A talk at Yoga Camp – Aug 2021
by swami sitaramananda
Diseases come from our negative emotions.
DISEASE and ONENESS: we cannot separate individual from the group and the more that you understand Oneness, the more you are healthy.
Diseases do not happen like right away, let’s say you are angry, you are resentful, it stays in the system for a long time; resentment is like rust, slowly, slowly it eats your body as it eats your mind; so then slowly slowly, after ten years of resentment, you develop some kind of problem, for example, problems on the liver, arthritis problem. Any physical health problem always has some kind of equivalence in the mind. If you are grieving, for example, you were crying, or you never really recovered for years, then you might one day have a problem with the lungs. Right now, our whole human community on earth appears to be sick. We have the Corona virus which attacks our lungs and we have difficulty breathing. Then you have to look at it, there is a meaning there, grieving, grieving, sadness; It is the lungs that are lacking joy, lacking energy; you cannot breathe, there’s no air you feel suffocated. This you need to read in yourself and also in the world, okay? People have lung problems from Corona virus and then they also have heart problems as one of the effects of the virus. The heart is the center, it pumps the blood everywhere, so if some problem occurs at the heart level, it is serious.
Individuals are parts of a group; their thoughts affect the collective thought.
We cannot separate individuals from the group. The more you understand Oneness, the healthier you are. The less you understand Oneness, and you think: “me against you”, then you are forced to understand Oneness. People were wondering when Covid is going to finish, it is difficult to predict. Only 10% of the world were taking it seriously and took vaccination. We are not going to finish soon. Ten percent out of the entire population of the planet including Africa, Asia, including all the countries. Because we are One, we are one planet. And you think we are separate.
Physical Health is to make sure the body function well and the best rules of conduct is to follow the rhythm of nature.
Swami Vishnu all the time said, “you think God has created this planet, with 6 billion people to quarrel with each other”. The Planet is very small, and we all need to think in terms of Oneness. That is the way to go. “Unity in diversity”, see the Oneness in the differences; that is the philosophy of vedanta: to see the Oneness in the multiplicity, leads to spiritual health and mental health.
The definition of Physical health is when all the organs of the body work optimally under the intelligent control of the mind. In a state of health, the body, which is an intricate system, has different organs that work very well together. Physical health does not mean that you don’t have symptoms. You don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean that you are healthy; What does that mean? That means that health is not something fixed, inert. It is not fixed, and you – as the navigator of the body-mind complex- are alive and you need to navigate the everyday changes.
Let’s say you ate too much last night, then when you are intelligent, you navigate your instruments, your body and mind, then you say okay today I eat less. why? because yesterday I ate too much, i feel heavy, so today i eat less, that is the mind that say “ok, i am going to regulate it like that”
Let’s say today is colder then I wear something thicker, if hotter then I wear something less, if sunnier, then i wear some hat over my head. That is called intelligence navigating the mind and body.
Physical health is to make sure that the body functions well and has best rules of conduct, following the rhythm of nature. The teaching of Ayurveda, which is the health science of life or the system of medicine from India, which is connected to Yoga, is to be applied, and studied more, even though it is difficult.
As example, today, somebody got me food from the Ashram kitchen which I ate. Then she cooked something else for me, quinoa as I did not eat bread. I finished this food, then i had to wait, so i said to her: “you need to give me food now” why? because when the body believes that i have finished eating, it will create different digestive enzymes to take care of the digestion. When i stop in the middle of a meal for half an hour like this and not continue eating, the body believes that i have finished my food, and then if I eat again this second food portion, it will create what we call ama, which means toxins because the digestive system was mixed up.
How do you know that the body would not adjust to the second food? There was only a half an hour difference. According to Ayurveda, digestion goes like waves with peaks at intervals of 3,4 hours depending on the person. If you eat during the peaks of the digestion, then you digest very well, everything is very good but if you eat repeatedly, and the system didn’t have time to rest in between, and you eat again, that is the problem. All this is science of nature, the body is following nature.
Physical health is when you understand the law of nature, and that is why we wake up here in the morning early. Because during sunrise, the energy of the sun is so important for our health and vitality. We wake up early and then we do meditation, do some chanting and some positive talks, some prayers for us and other people and we start our day on the right foot. Then you do your asana, then you do your pranayama, you eat brunch at 10am, because Ayurveda studies say there are portions of the day when the digestive fire is at its highest, then it is a good time to eat. It is called pitta time. I would not teach you Ayurveda but you can study and then you eat at the right time, so 10 o’clock is the right time; then a little snack in between and the dinner at 6 pm. All activities of the ashram are regulated according to natural rhythms in order to help you to become healthy.
