International Yoga Day Mon, 6/21 by Swami Sitaramananda
Sadhana practice, yoga, life, self-development, learn, emotion, mind, people, spiritual progress, feel, prana, teaching, healthy, happy, conscious choices, conscious living, yoga life, self-growth, life skills.
Happy International Yoga Day. Practicing yoga is very important for the world nowadays. We pray that more and more people will practice yoga around the world.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.