Learn to Focus with Yoga Psychology

Learn to Focus with Yoga Psychology

Learn to Focus with Yoga Psychology

by Swami Sitaramananda

Yoga psychology analyzes different mental states to find ways to overcome the distracted mind and learn to focus.  If we can do this it will lead to peace, bliss, and true freedom.
Yoga psychology understands that the mind is only our instrument of perception and it is not ultimately our-self. Therefore, improving the quality of the instrument of perception will improve our outlook on ourselves and the world around us.  Therefore, this will ultimately lead to a clearer vision, where we learn to focus, have a connection to our purpose, and experience true freedom.

Meditation at Siva Hill Temple.

Gathering the Toughts

Learning to focus is the mental process of gathering of the thought waves and letting go of distractions. The waves of the mind-lake and the distractions are still there but there is an attempt to remain focused and not to completely lose oneself. As a matter of fact, Yoga Psychology states that if we can remain in that focused state of mind, we will get to a one-pointed, super-concentrated state.  Moreover, this super-concentrated state will not come if we do not commit ourselves to choose the real Self as opposed to the distractions or illusions.

Yoga Psychology states that if we can remain in that focused state of mind, we will get to a one-pointed, super-concentrated state.
In that super focused state of mind, we can eventually transcend totally the waves of the mind – the illusory projections, desires and reactions- and move from that one conscious thought of “I” to a state of being, merged with the background of thought, which is this ocean of uninterrupted, unconditioned bliss. Of course, this is a sentence charged of meaning and we would need to understand this very clearly.
Above left: Swami Vishnudevananda

Above right: Swami Vasishtananda

Yoga Psychology

You cannot go from the scattering distracted state of mind to the absolute stillness – absorbed state. In fact, from the jumping state you can’t go directly to the suspension of thought, perfect contentment or to the state of one-pointed focus on purpose and of Self. Actually, you must first go through the gathering state where we have to calm down and gather the thoughts. Why can’t people do this? Right there you have a hurdle. You know the mind is jumping, so why can’t you just come to a one-pointed state? Why is it so difficult?

In Yoga psychology we say it is because of the illusion of something external from you. This illusion of the external is a projection, which is due to a lack of understanding and conviction. The proof of this is that we are not happy. We get what we want but then we go after another thing, acquire it, and then again go after something else, and still we are not happy. Moreover, we think this is the normal kind of thing, a normal state, just “life”.

Stick to the Practice

We think we will miss out on life if we become focused or if we become committed to something. In fact, this is what our society lacks, a sense of commitment. This so-called freedom that we grew up with that says, “If I don’t like something I can dump it and move on to something else.” Never committing to anything is the general mindset. Actually, when you don’t commit to things it makes the mind jumpy and because the mind is so conditioned, it does not know how to focus, and thus we are lost in our own self created illusions.


In conclusion, by understanding our different mind states, consciously letting go and taking time to learn to focus and refocus, commit and recommit, we can get to what we truly want. Paradoxically, we would have to surrender our sense of freedom to do what we like and keep our mind one pointed, in order to be free.

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© Swami Sitaramananda 2018 – No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.

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Transforming Fear into Faith and Courage

Transforming Fear into Faith and Courage

Transforming Fear into Faith and Courage

by Swami Sitaramananda
AUGUST, 2018
In Yoga philosophy, the teachers or wise people (the rishis) discuss about the relationship between the individual Self and the Absolute Reality.  They help us to understand the mysteries of life which gives us knowledge to understand our own minds and practice emotional intelligence in daily life.
In fact these teachers declare, out of their own experience and knowledge, that there is a state of perfect existence which is beyond changes, birth, and death. This unchanging state of consciousness is also called Truth (Sat). This state of being is fully aware, all-knowing beyond darkness and limitation. This state of all-knowing-at-all-time is termed Chits. Last but not least, they said when we can attain this state of bliss absolute (ananda), we go beyond any suffering and can live a life of perfect emotional intelligence.

Modern Stress can be overwhelming.

Sat Chit Ananda

This absolute positivity can be achieved by an individual, however, the moment that you achieve it, you no longer remain in an individual existence. At that time, all idea of separation and division would disappear, as the individual consciousness merges with the Supreme Consciousness.

How we would achieve this sublime state of consciousness without having any concept of it?