Also, you are advised to drink hot warm water only, never cold water. The western culture is very strange, people serve you ice. My own mother 94 years old at the hospital was served ice water, My God, they had no idea that she needed warm water, they gave her ice water; i myself never drink ice water; Here you go to restaurant you sit down, they give you ice water, you get on airplane, they give you ice water. Is it because the culture doesn’t have health knowledge? So, you have to carry a thermos like i do and
drink warm water; warm or hot water. You have to learn that food doesn’t need to be very fancy but it needs to be pleasing so you learn a little bit how to cook and how to eat and how to eliminate and to detoxify.
Ayurveda says, it is not just nutrition but it is elimination that is very important as much as nutrition, you can eat all the nice food but you have a problem of elimination, that is the problem. You have to go to the toilet to have elimination early in the morning. That is the best. The digestive system was working at night and in the morning it will be eliminated, that is the best thing to be ready for the day.
Do you observe when you eliminate? Take my example, I never eliminated in the morning, when the doctor said that Ayurveda says that, i said “no, i am exceptional!” I’ve never eliminated in the morning all my life; and then I did not know, all my life I have never gone to sleep early. [Don’t follow my example, i am just sharing, okay?]. I go to sleep late, the fact that i go to sleep late that make me not able to eliminate in the morning and i didn’t know that and then for few years i started to regulate my sleep, go to bed earlier and getting
up earlier and it’s amazing I eliminate in the morning like the textbook says. The system is amazing, that is called physical health. The best way is to study yoga lifestyle or Ayurveda and then you adjust. Little adjustment makes a big difference
I go to doctors when I don’t feel well but most of the time, sorry to say, I don’t follow the doctor’s prescriptions because it is always an easy solution when you go to the doctor. I share with you one story; long time years back, i came back from India and i got very sick; i was the director of San Francisco Center at that time, i could not do my job, i was very sick and i don’t know why i was sick and what kind of disease, I had no idea; just I had no energy and I can’t do anything. Then I went to the doctor and the doctor checked, there was a lump here by my neck and the doctor said “tuberculosis”, already I got so scared and I thought: “Oh my God, I can’t teach anymore, I have to be in quarantine”. I went to another doctor. This is a true story, sorry, I didn’t invent it. The other doctor said “cancer”, they just dropped words like this and she took the measurement of the lump; I said “cancer?”. Again, just hearing these words, my whole system collapsed. I was supposed to come back to do a biopsy and do all these things, but I decided to go to a Chinese doctor.
I had to drive very far to go to the Chinese doctor. I asked the old Chinese doctor, “what do i get”, the doctor didn’t answer. I was a little bit irritated, you know, and thought: “i come to a doctor, i give you my money and you don’t tell me what i have?”. He just said, “oh don’t worry about this”, that is what he said and then he gave me acupuncture treatment. As a result, I came out of the doctor’s office, i felt so good. When i went to the Western doctor i felt so bad.
After some time like this, my intelligence said to me something is wrong:” i go to Western doctor i feel so bad, i go this acupuncture man, i feel so good; i don’t know what’s happening, but i am not going to the doctor.” I am just sharing my story, please i don’t say that you don’t need to go to the doctor ok? so, don’t quote me.
In order for me not to be fearful –as I was fearful- and in order for me not to go back to the Western doctor simply because i was fearful, i cut my medical card. That was how I dealt with my mind; i did this so that i can’t go to the doctor. You see, he already dropped two bombs.
Meanwhile, you need to understand this teaching here, while sick, I never stopped meditation, even though I was tired, I never stopped asana and pranayama, even though I still felt very uncomfortable.
And then a while after i met with the first Ayurvedic doctor and i asked him again:” what do i get?”. Our bad habit is we want to have a label for everything, that is the problem that our western mind has, we want to label everything. But health is not a matter of labels, it is a process of life you can’t label. So again, i asked this Ayurvedic doctor: “what do i get?”. The doctor answered: “what do you eat?”. I said: “tofu and noodles”. He said:” not good, tofu is very difficult for digestion, noodle is fine but you have to eat fresh noodle.” I never made the connection, between this feeling being tired and my food which was vegetarian food and good food. This ayurvedic doctor’s approach is all about food.
