truth, faith, life, devotion, Vedanta, world, qualification of a seeker, spiritual path, spiritual tradition, spiritual liberation, meditation, mental control

The Guru-Disciple Relationship

When we talk about the guru, the most important thing to understand is that it is based on a relationship. A guru doesn’t exist by itself. Let’s say you talk about a husband-wife relationship. When you talk about a husband you imply that there is a wife and when you talk about a wife you imply that there is a husband. When we talk about the guru, we are talking about a relationship between the teacher and the student, a relationship based on knowledge.

The word ‘guru’ means the “dispeller of darkness”. Darkness means spiritual ignorance, or not knowing our true nature. The guru is one who dispels spiritual ignorance.

The Search for Truth
The teaching of oneness in consciousness is the highest level of Advaita Vedanta teaching.

Advaita Vedanta says that in reality, everything is one. There is no me and no you. It appears that I am sitting here and you are sitting there. This is a relative reality where we have different bodies, different minds, and play different roles. We call this world of duality, this multiplicity of names and forms, Maya, the cosmic illusion.

We crave to know the truth about ourselves. Because things are always changing, coming and going in our lives. We have feelings of separation, unhappiness, that we are missing something and get disappointed. We feel quite limited, in the dark, not knowing the truth about ourselves or our environment, the reality around us.

When dealing with ourselves, we see that we are changing. In fact, it is the mind that is changing. We feel life is changing and we are changing. There is also something that is not changing, but we are not quite sure what it is. That’s how we become a seeker. The seeker is one who seeks for the truth. That truth is the Truth of ‘I AM’, the Self that is not changing.

Seeking for the truth, you have to seek in the right place. At this time the student seeks a teacher, a guide who points out the right place to seek. The teacher has to be enlightened, not having the same darkness of the student.

The guru tradition is very old, before the time of Adi Shankaracharya (eighth century). Adi Shankaracharya himself was enlightened. When he was just six years old, he knew all the Vedas. When he was only nine years old, Adi Shankaracharya received permission from his mother to take sannyasa, the renunciation phase of life.

Following tradition, Shankaracharya set his heart to finding his teacher. He left home and found his teacher in a cave. His teacher’s name is Govindapada. How long did he stay with his teacher? We do not know but long enough for him to write many commentaries on important scriptures. The teacher then sent Adi Shankaracharya to teach. Following this important feature of the tradition, the teacher decides the time for the student to go on their own to propagate the knowledge.

In the Adwaita Vedanta tradition, Self-knowledge is revealed directly to the seeker of Truth after periods of discipleship, purification, study, and renunciation of ego. The teacher is the classical instrument of spiritual realization and spiritual knowledge himself. The teacher conveys spiritual knowledge not just intellectually but by their own life and example. The student then passes it on to others by their own life and example.

The Tradition of Teachers

This system of transmission of spiritual knowledge is called a tradition of teachers. The teacher passes on the spiritual knowledge to a student who will one day become a teacher. Self- knowledge is alive, eternal. It is the Knowledge of Oneness. The fact that you have this knowledge implies that you must teach others. Why? Because you and ‘others’ are one. Let’s say you are sick. Naturally I will try to find a remedy to help your sickness, because I care about you. In the same way the teacher shows care to their students by imparting knowledge to help them remove darkness or spiritual ignorance.

The Gurukula System
There are different levels of learning. The gurukula is the traditional system of learning where the student lives with the teacher. A six-year-old student would go to the teacher’s house (the gurukula) to learn Sanskrit, scripture, etc., from the teacher. Traditionally, we do not really call that student a seeker. The student prepares for knowledge and the teacher has time to understand the student’s readiness. The word adhikāri means a qualified student. A qualified student implies they are ready to receive spiritual knowledge.

It is said that spiritual knowledge is already within you. You have all the knowledge that you need. However, there are veils that cover your eyes. At this time, you need an external instrument to help you wake up to knowledge. That instrument is the guru.

Young students must prepare slowly. Sometimes it takes more than 10 years, during which time the teacher guides them like a parent. Following this classical tradition, after a certain number of years, the teacher decides if they should continue on the direct path of Self-realization, become a renunciate, or leave the Gurukula and become a householder.

Criteria for the Renunciation Path

The teacher looks to a few criteria to determine if the student is an adhikari, qualified for Self-knowledge, or not.

  1. The student has the power of discrimination, high intellectual power, to intuit the Truth from the non-truth, the Self from the non-Self.
  2. The student displays the quality of detachment. To detach truly, the student must have an idea, an awareness, of what is the Truth, what is the Self, what is the Atman. They will then not be involved in the non-Truth; they will not be involved in the non-Self. They have some idea but do not have complete realization.
  3. Six qualities of the mind (Shat-sampat) please see article Six Virtues of a spiritual Seeker
  4. The last qualification the student must have is mumukshutva — the desire to know. Mumukshutva is an inner yearning for true freedom, happiness, fulfillment, and liberation from suffering. Mumukshutva is the constant desire to know, no matter what. You are continuously seeking, because you have the desire for liberation and you will never give up.

Mumukshutva comes in the form of inner questioning from your desire to know the truth. You want to know the truth from your point of view, not the point of view of someone else; not the point of view of your friends or family. It is from your point of view that you seek to be liberated. The temptation is to settle down, to conform to whatever the world, your friends and family, are saying that you should do. To settle down means you no longer need meditation, yoga, inner seeking, creativity, self-enquiry.

Because Self-knowledge is the knowledge of the Truth, of Enlightenment, you have to do it on your own. You can have many friends on the journey. You can have a teacher on the journey that you can count on. But you have to do it yourself. You cannot conform to anything. People can give you encouragement, but they’re not there to hold your hand all the time. Even your teacher is not there to hold your hand all the time.

It is your own strength of character, your faith, your insight, your own intellect, and your own lifestyle, that allows your intellect to awaken and to be clear. Not to be blind. That you have. But you need to do it yourself.

The Teacher

Qualifications of the Teacher

The spiritual teacher (or guru) is a person that knows the Truth. We invite you to read the chapter on ‘Guru’ in Bliss Divine by Swami Sivananda. In the article, Swami Sivananda says the teacher must have an injunction from God. This is something we need to understand. How can a person have an injunction from God? It means it comes from a very high source. There is a call that you need to teach, that you need to share the knowledge. You know and you need to share.

The teacher must know the ultimate Truth, i.e., the Self. Having consciousness of the Truth, the teacher lives according to the Truth and is not subject to Maya or the untruth. That is the definition of an enlightened person. In all conditions one sees the light and the truth no matter what.

The teacher has already tread the “ABCs” of the spiritual path; and follows the guidance of scripture, has the ethical foundation, knows all the practices, has already struggled on some section of the path. They have done this for a long time. Therefore, they know all the difficulties of the path and they have gone to a place where they can be free from these difficulties. At the same time, they know where they have been and where you are now. From here they can help you.

