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.
VEDIC GUIDANCE ON LIFE TRANSITIONS:
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.
SELF DEVELOPMENT AND THE GUNAS
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.
FOUR VEDIC TRADITIONNAL STAGES OF LIFE:
The brahmacharya stage, a student’s stage (6-25 years old)
The grihastha householder stage is from 25 to 50.
Vanaprastha, retirement stage (50-60)
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.
EVOLUTION IN INNER MOTIVATIONS:
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.
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.
CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN GUNAS, STAGE OF LIFE AND MOTIVATION:
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 tosupport 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 eventuallyI 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 thathappened 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 isdetermining 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.”
GUNAS AND CASTES
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.
COMBINATION GUNA, SAGE OF LIFE, MOTIVATION, CASTE:
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.
MANAGEMENT OF INNER MOTIVATIONS FOR GROWTH:
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.
Happy International Yoga Day. Practicing yoga is very important for the world nowadays. We pray that more and more people will practice yoga around the world.
To practice yoga is to feel that we are progressing
It’s not nice to feel stuck in life. If you feel that things are not moving and you are stagnant, the best way is to practice. Go back to your yoga mat, to your meditation cushion, to your diary, to your journal and try to renew your practice. What does it mean to practice? What to practice? And how do you develop yourself and not feel stuck?
Conscious practice is the key
The key is to be conscious in whatever you do. Self development has to come consciously. We call it yoga, we call it sadhana. Sadhana is a conscious practice. This is not something you do without thinking. Because the goal of all practices is to transform and renew yourself. Transform what? Transform consciousness. Transform the way you feel about yourself and about the world. You are growing towards physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Self-development requires conscious effort
First, for you to self-develop, you need to make an effort, a conscious effort. And second, it is important for you to receive guidance. You need to follow a system of teaching or teachers. Why? Because you want to self-develop but you don’t know what to do and therefore you might waste a lot of time. We have the system from Swami Vishnudevananda, and Swami Sivananda, which we call the five points and the four paths. You need to practice this in a systematic, uninterrupted manner, for a long time to change the old habits. Let’s say you do asana three, four times a week, satsang meditation, three, four times a week. It is fine, but you need to do it consistently, for a long time to achieve the transformation of body, of head, of heart, of energy.
And you need to have guidance from teachers but also from scriptures. That means you need to spend time studying a little bit from scriptures. Ideally, you have a teacher that speaks the language that you understand. Swami Sivananda wrote 200-300 books. Until now, we are not able to read all his books. But it’s the same idea, same system. Try to study his books. And we are trying to translate for those that don’t understand the language. The teachings coming from the Vedas are very old teachings about the Self and about the lifestyle that help you to tune in and help you to feel that you are progressing. We call it classical yoga, and follow the lineage of teachers and follow scriptures.
Here are the five points of yoga that you need to practice daily
The first point is proper exercise, the asanas done in a certain manner. The way we perform the asanas is also meditative. Then proper breathing – pranayama, proper relaxation – savasana, proper diet – vegetarian sattvic diet and positive thinking and meditation, which is Vedanta, Jnana Yoga and the Raja Yoga meditation system.
One ounce of practice is equal to tons of theory
One important thing to remember, if you want to feel that you are progressing, self-transforming and self-developing is that you need to practice more than learning only theory.
This is what Swami Sivananda said, “one ounce of practice is equal to tons of theory”. You can read books, you can hear satsangs, but mainly what you need is to practice so then you can have direct experience of the teaching. The teachings are practical, sometimes technical, but we also try to keep the overall view. Sometimes you learn and apply the technique and you forget the whole picture. You have to understand how the practice fits into the big picture, how it influences your overall life. It’s like a puzzle game. Piece by piece, slowly. You don’t quite understand the picture yet. But piece by piece, you put it together and all of a sudden, the whole beautiful landscape or picture emerges. Therefore you need to practice for a long time, and have guidance, so that you don’t lose heart. And then the whole picture will come about.
The eight limbs of yoga
Besides the five points and the four paths, the other system or guidance is the eight limbs of yoga. You need to practice the whole eight limbs of yoga, not just asana or not just pranayama. But you need to practice yamas and niyamas. That means the ethical foundation: nonviolence, sense of control, no stealing, no accumulation. Practice purity, contentment, austerity, practice of self- study and self- surrender.
Before every little thing that happened, you get very irritated and angry and blame yourself and have self-pity. But now you need to practice self-surrender, which means the idea that you don’t really know everything. You have to accept the cosmic intelligence, that’s also part of the basic practice in order to keep your mind calm. You practice steady posture, that means not just running around all the time, but sitting still. Practice the control of vital energy – the prana, control of the senses, concentration, meditation, contemplation, and eventually the last practice is Samadhi. This is the goal when there is no more sense of separation and when everything comes together.
Take care of your physical health
So in this system of practice, it is very important that you are aware in the beginning to take care of your physical health. You practice the asanas to be healthy. And when you are healthy, you need to understand that the practice of asanas strengthens all the systems of your body. First, the musculoskeletal system: You work on your alignment so that when you sit, when you stand, when you walk you have a better alignment. Keep your spine healthy. Second, the digestive system: If you digest well then you’ll be healthy. Third, the respiratory system: If you breathe well you’ll be healthy. Fourth the cardiovascular system: You need to move the body. And finally, the nervous and endocrine systems need to be strengthened.
And in order for you to self-develop, you need to know that you need to turn inward, you cannot carry on with the life outside, all the time active externally. You need to balance your life with time that you spend on turning inward. So, that means that you will become more aware. You have to become more aware of your emotions and your state of mind and you need to slow down in order to be aware. You need to slow down. Sometimes you need a temporary withdrawal from your busy life, your emotions, your work life. You can be more alone, one hour a day, one day a week and you go to the retreat at the ashram three days minimum one month if you are close by, but the idea is you need to program your life so that you have time to recharge and to be with yourself.
Mental and emotional health
Part of your self-development training is you need to make sure that you are mentally and emotionally healthy. We are not aware of that, but we do not know that we are not really mentally and emotionally healthy. What does that mean? That means you need to develop a balanced personality and you are not going to extremes.
So you observe yourself and you see that you go to extremes. You like something very much and you dislike something very much. Yeah, for a yogi you need to remove the word hatred from your vocabulary. Also, intense attachment towards something does not help you. Develop a balanced personality.
Don’t be a victim of the past
And also you need to take time to heal from past hurt and past trauma. You must not become a victim of the past, you need to live in the present. The more that you are able to do that the more you feel that you are on top of yourself, you are developing and you’re not stuck. Because something that is unresolved from the past will make you feel that you are stuck. Develop peace of mind and strength of mind and calmness of mind all the time.
You need to also develop the capacity to love selflessly, to concentrate and not be distracted, and to have your heart open to enjoy life. So if your life is miserable, something is not right. You need to be able to enjoy life. There are lots of reasons for you to enjoy life. You look at the tree, the sunrise you are happy, the wind blows and you’re happy. You notice that sometimes if you are in a good state of mind, just a very small thing, seeing little flowers that come out makes you happy. This is called a healthy mind. Live fully in the present. You notice you are aware of everything happening in the moment. You don’t just go through life in a sleep-like state.
You need to also have a clear intellect. The way you eat, the way you think helps you. If you are on the internet watching games and other things, then you see that your mind will fall very far down. You need to keep your intellect very clear so that you can make your decision more clearly.
Transform your emotions
The big portion of emotional health is knowing how to transform your emotions, how to elevate your emotions, instead of being controlled by emotions such as fear and anger.