Then he gave me a tea, rose tea that comes from Himalayas, then he said:” when you feel not well, drink this tea”. That was it, his prescription. I said ok, so then I went on drinking tea and that was nice, rose tea; but then after some time, i realized that i drank a lot of tea! what does that mean? It means i was very anxious! something was wrong with my mind as i was all the time drinking tea, when i did not feel good i drank tea, then again i drank tea, and again i drank tea! Then i realize that the problem was my anxious mind! i never realized that the problem was my mind. Drinking tea made me realize it was my mind and the moment you realize it what happened? you already feel better.
So what happened? i was travelling for a month or two in India, visiting temples and I had the best time of my life, i visited few days one temple, few days another temple, i went all over so many temples, so that’s why, it was very difficult for me to understand why you visited temples and you were so high, you felt so good and you would come back sick! I did not know what Ayurveda called “Vata derangement, vata imbalance” when you travel too much. The problem was the vata vitiated air element due to too much movement. That was all.
Western doctor would not find this out. Too much travel creates this mind problem and this lump in my neck was just some infection, which is normal as your body pick up some thing, so infection. And the moment that I rested, I stopped worry, my immune system kicked back, the infection was gone, i had no disease, no problem, imagine! In this whole ordeal, i didn’t take anything except hot tea. This health episode really taught me a lot.
You are the healer of your own body and mind:
The problem is when we don’t feel well, often time we lose our power and we further give our power away, and we don’t think that we are the healer of our own body and mind.
If you have some kind of sense of Self, then you don’t give yourself up; How? at that time, you don’t feel that you are so sick and you need so much help, and then you think negatively. When you think negatively, you think you are so sick then you think even more negatively. Because in reality, you are the boss of your own subconscious mind so you can give order to your mind. But imagine your conscious mind keeps telling this kind of suggestion to the subconscious
mind:” you are sick, you are good at nothing, you are sick”. That is the suggestion you gave, instead of this kind of suggestion: “you are healthy, you need to rest, you need to take care of yourself a little bit but you are healthy”. Because if you give the suggestion that you are healthy, you are healthy.
The immune system is compromised when the mind is negative:
Diseases comes from the negativity of the mind and then the negativity and the
fear make the immune system sicker because the immune system come from the positive thoughts as well. Because when you are afraid, what will happen? You become stressed so what will happen? will the circulatory system work well? are the senses working well? does the system work well? no! The system becomes overloaded, you become hyper vigilant, you become tense, the circulation doesn’t work, blood doesn’t flow probably as well, your digestion doesn’t work.
It doesn’t take long, a few days, a few weeks like this and you become sick; because everything is blocked, stress and fear create hyper vigilance. You all the time would scan everything and you want to control everything and you are afraid of everything. At that time, you will go down, because you don’t rely on nature anymore, you are not relaxing anymore, and the stress and the fear have created blockages.
You don’t digest well when you are stressed, when you are fearful, when you have anxiety and worries. You don’t eat well, you don’t sleep well. When you don’t eat well, you don’t digest well because you are stressed; the blood is cut off from your digestion system, because the body has mobilized itself to run for survival so it doesn’t go into the digestive system.
Balancing the nervous system:
This is how your nervous system works: When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, you become overactive, as you experienced the “hyper arousal” state when you face danger. It is an instinctive reaction for survival. We are built like that but then after the danger finishes, then you need to switch into what is called the parasympathetic nervous system, the main relaxation response. It’s normal and healthy that we experience tension/relaxation, tension/ relaxation that’s normal that’s healthy; but if you are all the time stressed, and all the time you never really relax, then you experience what is called “chronic stress”. At that time, the whole system is over taxed because it’s not meant to be like this, the system is meant to relax after tension but you never relax, so that’s a problem.
That’s when the immunity gets impaired, your system of self-defense get impaired, when you are stressed , fearful, anxious, worried, your body becomes paralyzed, your mind becomes paralyzed, you cannot think, that means you lose all your resources, you lose all your creativity, you lose all your intelligence, and you are going to make wrong decisions, eating, drinking, self-medicating in a wrong manner.
Remember that fear is an instinct for survival when faced with a perceived threat s. It is a perceived threat and is subjective, not necessarily real. I know a student that every time she lines up for food, she gets panic attack because for whatever reason in the past she has a problem of not having enough food so when she lines up for food always it’s a big problem to her, because she always thinks she doesn’t have enough food. It’s just a mental pattern, it’s a perceived threat that’s why yoga teach you a lot about the mind, how to control the mind, how to change the thoughts, how to change your emotions, how to see clearly, how to do inquiries or how to use your intelligence so you see things for what they are and not for what you think it is.
