Yoga for a Perfect Life
Excerpt from a talk by Paramahamsa Prajnanananda at Central Missouri State University in Kansas on International Yoga Day, 21 June 2015.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a beautiful and the most ancient language in the world. The Sanskrit word yoga has 32 meanings. The simplest meaning of yoga is union. Union is possible when there are two. You are sitting here listening to me as I am talking to you. The talk from me is entering you — this is union. In India the two hands are brought together to greet each other (i.e. joining palms in pranam or prayer).
The Purpose of Life
What is this union? What is this yoga? If I asked you a question, “Who are you?” can you answer it? What will be your answer to this question? Have you ever thought about “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why did I come?” You have come here to listen to the swami’s talk. But why have you come to this earth? After this talk is finished, you will go back. One day you will have to go back from this life. However, as much you love this body, your family, your job, or this central campus, you have to leave all these one day. What is the purpose for which we have come? If we can find answers to these questions we can find the clue to live peacefully, joyfully and purposefully.
George Bernard Shaw was once travelling by train. As the conductor approached checking for tickets, he started searching for his ticket but could not find it. The conductor said, “It is okay,” and moved on. As the conductor was returning after some time, he saw that Shaw was still looking for his ticket. He asked him why he was still looking for the ticket. Shaw replied, “I thank you for your courtesy but I have to find the ticket so I know my destination as it is printed on the ticket.” This is the condition of most of us. To know the purpose of life and to find the answer for the question “Who am I” solves the problem of life.
Unnatural is Rejected
Suppose while taking food a small particle of food like a piece of spinach gets stuck between the teeth. What would be our immediate reaction? The tongue immediately reaches there, and tries repeatedly to push that particle out. If the tongue does not succeed then the brain tells the hand to get a toothpick and take it out.
Now you think about it. The tongue cannot tolerate the presence of a small particle of food in between the teeth, but does not complain about the teeth, which sometimes bite the tongue. It is because the teeth in the mouth are a natural accepted condition but the presence of food between the teeth is unnatural. Having the teeth in the mouth is a natural condition but the spinach between the teeth is unnatural. What is natural we accept it, and the body and the mind reject what is unnatural and try to get rid of it.
Does anyone want to be sick or diseased? The answer is no. You may love your doctor but no one wants medicines, injections or surgeries. Does anyone want to die? No. Does anyone want to be weak or sad or depressed? No. Does anyone want to be ignorant? No.
So we don’t want to be sick — we want to be healthy. We don’t want to be weak — we want to be strong. We don’t want to be ignorant — we want knowledge. We don’t want o be unhappy — we want happiness, peace and joy. After all these questions and answers we can conclude that disease, death, ignorance and weakness are unnatural to us and we do not want them.
How to Live a Peaceful and Successful Life
You live in a house. You want to keep your house clean with everything in its proper place and proper condition. God has given us this body house to live in. Are you really taking care of the body? Do you know your body? You may know the colour, the height and the weight of the body. Listen to a truth about the body. Each human being has three bodies — not one.
We are gifted with a physical or a gross body, a psychological or astral body, and a spiritual or causal body.
The gross body has six characteristics:
Each of us is born and exists. How do we exist? We exist because of our breath. If breath stops, the physical body ceases to exist. Breath is continuously going in and coming out. Who is breathing? When you are in deep sleep, can you say that it is you who is breathing?
The third quality is growth. The body has a limited growth. When the body reaches maturity it stops growing. Then decomposition sets in — the eye sight becomes weak, hair turns grey etc. Finally one day the body dies. This does not mean that you don’t take care of the body. We should care for the body by taking nutritious food in moderate quantities. Do not over eat and then try to burn calories. Practice moderation in your food habits. Live in healthy surroundings with fresh air. Regular exercise and proper rest help to maintain the health of the body.
The psychological body consists of the ten senses and the mind. Five senses of action (the mouth, hands, legs, anus and the genital organs) and the five senses of perception (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and the skin). The mind is the major aspect of the astral body. Doctors agree that many diseases are caused by the mind-psychosomatic.
How do you take care of the mind? Regular prayer and meditation and some breathing exercises help to keep the mind under control for the health of the astral body. Positive thinking helps.