Why do people want to see horror movies? And you know, horror movies are very popular. Why? Because they want their emotions to be excited, because when they are emotionally excited, then they feel that they are more alive. But this situation is not helping you to progress. This actually makes you go backward. You need to elevate your emotion, all this fear, anger, resentment, and turn the emotion into pure love or devotion. In order to do it, you have to learn to surrender your personal idea about things. Let go of the expectation of your ego. You need to know that there is something more than you that is there. It’s very important that you practice self-surrender, acceptance, flexibility of mind, a non-egoistic approach to life. And chant the Divine Name, it’s called “kirtan”. Practice every day, open your mouth and chant. That will regulate your emotion right away.
Learn to listen
There are nine kinds of practice in bhakti yoga, slowly you have to learn, but start first with the practice of listening. If you try to listen, then you will not be so self-centered. And you’ll be able to understand a rich world out there of different people, different personalities, different animals, and then you’ll become more enriched instead of being stuck.
Learn to detach from your attachments
Attachment will make you feel stuck. You need to be detached, and experience true love and experience more faith. And then you will have more joy. You need to learn to forgive also. You need to learn also from your painful karmic lessons. Life is not just a straight line, as sometimes very painful. Actually you develop yourself a lot in the most difficult time of crisis. That’s when you develop a lot. You have all the chances to become better. You’re always learning. The purpose of all these painful lessons is to help your evolution. So have a larger perspective and don’t feel down when life doesn’t go the way you want. Stop blaming every circumstance, it is actually perfect for your growth. Slowly you are working out your karma. But know that whatever circumstances in which you find yourself, you are more than your experience. You experience things then you can understand from them but inside of you, you know that you are more than your experience, you are perfect inside. That’s what it means.
Develop your selflessness
And a very important thing that we cannot forget: You need to develop selflessness, selflessness in Karma yoga, it’s a practical step. So you need to change your attitude towards your actions, towards your life. Learn the attitude of non doer-ship, of egoism and open yourself up, to give yourself to others. Mahatma Gandhi says, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Therefore, you need to become a role model for yourself. That means you need to have an idea of the self that you want to become and the best way to become a role model for yourself is to teach yoga. Because when you have to teach yoga for other people, you have to practice yoga. So, learning Yoga means learning to teach yoga selflessly. The best way to learn Yoga is to learn to teach yoga, selflessly. So those who have not taken the Yoga teacher training course, please do.
Become curious about yourself
Then one thing, I noticed that people feel stuck or feel down, because they are not interested in themselves. It is a strange thing to notice. Throughout the years that I deal with people, I notice that people are not curious about themselves. They are not interested. They’re very lazy. They’re interested in politics and about what to buy and what to shop and you know, what’s happening in the market. All these they know in detail. But about themselves, about their personality, their life, why they think that way, they are not interested. So the first thing you need to do is be curious about yourself. Know that you don’t know your inner being, know that you do not know about yourself. Because people are like that because they think that they know, but actually they don’t know. When you know that you don’t know then you start to be more seriously looking to know the truth. You become humble. At that time you become open. And when you open up to new ideas and you start on your yoga path, you become curious about yourself.
You are much more than your body and mind
The reason our knowledge is so limited is that we get our knowledge through the senses and through the idea of self-identity that is attached to the body in the mind and the ego and through the fabricated opinion that people have about us. You live in that world of the senses, of the mind, of the ego, with the opinion of others, all the time. That’s why you are not able to know yourself. You need to start a yoga life to purify yourself. Because all these thoughts are there in your mind, opinions about other people, opinions of people about you, your mental stimulation habit, all these are there. You need to start to learn to purify and the yoga practice is very, very powerful to purify yourself and make you become more what we call sattvic or clear. So then you will start to love your own Self instead of loving everything else around and neglecting yourself. Yeah, so now you start to love yourself. Because you realize that the truth is within, the power is within, the answer is within. You realize that the body and mind is only your instrument, and it is not you, you are much more than your body and mind.
Take care of your prana level
In this journey, I remind you it’s very important for you to have prana. Every day when you wake up, check your level of prana. Your level of prana depends on what you think and what you eat and your lifestyle. What do you practice to increase your prana? Through pranayama and asana practice, you balance your prana, you resupply your prana, you conserve your prana, you save up your prana because prana will make you feel progressing. Practice of Hatha Yoga will help you to balance your two flows of energy, Yin and Yang, heat and cold, male and female. And that in itself will make you feel you are progressing. And everyday day, when the prana is high, learn to keep your mind concentrated. Because if your mind is distracted, you lose prana very quickly. But if you keep your mind concentrated through the practice of yoga, practice a mantra, then you have strength, calmness, peace, it leads you to successful meditation and helps you not to be so restless. Restore your sense of self, knowing the healthy holy sense of inner strength, inner knowledge and inner power within you.
Develop yourself spiritually
That’s part of your spiritual health. It means number one, recognizing that the body and the mind are your instruments and they are not you. Just that will give you a feeling of detachment, of spiritual health. Number two, leading a conscious life. Whatever you do, try to be conscious, just to be conscious. That is called self-development or leading a spiritual life.
And know that when you connect to yourself, your consciousness within, you connect also to nature. It is very important to connect to nature, live in harmony with others, everybody around you, it’s a must, that you live in harmony with them, and live in harmony with nature. Therefore, connect with yourself and live in harmony with nature and others. That is your most important task.
Learn to think properly
And last, in this long list of different things that you need to do to self- develop, is to learn to think properly. Earlier we said learn to feel properly, to live properly, to behave properly, but also learn to think properly. So worrying is not thinking. Thinking of the past and rehearsing the past is not proper thinking. Dreaming about the future is not proper thinking.
So in yoga Vedanta, we say try to develop the power of discrimination, which is the deep thinking about what is changing and what is not changing, what is real and what is not real, what is the Self and what is not the Self.
Let’s say you eat the coconut bliss ice cream, and you feel very happy. But at the same time inside your mind, you have to know this is a temporary happiness, and you don’t live your life for this experience. And you enjoy the coconut ice cream but you have to eventually let go of it and you’ll be fine. Learn the proper way of thinking, making the choice between what is temporary and what is permanent. Then,
don’t be attached to what is temporary, and try to dwell on what is permanent.” Please think about this.
That is the number one and then number two is learn to detach. Detach is also another way of thinking. That means instead of thinking about something and jumping into that 100% with all your body, your mind, your senses, your emotions, everything and losing yourself in it, try to be detached. Do what is necessary to do in your life but don’t give it all. Don’t lose yourself in it. Keep yourself for yourself, be detached from everything else. The more you are able to be detached, the more you’ll be in connection with yourself. and you will not lose the big picture. Whatever you need to do, do it. But at the same time, don’t lose the big picture about yourself development, and don’t lose yourself. Learn Vedanta philosophy and some techniques of self-inquiry. That is wisdom.
Learn Self reliance
And a very important thing is to learn self-reliance. Self reliance is a capacity to be self sufficient. Self sufficiency means you’re not needing anything. You’re happy just being yourself. If somebody helps you, fine. If somebody doesn’t help you, you don’t get angry, upset. You do it yourself. So, self reliance also means you are tuning to your own true self. And you know that you are perfect. And you know, that if you do your own self effort, everything will improve. Many things are involved in the quality of self reliance.
Learn to be patient
So last, be patient. You need to be patient. Because you make a little effort and you think that you will get there. It’s like you just learn a little bit of exercise and you want to run a marathon. It is not possible. So go on your journey, day by day, bit by bit.
Be patient. And have a sincere desire to know the truth about the Self. Qualify yourself, learn with a teacher, but know that the teacher cannot do everything for you. The teacher can guide you. But you have to do everything.