The five points is a complete system helping body – mind – spirit. Fear or anxiety is making yourself smaller, paralyzed, losing your connection, losing your resources. Anxiety and fear bring your mind to the past. The subconscious mind brings you to the past, the conscious mind keeps you in the present. The past always is projected onto the future. When you function out of your subconscious, the survival instinct, the lower mind, lower emotion, then You will be living in the past and the past will project the future, and you will be missing out your life, missing out your present, not be able to experience life. So, your life at that time becomes a zero, whatever you do is zero zero zero. You were not enjoying your life you dragged your feet and you were not living your life. All this negative emotion came from the past and you had plenty of negative experiences in the past, we
Had our reserve of karma with plenty of negative experience in the past.
How are you doing to deal with past karma?
You have to deal with it in the present. When you are in the present, you don’t reproduce the past for the future, and you’ll be able to see things as they are in the present.
That’s how you solve the problem of your life: in the present, never by going to the past; the past is past. Whatever happened is done, you learn the lesson from it but you don’t get attached to the past you don’t identify yourself with the past you don’t become a victim of the past. You are yourself now in the present, you are the master of your life, you are indeed the boss, not a victim to your mind.
What is mental health?
Mental health is when you are able to do two things; Number one that you are able to concentrate, the more that you’re able to concentrate, the more you live in the present. If your mind gets distracted and you lose energy, you go here and there, distracted, you are everywhere but you are not in the present then you are not mentally healthy. Concentration is very important for mental health. Concentration doesn’t mean stress, it’s just you need to be able to concentrate this mind on something positive.
Number two criteria for mental health is when you are able to have love in your heart for everything and everybody. At that time, you are healthy.
Now if you ask yourself, do i have love in my heart? You said:” Yes, i have love of course but not this person, not this person or not this group of people or not that thing.”. At that time, you’re not mentally healthy. When you are not healthy, you give condition to yourself, if I am going to get this, if I am going to get that, if the sun will shine, if there’s that, then I will be happy. You’re not healthy, because you are conditioned by your mind, by the past, by some idea that you have. You say “if this, then i will…”
You are healthy when you’ll be able to be open and adapt to any situation.
Free yourself from the conditions of the ego:
If your sense of Self depends on conditions, you are not the SELF, you are the ego-self. It’s not the TRUTH ABOUT LIFE if you have to put all these conditions to fit yourself in there; Life doesn’t work like this; you are a free person, you have a free spirit, you can live in any situation, anywhere, with anybody and you are actually healthy.
You have to go toward the goal of having less conditions to free yourself more; to have lesser extremes; to be more, we call in yoga, to be more balanced; to be more open, it’s only fear that create this feeling of isolation.
Get out of isolation:
One of the symptoms of fear and anxiety is people become isolated. One of the symptoms of addiction is when people become isolated.
Isolation is there when people close themselves off, don’t talk to anybody, cannot trust anybody, don’t have friend, don’t have support system. Isolation is unhealthy. Normally, we have bits and parts of this mental health problem, and we need to face it.
To change to healthy habits, develop skills of patience and flexibility:
Yoga provided tools of getting prana or life force by adjusting lifestyle, finding out what’s wrong with your lifestyle, and change.
I remember once upon a time i used to drink soda, and i learned: “oh so terrible soda you would not digest and it’s so much sugar and artificial drink, you need to switch”. It took me a long time to change from that one habit; and then I switched into juice; then I figured out: “juice is not actually healthy; it’s also sugars and is so much condensed, it’s not good!”, then it took long time to switch from juice to water then it takes a long time from water to warm water.
This example just to say it takes a long time to change to healthy habits- even though you know what is right for you – because the body gets used to the old habit, the mind gets used to it, and then it feels more comfortable with what is familiar. So “adapt, adjust, accommodate”, be flexible, is a very healthy trait of character. Some people will be more flexible than other, some people will be stronger than other. The idea is to cultivate both strength and flexibility, not just flexibility all the time.
In hatha yoga, when you do a good pose, you have to be flexible and you have to be able to hold effortlessly. In life, it is the same; you have to be flexible, adaptable, not too rigid because if you are too rigid and you think:” I am like this, it should be like this, everything has to adapt to me, I don’t adapt to anybody”, then you have a lot of stress, because that’s not a good way. Conditions all the time change, weather changes, people that you meet change, your own mind changes. Having flexibility of mind is a good skill. However, flexibility has to come with strength and endurance. If you are all the time flexible and you
have no strength, it’s a problem, so that’s why in yoga asanas we teach you to be flexible and strong, to try and relax. Both, all the time both, effort and relaxation. when you learn Yoga asanas, you learn both, to be balanced and to get high energy through concentration.