How to cultivate positive thinking? No one can come into your house unless you want him or her to. Someone may ring a doorbell but it is you who decides to open the door or not. Life is like a house. Keep it open but have some control over thoughts and entertain positive thoughts. Good company can give you inspiration.
Unfortunately people have no time. The parents do not have time for the children and the children don’t like the parents’ company. You may ask what positive thinking is — “I think of my house, my car, my job, and my family. What else is positive?”
Let us see how a thought comes. Suppose you went to a store to purchase a tape recorder. The dealer is showing you many models and one slipped from his hands and fell to the ground. What will be your reaction? You may feel a little sorry and sympathize.
Now however, let’s say that you bought one and as you are getting into the car it fell down from your hands. What is your reaction now? Your heart misses a beat. Two different reactions for the same incident!!
In the first instance, your reaction is mild as there is no attachment to the tape recorder but once you possess it, the feeling of mine causes the problem. Train you mind to accept all situations equally and without undue attachment.
Spiritual or Causal Body
The third is the spiritual or the causal body.
How to take care of all three bodies?
The answer is yoga. You will ask what is this yoga and what should I do? The meditation technique that we teach is Kriya Yoga. It is a simple scientific technique that anyone can practice but to learn you should be able to spend some time with a teacher at least for three sittings and practice it.
The basis for the technique is breath. Life and breath are correlated. Breath is life and life is breath. If breath stops that is the end of your life. Breath and mind are also related.
Suppose you are appearing for a test. How is your breath? Suppose you are angry — what type of breath do you have? How is your heartbeat? When the mind is peaceful, breath is peaceful. Breath, mind and health are all correlated. To take care of your breath takes care of your mind.
Watch your breath. Note how many seconds it takes for one inhalation and one exhalation. It might have taken 3-4 seconds. Ordinarily you breathe 15 times a minute. If a person is angry one could breathe even 30 times a minute. Now watch my breath. It took 20-25 seconds to inhale and exhale once. Practice slow long, deep inhalation and exhalation to the full capacity of lungs. You will see a remarkable improvement in your thoughts and mind.
Kriya Yoga Meditation
The mind and breath are correlated. When the mind is restless, the breath is restless. If one understands how to regulate the breath one can regulate the mind.
It involves sitting for a minimum of 20 minutes a day in complete silence, to breathe slowly and deeply from each chakra (chakras are subtle energy centres in the spine) concentrating intensely on that chakra and to energise the entire body using the techniques taught by the teacher. After relaxing the mind and body, through simple breathing and concentration exercises, we merge silently with the universe, allowing the inner voice to be heard. In that silence, we gain tremendous peace, strength and even practical answers to the questions whether they have to do with our families, our careers or our spiritual growth.
Practising meditation regularly helps keep the Sushumna, a subtle pranic channel in the spine, open. Whenever we experience inner peace, joy and calmness, we need to recognise it as the opening of the Sushumna channel. The external sign of an open sushumna is the even exhalation of the breath from both nostrils. To keep this breath flowing through both the nostrils for a long period of time, meditation is crucial. But remember, any practice should be regular, systematic and continuous.
There are also many physical benefits. When we concentrate on each chakra, the endocrine glands function more efficiently. When we concentrate in the fontanel, the pineal gland becomes activated. Concentrating in the soul centre energizes the pituitary gland. Concentration in the throat centre stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands; the heart centre stimulates the thymus; the navel centre energises the liver, spleen and pancreas; and the sacral and coccygial centres benefit the gonads. Chakra meditation keeps the entire human system healthy. When we suffer from any endocrine dysfunction, concentrating in the corresponding chakra helps to remedy the imbalance.
While meditation can be taught through techniques explained and illustrated in books, those who meditate regularly know that real spiritual practice requires a living teacher. In order to learn the technique, we need to be initiated by a teacher who is qualified to purify the chakras, teach the technique and guide the spiritual aspirants on their path. This meditation technique is not limited to any one religion. It is a tool with which we can enhance whatever religion we are currently practising. It requires no expensive equipment or physical contortions and can be practised by old and young alike.
(Article from Sthita Prajna, Volume 16, Issue 4, October 2015)