That is my long list of advice for international Yoga Day. Again, Happy International Yoga Day for all the Yogis of the whole world. The more people practice yoga, the more the world will be a better place. Now we pray for the world. And we pray for your health, for your success in life and self realization. If you know the prayer, please repeat it together.
OM Tat sat
Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam. She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training program, an 800 hours program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is the author of Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy (translated in Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese) Positive Thinking Manual, Karma Yoga Manual, Meditation Manual as well as two poem books. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of The Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda. Some of her audio lectures on Yoga Life, articles, and webinar presentations can be found on the website.
Breath is life. We can live for days without food or water but deprive us of breath and we die in minutes. In view of this, it is astonishing how little attention is paid to the importance of proper breathing.
According to Yoga, there are two main functions of proper breathing: to bring more oxygen to the blood and thus to the brain; and to control prāna or vital energy, leading to control of the mind.
Prānāyāma – the science of breath control – consists in a series of exercises especially intended to meet these needs and to keep the body in vibrant health.
Re-learning Abdominal Breathing Most people have forgotten how to breathe properly. They practice only chest and clavicular breathing, breathe through the mouth and make little or no use of the diaphragm – either lifting the shoulders or contracting the abdomen when they inhale. In this way, only a small amount of oxygen is taken in and only the top portion of the lungs are used, resulting in a lack of vitality and lowered resistance to disease.
The practice of Yoga demands that you reverse these habits. Breathing correctly means breathing through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, and involves a full inhalation and exhalation, which brings the full capacity of your lungs into play. As you exhale the abdomen contracts and the diaphragm moves up, massaging the heart; when you inhale, the abdomen expands and the diaphragm moves down, massaging the abdominal organs.
What is strange is the fact that abdominal breathing is the most natural type of breathing: children generally breathe with their abdomen, and both children and adults breathe abdominally during sleep. So what causes the body to lose this natural ability for abdominal breathing during waking adult life?
The main reason is simply stress. When you become stressed, the solar plexus (located in your abdomen), which is a major control center for the nervous system, becomes tense, as do the abdominal muscles, which then hinder the natural movement of the diaphragm. Fixed mental images may be another reason for compromised breathing, such as the concept of ‘manhood’ causing you to project a body image in which the chest is expanded and the abdomen is tight.
Change your Breathe, Change your Life Proper Breathing, one of the 5 Points of Yoga, is an important tool in the Yoga Health Educator’s practice. The Yoga Health Educator often begins by assessing the mechanics of a person’s breathing to see if they are breathing correctly. Are they breathing through the mouth or the nose? Chest breathing? Reverse breathing? Is it a rhythmical breath? How is their lung capacity? Is the breath strained? Is the person aware of their breath? Are they aware of their state of mind?
There is a direct relationship between the quality of the breath and the quality of one’s thoughts. A slow, steady and rhythmical breath pattern indicates a calm mind. In this case, the person is relaxed and has greater capacity to make positive choices. A shallow and short breath pattern indicates stress and anxiety, often with the person breathing into the upper chest (not breathing into the abdomen) and with tightness in the upper back and shoulder region. Under stress, we are less likely to make positive choices, we are prone to reactions, and will remain stuck in old habits.
The Yoga Health Educator helps to bring awareness to the breath with simple breathing exercises beginning with conscious abdominal breathing.
1. Abdominal Breathing Exercise Lie down in savasana. Place your right hand on your abdomen or use a pillow on the abdomen. Inhale, feel the abdomen rise; exhale, feel the abdomen descend. Count to 3 with each inhale and exhale to create a steady rhythmical breath pattern. Practice 3-5 minutes.
2. Full Yogic Breath If you are comfortable with the abdominal breath, you can try the full yogic breath. A full yogic breath combines abdominal (deep), chest (middle) and clavicular (shallow) breathing with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostal (ribs) and clavicular areas. Inhale the abdomen expands, then ribs, then finally the upper chest. Exhale abdomen first, then ribs, then chest. Full yogic breath utilizes the full capacity of the lungs. Practice 3-5 minutes.
After some time, you are ready to add the pranayama practices of kapalabhati and anuloma villoma to your daily routine.
Benefits of Abdominal Breathing
Activates parasympathetic “rest and repair” response
Lowers the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol
Lowers heart rate
Lowers blood pressure
Improves oxygen intake (efficiency)
Slows the rate of breathing
Reduces stress – 80-90% of all doctor visits are due to stress-related health conditions. Stress weakens the immune system. Chronic stress can lead to depression, fear and anxiety, and can have further debilitating effects on immune system response.
Increases awareness of one’s breath and thought patterns.
Conscious breathing is an important aspect of meditation practice and helps to calm the mind, regulate the flow of prana, and to balance the emotions.
Breathe and Relax! Proper Breathing is one of the 5 Points of Yoga. Combined with asana, savasana, vegetarian diet, meditation and positive thinking, the 5 Points of Yoga give us the energy to live a healthy and harmonious life and to connect to our innate wisdom to consciously overcome the negative karmic tendencies that cause stress. Take time every day to breathe and relax. Make it your daily routine. You can practice abdominal breathing and full yogic breath several times each day to calm your mind, come back to your center, increase awareness of your breath and your thoughts, thereby bringing you peace, health and happiness.
The Yoga Health Educator is dedicated to empowering each person in their own self-healing journey through the teachings of classical Yoga. For more information about the Sivananda Institute of Health and Yoga and the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training, please visit https://sivanandayogafarm.org/800-hour-yoga-therapy-program/
In a time when our dependence on technology and our separation from the natural world is becoming more and more apparent, taking time to unplug and practice forest bathing has never been more important. But what is Forest Bathing?Here’s a hint – it’s not taking a hike into the woods and plopping yourself into a bubbly bathtub.
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, is about bathing the senses in the natural world. Since we receive healing energy, or prana, through our senses, it is no wonder that people feel great after doing the practice. And there’s science to back it – studies have shown that Forest Bathing not only reduces stress, but uplifts the mood, reduces inflammation, pain, blood pressure, and induces an overall sense of well-being.
Add all of those benefits to the fact that trees can enhance your blood oxygen levels and give you immune-boosting phytoncides, and you’ve got a pretty simple way to improve your health.
Forest Bathing, and Nature Therapy in general, can be integrated into any holistic healing regimen. It works synergistically to supplement the healing effects of Yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, breathwork, and proper diet/lifestyle.
How to Practice Forest Bathing
Anyone can practice forest bathing, regardless of your age or background. The steps are very simple, but they may take some practice to perfect.
1. First, turn off your phone, put it on silent, and/or put it away if you feel safe doing so. This will get rid of unnecessary distractions.
2. Get into any area with trees, the more secluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the better.
3. Let go of any agenda what-so-ever. There’s no destination. No running, no journaling, and no thinking about your to-do list. No planning. If you have a restless mind, a good session of breathwork and/or meditation before your practice can help calm the mind.
4. Walk slowly. Pauses to sit or relax are encouraged.
5. Spend time mindfully observing in each of the five senses. What can you smell, feel, see, hear, or taste?
6. Focus on deep, abdominal breath throughout the practice. This helps keep you grounded in the present and reduces stress.
7. If you are in a group, practice silence or mouna as much as possible. Talking can be a distraction fro the wonders of nature around you.
8. Lastly, spend as long as you comfortably can in nature. Start with short intervals and build yourself up to two hours or more for a complete practice.
Spending time outdoors is not just a hobby; it is an essential human need. Humans actually get sick if they spend too much time indoors and away from nature. That’s why connecting with nature in any capacity is beneficial for your health.
If you live in a city, desert, or anywhere far away from a forest, you can still experience the benefits of nature immersion. While the specific practice of Shinrin-Yoku traditionally requires a proper forest with trees, the above principles can be applied in any ecosystem. You can even practice nature awareness indoors with house plants!