According to Swami Sivananda, the teacher has double consciousness. What is double consciousness? The teacher has the consciousness of the Truth and also the consciousness of the world, of Maya. Therefore, the teacher is able to bridge our limited consciousness—identifying with our body, mind and senses—with the Supreme consciousness or Self-knowledge. The teacher creates a bridge when you come to a dead-end place, not knowing, and confused. The teacher helps you to overcome obstacles and regain clarity.

The Guru Tradition

The guru tradition is an old tradition from the time of Adi Shankaracharya (8th century) who created the 10 monk orders and four schools or institutions of learning. He installed his four main disciples to be the Shankaracharya or the teacher of these schools.

I have a scholarly book on the teacher tradition, A Tradition of Teachers, Sankara and the Jagadgurus Today” by William Cenkner. I would like to read about the guru-disciple relationship. It says, “To render service to the teacher is a primary obligation of the student, seemingly more important than the study itself.” The student has to do karma yoga in service to the teacher. When you go to a teacher’s home, you have to do service. Why? Through service, a strong bond (strong tuning) is established between the guru and the student.

“The pupil must have intellectual discipline to master the meaning of sacred text, grow in moral discipline, and bring the meaning of the sacred text into the student’s daily life. The qualification of the student must fulfill his consequent duties, gradually it will bring about an introversion, a catharsis and the capacity for greater personal experience.”

The Lineage

The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center displays two pictures: Master Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda. People get very confused, because one guru is already difficult to understand. How can we understand two gurus? It represents the lineage. Lineage refers to knowledge that is passed down from time immemorial to Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda, to Swami Sitaramananda, etc.

What does lineage mean? Lineage is “To store in memory and to transmit the knowledge that leads to Self-realization”. There is a memory, the collective memory in one (the teacher), that stores this knowledge, this Self-knowledge.

Shankaracharya himself always started his teaching with prayers and salutations to the teachers of the past. He praised his personal teacher Govindapada. He wrote that the teachers have awakened those asleep and have completely saved me. He said, “I bowed down to my teacher, or knower of Brahman, who collected for us the nectar of knowledge from the Vedanta, like a bee collecting the best honey from flowers.”

When we talk about lineage we talk about traditional knowledge. “Lineage increases the value of the teaching, as it passes through the memory of the ages.” Vedanta proposes a rational understanding of the Self as a prelude to an intuition of the Self. Initiation into a tradition comes from the memory of the past. It is traditional knowledge that stands the test of time. Initiation into knowledge is a familiar point of departure in this Indian tradition. In Vedanta, it extends into lifelong practice of bringing into memory the line of past teachers. For example, I have a direct connection with Swami Vishnudevananda and he has a direct connection with Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda has direct connection with his teacher and with the lineage of Advaita Vedanta and Adi Shankaracharya.

Through this connection (the lineage), one taps into the eternal knowledge. That connection is based in seeking Knowledge. My connection with Swami Vishnudevananda is based in my seeking knowledge. I was not even aware that I was seeking knowledge, I was 28 years old. But I knew there is more to this life than the life I was living. And I knew inside there must be something that I was seeking, what I call the 100%. 100% means something that is absolute, something that you can 100% trust, something that you can 100% believe in. I had done a lot in my life until I was 28 years old. But it never gave me the 100%. So, I was never resting, but all the time seeking.

Meeting the Guru is Meeting One’s own Self

When I met Swami Vishnudevananda-ji, it was not the person that I met. Actually, when I met the person, nothing happened. He was a man, an Indian man, small size, who spoke English that I didn’t understand. I could have just walked away when people were making a big fuss about this man. But it is not about the person. It was me that was seeking to meet my true Self through the medium of the person. It is a process. I didn’t have self- awareness. You cannot see yourself because you only see through the eyes of other people, the eyes of society, the eyes of your family, the eyes of books, the eyes of secular teachers in the university and so on. I could not see myself even though I was called a mature person living her life. I held a position in public service but I still didn’t know myself. I still did not know the goal of life.

When I met Swami Vishnudevananda-ji, the teacher (not the body of the person, not even the personality), I was meeting myself through the medium of the teacher. It is a process that is so interesting, to see oneself through the eyes of awareness, through the eyes of the guru that has awareness.

The Process of Self-awareness

Self-awareness is developed slowly. Of course, I was sitting and listening to lectures for years, and I was serving the teacher for years. But something happens also, beyond all these words, beyond all these actions, it is an inner tuning. I remember my mind was full of thoughts, so much junk in my mind. The mind was full. I was a person of the world. I was listening to the news, watching TV or reading the newspaper, because when you are a person of the world, you have to know how the world functions. I had no clue that all this information wasn’t helping me. Actually, all these thoughts clouded my mind and made me more confused and less able to see myself.

Guru-disciple Relationship

When I met with the guru, I did not know that he is a guru. It was just the school that I went to, and the teacher has a lot of prana and knowledge. I had to qualify myself as a student, as a disciple, for a long time, many years. I don’t know exactly. But it takes years for you to realize: “Oh, I understand what a guru means now. I understand that I am a disciple. I understand this relationship of guru-disciple is meant for knowledge.” It does not happen overnight. It is a process of Self-realization.

In fact, you cannot talk of a guruasindependent from the student and at the same time, each student has a different idea of the guru. Swami Vishnudevananda appeared to teach this knowledge a certain way to Swami Sitaramananda. He will appear to teach this knowledge in a different way to Swami Jnaneswariananda and will appear to teach differently to Swami Dharmananda. Everyone steps onto the path of Self-realization in their own unique way. You cannot compare one student to another.

Each Person is Unique

Each person is completely unique. You are learning a unique lesson in this life. You are removing the unique obstacles, unique veils that cover your own eyes. You have your own personality that comes from years and years and lifetimes of learning. You are on your own path. You have a unique position in your journey to Self-knowledge, therefore, the guru will appear to you differently and will teach you differently.

You need to learn the lesson yourself because you are walking on the path yourself, and you cannot just take on someone else’s experience. You can hear their testimony, but you cannot really understand because they have their own unique relationship with the teacher and the lesson to be learned.

The guru-disciple relationship is not a public thing, it is not one size fits all. The teacher, however, can have many types of students, because they have very high knowledge that fits all the different personalities of their students. Some teachers will have a few students, while other teachers will have many. Some teachers will have an international group, multicultural, all ages, different academic knowledge. In this case, the teacher is very advanced to be able to impart the knowledge to so many different types of people.

During my journey with Swami Vishnudevananda I didn’t talk too much with Swamiji nor did he talk too much. However, he gave lectures non-stop. Whatever he said, I thought about very carefully and it always opened something up for my own journey.

