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.
Satsang on line by Swami Sitaramananda April 8, 2020
Today’s topic is a very appropriate topic.
It’s about stress relief counseling. The International Sivananda Yoga Centers are
offering a service of stress relief counseling for all, in 12 languages. So if
you see the announcement, please share with as many people as possible. Because
the situation of suffering and stress due to the epidemic is a global
situation. So we want people to be able to access the counselors who may be
able to support them through this period of stress.
You can imagine the situation. There are all
kinds of situations but you can summarize everything under the name of stress.
From the person that is a frontline worker in the hospital, trying to save
people’s lives; to a person caught up in their apartment living with a few
people, with their children and unable to move; to a person who worries about
the future, about their livelihood; to a person that is sick and struggling,
that is doubting himself and in fear of death; to a person that is separated
from the family member, because that family member is in isolation. So many difficult
situations that the world is going through. A very very stressful situation
that the world is going through.
So we’d like to have more and more people
understand stress so that you can help yourself and you can help others as
well. Because if you don’t understand the stress phenomenon then you might
aggravate your situation through a wrong kind of stress response. The problem
is also that you have adapted to stress. This means that your body and your mind
may take that as the real thing and lead to chronic stress. And if you are in
that stressful situation you don’t really know how to get out of it. The body,
the mind will adapt to that kind of stressful situation and response that is
physiological, neurological, and that also affects your immunity. At that time,
it is just a matter of time that the wrong stress response will perpetuate.
Because we are not just talking about now only, but we are talking about the
mind. When the mind learns something, it would keep keep repeating the
The topic is so relevant because it is not
just addressing the problems now, but can also help prevent problems that could occur in the future. When
the stress has become numbing, and is not something that you can balance out,
it can become a mental health issues. As you know in yoga, we want people to
become balanced and clear, because that is how they connect with themselves.
Most of the reason for doctor’s visits are
caused by stress. Even before the health crisis was here, more and more people
are suffering from stress. We can trace
many of our diseases back to stress. Our immune system is weakened by
stress. So we are more susceptible to diseases and viruses of different kinds,
and we have less capacity to fight them.
Often we are not eating properly. Either we
are eating too much or not eating at all or eating anything. We are not aware
of our eating and diet. We are not sleeping properly. So many people suffer
from insomnia or from nightmares or even agitated sleep. We are not breathing
properly. Either we hold our breath in tension, or we are trying to gasp air.
The reason is that we have become fixated on the idea that disease causes
breathing difficulty. It is said that if we gasp for air, it’s because we don’t know how to
breathe or how to use our diaphragm to breathe deeply, calmly, slowly and in a relaxed
way. Thus we aggravate our problems. Let’s say you feel panicky because you
feel that you have some kind of disease and you start to breathe wrongly. At
that time it’s very important for you to get in touch with a yoga teacher who
can teach you how to breathe through the diaphragm and breathe slowly and
deeply in order for you to relax. We are stressed and we want to relax.
However, we breathe wrongly, so it makes us experience even more stress.
The situation of stress causes us to have
difficulties in relationships with people., resulting in all the symptoms,
including fear, anxiety, if we can recognize them, also irritability, grief, sadness
or even depression. We have talked about this before, so please refer back to
some of the teachings in the blog that talk about fear, anxiety and another one that talks about yoga of relationships, and how we can
take the opportunity of this time to improve our relationships. We need this
help so that we know how to deal with stress and how to help others.
The other point in this talk is about learning
how to observe ourselves and the environment and have a strategy to know how to
lift ourselves up and to change the environment for the better. That means how
to move from darkness to light. We have to understand the theories about the three Gunas- the very fundamental theory of yoga
philosophy. How to move from darkness to light then eventually to a place of
transcendence or understanding. You cannot really understand anything if you
are in darkness. That is the topic of today.
First we will talk very briefly about stress,
What is stress? Our stress response is something that is built-in. It’s in our
system. In our psychology, nervous system, and in our immune system. All these
are all connected together. It’s a mechanism that responds to the perceived
threat to our survival. So the stress response is there so that we can protect ourselves
in some way. Later on we will talk about a little more how we can protect
ourselves and what the cause of stress really is.
The mind and the body is very
tightly connected. Whatever that we perceive in our mind will affect our body
and the body organs and their functions.
So we can develop so-called psychosomatic disease due to stress.
There are three different types of
stress response, fight, flight and
freeze. It depends on the personality. Fight, flight or freeze, but it’s
all the same. It depends on the temperament of the person. Some people may have
more tendencies to fight when they feel stressed or to control. Some people
might have the tendencies to escape the problems. And the other person might
have the tendency to try to disappear so that nobody notice. They freeze, become
paralyzed, becoming smaller and smaller.These are the three typical types of
response to stressful situations depending upon your constitution and
You can say that according to ayurveda there are three
kinds of personality, the fiery personality (pita), the airy personality
(vata), and the more water and earth personality (kapha). So you can say the
fight response is for the pitta, the fiery nature. The flight response is more
for the vata kind of nature, namely running away. The kapha people will have
the tendencies to become inert. it’s just a very rough explanation.
If the stress response is prolonged then it will lead to chronic stress
and eventually to disease and break-down. Normally we
have the relaxation response built into our system. It’s alternate. You can be
stressed and you relax. Stressed and relaxed. Sometimes it is impaired, because
sometimes you are stressed, stressed, stressed, keep holding the stress and
responding to stress and you can never relax. So very important that you learn
The most important thing to
understand about stress is that stress
is subjective. Something that might stress somebody else might not stress
you, or vice versa. It’s subjective, it depends on your mind. An objective
stressor, is something that causes your stress, but your personal reaction is
due to the habitual thoughts and emotions in your mind depending on your perceptions.
It’s your personal way and habitual way.
So the teaching of
yoga will help you change your perception. People think wrongly that your ego
self is always the same. That is denying the
fundamental essence of life, that we are constantly evolving and
constantly changing. Every challenge is an opportunity for us to evolve a
little. That means to let go the preconceived ideas about ourselves and about
others and to get ourselves out to the light a little more.