In truth, this absolute consciousness is all pervading and yet is beyond the mind’s concepts. Technically, the mind and intellect are limited and can not perceive something beyond itself, let alone have a relationship with it. This is the reason why, the sages talked about devoting oneself to the highest ideal or form of the divine that the mind can conceive.

In truth, this absolute consciousness is all pervading and yet is beyond the mind’s concepts.
This devotion needs to be personal, because we need to experience it in the core of our heart. We need to feel and experience truly the love of that Truth that is unfailing, all existing, all pervading, all knowing. This highest ideal needs to be understood and felt in the core of our being so that we can become it. This is the ultimate emotional intelligence.

Stress can come on at any time.


Our Highest Ideal

It is easier for us to love someone and become like he or she.  In fact, being a human being, we need to see the perfection alive in a human being.

This idea or ideal needs to become embodied for us to relate to and to emulate. The nature of our emotional mind is that it is easier for us to love someone and become like he or she, by the power of love and absorption.

In fact, we become what we think a lot about. We like to idealize and to be attached to someone we think is morally superior to us. We are ready to follow advice from them.

Therefore, there is the idea of a personal concept of God, Ishwara, for us to be dedicated to. Different minds need different types of teacher. Therefore, we are encouraged to seek for our own chosen ideal (ishta devata).

Truth is One

We do not need to compare ourselves with others who have different paths then ourselves. “Names and forms are many, Truth is one”. “ Paths are many, God is one”.

Ultimately, not only we have an abstract idea of the Ideal and the Truth, but we have also the live example in human form of this ideal person we can become.  This is the ultimate power of positive thinking.

Long term negative emotions can go back to before birth and display as certain personality traits.

Faith is positive thinking

Faith in the Supreme Intelligence comes from an inner feeling that there is something greater than you, a supreme being that indwells one’s essential spirit. When one is enriched with abiding faith one is able to recognize the divine grace operating in all things.  In summary, we are on a journey of self-discovery to uncover the truth of who we are, a journey guided by faith.

We can think of faith as the power of positive thinking that carries us from one experience of grace to the next.  Fear exists when we don’t know the Self (the Atman).  We must rely on faith to progress on the spiritual path until we have knowledge of the Self from our own direct experience.

The more we progress and the greater our connection with the truth within, the Atman, the more faith we will have.  Over time we will need less faith as faith is gradually replaced by knowledge of the Self.  Ultimately faith is replaced by direct experience of the Self. It is then we can say, “I know.”

Above – Learn to relax by spending time in nature and practicing yoga.

True Knowledge

Where is knowledge coming from?  In my earlier days, I experience that knowledge can be glimpsed intuitively. At that time,  I observed that people around me were unhappy and miserable.  Even when I was able to help improve their circumstances, they didn’t seem to be any happier.  But somehow, I had the thought that there must be a place that wasn’t like this where people practiced the power of positive thinking.

I went searching, thinking at first this place must be outside of the city, so I moved to the country.  I found it was not in the country either, and guessed it must be in the ashram. It soon became apparent it wasn’t even in the ashram.

Where is this Satchidananda, or knowledge?  Of course, knowledge or truth reside inside of us, but it is a long hard journey to turn within to find it, as we are always looking outside of ourselves.  This journey of turning within to find the Highest Ideal within and without must be sustained by considerable faith.

As a matter of fact, we lack experience in the beginning of our journey. However, although we do not really have a clue where we are going, faith keeps us going.  This is why we need a teacher to help show us the way to face our fears and to understand the power of positive thinking.

Consciously tensing and releasing our muscles in savasana from the toes, reaching up to the eyes, ears and head, helps to bring our body and mind to their natural efficiency.

Fear is Unreal

Fear is a very strong primitive emotion, present in all animals.  Fear serves a very basic purpose: to help us to survive.  If we were Self-realized we would know there is no danger to our survival, since we are not the individual body that we think we are. In fact, fear arises out of an external view of reality.  Fear is caused in us by things that appear unfamiliar or situations beyond our immediate understanding. Fear creates imaginations of darkness, of falling and distorts the mind.

Therefore, Fear is based in unreality, in Maya.  It comes from our attachment, our grasping on to illusory things and beliefs. We need to think a little about the effect of fear. Being fearful or anxious means we are attached. Being attached means we are stuck, bogged down, we lost our freedom; If we are afraid, we are incapable of letting go of the things that are no longer relevant or helpful to our growth.