Our Ego Expects the Teacher to Behave in a Certain Way

It is only our ego that expects the teacher to behave a certain way. If the teacher does not behave a certain way and does not give us what we want, we blame the teacher. We do not see that this is our learning lesson. That’s the difficulty. Most of the time we are not ready for the lesson and we struggle. The more difficult the lesson, the more we struggle. When we struggle, and we are under the tutelage of the teacher, we may wrongly attribute the source of our misery to the teacher and oftentimes blame the teacher.

Sometimes I blamed my teachers. I said, “This is complicated, why do you make it so complicated? And I thought, “I just want to live my life. I just want to be positive in my life, who cares about immortality? Who cares about peace in the world?”

Swami Vishnudevananda-ji used to tell stories and laugh all the time. He told stories and stories and laughed. It did not make any sense. I was thinking, “Why does he keep telling stories, oftentimes the same stories? Why doesn’t he tell me all the serious things?”

For example, he told the story of an old couple. This story was in the newspaper. He always taught from the newspaper, from the magazine to give some real-life examples. The newspaper reported the story of an old couple that died on the dance floor. When he told that story, he was laughing. I said within my mind to Swamiji, “Why do you laugh about this? You know, the poor old couple died on the dance floor. You should have compassion toward them. Why do you tell this story in class? And we are laughing about this?”

I thought that Swamiji was not compassionate. It took me years and years to understand that the teaching was really about yourself. The teaching was about you. You need to behave according to your age, according to your maturity. Swamiji was laughing because this couple is old and they want to act like they’re young. They then went and danced on the dancefloor until they died. This is something incredible. The stupidity of the human mind. They don’t mature according to their age. They think that they have to be young and sexy and passionate, forever. This is the stupidity of the human mind.

Swamiji was laughing about it, because that’s the way he teaches, to make you laugh. When you laugh, you learn the lesson better. When you talk about something very seriously, maybe your intellect understands, but there’s something else you don’t understand. That’s why Swami Vishnudevananda-ji always taught with humor.

He was always telling stories. He was laughing all the time. I remember sitting in front of the Satsang and laughing and laughing and holding my belly and rolling. That is how it worked. I was a very serious person and he was able to make me laugh and then I thought about it. It is a laughing therapy. Because you know, you take yourself so seriously, you think that Self-realization is a big serious business. That’s one thing. So, he made you laugh—just to help you laugh at that one thing, but eventually to laugh at everything. I saw that he had that technique of taking everything in humor, so you somehow get it.


The guru-disciple relationship is based on our search for Truth or spiritual knowledge. It is a timeless relationship. As students, we must qualify ourselves to embark on this search for knowledge. The teacher sustains and transmits the knowledge through the lineage. The teacher is one who has walked the path and understands the many challenges their students face. I transmit the teachings in different ways to different people. I can be very serious. I can also tell a story.

The Sivananda organization is known for classical Yoga teaching. It is a monastic lineage that follows a classical system of transmission of the highest spiritual knowledge based on the guru tradition. Most of the senior teachers or acharyas are sannyasis. They are monastics who live by and apply the Advaita Vedanta teachings in daily life. Thus, it is a living tradition, shared by teachers who have dedicated their lives to the teachings and who wish to share this knowledge with the world.

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.

Four Qualifications of an Aspirant

Four Qualifications of an Aspirant

Mon, 8/30 9:55PM • 38:15


detachment, happiness, seeking, discrimination, mind, ashram, desire, yoga, meditation, life, moksha, attachment, habit, ice cream, spiritual life. Jnana yoga, self-enquiry, Truth, Self-development, Self-realization.

The first level of knowledge is when you become a sadhaka, a seeker, a seeker after Truth. Somehow, you already know that you don’t know—that’s already significant. You are seeking for the Truth, seeking to know. But what are you seeking? There is sometimes darkness and sometimes light, and often, confusion when we embark on the inner seeking journey. It’s not a seeking outside. And you don’t need to come to the Ashram and do a Training Course if you can follow this guideline.

We are used to seeking outside for pleasures and happiness that are in the sensual world and that are temporary. If something does not happen the way we want, we are disappointed; we blame something or somebody. The reason for our disappointment is always external to us, in the external world.

Light in the darkness

But the seeker, or sadhaka, is a person of discrimination. This is the first qualification of a seeker according to Vedanta teachings. The second qualification is to have dispassion or detachment; the third is acquiring the six mental qualifications, and the fourth is having mumukshutva, a strong desire to know.

Since those present have completed the Yoga teachers training course and many have been on the path for a very long time, I believe that you all are quite serious. So, you are a seeker. Otherwise, you would not have gone through TTC, wanting to have more discipline in your life, learning meditation and yoga in a systematic, serious manner. That’s called mumukshutva, the desire to know. You have to know, more or less, what you are seeking. Otherwise, what are you seeking? If I’m looking for my glasses, I grasp everything around, asking, “Are these my glasses?” “No.” “Oh, maybe these are my glasses?” “No.” “Oh, these are my glasses!” “No.”

Why I am grasping? Because I don’t quite know. I’m putting each thing down, because I know that it’s not them. These are not my glasses. Why am I so certain that they are not my glasses? I can put the object down and reject it. Because I know, right? Because I know my glasses. And when I touch them, I have no uncertainty, no doubt. Why? Because I know them. The same in Vedanta, you are seeking something that you know.

Ask the right question

And yet, there is something in your mind that is so illusory, that causes you to look for something somewhere else and mistake something for what it is not. You have a pattern of seeking in the wrong place and you do not quite know what you are seeking. That’s a big problem. Thankfully, there are guidelines. In Vedanta philosophy, it is said that you have to qualify yourself in order for you to see or for you to find. Normally we seek outside, then say, “Oh, this, maybe it’s in the landscape?”

Or maybe, “It’s in the company?” Or maybe, “It’s in the weather?” Maybe: “Yeah, I want to be near the beach. And here it is too dry.” You are always looking for something—for happiness, in truth—but you fall back on the very bad habit of looking for it externally.

Happiness slips away

We try to change this with yoga self-discipline, to look in the right place. Eventually, you have to have the discrimination; you have to know what you’re seeking. Next, you have to be detached, be dispassionate, about things that you have mistaken to be “it”, to be what you are looking for. And still, you continue to do it again and again. You say you know that these are not your glasses, and yet, out of habit, you still go down the same road. You know that ice cream, sensual pleasure, etc.  are our habitual ways to seek happiness—in the senses, in the emotions, in sex, in name and fame and the ego—in the external world.

The external world means the world of the senses. You are here, but you are looking around: “Oh, I’d like to be at the beach.” And then you have that dream in your mind: “Yeah, I’d like to be at the beach in a five-star hotel. I’d like to have my piña colada…” “Oh, that is happiness!” You have had this impression in the mind for a very long time—it’s very deep. And, perhaps you have been living with disappointment for a very long time, too. You build up some kind of desire, and then you get the desired object, but you don’t get the happiness you expected. It slips through your fingers. It’s gone.