The more we are rigid the more stressed we are. The more we are open
and flexible, the less we are stressed. The general
guideline is to try to be open and to be more relaxed. Most people believe it’s
an external stressful situation that causes stress. But you can see now you are
in quarantine, some people think it’s very stressful because they cannot do
what they like. But some people will be welcoming it because they have time to
do what they like and to do what they need to do. Because normally they can
not. We think that everyone will be reacting in the same way as us but it’s not
true. Everyone reacts differently. The outside environment is the same but the
reaction is different.
perceive an event place a significant role in whether the stressor triggers our
stress response or not.
5 causes of stress and how yoga helps:
1. Lack of prana (vital energy) from nature:
People are more stressed when they don’t have prana to deal with the challenge. To think or to understand we need prana, the vital energy. But when the lifestyle is too artificial we tend to spend prana. We are in the economy of debt, so that we all the time spend but we don’t take time to recharge. At that time we won’t be able to deal with stress or challenges because we are already in debt. At that time we might go into bankruptcy. We might feel sick when a thought comes. Like I’ve said, it’s a perceived threat. A thought just comes and suddenly you collapse, because you do not have enough prana due to your lifestyle from before. So the pressure builds up and we cannot handle it, our immune system is compromised. We can imagine that our modern world is very much so. It’s making us more in debt. It doesn’t enrich us. We live in high-rise buildings. We are all the time in the car or in the traffic. We are subject all the time to noise, to pollution and our mind is also very much full of thoughts and desires, so we call it the rajastic lifestyle. We overuse the computer, the cellphone. We don’t eat food properly, we don’t take time to eat, we eat out and we eat frozen food. Of course in the situation that we are now in, we can’t really find our proper supply and that can also add to the question of prana. We have to do the best we can in the current situation. Try to understand that we can supply our prana in certain different ways. From foods and also from our proper thinking. The idea is you need to live in alignment with nature to have more prana, so be in the sun and eat the food that is closer to the sun. We don’t go too much into this part about prana because we have a separate talk about that. Just know that when you counsel people about stress or when you feel stressful you can recognize right away that you are lacking prana. So you are not responding correctly, and you will have to build up prana. There are many different ways to build up the prana according to yoga.
2. Negative emotions create stress:
There are some negative emotions within you or within the person that you counsel or people that are around you that are stressful. You can tell right away there are some negative emotions. Any unhealthy relationships and expectations will create stress. We have a lot stress due to relationships. Our relationships are not necessary healthy or loving, so we have to understand or help people to understand the emotions and the antidote of the emotions. There is some training possible we can learn and other people can learn. So don’t take the emotions as yourself. The first thing is recognizing and developing the awareness of our emotions. The awareness itself helps. The moment that you know that I’m angry, because I feel let down I don’t get what I want. The moment you know that and automatically by being aware of that, you do not become attached to that thinking or that scenario, and can be yourself. Awareness allows detachment. That awareness already helps to alleviate the problems, so when you are counseling people, you help people to be aware. You don’t have to solve their problems, but just because they become aware of it, automatically, their mind will think correctly and the problems will be solved by themselves. Negative emotions will also drain the prana. So that’s why people go down and down. The negative emotions can also be how people think they are. Because they have been building the personality for a very long time. Like I said, different stress responses vary according to different personalities. A person may be very fiery or might be all the time controlling. The person might be all the time not facing situations and not facing themselves. They distract themselves. They escape. A person might be acting as if they don’t know and not doing anything, because they are used to being fearful and stressed. Sometimes you can live in an abusive family relationship, for example, that makes you feel all the time, since your childhood, maybe unworthy, victimized and powerless. It’s not that simple to help a person to get out of stressful situations. Because the roots can be very deep in the psyche of a person. Yoga helps you to open the heart so then you can become more in touch with the love within you. Everyone has love, but the habitual negative emotions might be veiling you from the love that is true and within you. Yoga makes us open our heart and withhold our judgement of others. We are very quick to judge others and close our heart. But by practicing yoga, we can keep our heart open. Yoga also helps you deal with your emotions by reminding you of your true Self that is untouched and unhurt; that is fulfilled; that is perfect; that is independent; that is transcendent; that is free and joyous; that is non-competitive; that is one without a second. Beautifully said. One without a second. That means when you don’t feel separated from the others, at that time you can go to the essence of yourself that is one. And automatically all your negative emotions vanish. Of course it’s easy to say but it’s something we have to keep working on. We need to identify the negative emotions and use yoga techniques to take care of them.
3. Adaptation problem:
The third cause of stress, which is very relevant now is the adaptability question. We said already, the more you are open and flexible the less stress you will experience. The more you are rigid the more stress you will have. We need to adapt. We need to let go of ownership. Ownership means you identify very much with something, either objects or accomplishments. You have difficulties to adapt because you falsely identify with something that is impermanent. It’s a very big thing. Swami Sivananda says, ”Adapt, adjust, accommodate. Bear insult, bear injury, highest yoga.” That’s how Swami Sivananda talks. We need to step back. When you feel something is difficult, you need to step back. Practice detachment. Stepping back from whom? From our own selves. Our own ideas and identification about whatever we feel, whatever we identify with as the problems, or whatever we identify to be the cause of our miseries. So we need to detach. Step back. Stress happens when there’s a failure of adaptation. When we fail to adapt, it’s because we are attached. Instead of detachment, we attach to something. We attach to who and what we think we are. We attach to our problems or how things should be in relation to who you think you are. The attachment problem is the misidentification. We think or experience something and we might be attached to it. We attach to our past. We attach to our stories. We attach to our dramas. That creates stress. Or when things change we become stressed. You see nowadays things change so quickly, and we are stressed. That’s everybody. Unless you are really trained for a very long time, and you have to be really flexible. When things change we become stressed. When we cannot adapt to new situations and when we are constantly expecting things to be in conformity to our expectations, we are not able to adapt ourselves to them. So yoga says, “ A flexible spine, a flexible mind. “ All the time we are training ourselves to be more flexible in our body and also in the mind.