We become paralyzed and lose our faculties when we are fearful.  We freeze, unable to do anything to solve our problem.  There was a time years ago, I stumbled on a horror movie on TV.  I was so scared!  And yet, I could not do anything, not even capable to move three feet to turn off the TV. I was paralyzed with fear. This is a small example but illustrates the point; even the simplest situations that arise can stop us in our tracks because of our illusory fearful thoughts.

Practicing Meditation and Positive Emotions we can heal ourself.

Anxiety blocks the way to knowledge

Anxiety is even worse than fear, because unlike fear we cannot identify its source.  Anxiety is fear that has no name. With anxiety, there is no creativity, no productivity, we are depressed and our minds lose the capacity to think clearly.

Now, consider the analogy in which the sun is the Atman and anxiety is a storm of clouds covering the sun. There are days when clouds fill the sky and we can’t see the sun. Yet we know it’s there behind the layer of clouds.

From time to time as the clouds pass overhead we may catch a glimpse of the sun’s brightness or feel its warmth for a moment. In the same way, the Atman is always shining within us, untouched by the clouds of fear and anxiety that we experience.


In summary, loose life and indulgent life is not relaxation, but a conscious, content and simple life is true relaxation and happiness.

The science of relaxation leads to spiritual relaxation, a state of freedom and joyfulness when there is no expectation or desire of anything. Instead of anxiety, we experience detachment, contentment  and fulfillment .

Upcoming Stress Relief and Relaxation courses at the Sivananda Yoga Farm that teaches these techniques.

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Suffering Can Be Our Greatest Teacher

Yoga is a scientific method to alleviate suffering and help people find the Truth and Essence in the teachings of all religions.

Understanding Emotions

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.”

Healing Emotions

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.

The Path to Spiritual Success through Yama and Niyama

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.

How to Progress Towards Peace of Mind

How to Progress Towards Peace of Mind

Restless pursuit of happiness

Peace of mind is difficult to attain because our minds are always changing. We restlessly pursue happiness outside of ourselves, preoccupied with our own self-interests, egoistic ambitions and opinions. Caught up in this cycle of seeking fulfillment everywhere but within, we fail to perceive or remember our true nature, which is already Blissful and Perfect.

Qualities of nature

The formula is simple and can be described as a way of working with the three gunas or qualities of nature: 1) break through the tamas or darkness; 2) calm down the rajas or passion; and 3) nourish the sattwa or purity.

Attain to purity

What is sattwa? Sattwa is the energy of purity, balance, harmony, knowledge, and wisdom. It is the revealing aspect of reality with which one is able to see clearly, penetrating to the true picture of reality. In sattwa, there is no pain and suffering from desires fulfilled or unfulfilled. It is the energy of going INWARD AND UPWARD that brings us ultimately to peace of mind.

The three gunas or qualities of nature, exist in our bodies and minds, and in order to bring ourselves to greater awareness we can follow the yogic guidelines as a formula for bringing them back into balance.

Attaining Peace of Mind

1. We should wake up tamas by meaningful activities such as regular exercise, taking yoga classes and regular exposure to satsang (spiritual discourses), as well as attending short yoga retreats where one can engage in selfless service, or Karma Yoga. Meeting with spiritual people and teachers will also help one to awaken from inertia.

2. Pacify rajas. Rajas is outwardly-directed and self-centered action; it is manifested as a restlessness of the mind which has difficulty calming down and turning inward. To tame it, the self-motivated, egoistic and passionate sensual activities need to be reduced. We can pacify this energy by learning to become more selfless in our actions and in our hearts–by practicing selfless activities, volunteering for meaningful causes, giving to charity, and beginning to think of others and develop compassion.

3. Increase and nurture sattwa: At the time when rajas is more or less calmed down and peace and purity start to dawn, the yoga practitioner doesn’t stop there, but continues practicing the inner discipline of yoga and meditation, carrying on leading a contented, meaningful, peaceful and simple life based on devotion to the greater Truth.

By practicing these three steps starting today, you will begin to fill your life and the lives of those around you with peace, joy, contentment, harmony, and balance. Swami Sivananda says, “A brilliant future is awaiting you!”

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5 Practices to Keep the Mind Elevated

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.