Again, you feel empty and longing—hankering after something, and yet not able to satisfy yourself and find peace of mind. Still, the mind keeps going in the same, deep groove. It takes a long time to change. That’s why you need to be qualified. In reality, the happiness you seek is right here and now. It is within you; it is always surrounding you. It is right in front of you. It is not outside. And yet, we have been mistaken all this time.

The long journey

Again, the first qualification of a seeker is discrimination. This faculty of intelligence in the mind is able to recognize that the Truth you’re looking for, the happiness you’re looking for, is not in this changing world—not in the senses, not in your habits, not in your emotions, not in this changing world. You begin looking for it in a different manner. You need to go within to find the unchanging, the permanent, the Truth, the sat—in a word, satchidananda atman—the Self that is full awareness, consciousness, and that is full of bliss. That is what you are looking for. You have sought it in many elusive forms, but this is the essence. Discrimination is the inner faculty that allows you to go beyond the illusions of the mind.

You are not new on this path. You have practiced before. You have been a seeker before, before this life. Maybe you have been seeking a long, long time for that Truth. But your discriminative intelligence is not yet sharp enough to discern where you go wrong, to recognize when you go backward and you’re in your old habit again. The habit leads you again to emptiness, to disillusion; it will not get you where you want. The discriminative faculty is that intuitive intelligence that comes from the wisdom within. It has been sharpened over lifetimes. It makes you feel that something is wrong. In fact, it makes you know, makes you decide, that something is wrong.

The dilemma of the oak trees

I will give some examples. About 25 years ago, Swami Vishnudevanandaji sent me here, to the Yoga Farm Ashram. I was not happy about it for many reasons. At that time, the Ashram was very small. There was an old farmhouse with grass growing tall and there was nobody here. It was not developed. That’s not what concerned me. I had a dream in my mind, an attachment to a certain thought, or samskara, that the ideal place for me would be in the mountains. Not in the valley. I like pine trees because, in my childhood, I lived on a hill of pine trees. And now I would be in a valley with oak trees and different weather.

Pine trees grow in a cool climate. But here I am in an area with oak trees and it’s hot. I have been sent by the Guru to be here. My mind complained, “No, I don’t like it.” Then I said, “Why would Swamiji open an Ashram in a valley like this? Just a few miles up the highway, there are pine trees on a hillside and nice weather. That would be perfect. Why isn’t the Ashram there? The Ashram here is not what I wanted.” So, then my mind is thinking, “I can go a few miles and get the ideal that is in my mind. Or I can come to this place, which is not my ideal at all.

But—what do I get? I get the teaching. I get the connection to the Guru, and I get to serve the Guru’s mission. I get to follow the schedule decided by the Guru. That is how the teaching is transmitted—through the schedule and through daily life. I get all this. But my mind is attached to my idea of what the ideal place for me is, what will bring me happiness. Thank God, my discriminative mind kicked in. It said, “Oh, okay. I have to choose between the weather, the landscape, the everything—and the teaching, and the connection to the guru that will lead me to go inside myself, lead me to the right place.”

So what do I choose? I chose the teaching, sacrificing my idea of an external reality that could give me happiness. I chose the connection, the austerity, the tapas, the opportunity to do practices. And that’s how I stayed here for 25 years. It wasn’t easy. These days, there are not many people here because of the Covid pandemic. Twenty-five years ago when I started, there was only half a staff. That was me; I split my time between the San Francisco Center and the Yoga Farm.

Now we have a dozen staff; it’s a big difference. My point is that your mind needs to start thinking differently about your choices in life. Illusion in our mind always brings us on the same route, leading us to the same disillusion. We go round and round and round and waste a lot of time. Meanwhile, you get old and you lose all opportunity for discipline, for meditation. You waste your life running after illusions. Time passes so quickly.

A lesson in Paris

Here’s another story of discrimination and dispassion. Once upon a time, I was not a Swami. I was like you, working. I had some money and time—and a vacation. I didn’t have a mission in life, nothing to dedicate myself to. I had no spiritual ideal, nothing. So I went to Paris. What do you do in Paris? You go sightseeing a little bit… and then what? You go shopping. What is Paris famous for? Fashion! So that’s what I did. I had money. I had nothing else to do with my life. So I went shopping for fashion, things that I would not normally buy. Back home, I tried the clothes on and said, “One day, I will wear this.”

But as I looked at myself in the mirror, it didn’t look like me at all. Why would I spend the money and wear such a thing? It was a very fashionable cape. So then, I just got rid of it. I wasted my money. I got rid of it after a day. Why? Because some amount of discrimination dawned. Your happiness doesn’t depend on your looks. If you wear fashionable clothing, you think that your look will give you success and happiness. If you have the look, you can be attractive. But will you have the happiness? No. I knew very quickly that it was an illusion.

When will it stop?

The first quality is discrimination—to think properly, to know what will lead you to the happiness you seek, avoiding your old groove or habit. The second quality is dispassion—detachment toward the habit, toward the karma, toward that strong desire and strong tendency. It builds up over a long period of time. It makes us go around in circles, go wrong, and not be able to stop. It was dispassion that made me give away the fashionable Parisian clothing and vow to myself that I would never indulge myself again. I had made a mistake, wasted my money, but I also realized that that was it, it was finished for me—finished forever and ever.

Temporary detachment

Detachment that comes with discrimination lasts, but detachment that comes from pain doesn’t. As an example, often a woman who gives birth finds it very painful. She may say, “That’s it, I will not have another child!” But then, after some time, she forgets. She goes on to have many children. That is a temporary dispassion or detachment. Another example is somebody suffering heartache from the disillusion of romantic love. Maybe their girlfriend ran away. Their heart aches and they run to the ashram.

I clearly remember one guy who arrived here in a red sports car. A sports car at the ashram! It represents rajas. He had just broken up with his girlfriend and he came here saying, “I will stay here forever.” He said he’d had enough of this girlfriend business! “I know now, I understand. I will stay here and do meditation. I will rebuild my life.” He sounded very sincere. We took him in. But this guy barely stayed a month. In one month, he forgot about the girlfriend. But do you think he got over the red sports car? He got another girlfriend!

Free yourself from the trap

What if you eat some ice cream, get a stomach ache and say, “Never again”? Is it going to last? No. Why? Because it’s not based on discrimination. In order to last, detachment must be based on discrimination. Otherwise, you will go back to the same thing when you feel a little bit under the weather, or when things are not going your way. Then you want to find happiness immediately—and the old samskaras, the old grooves, will kick in again. You will find yourself doing the same thing, again.

Use your intelligence to understand. Another example: you realize that ice cream is colored ice with sugar and a nice name. That’s it. Actually, the truth about ice cream is that it gives you a sugar high. Ahh, the coldness, and that name that sounds good—but then it gives you diarrhea. If you really think about it, then the detachment will be lasting. Then even if they come up with a new name for ice cream (or a new color, that’s how the industry works), you will not be tempted to buy it. You will not fall into that trap again. Now your dispassion is solid, based on understanding.