4. Uncertainty and existential anxiety:
How Yoga helps to alleviate stress by giving us flexibility in outlook about Self and others: The common problem for our time that causes stress, and the reason why so many people are stressed now, is the idea of uncertainty. Uncertainty and existential anxiety resulting from the fact that you see many people dying around and the disease may come to your door at any time by any body, and in that it’s invisible. At that time you have anxiety. It comes from the fear of death and from disease. When you are there and your life depends on the government that decides if you can move or go back to work or so on, that creates stress. Then we face something we call uncertainty. That creates stress. When you study yoga you have to go deeper. It’s not only about yoga exercise, but you have to go deeper into the philosophy of yoga. Because it helps you to alleviate the stress and give you flexibility of outlook about ourselves and others. Uncertainty has always been there, it’s not a new situation. We don’t really know what can happen. We don’t know when we are going to die. We don’t know. Anything can happen. Earthquakes can happen. Tsunamis can happen. Accidents can happen. So nobody really can predict or control life. We have an illusion that we can control until something happens and we realize that we are not at all in control. So we need to learn how to live this life which is constantly changing. Changing day by day. Even the body is constantly changing. My white hair did not come overnight. It came little by little. The body is constantly changing and we are facing the transition. That creates a lot of anxiety. Because we see people dying and we see more and more which reminds us how fragile life is. We can be taken very very quickly. We turn around and somebody can be taken very quickly. You look at the statistic today, so many people are dying. It’s not like before people didn’t die but now it becomes very clear. So we have to think more about it. Existential anxiety exists all the time, and we have to resort to some kind of deep realization, deep understanding or deep thinking, in order for us to be able to be stable in ourselves.
We have to learn to see the absolute. The level of ourselves which is untouched. At the same time we have to be able to live in this world of relativity, at the same time remembering a level of ourselves is immortal and untouched. The yogi develops the capacity to be flexible and to be able to change perspective about him or herself, and to avoid obsession and stubbornness. To try to depersonalize things. Don’t think it only happened to you and dramatize it, but try to understand the reason, that can be quite involved, for any kind of stressful situation. We can very quickly deal with our existential anxiety if we have some kind of faith. You know in a correct manner it’s not blind faith but faith in a correct manner, faith in your true Self and in the supreme intelligence. The more we have faith the more we can deal with our existential anxiety and our uncertainty. Because we don’t know, and we cannot control. But everything is always happening for the best. So you can relax. We know we are supported at all time by the invisible hands of the divine. That is also something we can train ourselves into thinking. The practice of yoga helps to connect to the Divine. And if you remember there’s that level of the soul that is sat-cit-ananda, the Atman. That is free, that is not hurt, and is untouched by anybody and that whatever people think about you, you are perfect. So there’s that level of ourselves that we need to get in touch with. Otherwise we will be very anxious and fearful. You see there’s already many reasons why we are stressed and we can’t escape it. We have to think about it. The challenging situation is that we have to think about it more. Now we say okay when we have time we will think about it, when everything comes back to normal we can think about philosophy. But that’s not correct. It’s in the challenging time that you need to take the opportunity for wisdom.
5. How Yoga helps redeeming karma:
It’s more or less the
same idea that nothing happens for nothing. Something happens always for us to
have the opportunity to learn something. What we are experiencing now is the
results of our past actions. And what we need to do now to redeem our karma is
to see it, accept it and redeem it and not repeat the same wrong thinking
again. It is said that we are born to experience the results of our past karma,
past thoughts, past desires and these are our lessons. So this is why to some
level, our problems and our challenges are inevitable. What does that mean,
inevitable for us? That means that whatever happens to us is specific for us.
We need to learn our lessons and cannot escape from it. You can blame people
and try to deny it. But unless you do some soul searching, and see your own weakness
and your repetitive patterns, you would not be able to learn that karmic
lessons. It’s said that we are born and our life is set up. It’s all set up. So
that we can experience it. And sometimes we think think that somebody set that
up. You look at the recent events and you can see. Some people get stuck in
some countries they cannot move they cannot go, suddenly they cannot. You see
all these are all karma. You step back and see why is it so. You step back and see
this is why you need to accept. It’s not that you are fatalistic about it, but
you need to face it and make the best out of it. Because it has in it
something, a lesson about ourselves. Not the neighbor not the others not our
family members but exactly something we need to learn. The same situations and
a group of people will experience things differently, will react differently.
Because of their patterns. And they need to learn from their patterns. That is
called the deep level of karma. That’s why it’s very annoying. When something that
we think should not be there is there again, right in front of us, and we think
it’s very stressful. So the deeper level of stress is that situation. Everyone
has to go through their karma. The karma can be collective karma as well. So we
are all together on the planet of earth in this time. So whatever we do to the
environment whatever we think it’s civilization and we develop dependency
towards technology and our life changes quickly. It’s karma. I myself don’t
want to deal with any of these. The cellphone, the internet. But now I found
myself on the internet, have meetings on the internet and all these things you
know. I studied it’s difficult for the eyes burn your eyes and it drains your
prana. I remember the first time I talked in the meeting on the internet or
something I feel very drained. Because my world was different I didn’t know the
internet I didn’t want to use the internet before. I never used these things.
But the whole community the whole life everything the whole world is moving
towards that level. And now I have got used to it. So now it’s not so draining.
Because somehow we develop a different kind of nervous system. So the whole
world is evolving very quickly and who knows what the situation now is
preparing us for. We go back to the question of karma and stress. We can share
together the collective situation and bear together the results of our
So to summarize, stress is an indicator and a teacher that we need to think about a
given situation to rethink who we are, about our expectations and our
motivation and to remember this is not the real Self. We need to try to
lift our consciousness through teaching, through training so that we go to the
root cause of the stress. So as a yoga teacher you have to be humble, knowing
that you do not know and surrender your will to God’s will. And Yoga life
teaches you the different practices that combine the four paths of yoga to
destroy the root of karma that comes from wrong thinking and wrong doing, and
to give us the positive and sattvic life, that’s the teaching of the Sivananda
system, “ Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize. “ the four paths of
yoga. That’s the first part of the talk today about stress and the cause of
stress. So that you can counsel yourself and counsel the people around you.
The 3 Gunas ( 3 qualities of nature)
Another theory that comes from the yoga
philosophy that will help you is the theory of the three gunas. Now we are
talking about the theory of the three gunas as the guideline for us to move
from darkness to light or to help people move from darkness to light. Regarding
the the topic of stress, there are three
types of reaction, depending on the gunas. The gunas are tamas, rajas and sattva. These are the Sanskrit
terms that explain how the whole universe and nature can be seen and
characterized through all these qualities. There is the quality of darkness, tamas; the quality of
action and movement is rajas; and the quality of purity and balance is sattva.