That’s all there is to it! There’s nothing to do, and nowhere to be. The goal is to just be fully immersed and connected with nature. Side effects may include deep relaxation, weight lifting off of your shoulders, feelings of awe, gratitude for being alive, and positive life-changing experiences.
Colin Eldridge (Krishna Das)
Colin teaches and helps coordinate Yoga, permaculture and outdoors programs at the Sivananda Yoga Farm. He is a trained Sivananda Yoga instructor, permaculture designer, and Yoga Health Educator.
The topic of today is highly philosophical, yet practical. It is essential to understand it so we know what to do to be healthy and free. Please be ready during this presentation to be able to do 6 practical breathing and relaxation lessons. Make sure you have space to lie down, and that your room be ventilated.
1. Lie down in sarvasana posture and learn to breathe abdominally, without pillow or with pillow. Get a pillow ready, the more it is heavy it is better.
2. sit up either on chair or cross legged on the ground and learn to breathe and relax sitting up.
3. while sitting up, learn Kapalabati breathing (cleansing of the lungs) .
4. learn basic Anuloma Viloma basic, alternate nostril breath, without retention and with retention.
5. lie down again, and learn to breathe and relax along with positive affirmations. 6. Last, learn tense and release and complete guided relaxation.
Why the topic of today?
The truth these days of Corona virus pandemic is we loose ourselves and our minds drifted in confusion. We are stressed and we have tendency to not breathing correctly. We panicked and reacted this way or another. The news of the world took our well being away, thought by thought, breath by breath. We are caught up in the alarming and contradictory news. The world seems to be negative and conflictual. The focus nowadays is “disease”, not “health”. Our key words are “ death count”, “wear masks!” , “wash hands!”, “social distancing”, “ go back to normal”, “ the old normal”, the “new normal”.
Today I like to introduce you two new key words: “breathe and relax”! a new motto “breathe and relax!”
Why breathe and relax are two important practices to remember at all times?
Breathing is life affirming. It reminds us to stay healthy, body-mind-spirit while living.
Relaxation is be detached from the illusory world of our mind. So…breathe and relax!
Disclaimer: right breathing and right attitude towards life will not prevent you from getting the virus, but it will boost your immune system and your quality of life and even if you get sick, you will be stronger to heal and you will be more equipped to know what to do to help yourself.
Switch it around: Think of Health and not of disease!
Health is our birthright! We are the master of our health, we are not victim.
Our life is worth living, therefore struggle to attain true health and to remain positive. This inner affirmation about our worthy life is a good start to help us struggle for self improvement. Breathe for your life! Relaxation gives us life !
Life is sacred, need to see the sacredness in our life and in life surrounding us. This right attitude will bring health in our life.
You are equipped and supported by Mother Nature, remember her, go back to Nature. Happy Mothers’ Day!
Go back to basics… and build up resilience and increase our immunity the natural way! We are equipped with the Power of conscious intention.
Our Thought power is in our hands! Negative thoughts spread like virus. But we are Master of our destiny.
Focus on Health and not on disease. You can build your health !
We are essentially free. Focus on our innate freedom! All is good. We are strong and courageous. Everything happens because we have lessons to take away!
Think of the analogy of the lotus flower :
The lotus is a beautiful and very fragrant flower that grows out from the mud. The lotus is the symbol well used by meditators. The lotus represents spiritual life It is the theme of this webinar: “ How to live in the world of pains and sufferings and be free!” In other words:” how to live out our karmas and be free!”
What is the true nature of the world?
There is no objective world. The world seems to be external to ourselves. But the world is in fact a projection of our mind, according to the yogis. The world is the stage where our karmas will be played out.
We are not living in the same world. Depending on our karma we will perceive the world differently.
From another point of view the world is a creation of God. Both ways of explanation say that it is not material or objective, not something we can control or see with our worldly mind but it is a matter of consciousness.
Our mind’s projections are called “the world”: We are attached to our projections of our ideas about people outside of ourselves. Our repeated mind projections create an idea that the world is solid and real.
As we keep remembering our past experiences as recorded in our minds and as we keep projecting them out or as our consciousness keeps choosing the same outcome, we replay more or less the same scenario and the world appears as objective.
This projected world seen as solid and real outside of ourselves consists of objects. We live in the world of objects and we forget that they are the products of our minds and consciousness at the first place. These objects are perceived by our senses therefore the world we live in is termed a “sensual world”.
Who am I? I am not the objects of my perception and attachments.
The objects of our perception (and attachments) can be:
people or things: people can be our family and friends, things can be our home and work environment, familiar landscape or our possessions.
phenomena of nature, made of the five gross elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether). These gross elements exist in their subtle form in the mind.
But Who is the subject, the perceiver?
I am. We are, our True Self is. Objects are multiple, but the Self is One: The key to find peace at all times is to remember the One consciousness in all people, things and phenomena of nature.
Objects change while consciousness remains same. The body changes, ages and dies but consciousness remains untouched.
How to live in the world, find the subjectand be free?
The idea of the world creates duality and separation. Unless we develop equal vision and see that it is all One, all God, it is better to not be lost in the world. We need to rethink our concept of the world to be free from separation. This is why yogis turn inwards in the beginning of the journey. They are not being egoistic but need to start from their own consciousness.
Our lesson is to detach from objects to realize our inner truth or Atman. The Atman is the Self present in all. It is not changing, stable and ancient, perfect and free, all pervading and all knowing. Sensual world is not real: Yogis turn inwards and transcend the sensual world to perceive the Self beyond the projections of the mind.
The Self is the subject: Realize your Self at all times as the consciousness underlying all things. The subject is beyond the senses, beyond duality and is Sat-Chit-Ananda.
The Self is found in the here and now: In the here and now we can access our consciousness, free from the imprints of the past or the projected future.
As a result of karma, we never lived in the here and now: Meditation frees us from karma by bringing us to the here and now. The play on the stage of the world is our karma.
Lessons from Master Sivananda (photo)
Swami Sivananda says that the world is your best teacher. There is a lesson in everything.
His last words: “remember, forget! “ (remember the Self, God and forget everything else)
He sees the world with one eye and contemplates the Self with the other eye
Lessons from Siva, the first Yogi: (photo)
He is often depicted with eyes half closed and half open. This represents an ideal state of mind that yoga practitioners want to achieve, of being “in the world and out of the world”, seeing the world of names and forms and changing phenomena that we live in, and at the same time seeing the essence of it, as opposed to seeing the manifested world as devoid of spirit and intelligence.
He also is depicted with the third eye open. This means that we are encouraged to see the world with our eye of intuition, or with a mind that has been purified of its lower propensities such as anger, greed, lust, hatred, jealousy and envy. Intuition is higher than intellect. Intuition can be developed only when we transcend duality, or the left brain/right brain split. It includes devotion, or pure love, while intellect might miss half of the picture if there is no pure love in the thinking, or when the thinking is motivated by the ego.
Lessons from Mother Nature! Happy Mother’s Day!
Nature even though is outside of ourselves is close to our hearts: We can easily commune with Nature and find our Oneness with Nature. We feel less lost in the world of nature than the world of our mind. We have a symbiotic relationship with Her. This is our spiritual relationship with God or with the Divine Mother.
Tuning to Nature is a positive way to live in the world: It is easier to find ourselves in the world of nature out of the busy-ness of cities where chaotic and confused human thoughts are bouncing on each other. Nature is God’s mind Projections: Tuning to Nature makes us humble and opens our hearts. It helps us to surrender the egos and calm our minds. (For example a disturbed mind gains much by working in the garden, walking in the sun or swimming in the river).