Be honest with yourself

So beware of anything that you find yourself doing again and again (and again and again) that gets you in trouble. Think of the moth that cannot resist flying into fire. It loses its wings. It becomes blind. Flying in and out, and back in again, blind, it literally kills itself. You can continue to do this yourself, but for how long? You lose all your prana and get sick. You cannot be young forever. This disillusion—this heart ache, sadness or depression—comes when your desire is unfulfilled.

Anger and resentment tax your system. You waste your time; you waste your life. So stop and think. That’s why satsanga, or company of the wise, is important. They don’t try to sell you ice cream or easy happiness. What do they tell you? You have to be disciplined; you have to look within. You have to cease your habit of attachment, your habit of telling yourself stories. They tell you the Truth. When you are in satsanga, it keeps you safe and sane. It keeps you on the right path.

The drama of not seeing

Another level of dispassion is detachment toward the difficulty of our karma. Life is not always pleasant. This morning is was nice at the Ashram, but then in the afternoon, some smoke blew in. That’s karma, the collective karma of California wildfires. Climate change is the collective karma of Planet Earth. It creates some difficulty for us. When we don’t understand, when things are negative, we collapse. Why? We believe it to be true. We forget our immortal Self and we lose our energy. The drama replays. We can’t see the happiness and find ourselves again. We fall back into the old grooves; we go back to old addictions, the old way of finding temporary happiness. We become blind again.

Attachment or detachment?

Forbearance allows you to detach from the ups and downs of karma, to have the resilience not to believe in it, but to remain in your Self. Discrimination lets us know that whatever is happening is temporary, it’s not the Truth. The Truth of your life is not the landscape or the weather or the people. It is not the company or the food you eat. It is your capacity to see yourself—your True Self—which is real, here and now. Separate from your mind, which is always coming up with new thoughts, new ideas and new desires to pull you away from meditation. Discrimination allows you to detach from the thoughts.

When you meditate, stick to the peace, even when thoughts come. Usually your most favorite thought will pop up during meditation to disturb you. You run with it and forget about meditation. The same in life, we constantly run after our desires, our ideas about this and that. We forget. We lose concentration, get distracted and find ourselves in the loop again. Discrimination is called viveka. Detachment is called vairagya. Detachment from the results of your actions is called Karma Yoga.

Detachment from thoughts is meditation. You are attached to things because of your emotions. To detach from emotions, you have to practice Bhakti Yoga. Cling to your mantra, to your way of connecting to the Divine in order to resist attachment. Attachment is not going to bring you happiness. It will ruin your life. You lose your way.

False identification

Detach from the results of your actions. Detach from this life, which is simply the result of your actions in the past. Detach from your feelings, your emotions. The moment we have a feeling, an emotion, we fall right away. We don’t have any discrimination, resistance, detachment—nothing. The feelings just pull us by the nose and we fall. We get ourselves completely confused. Detachment regarding the emotions is Bhakti Yoga. Detachment toward the mind and the thoughts themselves is called Raja Yoga and meditation—detachment toward the ego, the false sense of self, false identification. You know your ego: I’m the best cook, I’m the best teacher, I’m the best everything. What am I doing here? I need to do this, do that. We need to be detached from all these ideas about our identity as well.

Be curious to know

We must cultivate the six virtues and mumukshutva, the desire to know. In the process, you might have a glimpse of knowing that you don’t know and that you are seeking. But then you forget. The mumukshutva must be continuously nurtured. You must constantly know that you don’t know—and constantly be interested in knowing.

One thing I find very strange in my 40 years of teaching is that people are not curious about themselves. They know everything about the external world—they know how to shop, which company is good, what price, what car, what brand. They’re educated about politics and who said what. But about themselves, they don’t care. They think they know. The ego tells them plenty, and they’ve believed it for a long time. The society, the environment, their families have also been telling them. But that’s not who they are. Unless you ask yourself questions, you don’t know.

But people don’t ask questions. I’ve taught thousands of people. At the end of each TTC, I always say, “If you have a question, I am available. I promise to answer your questions.” And how many questions do I get? Very few. For a person to ask a question and come back with more questions is very rare. Most people don’t. It’s called mumukshutva—continuously cultivating your desire to know.

Hari Om Tat Sat. Thank you.

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.



Tue, 7/27 10:27PM • 59:29


Spiritual life, moksha, goal, maturity, means, dharma, motivation, Guru, purpose, money, stage of life, castes, spiritual evolution, meditation, growth, karma, karma, enjoyment, world, society


It’s very nice to have you all here. And today is the full moon, and also Guru Poornima, which is a very special and auspicious day on the full moon that is traditionally offered to the Guru. You have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Secretary’s day and Valentine’s Day, and in Vietnam they have a Teacher’s Day. I’m not sure if you have Teacher’s Day here, but in Vietnam it is very important. However, in India the teacher is called not only a teacher but rather a Guru. The day is called Guru Poornima, which means the full moon. So today, it happened to be the Guru Poornima, the Full Moon celebration of the Guru.

You can have a dance teacher, you can have a computer teacher, you can have a cooking teacher. Oftentimes people use this word Guru for this, you know, my cooking Guru, my dancing Guru, my music Guru, like this. But for us here the word Guru means a spiritual teacher, the person that teaches you the highest kind of knowledge that gives you liberation from suffering, liberation from bondage. That’s called a Guru. He / she is the one that removes your darkness and gives you some light. Tomorrow evening we have a puja, a special celebration, Puja, to dedicate to Guru Poornima.

The topic of the upcoming four days retreat at the ashram here is called the “Yoga of Transition.” And at the same time, we welcome the TTC graduates in this “TTC refresher,” that means knowledge being refreshed. Because if you know something and you don’t think about it, it gets dusty, it gets rusty, so you have to renew from time to time.


Life is continuously flowing. You are always in movement from one state to another, because that’s how you feel alive. If your life is not moving, then you feel that you are stuck, stagnant and somehow you’re not moving forward. Everyone wants to move forward in life. Sometimes you get confused because you don’t know where you are now, what you are doing, where you are going, and what is the right thing, because sometimes you receive pressure from all around, your parents, your friends and yourself. You say, “Life is pulling me in different directions and I am confused.”

The ancient teaching of the Vedas have given you some guidance. And of course, you need to have a teacher who knows you very well, who can tell you (more or less) where you are at, and what are the different steps that you need to take. Today I’m going to present to you a little bit of these different ideas to guide you.

Number one, you need to keep in mind all the time that you are an entity: body, mind, spirit. You are not just a body. Our bad habit is that we think of ourselves as only a body. If somebody asks you who you are, and you present yourself to somebody, you always say: “I’m 30 years old” or “I’m 20 years old.” You define yourself as the age of the body, as the physical body. But in fact you are more than that. And you need to keep that in mind.