If you yourself can try to recognize within yourself the qualities and try to
recognize the qualities in the person that you counsel as well, if you can
really master the way of seeing then you will know how to do, how to counsel a
person. The guideline is that people
will respond to stress depending on the gunas, so they can have a tamasic
response to stress, a rajasic response to stress and a sattvic response to
stress. The counselor yourself has to help the other person to move from tamas
to rajas and to sattva.That is the key, the main guideline to whatever problems
we find in ourselves or we find in others. You
will have to break through the tamas, the darkness; calm down the rajas, the agitation
and the projection. You would have to cultivate the sattva which is nourishing
the quality of balance harmony nourish and balance. That is the main guideline.
But before that we can just try to see a
little bit the concrete manners how a tamasic stress response can look like.
Tamasic stress response:
When a person is lazy, slothful, they don’t
care. They don’t take baths and even throw the clothings all over, and the
room, the house is completely disorganized. They don’t clean and they don’t organize,
that is called the tamasic response. That can also come as a stress response.
“I don’t see anything, I don’t find a way out, I don’t understand anything
anyway, so I don’t care.” So you fall into that idea that ”I don’t care”. And
then you become indulgent in food, eating anything. “Why do I care about my
life and health, it can be taken away anytime anyway so I don’t care.” You
indulge in too much eating, too much sleeping, and being passive. You spend too
much time watching movies or watching news. You become passive and no longer
participate actively or become aware in your life anymore. You give up your
life and you go into watching movies and news. You cannot grasp reality
anymore. When people are so much in virtual reality, then they can become
depressed. That’s also an expression of tamas. You become depressed and you
become fearful. Fear and anxiety is an expression of tamas which make you lose
yourself.Then you can become complacent, therefore, you hide and go into
denial. You feel you cannot do anything, you deny your happiness as well as
your abilities and you live in darkness.
You also notice the tamas when people complain
about others. They know something has to be done but they don’t do it.“Why
don’t you wash the dishes?” But they themselves don’t wash the dishes.They complain
that people around me are this and that. That is the tamastic attitude. The
victim attitude means always somebody is doing something to me. So I’m not
responsible for what is happening to me.
Living in the past is also an expression of
tamas. All the time you talk about the past, you know, living in the past, so
that’s is the tamasic attitude. Some people cannot stick to any routine, any
schedule. For example now they have to create their own schedule and routine
but they cannot do it. They cannot discipline themselves or turn inwards. It’s
impossible for them to do yoga or to do meditation, because they cannot follow
any kind of routine. They can be suicidal. They can be escape into drugs, these
are all tamasic experiences. They think taking marijuana can solve their
problems. They become relaxed and think that there is no problem. So it’s also
a tamasic attitude. I also see nowadays people drinking bleach. They are afraid
of the virus and so they drink bleach to prevent the virus and they kill themselves.
These are the tamasic stress responses. You want something quick and you don’t
work on yourself but want something external.
Rajasic stress response :
The idea is the ego is very strong when you
are rajasic. When you are the victim of the rajasic view then you separate
yourself from the rest of the world. So you become angry because the way things
go is not the way you want. So you can become angry. Anger is the rajasic
response. If a person is depressed and they are not moving or not doing anything,
ie. no eating no anything, then it’s better that you encourage them to be
stronger in their opinion about things so they can become angry. But somehow
it’s better and afterwards they can calm down. So the idea is to get away from the tamas and calm down the rajas.
The rajas is somehow easier because you can calm them down through yoga.
The rajasic expression is they can become
angry, and people can become violent. When the situation stays the same and
there’s no change, people may start to become angry with the government; become
angry with the neighbor and they can even become violent. So that’s the rajasic
response of the stress. I learned something that is very disheartening, that
many shops are closed in LA but the gun shops are open. They are allowed to
open. This is quite disheartening, it means people feel insecure and uncertain.
We will talk about insecurity and uncertainty. How they are going to make
themselves safe and secure is by buying guns to protect themselves from the
neighbors. This is the rajasic response to stress.
There is also the blaming attitude. The
blaming attitude is rajasic. You never really look at yourself and always blame
somebody that creates the problem to you. Accusing, pointing fingers.
The hoarding tendency is also the rajasic
expression. You want more and more. The greediness, the hoarding of the
material stuff. You think it gives you more security.
Also you see that there are some people that
don’t hesitate to break rules. They don’t like the rules.
The me and mine attitude. Anything that is
about me and mine can cause the rajasic attitude. Try to temper down the rajasic.
Any selfish kind of idea, that I enjoy myself and I get what I want. The rest
of the world can suffer but I don’t care. This is the rajasic attitude.
Regarding disease, some people may try
different kind of medicine that is called the rajasic way. They will try this
and that and they will get a cocktail of medicine. The more medicine they get
the better it is for the disease. They don’t look into the holistic natural
healing that comes from themselves, but for something external.
Now regarding the social distancing. Many
don’t think a lot of the whole, which means they only think about themselves.
Some people still go and party on the beach while people are struggling in the
hospitals. Rajasic means like you cannot refrain from movement and excitement,
sensual pleasures and egoism. That’s the rajasic attitude. And constantly you
are just enjoying your life with the senses.
Spreading misinformation is also a rajasic way
to try to solve about the problem. You blame, and you create a whole theory
about the problem, or you try to control completely control. You try to make
money when other people suffer. For example you try to boost the price of masks
when other people are suffering. You boost the price very high so then you can
sell this. You try to take advantage of others to gain name and fame and
wealth. This is the rajasic attitude. So try to temper this down.
Sattvic stress response :
This is what we like to cultivate in ourselves
and in others. This life in peace, in harmony, in health that would remove us
from fear, from reaction so that immediately we gain peace is the sattvic
response. So the sattvic response is that we are seeing the bigger picture. Not
only seeing the picture that you feel yourself but seeing the bigger picture
that everyone is going through. To have clarity and to have knowledge because
it’s based on openness of the heart, and so you need to be able to be selfless,
to be able to be helpful to the situation. Be charitable. I see that in Las
Vegas people are sleeping in a small square that is painted on the ground. They
are doing social distancing by staying in their square. It’s shocking to the
eyes to see that. At the sametime you know in Las Vegas right now, there must
be thousands and thousands of empty rooms in the hotels right now and at the
same time you see people sleeping in the parking lot in their little square. So
that is called rajasic, it’s not sattvic, it’s not charitable. So we also hear
some news of some landlords completely forgiving people for their rent at this
time. So these are charitable understanding kinds of attitude, we call it
sattvic attitudes, we need to cultivate. So whatever we have we need to share.