Nature is powerful (example storms, floods, snow fall, extreme weather conditions) but it is easier to surrender to Her and accept that she is the teacher of our ego. Modern science tried to control and manipulate Her at high prices.
The Sivananda Yoga of synthesis is the wonderful way to attain that sublime state of mind.
It combines in daily life the yogic techniques from the classical 4 paths of Yoga. We just need to immerse ourselves in the theory and practice of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga, plus the philosophy of Vedanta and the techniques of self enquiry of Jnana Yoga. Tools for living in and out of the word: Serve, give, love, purify, meditate, realize.
However, remember what Swami Sivananda said: ” one ounce of practice equals tons of theory!“.
1. Breathe and relax lying down: In sarvasana posture and learn to breathe abdominally, without pillow or with pillow. Get a pillow ready, the more it is heavy it is better.
2. breathe and relax sitting up: sit up either on chair or cross legged on the ground.
4. Balancing breath exercise: learn basic Anuloma Viloma basic, alternate nostril breath, without retention and with retention.
5. Breathe and relax either lie down or sit up again, along with positive affirmations applying the 4 paths of Yoga
Breathe and relax! May all karmas become Selfless service.
Breathe and relax! I detach from the results of my actions.
Breathe and relax! I Purify my thoughts and emotions to be free from karma.
Breathe and relax! I am not doing anything.
Breathe and relax!I am not running away. I am doing my duty while I breathe and relax.
Breathe and relax! I Stop doing actions confirming my separateness.
Breathe and relax! ILove God in all!
Breathe and relax! I accept and Self surrender to everything as God’s will . Breathe and relax! I sublimate my emotions and I am detached from my emotions.
Breathe and relax!I amPure Love and I open my Heart to all of Creation. Breathe and relax! My devotion to the Divine makes me see beyond the objects to see God. I see God in the world.
Breathe and relax! I am free from all emotional identification and attachment.
Breathe and relax! I have faith. I am humble and capable of letting go of my own ego.
Breathe and relax! I am compassion for others and for my self.
Raja Yoga/ Hatha Yoga–
Breathe and relax! I am free from efforts in all of my postures or asanas.
Breathe and relax! I balance and purify my prana and calm down my mind.
Breathe and relax! my understanding and intellect are becoming clearer.
Breathe and relax! I am dissolving my sense of separateness of Body/Mind in this Meditation.
Breathe and relax! I am detached towards the thoughts in my mind.
Breathe and Relax! I slow down my impulsiveness and my reactive tendencies and my thoughts become clear.
Breathe and relax! I am balanced and content. I practice pranayama to balance myself.
Breathe and relax! I am neither active nor passive. I am neither left brained nor right brained.
Breathe and relax! I am free from stress, I am free from my personality.
Breathe and relax! I amneither logical, linear nor emotional, artistic
Breathe and relax! I am neither male nor female.
Breathe and relax! I am neither sun nor moonenergy
Breathe and relax! I am not going out searching neither going in hiding. Breathe and relax! I am the lotus. Fragrant and beautiful and free.
Breathe and relax! I am neither referring to past nor future
Breathe and relax! I am in the Here and Now. I am content to be in the present. I Let go of the past story.
Breathe and relax! I am my eternal Soul and I accomplish everything while being. I am One.
Jnana Yoga –
Breathe and relax! I practice Self Enquiry : who am I? while relaxing.
Breathe and relax! I detach from my body/mind. I am detach from my false self .
Breathe and relax! I am living, I am alive, I am detached.
Breathe and relax! I am learning my lessons and I am free from ignorance.
Breathe and relax! I assert my own Self in the face of a changing world. Breathe and relax! I assert what is True about my own Self and I get out of the projected world of my mind.
Breathe and relax! I detach from everything. I am the Self that is Pure Love. It is not rejection.
Breathe and relax! I Amfearless.
Breathe and relax! I See Divinity in my own Atman – I see the Truth about my own Life
Breathe and relax! I am pure consciousness in everything, in all situations and all things.
Breathe and relax! I see with the 3rd eye, the eye of intuition. I see intuitively with my inner spirit.
Breathe and relax! I see unity behind all things. I go beyond the preconceived ideas of the mind about myself, people and things.
Breathe and relax! I am beyond what I like and what I dislike. I am not seeing what my ego wants.
Breathe and relax! I reconcile the split, the separation inside and outside; here and there; this and that ; me and God; you and me, Good and bad. Breathe and relax! I remain centered dwelling on my own Self. Nothing can touch me, affect me. I am fine, I am perfect. I have always been fine even when I thought I was not fine I was fine.
Breathe and relax! I AM.
6. Guided relaxation : learn tense and release of muscles and gradual auto suggestions.
Wake up , take away points:
What is the main thing in question here during COVID time ? Our respiratory system, the very life we breathe in is being threatened.
To deal with it , what do we do? Affirm our life! Our birthright! breathe more! relax more! Be in the world (breathing) and out of the word (relaxing) .
This is the solution to all questions.
We dedicate our breathe to the health and the awakening of all… Om Trayambhakams …
The talk today is about Self Healing and Healing of the environment using Yogic principles. The word Yoga here implies classical Yoga taught holistically in a philosophical traditional background and not just modern urban commercial exercise Yoga taught in a hectic stressful environment. This is an appropriate topic in the context of our public and personal health and immunity crisis due to the outbreak of Corona virus. We just celebrated the 50th Earth day in the middle of the pandemic. We also face more and more Mother Nature protests in forms of global warming, tidal waves, droughts, forest fires and floods.
Our urban and artificial societies are more and more sick and dependent on drugs and medication, feeding on processed food with little prana and creating health problems such as obesity, cancer, cardio vascular and digestive problems, and most recently respiratory problems. Our minds are full of disturbed media scenes of sex and violence, instead of experiencing mountains, sky, water and plants around us. Our world leaders are themselves alienated from nature and our corporations motivated by short term profits, lead us away more and more from our peace and health.
Overall we are externally driven, feeling unstable and empty. Again, we revisit the the old idea of the correspondence between individual health, public health and health of the planet we live in and what can we do about it? How do we balance ourselves in a world out of balance? How to keep our faith and hope and do the right thing in this world in crisis? Together let’s explore the philosophical and practical foundation for a life in Total Harmony with Nature and let’s face our spiritual ignorance(avidya) at the root of our mistaken identity and mistaken perception of the environment we live in.
There will be a few sections to our talk today:
What is Health according to classical Yoga? What is Healing? what is Self Healing?
What are the principles to follow and certain behaviors to abstain from in order to address the root causes of our physical-mental spiritual ill health?
What are the behaviors to adopt in order to improve our energy and our body-mind-spirit health?
How do we apply these principles to the environment? How do we harmonize with the world of nature and with the Cosmic Spirit behind it? Let’s get familiar with some examples of restrictions and observances we can follow when come to the environment.
Vedanta philosophy applied to the environment. Is there any difference between the inner and outer reality? The individual and the collective energy? How to reconcile material universe and spirit? How do we solve the problems of division, separation and lack of unity? How do we practice unity in diversity?
What is Health?
Swami Sivananda said that “the laws of health are the laws of nature and they should not be violated. He said that there is an intimate connection between the mind and the body. And all diseases take their origin in the mind. The pains that affect the physical body are called secondary diseases, while the vasanas that affect the mind are termed mental and primary diseases. If bad thoughts are destroyed, all bodily diseases will vanish. Treat the mind first. Mental health is more important then physical health. “
Ayurveda says that the prime cause of disease is forgetfulness of our true Nature as Spirit. This means that when we are forgetful, we identify with body and mind vehicle as ourselves and make wrong decisions about lifestyle or about our path to happiness, thus we bring upon ourselves stress and tension leading to diseases. Yoga talks about holistic healing, i.e. healing of body mind spirit.