First, the physical body, as you know, is born and then it grows, and the cells are growing and then decaying. So the state of your body depends upon your age, and your age will change a lot of things. So first remember the body.

Second, you need to consider the astral body, which in general means your mind, your energy. This energy comes also from the maturity of your mind, it depends on the quality of what you think. The thought that you have in mind sometimes gives a lot of prana and certain thoughts that you have in mind block your flow prana and make you feel very small and weak. So, the astral body is very important: your prana level, your mind, your subconscious mind, your emotions, the way you think, and your idea of yourself, all these are influencing the way you conduct yourself in life and the way you move in life.

Third, there is the core body which is called the causal body. The causal body is the seed body. This means that there is a reason that you’re born in this particular body and circumstances. According to Yoga philosophy, you are born to pay certain karmic debts and learn certain lessons. That’s why each person has different kinds of circumstances in life.

Somebody is born healthy, in a very rich family, and is loved, and somebody is born in a poor family, in a physically challenged body and is rejected and becomes an orphan. Why? There are different circumstances, different lessons that we need to learn. In the same manner, if you plant an orange seed in the ground, then what you expect is an orange tree. You cannot plant an orange seed and expect a banana tree. The law of cause and effect works very precisely.

Depending on the seed thought (the cause) that you have in mind, you will be born in the body of a male or a female in certain circumstances of your life, your father, your mother, your culture and all these things. There is something that governs your life in the core and that is your reason to be born. This is a karmic lesson to be learned at a deeper level.

Then beyond all this there is the Atman. Atman is your Self. It is your freedom, your Sat Chit Ananda, your bliss, your ultimate goal, what you truly want. Whatever you want in life is to know the truth, to not have any difficulties and to be aware, to be awake and not to be ignorant, and also to be happy and blissful. In general, we say that your purpose is to find your true Self, and that’s the purpose of all the yoga meditation practices and all Vedanta study. So you use the three bodies as your vehicles to navigate through life.

This knowledge comes from the Vedas or the Vedic culture. They give different sign posts that will help you to navigate this life. Vedic culture includes Yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda, Jyotisha and Vastu. In Vedic culture the Guru, the spiritual teacher, is important. The Guru will guide you through.


The other important idea that you need to keep in mind in order to understand yourself, is the idea of the three gunas. The idea is that in life you are evolving from Tamas to Rajas to Sattva. So if you ask yourself: “Am I evolving? Where am I going?” Then the answer has to be: “I am moving from darkness (tamas, inertia, darkness) to rajas (movement, restlessness, egoism) to sattva ( purity, clarity, wisdom).

In tamas, the veil over your consciousness in the beginning is very thick, so you cannot see the oneness, you only see a big difference between you and me. In rajas, there is a little bit less thick veil, but you can only see partially, as you are self-centered and you only see from your point of view and you cannot see other people’s point of view, because you don’t have wisdom. In Sattva, everything is clear, light is coming in, and you see the whole big picture.

Your evolution from ignorance to wisdom corresponds with your age and stage in life. At a young age, there is tamas, ignorance. Then you grow up a little bit and then you care about yourself. Your ego becomes big and you only focus only on your needs. During that time, you still don’t see the picture of your relationship with other people, your relationship with the world. And then eventually, you become more enlightened, you become more sattvic, you become more wise and at that time your vision opens up. And then you start to situate yourself in a more correct manner, in relation to the world and in relation to other people. You see the big picture about life. And you also see the goal of life, which is to attain wisdom, to pay your karmic debt and to be free.

Your maturity comes with age, your biology dictates a certain psychology, a certain maturity. However, to note exceptions to the norm: Some people are very young and they are very mature. I met a boy who was six years old and he talked like an old man. He didn’t want to play, he was very serious with meditation and yoga. And I have met people 60-70-80 years old, and they are like kids. So, it depends on the individual.


  1. The brahmacharya stage, a student’s stage (6-25 years old)
  2. The grihastha householder stage is from 25 to 50.
  3. Vanaprastha, retirement stage (50-60)
  4. Sannyasa, renunciation stage

In brahmacharya you are studying the basics about life and your separate self, you learn asanas, pranayama and keep brahmacharya. Your duty is to your parents and your teachers.

Grihastha is when you get married, you have children and you participate in the society. Your duty is to your children, your family and also to your parents.

Vanaprastha stage is when you retire to the forest. Retirement here is not just like when you don’t have a job and you retire from the production line, the economical point of view. Retirement in spiritual culture means that you have done your duty, you have done your duty to family and society and now you’re going back to yourself. You might live a secluded life in an ashram (oftentimes in a secluded forest) and the only thing you do here is spiritual practices, yoga, meditation and so on. You don’t worry about politics. You don’t worry about what’s happening in the world. It is a certain state of consciousness where you withdraw within yourself, you allow yourself to live your spiritual life. Before you had to take care of the family, the society, the children and the whole thing. The fourth stage of life is the sannyasa stage. At that time your goal, your purpose, is only renunciation and you take a vow of renunciation.

The evolution between these four stages of life is based on the idea that you are born with a certain karma, the body is changing, but also you have to pay your karmic debt and then you have to go back to your spiritual nature, that you don’t have time to waste.

The evolution between these four stages of life is based on the idea that you are born with a certain karma, the body is changing, you have to pay your karmic debt, and then go back to your spiritual nature, so you don’t have time to waste. Sometimes if you don’t have this understanding of your biological, psychological and spiritual development, you can waste your time and be mixed up.

Example: I have a student who is about 50 or more years old, almost

  • She came to class every day, she took all the courses and she was very, very happy. She was a grandma. And then one day, she didn’t come to class. I met her and I asked her, ”Why are you not coming to class?” And she cried and she said, “Oh, because I have to go to work and take care of my grandchildren.“

I asked her, ”Why are your children not taking care of your grandchildren?” She said, “Oh, my children take care of the grandchildren, but they don’t have enough income so I think that I have to go to work and I have to take care of my grandchildren.“ Then she cried again. Why this suffering? Because she went against her evolution. She came to vanaprastha stage and she went back to grihastha stage.

Normally, you have to go forward and you don’t go back. You can go as slow as you want, but you have to go forward in life. So, that’s the whole idea, to have guidance, to know where you are and where you are going. What speed you’re going is up to you, but you have to go in the right direction and not go round and round and also not go back.


Motivation is called purushartha, it is about our inner motivation.

The scripture says that there are four motivations which everyone has. You need to recognize your inner motivation, what is the energy or the thoughts within you that push you to make certain decisions.

  1. The first goal of life is called kama. (Kama is not karma, there is no ‘r’).

This clarification is helpful for the Vietnamese speakers because they have a problem with words using “R” anywhere other than at the beginning of a word. For English speakers it seems not necessary and a bit disruptive to me. I would leave it out.

Kama means enjoyment, enjoyment of the senses, enjoyment of the emotions, enjoyment of life. So the first goal when you are alive is to enjoy life.