You might have to sacrifice today not to eat your favorite food, so that you
can share in the suffering of so many people. And then you stay at home instead of not caring and going out to
buy your specific favourite food. If you don’t care about consequences this is
called the rajasic, tamasic attitude and not a sattvic attitude. In the sattvic
attitude, you are charitable and you see the bigger picture. You are prayerful
because you recognize there is something that is bigger than anybody and you
pray to that. This is sattvic. You are forgiving. People make mistakes and you
know it’s because they don’t know or they are stressed. So you forgive them.
You surrender to God’s will to see the big picture and accept it. You practice
yoga. You practice deep breathing. You practice relaxation. You practice
mindfulness, awareness. You practice meditation. You try to get information
from authorized sources and not to seeing different kind of news that is going
on that can excite your mind. These are all examples of the sattvic attitude.
You keep in general a positive attitude about things. You accept that there are
events that you cannot control. You exercise regularly. You eat balanced meals,
these are all part of sattva. You learn to manage your time more effectively.
You set limits and learn to say no to the requests that would create excessive
stress. You have to learn to say yes when you can, and that is the balanced
attitude. You make time for your relaxation and for your hobbies. Now you can
learn to do yantra painting. You can learn how to sew some masks for other
people so you can give out for free. You do something helpful and useful. You
use your hobby to balance yourself. You can be assertive, it’s sattvic, but not
aggressive. Aggressive is rajasic. Assertive, being yourself is sattvic. You
assert your feelings, your opinions and your belief, but not becoming angry,
offensive, and passive, for example, not saying anything but turning everything
inside and getting angry. Everything in this universe is operating through the
three gunas. We need to start to see things this way. The gunas operates in the
physical and the mental and the emotional level and obscure our true nature. So
beyond our true nature, beyond the gunas, beyond the things happening, there is
a consciousness of the reality that is beyond denial, beyond the darkness,
beyond actions and beyond even the harmony of the balance, which is completely
pure, which is ideal. But right now what we want is to nurture at least the
sattva. Because in that sattva, in that harmony, we‘re be able to perceive the
light within. The consciousness or what we call the Atman is always there. We
seeing things as if through crystal. Like the crystal, when you put it by the
colors it will take all the colors. It looks like the Self is lost in what is
happening, but we need to be able to distinguish that the Self is always there.
It can never be lost. The mind is colored by the darkness and by passion so
that we cannot see or recognize ourselves.
That is the ultimate counseling for yourself
and the others how to recognize the Self. Yoga teaches that you are not the
body, you are not the mind because it’s changing, you cannot depend on it. Even
our body you cannot depend on. Ultimately, if you can talk to yourself or talk
to others the higher level of philosophy, then it’s great. But at least you can
move people from tamas to rajas to sattva. From darkness to some level of
harmony. Have them have a little bit detachment towards their thoughts and
feelings. Because know that thoughts and feelings are always veiling. Like
today,the sun is there but the clouds are veiling, so you cannot see the
sun.You get a little depressed and think that the sun is not there, The sun is
the Self. The sun is always there.
is the resistance to change, Tamas is the veiling. Rajas is the forceful change. it’s
external-oriented and ego-driven. It’s extreme control. It makes us attached.
When we attach, we become fearful. Then
at that time you know that you need to calm down. Tamas, you need to move it, shake it up, get out of it. Rajas, you need
to calm down. And sattva, you need to nurture. So that’s always the key. You
need to do it. Often rajas and tamas are together. When you see fear is
there, you become more attached. Fear, is tamasic you won’t be able to see that
your Self is there, and you become more attached to things. You think that if I
have this thing I will be secure myself. So tamas and rajas go together. From
fear comes attachment and from that come defensiveness and then stress. Because
the more you have that “me and mine attitude” the more stressed you are. The
more relaxed you are the more you are resting in your own Self, and the more
you won’t be subject to stress and will not become fearful because of the
change. People are also attached to the actions thinking that this is my way.
People say, “My way, or the highway. “ If you become dutiful, there’s a
different story. Sometimes you know there’s a rigid action, that’s rajas. So we
need to calm down. It’s not like you can become a saint or liberated or become
free from any of these. But you need to calm down. If you feel that the rajas
is going on in your relationship and so on, you need to calm down. Relax is the
key. Relax. And if you feel like you are hiding away or getting out of this,
you need to do some action, get out of it. You take a walk, you take a shower,
you do something. That’s the guideline. I hope so far now you get the
guideline. How to deal with tamas, how to deal with rajas, and how to
constantly nurture the sattva. The
sattva is the wisdom the acceptance. The acceptance in whatever you cannot
change and change whatever you can change. Do
whatever you can do and accept what you cannot change. That is the sattva.
The sattva allows you to be peaceful. Whatever has happened, you can be
peaceful in any circumstances and you can make wise choices. And then you
become selfless. You carry on
becoming devotional. Some people lose their faith because of rajas. Some people
who don’t have faith at all, that is tamas. Then some are rajasic. They say
that God is doing this doing that and then they are very happy when it happens.
But when something changes they blame God. Why did you did this why did you do that.
You see that is because they are rajasic, they are attached to their own view
of God or what God can do. We use the word God but really, we don’t know. Our
ego cannot know God. So if we surrender
ourselves we would be able to see the bigger picture. So that’s why the
cultivating the sattvic faith is
important. Because we cannot control all that we know. There is something that
is taking care of things. Keeping the
devotion, keeping the discipline to control the mind. Keeping meditation and
detachment. Keeping the self inquiry. If you do self inquiry you will never
be bored, it will keep you busy and get you out of your habitual way of
Our journey is to transform ourselves from
negative to positive; from restlessness to peace; from darkness to light. Peace
of mind is happiness, but peace is difficult to attain, because our mind is
always changing. We have to be steady, regular. We always go and look for the
happiness outside. Remember the story of the lady looking for her needle
outside when she dropped the needle inside. So the remembrance of the
tendencies is sattva. We always look for happiness outside, and blame others
for our problems. It’s been our tendency for a very long time. So we have to
keep remembering ourselves, keep practising. (Abhyasa Yoga) Know that the truth
lies within, so turn inwards.
There’s a quote from Swami Sivananda, “Fear not. Grieve not. Worry not. Your
essential nature is peace. Thou art an embodiment of peace. Know this. Feel
this. Realize this.”