What is Healing? What is Self Healing?
Yoga talks about the free flow of prana and changing our vibratory level. Ayurveda talks about restoring balance and health getting back to Nature. Vedanta talks about rememberance of our True Self (the Atman) as the ultimate Truth and to have an attitude of detachment towards what the body and mind can come up with as reality. Healing means ceasing to forget ourselves in our constant identification with the body and mind.
Healing means to realize that we are Pure consciousness behind all things including our body.
Healing means ceasing to identify with our separated-ness but to see the Oneness. Healing means to cease to identify with our vehicles, and to see
through the veils of consciousness (our body, our prana, our mind, emotions and senses, our intellect and ego). At the same time, healing means connection with Nature and not just indulgence in technology. The Healing journey is a long way. In that journey, we need self aware teachers and leaders who have found the way to peace themselves.
Self Healing means Self Realization, realization of our divine connection with nature and spirit in nature. It implies changing of one’s own consciousness and lifestyle to come closer to the Truth.
The opposite of it is, getting lost in the habits and mental grooves of the past, getting lost in the restlessness and the desires in an unceasing pursuit of external happiness, and getting lost in the promise of more power in a more advanced technological society. The yogic guidelines for conscious self-healing help us to correct our thinking and isolated feeling, alleviate our sufferings, become clearer in our perceptions of our own self and love of others, and bring us closer to true Health, Peace and Self realization.
Self Healing success is when we are able to break through the chain of karma. In other words, success is being able to retrain ourselves not to repeat the same pattern of conditioned behavior which binds us. The reason why we are not happy comes from the fluctuations of the mind and the constant replaying of its unhealthy patterns. The mind keeps projecting thoughts and emotions that were gained through past experience and reacts to them, thus keeping us bound in the mirage of its own creation. We experience the roller coaster of our mind and emotions and miss out on the rewarding and fulfilling experience of being our own peaceful, loving, happy, present, blissful Self.
2. The foundations of Yoga: the yamas (restrictions) and niyamas (observances).
The yoga masters have given us guidelines for conscious self-development that go to the root cause of our suffering by consciously correcting the course of our actions. We train ourselves in two ways: on one side guarding ourselves not to misbehave, thus repeating our patterns leading to suffering (these are the yamas); and on the other side, actively cultivating positive attitudes and helpful conducts (these are the niyamas). Thus we straighten out our mind, squeezing the impurities out of our mind from both sides, the “not to do’s” and the “to do’s”.
The mind in its pure state is capable of reflecting our beautiful Self or Atman in all situations, in ourselves and others. By purifying the mind, we alleviate our ups and downs, our inner turmoil and conflicts, and we feel free. Otherwise we struggle to remember ourselves and spend our energies in distractions and forgetfulness. The ideal is reached when there is no more forgetfulness of Self and one relaxes in the Peaceful Being.
The Yamas and Niyamas are universal guidelines that if followed will improve our lives in the long term and help remove obstacles stemming from our karmic tendencies, character defects, and bad habits. These guidelines address the fundamental egoistic and desiring nature of ourselves. One might find a character defect more dominant than another but working with one will bring light to the others as well. No one can be exempt from working on oneself.
In the same manner, we expect everyone to follow the rules of traffic, driving on the proper side of the road and observing traffic signals. The Yamas (restrictions) and Niyamas (observances) are to be consciously practiced in thought, word and deed. However, it is important to realize that these self healing guidelines do not turn into judgment to be interpreted as rigid moral rules. In Truth, the Selfis One. The bottom line is that we are one Universal Spirit in myriad expressions.
3. What are the principles to follow and certain behaviors to abstain from in order to address the root causes of our physical-mental spiritual ill health?
Yamas: Restraints (The Things Not to Do)
1/ – Ahimsa: Ahimsa is the practice of controlling the emotion of anger. Anger comes from selfish desires or expectations unfulfilled. Selfish desire comes from our failure to recognize our fulfillment in the True Self, and our looking for happiness in external objects or situations. Ahimsa means restraining oneself from the reactive tendency to be angry when one’s desires are not met, or the tendency to abuse others and enter into conflicts or wars.
Raja yoga methods to deal with anger: The antidote of anger is contentment or letting go of expectation, accepting that, “It is not my will, but God’s will”. The practice of Non violence requires calmness, courage, self control, self restraint and the practice of serenity. Practice of ahimsa leads one to develop good quality of the heart and leads one to develop mercy, kindness, unselfishness, patience, forgiveness, pure Cosmic Love, compassion, perseverance and peace. If we practice ahimsa, we will be able to maintain durable, positive and loving relationships. To note that one can act out of dharma-righteousness in the spirit of selflessness without being violent or selfish.
Karma Yoga methods: Do service to others to develop love and equal vision instead of basing one’s life on one’s needs, desires and egoism.
Bhakti Yoga methods: Connect with the secure and fulfilled Divine Love. Trust that the Divine has a plan for each person and surrender to the Divine Plan. Contemplate and glorify the Divine Mother, God, Nature, the Universe. Find acceptance. Practice of listening, giving, serving, humility, remove pride, cultivate devotion and practice friendship with all.
Jnana Yoga methods: Do self enquiry. Remind of the SatchitAnanda Atman beyond desires. Discriminate and detach from situation that causes irritations. Seeing the big picture.
2/. – Satya: Satya means truthfulness– It deals with our fear of not meeting our goals, in the eyes of ourselves or others. Fear comes from attachment. We will not be afraid if we do not have any attachment. In truth, we can not gain nor lose anything externally – either name, fame, prestige, position or love because we are already perfect in ourselves and we can not be greater or smaller then what we already are.
Applying Satya, we refrain from the tendency to exaggerate, to manipulate others, or to tell lies in order to achieve an egoistic goal. Sincerity, honesty and straightforwardness will help to simplify and clear the mind, thus achieving inner peace. Purity, Peace and Truth are synonymous terms. Truth comes in the form of righteousness, justice, harmony, ahimsa, harmlessness, forgiveness, impartiality, transparency, desirelessness, modesty, goodness, renunciation magnanimity, nobility, devotion, compassion.
The opposite of truth is deception, falsehood, dishonesty, exaggeration, twisting, egoism, lies, crookedness, manipulation, meanness, dissimulation, cowardice, fear, lack of courage.
Benefits of truthfulness: Health, fearlessness, freedom, clarity, wisdom, strong faith and absence of anxiety. Lies and fearful living create blockages t the flow of prana.
Raja Yoga methods: Calm and clarify the mind through the 8 limbs to discern the truth within that is beyond all concepts of the mind.
Bhakti Yoga methods: Be transparent and humble. Surrender to God’s will. Keep love and faith while cultivating Satsanga with truthful and virtuous people. We count on God to give us what we deserve or need and not what we desire. Making amends, atonements, confessions asking for forgiveness and humble attempts to come closer to the source of Being that is Truth.
Karma Yoga methods: Surrendering of doership and offering of the results of one’s actions, staying even in success or failures will remove fears and anxieties which can lead to lies. The motivation is being kept pure.
Jnana yoga methods: enquire into the nature of ephemeral gains. Examine the attachments and the tendencies of the mind of likes and dislikes. Contemplate and discriminate between the truth and untruth, the real and the illusory, the Self and the Not self. It is the beginning of Healing.