The goal when you first come into this existence is to enjoy life.

2. The next goal is called artha. Artha means having material wealth, in order for you to do what you need to do. It is a goal of wealth and everyone has this goal.

3. So the next one is called dharma. Dharma can be translated as righteousness, learning your position in life, in society. Dharma also means duty, and acting according to that duty.

4. And the last is moksha. Moksha is the goal of liberation, of spiritual knowledge.

According to Vedic knowledge, when you were born, you did not just start your life. You have started your life way, way before in many past lifetimes. And then in each life when you’re born in the body there are only one lesson, two lessons or a few lessons to be learned, and if you are not finished with your learning, you will reincarnate in different circumstances, a different body, in order for you to continue to learn.


Motivation of Kama in a Young Student’s life (Brahmacharya stage): The quality of tamas is dominant. When you have the goal

of enjoyment of the senses, enjoyment in life, then you are in tamas. You don’t have spiritual knowledge and you do not know the purpose of your life. You are spiritually ignorant. You think you are born with the five senses to enjoy.

In the beginning when you are young, (brahmacharya stage), you are in tamas and you don’t have the moksha goal. You have the kama goal. You want to play. Children just want to play and that’s it. They don’t worry about what is life and what is liberation from suffering. They don’t even know. They are suffering because they miss something, and they cry, and then they maybe take it from others.

People like Swami Sivananda, even when he was young, he shared whatever he had with other kids. But not necessarily every kid is like this. We are quite selfish. When we are kids, sometimes we can torture animals and if we don’t have something, we can go and steal from other people because we don’t know these rules of conduct. We are selfish. Tamas is strong, ignorance is strong.

Motivation of Artha in the householder’s life (grihastha stage): The quality of rajas is dominant. During this stage, you want to make money in order for you to enjoy your senses. You are more rajasic.

Rajas means you are dominated by self-motivated action. In this stage, if you see people suffering from lack of wealth or from limitation, you don’t move from your position because you need to have your money and your life and your desire fulfilled.

Motivation of Dharma in Retirement to the Forest phase ( vanaprastha stage) – The quality is sattva.

As you mature, Sattva, which is the quality of purity, of knowledge, of wisdom, starts to dawn. You start to think of the purpose of life, “who am I? What is the purpose of all this?” Then you move to dharma. I have seen business people who made a lot of money and gave it all to charity. For example, they share the company’s profit with the employees, who they consider to be their own family. They buy houses for the employees, and share the profit in the company. So there are business people who do not have the goal of making money for their own enjoyment only. They start to have a lot of sattva in their mind, or purity and they want to do the right thing. They want to do charity, they want to share, they don’t think that this is my money, this is my company, so they are not rajasic, they start to become sattvic as their motivation and behavior change.

In terms of time, the same thing can happen. Normally we say time is money. We think, ”Okay, my time, I’m going to take care of myself, it is my time, I want to live my life”. But eventually when sattwa dawns, you realize that this is not your energy, your energy is actually God-given energy and you are only a custodian. You are the one who is keeping the energy and then sharing the energy as an instrument, for a higher purpose that you do not control. Then you don’t think that it is my time, my energy, in order to get more wealth and more enjoyment. In sattwa, your thinking about your life changes. You think about a bigger picture, other people. You become more aware. In ecology, you start to think: “Oh my God, we are destroying the planet,” the climate changes and you start to spend a lot of time helping society, or helping to alleviate the climate change.

I’m just giving this as an example, that you are not just only only leading your life in a selfish manner, but you start to give out your energy and your time and you’re starting to think of a bigger picture, the society, the environment, the world and other people. At that time the goal of dharma becomes more important. We move from darkness to light. It is good to recognize the transition, although sometimes it gets very confusing. Sometimes you feel inner conflicts. You think,”My parents say that I have to go find a job, get married, make money and so on. But I feel a very strong desire inside to help the world and to serve the world. I don’t think that I can live my life just thinking of, you know, two, three people in my family, and that will be sufficient for me. I feel that I need to be responsible for the world. I’m a citizen of the world. I am a member of the world family. And I want to give my time and my energy and care for the world’s family and try to live a dharmic life.”

Motivation of Moksha in the renunciation stage (sannyasa) as sattva becomes dominant.

At this time, your motivation might change again into the fourth goal of life called moksha. You start to practice yoga, and you start to practice meditation and you find a certain peace. Then you want more of this peace and more of that expansion of consciousness. When you expand your consciousness, you start to have the moksha goal. Now, you want to take more time to go to the ashram, to do retreats, and do karma yoga.

Swami Sita’s example of evolution in motivations :

“When I just arrived in Canada, I was 18. I was studying in university, and I have to find some money to send money back to support my family, but also to take care of my livelihood. I was 18. At that time, what kind of job? I don’t know society, I do not know anything. So I went to find out in the newspaper, and I found a job in an entertainment ground, an amusement park. In this entertainment ground, the girls I worked with were very young, they were my age and they enjoyed themselves, flirting, drinking… through their KAMA goal , right? And one person that was the most miserable in that whole entertainment ground was me. I was so out of sorts. It was not at my place, loud music, entertainment, amusement…it was an amusement park. And I was so unhappy. Why? Because I did not fit in this KAMA goal.

Even though I was just 18 and I could have played, I was not meant to be entertaining myself and entertaining people. That’s why I was so unhappy.“

“So I changed. And, you know, in order for you to change, you have to have some self confidence that you can do something else. I did not speak the language well and I was very young, in that country

Here I do not understand what you mean by “in that country”. You could say “in a foreign country” or “in a country with a very different culture”, etc.

and so on. But I changed. I learned how to become a secretary. It means I worked in an office, and then I had to go to learn how to type, and that was 50 years ago. Anyway, I had to go to learn how to do type writing on the electric typewriter, because at that time there was no computer. And then I changed my job. So eventually I finished school. And then I worked, and later moved to the ashram. Normally people’s salaries just come higher. And for me, the salaries have come slowly down. Because I kept choosing new motivation. I’m just sharing with you the journey. My journey was quite fast. My change was very fast. But for you the change is happening also. And you have to do soul searching all the time: what you do, what you want, and so on. It might be slower. But you are in movement as much as I am in movement. There are different voices within all of us that are talking all the time”.

“At that time I had a job. I had a very good job, a professional job. I had a great salary, and could travel as I liked. At that time, I traveled as I liked and bought a car and bought this and that. I went to Paris and bought fashion clothing and things like this. It did not last long. I can buy this fashion clothing and I wear it. But then I wear it one time and let go. Why? It was not according to me, to my motivation. It was not my motivation. I could have made money. I’m good at making money. I can do business and make money, but I do business for my family and I give them business advice, but I could not continue to do business, the ARTHA GOAL did not fit me and it did not work.”