You will know your own tendencies and know how
to guide others and bring a different perspective.
“Your inherent nature is joy, ānanda, which is eternal. That is the message of yoga and vedānta.” – Swami Vishnudevananda
The 3 Gunas
Yoga offers us valuable guidance on our journey towards peace of mind. The formula is simple and can be described as a way of working with the three gunas or qualities of nature: 1) break through the tamas; 2) calm down the rajas; and 3) nourish the sattva.
All the objects of this universe contain the three gunas. The gunas operate on the physical, mental, and emotional levels and obscure our true nature, veiling the Light within. We become attached to physical conditions, stuck in stressful thought patterns, and feel unable to free ourselves from repeated negative emotions.
The light of consciousness,
the Atman, reflects through the physical body, the mind and its emotions, just
as a brilliant and pure crystal has no color of its own. When a colored object
is brought near, it reflects the same color and appears to be that color—blue,
red or whatever it may be. In the same way, the Atman is colorless and without
qualities yet is veiled by the physical body and mind.
teaches us that we are neither the body nor mind. We are not our thoughts. The
gunas are only veils to our true Divine nature, the Light of Atman.
We must break through tamas
Tamas is resistance to change. The mind seeks stability in the face of constantly changing circumstances (karmas), finding security in addiction to food, alcohol, relationships, and other kinds of behaviors. Without the capacity to discriminate good from bad, we become dependent on external objects and ways of thinking. We may not even like the thing but will choose it anyway out of apathy and ignorance. Tamas veils the Self, providing only a dim view of our true nature. We must make a conscious choice to extract ourselves from Tamas. It takes a good strong kick to move the mind from its tendencies.
We must calm down rajas
Rajas is forceful change. Rajas is ego-driven toward the external, actively engaging the world. Its extreme is to control situations and to meet expectations. One directs their energy outward to effect change that reflects a certain prescribed vision.
Rajas is the energy of action and passion, and of external projection. It singles out an aspect of life that the ego likes and goes towards it to the exclusion of everything else. We become attached to our actions. It is said that fulfilling one desire only reinforces that desire and leads to ten new desires. When these conditions are not met, one falls into disappointment and disillusionment (tamas).
We must nourish sattva
Sattva is wisdom to accept change. We accept that change is in God’s hands and that we do not control change. Sattva is to know that we do not know. Sattva reveals, allowing us to penetrate into the true picture of reality. It is the energy of moving inward and upward, letting go of our attachment to external objects and ever-changing outcomes.
Sattva allows us to see the mind’s tendencies with clarity. With more balance and harmony in our mind, we remain peaceful in the face of difficulty, allowing ourselves to make wise choices rather than reacting to situations beyond our control.
To overcome the egoistic veils of ambition, pride, projections and opinions, desires and expectations, we must nourish sattva through selfless service, devotion, control of the senses and mind, and meditation on the Self. We must learn to detach from external conditions, to question our mind’s thought patterns, and to stop functioning out of habitual conclusions.
Our journey is to transform ourselves from negative to positive, from restlessness to peace, from darkness to light. Peace of mind is difficult to attain because our minds are always changing. Like the woman who has lost her needle inside of her house, but looks for it outside, we restlessly seek for happiness outside when all the time, the Truth lies within.
Swami Sivananda says, “Fear not. Grieve not. Worry not. Your essential nature is peace. Thou art an embodiment of peace. Know this. Feel this. Realize this.”
Questions for your Self-study
How do you react to change?
Do you try to control your environment? The situation? Others?
Do you find that change causes stress? If so, what aspect of change causes you stress?
What are your Yoga practices to nourish sattva?
You can leave answers to the questions in the comments section below.
Swami Dharmananda is assistant director of the Yoga Farm for many years and is in charge of the karma yoga program. He is a faculty of the Sivananda Institute of Health (SIHY) and is one of the main teachers of Yoga Philosophy and Meditation at the Ashram. He took sannyas vows in 2013 and is keenly interested in yoga psychology and philosophy, presenting the classical teaching in a practical and accessible way to people of all faiths and backgrounds.
Yoga is not escaping life, but facing life’s difficulties with detachment and fortitude.
Swami Vishnudevananda said, “If you are carrying some heavy luggage on your head and you are crossing a river and the water is now up to your head but you still want to hold the valuable bundle on your head, the more you try to hold it, what will happen? The more you will go underwater. The more you throw it away, the freer you are to swim across and save yourself.”
Yoga shows us how to let go of our luggage, i.e., the useless negative thoughts and emotions that keep us from knowing the peace we truly seek. Too many times the difficulty comes to us and we don’t have the tools to “cross the river”.
We instead try to escape from the situation or deny the situation rather than living our life with open eyes and an open heart.
Often, we act out of long-established stress patterns that find their root in fear, attachment, and desire. The fight/flight response has caught us and suddenly our choices are very limited.
I can run from this or I can fight through this. Either way, the threat to my well-being seems real and tangible. Under the influence of this perceived threat, we are less able to connect to our own innate wisdom and are more likely to fall prey to negative emotions or extreme thoughts.
To compensate for these uncomfortable emotional states, we fall back to tried and true habits such as smoking, drinking, eating unhealthy foods, unhealthy relationships, etc.
Yoga teaches us how to “let go” and to detach from these stress patterns and the behaviors that follow them. We learn how to keep calm even when a strong negative emotion such as anger arises. To detach means to witness the anger, understanding that we are not the emotion.
Meditation is one Yoga practice that helps to build awareness and detachment from the mind.
We can say, “I see there is anger in my mind,” rather than succumbing to the anger itself. We remain peaceful even when circumstances seem to go against us or don’t meet our own rigid expectations.
Swami Sivananda says, “Fortitude is a sweet mysterious mixture of courage, calmness, patience, presence of mind and endurance.” Fortitude is our capacity to endure difficult or stressful situations.
It is based in detachment and discrimination, being able to tell what is real from what is not real. It is understanding that karma is to be experienced and lessons are to be learned.
Daily Yoga is a powerful practice with many benefits, such as more positivity and less stress.
Through daily Yoga practice we gain awareness of negative emotions and thought patterns. Through trial and error we transform the negative to positive, freeing ourselves from expectations, desired outcomes, and disappointments.
