Yoga is a scientific method to alleviate suffering and help people find the Truth and Essence in the teachings of all religions.
Emotions are a major cause of human suffering and are the root causes of many kinds of diseases. Emotions come from deep samskaras (imprints in the mind). The mind carries these emotional grooves and habits. Some examples are:
- Deep experiences of attachments and losses, and as a result we experience the consequent emotions of grief, fear and sadness.
- Habits of desires lead to the consequent emotion of anger when the desires go unfulfilled.
- Memory of the insecurities of the past and our built-in survival instincts bring about anxieties, competition, greed, and jealousy
- Repeated mistake between love and lust brings in emotional confusion and fear rather than trust and causes swinging patterns between hatred and love.
These experiences are written in our subconscious mind and they repeat themselves, becoming imprints. These imprints project themselves out, making the mind restless.
The emotional scars and traumas cannot be resolved through talking them out or replaying them in the mind.
We need to go deeper than what they are and change the paradigm, no longer basing ourselves on our ego/self but switching to the Atman/Self — our pure core consciousness that has no scar or imprint and is completely free.
Suffering can be a stepping stone to spiritual breakthrough.
Yoga practice such as the 5 points of yoga comes in handy during times of suffering by offering systematic methods to get out of the box and move into a new paradigm of consciousness. As Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that has created it.”
In addition to the numerous medical benefits of Yoga, we can find through Yoga a spiritual approach to healing the psyche and the emotions. Yoga understands and explains the ups and downs and highs and lows of the mind, the samskaras, and the deep karma they come from.
In Yoga philosophy when we talk about suffering, we talk about karmic lessons, and we are talking about samskaras or karmic imprints.
Suffering in our lives can point out the areas or tendencies we need to focus on to evolve so we do not repeat the same mistakes. In other words, we “work through the karma“.
We can be proactive instead of reactive as we take up the opportunity to alleviate our suffering by using the scientific and systematic methods of Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.
These methods will calm the mind, convert the emotions and allow us to experience the Truth about ourselves. Patanjali, the father of Yoga, said in the Yoga Sutras, “The misery that has not yet manifested should be avoided.”
Thus devotional practices and meditation practices, initiated by suffering, can blossom into awareness of our own karmic tendencies and samskaras and our willingness to transform our emotions by practicing pure love.
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 makes us unhappy. The reason we are not happy comes from the fluctuations of the mind and the constant replaying of its unhealthy patterns. Swami Vishnudevananda said that we will not be born if we are not attached to something. 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, blissful Self.
The yoga masters have given us guidelines called the yamas and niyamas for conscious self-development by consciously correcting our actions. By endeavoring to apply these foundational guidelines in life, we elevate ourselves and become happier as our mind becomes clear, simple and equanimous.
The Yamas (restrictions) and Niyamas (observances) are to be consciously practiced in thought, word and deed.
Yamas: Restraints (The Things Not to do)
Ahimsa: 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. The antidote to anger is contentment or letting go of expectation, accepting that, “It is not my will, but God’s will”.
Brahmacharya: Brahmacharya is control or sublimation of the sensual and sexual drive and deals with the emotion of 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 to be converted into spiritual energy.
Asteya: Asteya means non-stealing or non-covetousness. Observing this guideline will counteract our tendency to give in to our desires, or think that satisfying material desires is the goal of life.
Aparigraha: Aparigraha means non-accumulation and control of greed, so much at the root of our society ills. 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.
Niyamas: Observances (The Things to Observe or to do)
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 more true perspective.
Santosha: Santosha is contentment. This practice will help us counteract the tendency to look externally for happiness and instead find happiness comes from within.
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.
Swadhyaya: 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.
Ishwarapranidhana: Ishwarapranidhana means self-surrender to God or a higher power. Self-surrender counteracts our tendency to think that we are the best and the top. Practicing self-surrender will help us work through our karmas by practicing acceptance and knowing that everything happens for a reason.
Yoga Psychology is different then normal psychology. It is the understanding of the mind in order to see through the mind and realize the Self. Yoga Psychology and philosophy is based on the idea that the restless mind is an obstacle to happiness, and we need to learn to work with it. The mind is like a lake with waves. It is tossing about, unruly and mysterious. It has its own ways and habits and is resistant to change. So what to do when you find your mind dull and down?
1. Bring more prana to the mind: The mind is dull because the prana is down, you do not have enough vital energy either because you have spent all your reserve supply of energy, or because there are blockages of the energy flow due to impurities or negativities. To bring prana to the mind, you need to relax, let go of the anxieties or the resentments, and offer them up to the Lord . Be aware that when the mind is lacking prana, you might reach out for instant relief and make wrong choices, thus bringing the mind further down instead of recharging it. Inner-oriented Yoga exercise practice and breathing exercises are excellent methods to supply the mind with prana and bring you out of dullness.
2. Connect or associate with positive people and those who have firm faith and clarity of purpose. You will feel much enthusiasm from them, and your doubts and anxieties will be automatically dispelled.
3. Concentrate your mind by doing something that the mind likes. According to Swami Sivananda, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. When you feel dull and down, you normally do not want to do anything. You like to complain, to feel victimized by the imagined situation you find yourself in, and begin to blame someone else for your feeling of unhappinness. Yoga Pschychology teaches you instead to resist complaining and blaming and endeavour to increase the vibratory wavelength of the thoughts. By focussing on a positive and neutral thought, possibly a thought that the mind likes, such as a mantra, a favorite chant, an image of a beloved saint or sage, a representation of the divine…etc., you can uplift the mind. You can also simply keep the mind engaged in a normal task like writing on your computer, reading your book, cleaning the house, ironing your clothing….Any activity will work on the condition that it keeps the mind completely engaged. When the mind is engaged, it will calm itself down and will increase power and light. The key here is CONCENTRATE, CONCENTRATE, CONCENTRATE.
4. Be patient and steadily build your focus: The mind has the tendency to get tired quickly and want to change, no matter what you are doing. The concentration usually is not that deep, and you easily get back to your state of agitation, restlessness and lack of enthusiasm and joy. The idea is you would have to work on the strenght of the mind slowly, building up its power of concentration like a body-builder slowly builds the muscles of the body–through repeating the same exercise but gradually increasing the weight. You will have to be patient and consistent in your efforts to concentrate the mind. Know that a dull mind is often followed by a restless mind, but none of these states of mind will give you the happinness you are looking for.
5. Keep it engaged: Keep the mind focussed all the time throughout the day. This is the best way to live in the now and to feel free. The mind will gain momentum and will give you satisfaction and contentment, no matter what you are doing. Actually it is not so much what you are doing that is important, but it is the fact that you are engaged and focused that counts. A gathered mind gives you peace of mind, as it is less desirous and imaginative, and has less energy to project illusions of external happinness. The best way to keep the mind engaged all the time is to mentally repeat a sacred sound – a mantra-along with your breath.
There are also other higher states of mind, such as the one-pointed state of mind of the high performance athlete or the absorbed state of mind of an advanced meditator. These are level of consciousness that are rare, but they are accessible through continued practice. For now, just make sure to keep your mind above sea level; this means avoiding letting it drop down into a state of dullness and low vitality. Just like you would for the body, keep exercising your concentration and keep your mind fit!
© Swami Sitaramananda 2014 No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.