3/ – Brahmacharya:
Brahmacharya is control or sublimation of the sensual and sexual drive and deals with the emotion of Desire and Lust. Through practicing brahmacharya, we can restrain the tendency to seek sensual pleasures as the goal of life, and to misuse our sexual energy–which is be converted into spiritual energy. This guideline advises us to avoid sexual misconduct and to regulate our impulses, question our motives, and help bring clarity to our human interaction. Applying Brahmacharya in our dealings with others, we will be able to transform our emotional and desirous nature into a fulfilling relationship with the Divine, based on devotion and pure love.
The sexual instinct is the strongest instinct in us, stemming from the instinct of reproduction. It involuntarily prompts a person to the sexual act for the preservation of his species. It is in reality, the creative force in man. It comes from Rajas; Sexual energy can be transmuted into spiritual energy by pure thought. The practice of Brahmacharya is the practice of Purity, to be practiced along with ahimsa, and satya. It is a dynamic conversion process, not a matter of suppression or repression. The reproductive energy is transmuted and transformed into Ojas Shakti or spiritual power.
Truth can not dwell where passion lives. The Atman is sexless.
Raja Yoga methods: By right diet, asana, pranayama, turning inwards of the senses, concentration on sublime thoughts, meditation, japa, worship, the sexual energy is converted into Ojas Shakti.
Bhakti Yoga methods: By intense devotion to one’s pure ideal, the energy of desire for union can be sublimated into pure love.
Karma Yoga methods: By dedicating oneself to the service of the ideal divine beloved, one can elevate this instinctive self-serving energy of desire into the selfless impulse to do good for a larger whole.
Jnana Yoga methods: By seeing the other as one’s own Self, one can disassociate with the idea of a desirable mate. Through the sophisticated development of pure intelligence, we can discriminate between the mental habits of accumulated instinctual lifetimes and the Atman. The practice of Purity allows us to aspire to taste the super sensual Atmic bliss. Healing of the Mind and the emotions that leads to the recovery of the True Self often starts with the calming of passion.
4/. Asteya: non stealing, not taking what doesn’t belong to you.
It is alsonon-covetousness. It deals with our tendency towards jealousy and envy. Observing this guideline will counteract our tendency to give in to our desires, or think that satisfying material desires is the goal of life. It will help us to be content, knowing that what is supposed to come to us by our own karmas and merits will come naturally, without our manipulation or intervention.
Raja Yoga methods: be content with simple life, count your blessings, practice of giving instead of taking or stealing.
Bhakti Yoga methods: See someone’s happiness as your own. Keep good relationships and pure love. Surrender the ego.
Karma Yoga methods: Accept our karmas, and do our duty, let go of results. Understand that it is better to work through one’s own karma rather than someone else’s karma.
Jnana Yoga methods: Know that all is impermanent and desires are illusory and changing.
Aparigraha means non-accumulation or non-acceptance of bribes. It deals with our tendency towards greed. Observing this guideline counteracts our tendency to think that the more we attain or possess, the more we will be safe and secure. It further guides us not to forfeit our soul to the material life, and to cultivate an attitude of detachment towards material possessions. Leading a simple life allows the spirit to remain light, detached and self-reliant. It also helps us in our dealings with others to be strong and free as others can manipulate our weakness by bribery.
Raja Yoga methods: The opposite of greed is charity, austerity, sacrifice, simplicity and renunciation. Avoiding distractions, keeping discipline and focus will help avert the tendency towards indulgence in what one’s likes.
Bhakti Yoga methods: connect with the secure and fulfilled divine love. The sublimation method is to give in charity to spiritual or humanitarian institutions.
Karma Yoga methods: Actively helping the downtrodden, the poor, lonely and forgotten.
Jnana Yoga methods: Patanjali said that the conquest of greed leads to one’s true meaning of life and the knowledge of the purpose of birth. The purpose of birth is Self Realization, to see Spirit in Matter. Accumulation of matter and negligence of Spirit lead us away from this truth.
What are the behaviors to adopt in order to improve our energy and our body-mind-spirit health?
5 Niyamas: Observances (The Things to Observe or to Do)
1, – Saucha: Saucha is purity. This observance will help us to counteract impurities in our bodies, minds, and outer environments, and help us come into deeper contact with our true selves. By purifying the emotions and thoughts, which are like coverings over our eyes, we can begin to see more clearly and gain a truer perspective.
Raja Yoga methods: The practice of the 5 points Yoga life(asana, pranayama, relaxation, diet, positive thinking, meditation) nurtures sattva and purify the mind and heart.
Bhakti Yoga Methods: Devotion and humility purify the heart and bring pure love. Devotion and love help one to overcome hatred, guilt and grief.
Karma Yoga methods: Selflessness purifies the ego and its likes and dislikes, its attachments and aversions. By helping people with the same problems as yours, one gains perspective and regains the sense of Self Worth.
Jnana Yoga methods: We can be lost in the feelings of guilt, shame or grief. However, difficult it might be, remember the pure, the brilliant, the limitless, the stainless atman, untouched by any happenings and impurities. Try to forgive the past and feel strong in the present. Remember that the mind is a distorted, imperfect instrument for seeing the true Self and reality. Remember the false self, the ego, that is attached to its own impurities. Remember not to forget ourselves, to turn within and to remember ourselves. This will dispel darkness and brings about light.
2/. Santosha: Santosha is contentment. This practice will help us counteract the tendency to look externally for happiness and become dissatisfied with our lots in life, rather than counting our blessings. Through practicing Santosha, we begin to realize that God’s grace is always with us.
Raja Yoga methods: The 5 points Yoga Life helps to calm the restless mind and turns it inwards. Concentration and meditation thin out the mind activities.
Bhakti Yoga methods: Praise the wisdom of the Supreme and know that all is taken care of. Surrender to God’s will and accept all as Prasad.
Karma Yoga methods: Serve others less fortunate then yourself, think of others who are more sick then you, this will keep the mind contented.
Jnana Yoga methods: See the whole world as your own home, and the wealth of Nature as your own wealth. Remove the I and mine and you will be contented.
3.- Tapas: Tapas means austerity. This practice will help us to counteract the belief that comforts of the body and mind are the goals of life. It will help us avoid imprisonment in the sensual, limited life that is governed by the mind and the senses. Tapas will help us to assert our supremacy over the mind and emotions, freeing us and give the power back to the spirit. All practice of self restraint to turn the mind inwards is tapas. The world under lock down is practicing tapas. There are many forms of tapas. Bear insults, injury persecution, discomfort and fatigue are all forms of tapas.
Raja Yoga methods: all 8 limbs of Raja Yoga can be considered as training tapas. Meditation is the highest form of tapas.
Bhakti Yoga methods: Keeping the emotions controlled for the sake of Pure Love is emotional tapas. Keeping faith and loyalty instead of doubts and changing loyalty are mental tapas. Listening to scriptures, mantra chanting are tapas.
Karma Yoga: Serving all, willingly, at any time, all the time is tapas. Adapting oneself to the needs of service is tapas. Doing any kind of service whether one likes it or not is tapas.
Jnana Yoga methods: Keeping vigilance in Self Enquiry is tapas. Keeping discrimination, detachment, self remembrance are all forms of tapas.
4. – Swadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana: Self Study and Self Surrender: Swadhyaya is the study of scriptures. Doing this will help us to counteract the idea that only what we can see and what people tell us about ourselves is true. The scriptures, on the contrary, tell us of a reality beyond the normal perceptions and glorify the true Self; they will inspire us in our search for Truth.
– Ishwara-pranidhana: Ishwara-pranidhana means self-surrender to God or a higher power. Self-surrender counteracts our tendency to think that we are the best and the top, that we have all the powers and that we are controlling our lives. With this egoistic bend of our mind, we do not have to adjust or accept something that is not to our liking, so we blame and resent instead of trying to see the big picture. Practicing self-surrender will help us work through our karmas by practicing acceptance and knowing that everything happens for a reason.