Swami Sivananda adds, “Every failure is a stepping-stone to success. Every difficulty or disappointment is a trial of your faith. Every unpleasant incident or temptation is a test of your inner strength. Therefore, nil desperandum. March forward hero!”
Positive Thinking Webinar with Swami Sitaramananda
Yoga Farm Director
Swami Sitaramananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda and acharya of the US West Coast centers and Ashram. Swamiji is also the acharya of the Sivananda mission in Asia, especially in Vietnam, where she hails from.
Positive thinking is understanding that everything is an opportunity for growth.
Swami Sivananda taught that “Life is a great opportunity provided by the Lord for His children to evolve into Himself…The great central aim in life is the conscious realization of our Oneness with God.“
This means that to turn a negative thought and feeling around, we need to consciously see things from the point of view of our Oneness with God, and not from our separate individual points of view.
Source of Wisdom
Positive thinking is connection to the Source of wisdom within.
“There is a Power, an Energy, which each person can tap into if he knows it is available. This Force inspires, encourages, reinforces and gives strength to those who seek to grow in a positive direction.” – Swami Vishnudevananda
We live in a multidimensional universe. We experience a subtle reality of thought, and at the same time experience the gross body and the gross universe. What we think upon, is what we become.
Thought is Subtle
Thought is a subtle force. Thought can build and it can destroy. We all need to learn to manipulate these subtle forces in our minds for our own progress and well being. Negative thinking can be destructive and bring about depression, stress, illness, and friction.
Thought is an energy. Thought is prana. Thoughts are not of equal value. Some thoughts are of higher vibration and some of lower vibration.
Our duty is to increase our vibratory wavelength to the maximum, by purifying our mind through appropriate methods of Yoga. If our energy is high, our thought will be of a higher frequency automatically.
Thoughts are all-pervasive. We are at all times swimming in an ocean of thoughts. This article is on how to conserve prana.
Thought Atmosphere Influences
The energy of a place or a thought atmosphere is composed of all the thoughts generated there for a very long time. It is composed of similar dominant thought.
For example, financial districts of big cities generate thoughts of greed, shopping centers radiate thoughts of “Buy! Buy!”, a red light district generates thoughts of lust, and some dangerous neighborhoods generate thoughts of fear.
Keep your mind in a healthy environment and choose your company. If you take a bath in dirty, filthy waters, you will come out dirty and filthy. If you swim in an ocean of unidentified negative thoughts, you will pick up the energy of the place like picking up a virus or flu. Find out more on how to keep the mind elevated.
We are like Radio Transmitters and Receivers
We tune to different thought wavelengths, transmitting thoughts and receiving thoughts of the same nature as our own.
Our bodies and minds are like radios. Through yoga, we keep them strong so we can receive and transmit powerful vibrations.
One student of a Positive thinking course said to me: “Before, if my husband is down, and I feel okay, I have to lower my vibration and happiness in order to be at the same wavelength as him. Now, when he is not happy, I remain positive and he becomes positive like me.”
Positive Thoughts have a high vibration
Positive thought wavelengths are more difficult to get because they take more prana.
Negative thought wavelengths are easier to produce because they take less effort.
That is why it is easier to be negative than positive as you can just relax and complain.
The 5 Points of Yoga bring back Positivity
1. Asanas – Yoga Postures help move the prana. The most important energetic benefit of asana practice is the circulation of the flow of prana; through moving the prana, we can unblock mental blockages and restore positivity.
2. Proper Breathing or Pranayama balances and supplies new energy. Do regular breathing exercises such as abdominal yogic breath and alternate breathing to recharge and balance the two hemispheres of the brain.
Imbalanced personality such as too much right brain thinking (emotional) or left brain thinking(rational) brings about negativity. When both flows of breath through both nostrils are balanced, you will experience well being and centeredness. This article goes in depth on the topic of understanding our prana and what to do with it.
We should not only do pranayama, but also make wise choices that will help us increase, conserve, balance and channel our prana.
Spending time in retreat, limiting outgoing senses and too much activity, and offering selfless service are some ways to rekindle your energy and positivity.
Conscious Relaxation removes Stress
Proper Relaxation includes physical relaxation, when there is no tension in the body, mental relaxation, when the mind is concentrated on something positive–such as the breath–and also spiritual relaxation, when one develops faith and knowledge .
The main causes of stress are failure to adapt, lack of prana, and existential unresolved questions about life, death, and our nature and purpose. This article explains in depth the science of relaxation.
Relaxation allows you to Recharge and go deep inside
Physical letting go brings awareness that you are not the body
Proper diet includes taking wholesome and organic food at regular intervals that is easily digestible and full of life force. Avoid substances like drugs, cigarettes, and intoxicants, which clog the energy channels and create damage to your energy system.
An unwholesome diet contributes to an unsteady, distracted and weak state of mind.
As much as you do not throw trash around and pollute the environment, do not throw negative thoughts around and pollute the thought atmosphere. You are not a victim. Know that you can create a sustainable positive life for yourself by practicing Yoga and meditation.
This practice will wake you up, calm you down and make you realize your blessings!
Do not wait for an ideal situation to come for you to become positive. Let go of expectations and preconceived ideas about yourself and others.
Learn to turn all situations into blessings and realize that all is perfect and no one is to blame!
Life brings you exactly what you need, not what you desire.
You are the Prime Victim
Negative thoughts afflict you, the thinker first, as they drain your prana (energy), separate you from others, occupy your consciousness and prevent you from enjoying the peace of your soul.
They make you sick and keep you in a sort of prison of your own negativity.
There are different methods to deal with any negative situation or thought. Just like in a first-aid kit of an emergency doctor or paramedic, you have different tools or medicines to respond to any emergency.
Try different things the best you can.
Allow yourself to explore alternatives and different attitudes.
Do not get stuck in one way of reacting.
Your habitual way of reacting has become your personality and identity.
Allow yourself to explore other ways. This is an opportunity to expand your horizons and your knowledge of yourself.
Technique Number 1 – Replace a negative thought with its opposite thought
This is a Raja Yoga technique. Examples of how to change our thoughts are:
In Yoga philosophy, the teachers or wise people (the rishis) discuss about the relationship between the individual Self and the Absolute Reality. They help us to understand the mysteries of life which gives us knowledge to understand our own minds and practice emotional intelligence in daily life.