Mental health is more important than physical health, Swami Sivananda was a medical doctor, and then he saw that when he helped people to heal, it seems that this physical healing did not help them to remove the suffering, so he became a monk, and became a doctor of the soul. He wrote to 200 or 300 books and about at least 30 books just on health.
Swami Vishnu gave as motto: “health is wealth, peace of mind is happiness, yoga shows the way”.
Train the mind to be strong, like training a muscle:
Mental health when you are able to concentrate and when your heart is happy, when you are joyful and you are balanced. All these are trainable. The body, mind is like a muscle and you go to the gym and you build up the weight, you lift weight, and after some time, you add a little bit more weight and then you lift again. So, in the difference of the weight that you lift, you build up your muscle, right? You have to do it slowly so when you build up muscles, you do it slowly, few grams at the time.
When you build up the strength of the mind, you need to know, you have to also do it slowly, the mind has to be able to concentrate, and you build it slowly. Before you think of something, and then you change your mind, and then you do something else, and you do something else, you never can stay on one task until completion. It shows a certain weakness of the mind, not be able to concentrate. In this case, you have to give to yourself lighter weight but keep working on the concentration. One hour, take a break, come back do the same thing, you build up the muscles of the mind.
Learn to relax and surrender at the same time:
You can work with the mind so that the mind becomes stronger. But you need to work also with your relaxation because the mind needs also to be relaxed to be able to perform well. Relaxation comes from your willingness to self-surrender, willingness to let go.
When you don’t relax, say you don’t sleep at night because you’re too busy thinking solving problem. What does it mean when you cannot sleep at night? Because you’re too busy thinking all the time. What does that mean? That means you think that you will solve the problem by thinking. You’re not willing to let go, you don’t trust, you don’t have faith, so you think;
but relaxation comes when you are more in tune, when you live with the elements of nature, and you are willing to surrender. Surrender means to accept that you don’t know everything, to accept that there are higher forces that are at play that you have no clue about. You see, our ego think that it can control everything, know everything.
In the world of today you can see this is going on: Nobody accepts that they don’t know, everyone says everything on the internet, has opinion about everything, as if they know everything.
It’s important to know that you don’t know. You don’t know everything, so you don’t assert your ego and your arrogance and learn to accept “i surrender, it’s okay, i accept, it’s fine”.
The ego needs to be less dominant, if you want to be healthy. If you want to be healthy, you need to lessen the idea that “I know, and I control it all, and this is who I am, and I am not going to change”, this idea needs to be lessened.
Practice humility and devotion:
You have to be flexible, you have to know that you don’t know, when you know that you don’t know, maybe you know; but you think that you know it’s a problem. Relaxation comes from that, you go through life at the same time knowing, at the same time very open, and this is a healthy step.
Bhakti yoga science, which is the science of devotion; is helping you to do that. It’s helping you to open up and be happy no matter what you might think; when you just chant the Sanskrit mantras that you do not understand, you feel good after that.
Bhakti yoga helps you to get out of your rigid left brain,
so you can add these practices in your life: the devotional practices, the right brain activity.
Yoga is marvelous because it’s both, it is left brain and right brain both.
It’s very logical but at the same time, but it has a lot of feeling, a lot of images when you look at the Gods, a lot of stories. It doesn’t make any sense if you use the logic, for example: “why you have to bow to the elephant head?”. But it is explainable: you can explain that the elephant head is the transformed consciousness that removes obstacles. Why you bow to it? Because you want to become a being that has a changed head, and when the head is changed it’s like the trunk that go and remove obstacles. That’s the symbol of Ganesha,the remover of obstacles, you see, but you don’t explain it logically, you just say: “Jaya Ganesha Jaya Ganesha pahimam, Ganesha protects me, Ganesha likes to eat sweets, i need to give sweet to Ganesha, i need to give banana to Ganesha, Ganesha likes yellow and green, i dress up Ganesha, big belly Ganesha is laughing”.
You think simply like this with the right brain but it works the same way so it’s not unintelligent, it’s just addressing a different aspect of our mind, and the way how we function.
When we sort out our relationship’s problems , we sort out also our own Self problem.
When you know who you are, when you have that divine connection with your own self, when you see unity in diversity, it’s called spiritual health.
The three aspects of health together (body-mind-spirit) is called holistic health. When you practice yoga, you are practicing holistic health, in brief.
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.