“So, when I became a social worker, I did more things for society. Actually, I was working taking care of my family, but also doing social work at night. That means as a volunteer person. So, then I volunteered full time, I worked full time and took care of my family full time. But the dharma goal became very important. I cared so much about society that I suffered when society suffered. When there was something that happened, something unjust that happened to society, I was motivated to help. So I was in the street protesting things and I became a militant activist about different causes for children, women, poor people, the environment, social justice and so on. The DHARMA GOAL has become very important. And I was very happy to do that.”

“I went to the ashram when I was 28. I was already working for society a long time before that time. Because of karma, my family stayed in Vietnam so I went to Canada by myself to study. So all of a sudden, I did not have any family to take care of, so I took care of my society. Which at that time was Canadian and different people that lived in the city. They were all kinds of people and all kinds of cultures. At that time I did not think that these people were foreigners. I worked with Haitian people, Italian people, English speaking people, French speaking people, all kinds of groups, all kinds of classes. I was a social community organizer, social worker. At that time, I thought of these people as my family. The whole city was my family, and I wanted to take care of them. My DHARMA GOAL started early.”

“And then one day, the motivation changed again. I was burned out from doing action, social services, and then I realized the ego that was there, I realized a certain ego that wanted things to change the way I wanted it, the way I thought. So, the sattva started to come in a little bit more at that time, I felt, “Oh, now I understand God’s Will.” The words “God’s Will” are not easy to come by. Before I thought this was me, but now I started to realize, “Oh my God, there is something that is higher than me, higher than politics and everything. There is a Will that is determining what happens in this world, the way it works and that makes things happen. And that Will is God’s Will”.

“I was not born with the idea of God. But then, at that time, somehow it came to my mind. There is something that you need to tune into. And then you have to become an instrument of that Will. And there is nothing about you. So these words “God’s Will” came naturally. My motivation changed from DHARMA to MOKSHA, which is called liberation . Then I became a yogi, I became a sanyasi. I’m very happy now. That was my journey.”


According to guna and karma, you find yourself in a certain caste (or group) as follows: Sudra means when the tamas is strong and you are doing a service job, like my job at the entertainment ground and in a secretarial position before. At that time, you don’t ask spiritual questions. I believe the girls the same age as me at the entertainment ground did not ask existential questions. For myself at that time I already had a lot of questions, therefore I did not fit for long in the sudra group.

Here you can say: I did not fit in the sudra group. I did not last for a long time in that group. OR I did not last for a long time in the sudra group.

I briefly became a Vaishya, when I started doing business for my parents and I was more rajasic, but it did not last long. Then I became a kshatriya when I started to think of others, became an activist, and had a dharma goal. Kshatrya is a mix of rajas and sattva. Then the

last caste is brahmin when sattva is dominant, this is when I became a Yoga and meditation teacher and a sannyasi renunciate.


Tamas, rajas, sattva change. The biology, maturity and psychology change, the motivation, inner motivation, what you really want changes, and then the manifestation of the inner motivation, your occupation and your job changes. In Jyotish, there is a way you can see the motivations. For example, on a total of nine points (depending on where the planets in the birthchart lie), you can see a person’s motivation: If a person has Moksha goal 4, Dharma goal zero, Artha goal 4, Kama goal 1, then this life picture doesn’t make sense. The person wants to liberate himself from suffering but will not make an effort to live righteously, or to seek to know the laws of Nature, the big dharmic picture. Therefore he goes on accumulating wealth and at the same time wants to be free, and yet cannot be at peace with himself.

The advice is, “You need to do more selfless service, you need to increase the Dharma goal. You need to do more selfless service, and you need to give your money a little bit more in charity.“ So now the profile of the motivations changes: Moksha 4, Dharma 2, Artha 2, Kama 1. In this scenario, the Moksha goal is still there, given high value, but then you won’t feel conflicted. Before, you wanted to make money and at the same time you wanted to do yoga, and you wanted liberation, you wanted self-knowledge, and you didn’t do any service for society. When you run these two goals together and it doesn’t fit, then you have some inner conflict.

What you need to do is to put a little bit more time, a little bit more money into charity, a little bit more time into charity, thinking about other people, how you can help. And then don’t just sit at home, study and meditate. I’m sorry to say that. It’s not like I don’t promote meditation. But also in order for you to grow you need to do karma yoga. I mean, you need to serve other people, and it’s a way of meditation. Then it will smooth everything out. And then you will feel better.

Kama goal and Moksha goal: Let’s say you have some desire for self-knowledge. But you have a very strong habit, a desire for enjoyment of the senses. So how does it work? It doesn’t work. So you have to practice more yoga, but focusing on withdrawing the senses, in order for you to see a world that is beyond the sensual world. That is the spiritual world, when you start to meditate more and withdraw more, not running around shopping so much. Be content, be more within.

During the COVID pandemic time you have to stay home more. I think that it is a good thing that you stay home and you don’t go shopping or to coffee shops, sitting and drinking coffee and chit chatting with your friends. You cannot do this now. Vietnam is completely locked down, and here in America last year it was completely locked down. People complained and they were unhappy, but actually it was a very good thing. It forced them to move into another space where they had to be looking inside, working on themselves and not going into the outer enjoyment. The KAMA goal will be less, and the ARTHA goal also.

Sometimes we are forced in the time of COVID. We have to close our businesses and slow down. Before, the goal of making money was very important. But now the artha goal will be less, kama goal will be less, DHARMA goal will be higher, and the MOKSHA goal, the knowledge goal will be higher.


I hope that it helps you to think about your life and think about your priority. Of course, you can change your life quickly, but usually it takes time. At least you have to be conscious of your motivation and try to go forward and not go backwards. You need to become less selfish, and not more selfish. If your choice is more selfish, you are going backward. If your choice shows that you are less selfish, you are going forward. If you are more ego-oriented, then you are going backward but if you are more God-oriented then you are going forward. If you are able to surrender your personal will to God’s Will, then you are going forward. If you fight with God’s Will, and you want to impose your will, then you’re going backward.


You have to think of what motivates you inside. And then you have to have a very clear picture of your inner goal, and then you accept it.

The idea is we don’t usually know where we are. Sometimes, the inner motivation to grow is present but you are conflicted as you struggle with the pressure of what other people say and your own outer, louder voice of the lower mind and habits which pull you in a different direction. So then you’re all confused. This is why you need to meditate daily, be quiet, think about the purpose of your life and who you are and what you want.

The advice is “don’t jump too fast”, do not try to jump life stages and motivations too fast. Because if you jump too fast, you will miss something. For example, if you are young and you need to enjoy your life, that is perfectly okay. Then you need to have time for your enjoyment and at the same time, try to turn it into some sattvic enjoyment like seeing a nice sattvic movie, eating popcorn. It’s all okay. You have to manage these different inner motivations, avoid inner conflicts, accept your current situation and move on. Your inner motivations will evolve at their own speed.

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.

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.