In fact these teachers declare, out of their own experience and knowledge, that there is a state of perfect existence which is beyond changes, birth, and death. This unchanging state of consciousness is also called Truth (Sat). This state of being is fully aware, all-knowing beyond darkness and limitation. This state of all-knowing-at-all-time is termed Chits. Last but not least, they said when we can attain this state of bliss absolute (ananda), we go beyond any suffering and can live a life of perfect emotional intelligence.
Modern Stress can be overwhelming.
Sat Chit Ananda
This absolute positivity can be achieved by an individual, however, the moment that you achieve it, you no longer remain in an individual existence. At that time, all idea of separation and division would disappear, as the individual consciousness merges with the Supreme Consciousness.
How we would achieve this sublime state of consciousness without having any concept of it?
In truth, this absolute consciousness is all pervading and yet is beyond the mind’s concepts. Technically, the mind and intellect are limited and can not perceive something beyond itself, let alone have a relationship with it. This is the reason why, the sages talked about devoting oneself to the highest ideal or form of the divine that the mind can conceive.
In truth, this absolute consciousness is all pervading and yet is beyond the mind’s concepts.
This devotion needs to be personal, because we need to experience it in the core of our heart. We need to feel and experience truly the love of that Truth that is unfailing, all existing, all pervading, all knowing. This highest ideal needs to be understood and felt in the core of our being so that we can become it. This is the ultimate emotional intelligence.
Stress can come on at any time.
Our Highest Ideal
It is easier for us to love someone and become like he or she. In fact, being a human being, we need to see the perfection alive in a human being.
This idea or ideal needs to become embodied for us to relate to and to emulate. The nature of our emotional mind is that it is easier for us to love someone and become like he or she, by the power of love and absorption.
In fact, we become what we think a lot about. We like to idealize and to be attached to someone we think is morally superior to us. We are ready to follow advice from them.
Therefore, there is the idea of a personal concept of God, Ishwara, for us to be dedicated to. Different minds need different types of teacher. Therefore, we are encouraged to seek for our own chosen ideal (ishta devata).
Truth is One
We do not need to compare ourselves with others who have different paths then ourselves. “Names and forms are many, Truth is one”. “ Paths are many, God is one”.
Ultimately, not only we have an abstract idea of the Ideal and the Truth, but we have also the live example in human form of this ideal person we can become. This is the ultimate power of positive thinking.
Long term negative emotions can go back to before birth and display as certain personality traits.
Faith is positive thinking
Faith in the Supreme Intelligence comes from an inner feeling that there is something greater than you, a supreme being that indwells one’s essential spirit. When one is enriched with abiding faith one is able to recognize the divine grace operating in all things. In summary, we are on a journey of self-discovery to uncover the truth of who we are, a journey guided by faith.
We can think of faith as the power of positive thinking that carries us from one experience of grace to the next. Fear exists when we don’t know the Self (the Atman). We must rely on faith to progress on the spiritual path until we have knowledge of the Self from our own direct experience.
The more we progress and the greater our connection with the truth within, the Atman, the more faith we will have. Over time we will need less faith as faith is gradually replaced by knowledge of the Self. Ultimately faith is replaced by direct experience of the Self. It is then we can say, “I know.”
Above – Learn to relax by spending time in nature and practicing yoga.
Where is knowledge coming from? In my earlier days, I experience that knowledge can be glimpsed intuitively. At that time, I observed that people around me were unhappy and miserable. Even when I was able to help improve their circumstances, they didn’t seem to be any happier. But somehow, I had the thought that there must be a place that wasn’t like this where people practiced the power of positive thinking.
I went searching, thinking at first this place must be outside of the city, so I moved to the country. I found it was not in the country either, and guessed it must be in the ashram. It soon became apparent it wasn’t even in the ashram.
Where is this Satchidananda, or knowledge? Of course, knowledge or truth reside inside of us, but it is a long hard journey to turn within to find it, as we are always looking outside of ourselves. This journey of turning within to find the Highest Ideal within and without must be sustained by considerable faith.
As a matter of fact, we lack experience in the beginning of our journey. However, although we do not really have a clue where we are going, faith keeps us going. This is why we need a teacher to help show us the way to face our fears and to understand the power of positive thinking.
Consciously tensing and releasing our muscles in savasana from the toes, reaching up to the eyes, ears and head, helps to bring our body and mind to their natural efficiency.
Fear is Unreal
Fear is a very strong primitive emotion, present in all animals. Fear serves a very basic purpose: to help us to survive. If we were Self-realized we would know there is no danger to our survival, since we are not the individual body that we think we are. In fact, fear arises out of an external view of reality. Fear is caused in us by things that appear unfamiliar or situations beyond our immediate understanding. Fear creates imaginations of darkness, of falling and distorts the mind.
Therefore, Fear is based in unreality, in Maya. It comes from our attachment, our grasping on to illusory things and beliefs. We need to think a little about the effect of fear. Being fearful or anxious means we are attached. Being attached means we are stuck, bogged down, we lost our freedom; If we are afraid, we are incapable of letting go of the things that are no longer relevant or helpful to our growth.
We become paralyzed and lose our faculties when we are fearful. We freeze, unable to do anything to solve our problem. There was a time years ago, I stumbled on a horror movie on TV. I was so scared! And yet, I could not do anything, not even capable to move three feet to turn off the TV. I was paralyzed with fear. This is a small example but illustrates the point; even the simplest situations that arise can stop us in our tracks because of our illusory fearful thoughts.
Practicing Meditation and Positive Emotions we can heal ourself.
Anxiety blocks the way to knowledge
Anxiety is even worse than fear, because unlike fear we cannot identify its source. Anxiety is fear that has no name. With anxiety, there is no creativity, no productivity, we are depressed and our minds lose the capacity to think clearly.
Now, consider the analogy in which the sun is the Atman and anxiety is a storm of clouds covering the sun. There are days when clouds fill the sky and we can’t see the sun. Yet we know it’s there behind the layer of clouds.
From time to time as the clouds pass overhead we may catch a glimpse of the sun’s brightness or feel its warmth for a moment. In the same way, the Atman is always shining within us, untouched by the clouds of fear and anxiety that we experience.
In summary, loose life and indulgent life is not relaxation, but a conscious, content and simple life is true relaxation and happiness.
The science of relaxation leads to spiritual relaxation, a state of freedom and joyfulness when there is no expectation or desire of anything. Instead of anxiety, we experience detachment, contentment and fulfillment .