How do we apply these principles to the environment? What is the relationship between self healing and healing of the Earth? Examples of restrictions and observances when come to the environment.
The prana that we bring through Yoga practice has a healing effect upon our environment as well as ourselves. Self healing and healing of the Earth happen simultaneously. Yoga framework, the Yamas and niyamas, can become the spiritual guidelines for the ecological movement.
Yoga can contribute an integrate way of working with the forces of life to aid in the process of purification (Saucha) of the planet, as people become more still and content (santosha) , less indulgent and weak, being able to cooperate with Nature (Tapas), becoming more and more aware of the interdependence of things ( through study of sacred scriptures) and last but not least, by being able to surrender to the Supreme Being, thus not thinking that we as specie is the Master of the Universe (ishwara pranidhana).
As we elevate ourselves, and align ourselves with yogic principles, we as a collective can act responsibly and respectfully, abstaining from creating harm to the environment and others (ahimsa), we come close to the truth of Oneness of all Beings (satya), we control our desires and passions (brahmacharya) , we become content and respectful, not taking what doesn’t come to us naturally (asteya) and most importantly we are refraining from greed (aparigraha) which is at the root of so many environmental harmful activities .
By bringing in these higher sattvic energies, and staying away from rajasic and tamasic energies, Yoga has the potential to help the world. The most remarkable things I have seen being reported during these days of global lockdown are the diminishing of city pollution (Himalayas ranges are being seen from Delhi!), the appearance of wild animals even though apparently the dancing dolphins in the canals of Venice was fake news, they were being spotted nearby in the waters but not in the canals of Venice.
Yoga movement hopefully is moving from just simply self concerned exercises to conscious improvement of our lifestyle, our way of eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves and consumption. Yoga and Ayurveda lifestyle automatically connect all with Natural methods of self healing by elevating our consciousness how to increase our supply of prana through the elements and how to balance ourselves.
Automatically Yoga and Ayurveda lifestyle will reduce the impact upon the environment when people follow vegetarian diet and stop the cruelty to animals and exploitation of our natural environment. Yogic lifestyle value simplicity and self restraint and automatically affect the way we consume and the excesses that come from a consumer society. Hopefully, the days and months under locked down, help us to curb our desires and needs for more stuff and help us realize that we can survive on the bare minimum and be healthy and happy. We need to contemplate on the meaning of what is “essential” need and what is “non essential”.
Classical Yoga teachers and Ayurveda lifestyle counsellors can promote the distancing from artificial living, the returning back to nature and to Earth as well, the simple living and high thinking in ashrams and retreats out of town, in beautiful nature, the self sufficiency on the land, the gardening and producing of our own food from our organic garden.
Examples of what we can do to observe Yamas and niyamas and positively influence our environment:
Ahimsa: avoid injuring the environment, adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, driving, flying and traveling less; buying local organic food or producing our own, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle, compost, buying bulk, avoiding packaging.
Satya: follow up as much as possible in thoughts, words and deeds the ecological considerations by examining daily our choices.
Brahmacharya – do not indulge in the senses and sexual abstinence.
At the base of our desires for consumption is our instinct of reproduction. The problem is we never have enough reproductive success as we are never satisfied with our reproductive success. People desire limitless wealth, status, and power because those instincts helped our ancestors survive & achieve reproductive success. We can’t depend on how we feel (by doing what comes naturally) to achieve satisfaction. Modern society innovations intensify competition for wealth, status and power causing greed, crime, grief, hatred, disappointment, depression, and environmental destruction.
Asteya- do not steal: Simply taking what we think we need, without thinking about how it arrives to us, what may be destroyed as a result, how we may be taking from others, including future generations, is stealing. Try to find healthy, green products, ethical products according to scientific ratings. Example www.goodguide.com Each product is given health, environment and society scores 1-10
Aparigraha – do not be greedy: Live simply, avoid accumulating things, de-clutter, recycle what you do not use, live beneath your means.
NIYAMAS (OBSERVANCES) APPLIED TO THE ENVIRONMENT:
Saucha – cleanliness and purity, both inner and outer. We are what we eat, so we are encouraged to only eating fresh, organic food, preferably grown ourselves or nearby. Working to clean up the oceans, the lands, and our environment, reduce production of trash, abstain from non recyclable trash.
Santosha- be contented: Avoid over consumption.Avoid falling for illusory differences between products. Accept and appreciate that which is provided by nature, eat local seasonal food; Know your local herbs; Wait for the sun to shine to clean clothes so it will be possible to line dry them; Appreciate abundance of power on sunny days and avoid activities that require power on overcast days, use a solar oven to cook food on sunny days.
Tapas – perform austerities: Austerity means curtailing the insatiable demands of the senses. Fasting. Only eating local seasonal food. Adjusting to seasonal temperature changes instead of using air conditioning. Avoid bottled water which is convenient but bad for the environment.
Swadhyaya: self study and study of scriptures: Become more and more aware of our collective wrong doings and our karmic imprints: learn how things are produced, merchandized and consumed, trashed or recycled, and try to find alternatives.
Ishwara Pranidhana: keep being humble and realize the interconnectivity of things in nature. Surrender to God’s will for us in everything and live respectfully and in harmony with the powers of the divine mother in Nature, instead of willfully create for ourselves a discarded, isolated, egoistic, unaware, sensual, lack of devotion, artificial life. Realize higher powers of consciousness present in all things. Keep connection with it and find peace and contentment is the key to yogic ecological living.
Vedanta for Ecological living:
Remember unity of life. -Unity in diversity. – Remember our mental habits to repeat our tendencies (in this regard, yamas and niyamas help to rebuild our course of actions). Remember the illusory nature of our perceptions which keep us in the same cycle of reactions (story of seeing the snake instead of seeing the rope). Remember that we are Satchitananda Atman, not a victim, not a consumer, not separated and alien, but the peaceful, powerful, supported at all times by Divine consciousness, self reliant and self delight Self.
Vedanta philosophy applied to the environment is sustainable bridging our well being with the well being of Nature and others. There is no difference between the inner and outer reality. If we elevate one, we elevate the other. If we become self conscious, we will elevate the environment and heal the Earth. If the Earth is taken care of, we will also be taken care of. Individual efforts influence the collective energy and collective awareness influences our personal effort.
Vedanta philosophy by addressing the root cause of our individual and collective suffering and recognizing our spiritual ignorance the source of it, solve the problems of division, separation and lack of unity between groups and nations. The root cause of our suffering is our false identification with our culture, national boundaries, political leaderships, gender and race and forget our common oneness.
Bringing out the ecological and planetary importance of Yoga and Ayurveda is the real mission we need to undertake. This will benefit all of us now – our societies in stand still under lock down, but also will benefit our future generations. At this poignant time, let’s practice the yamas and niyamas as guidelines of high thinking and high living and not as dogma and moral rules which bring divisiveness, arrogance, judgment and holier than thou attitude.
Let’s become compassionate and forgiving. Let’s teach more Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedanta to the masses. And let’s bow in gratitude for favors and support received from the Divine Mother seeing each other and all beings as brothers and sisters sharing the same earth, same sky, same water. Let’s celebrate our unity in diversity!
Let’s pray to the forces of Nature… This is the classical vedic mantra:
Om sham no mitrah sham Varunah ̣(may the sun be good to us)
Sham no bhavaturyamà (may the God of the Waters be good to us)
… you are indeed the visible Brahman. I shall call Thee just. I shall call thee Truth. May that protect me. May That protect the teacher. Om Peace, peace, peace.