Why Do We Need a Systematic Daily Routine?

“Why do we all feel stress and strain in life at some point, and why do we not like what we do?”
“What motivates us to work again and again, and keeps us moving from one idea to another?”
These were some of the questions that drew me to the science of yoga initially.

Though I have been teaching yoga for a long time and have been following the self-discipline with so much inner growth, there are days and weeks when there is an inner rebellion in me. For a few days, I give up my understanding and practice and fall back into normal life routine. Then I need some new inspiration to pursue my practice. I believe many practitioners of yoga go through what I go through in their sadhana, their spiritual practice.

My inner understanding became very clear after learning from the teachings of Swami Krishanananda, a senior disciple of Swami Sivananda. My sadhana continues successfully and there is a constant reminder in me why I should have a systematic discipline in the path of yoga. What you will find below are the summarized teachings of Swami Krishnananda on the question of why we need a systematic daily routine, what its benefits are and how it is the foundation for our progress in yoga. I am sharing his teachings below with the hope that it will help students of yoga who may fail in their good intention from time to time, and struggle to have a consistent routine in their practice.


Our mind feels the strain of life when it is discontent for any reason whatsoever. The strain of life is a combined effect of our thought, speech and action. The three go together, and work simultaneously. We cannot say which one preponderates at what time.

Contentment is something which most people do not know, because it is often dissatisfaction that pushes us into action. We are dissatisfied and, therefore, we work, but that should not be the motivating force for work. On the other hand, the reverse should be the case. We should work because we are satisfied. As a matter of fact, that work alone can be called healthy which is motivated by satisfaction. This satisfaction or contentment cannot be achieved by doing whatever we want to do or desire.


We misunderstand contentment as self-sufficient or self-complete – doing whatever we want to do and not being bothered by the external world is what we call freedom.

I mind my business and you mind your business; this is what we sometimes say. But it is not possible to mind one's business, because we have a cosmic business. It is an interrelated duty that has been made incumbent upon all that belong to the cosmos. Yoga is, therefore, a cosmic rise and not merely an individual performance in the corner of our room.


Yoga is not a physical action, it is not a physical movement; it is an internal adjustment of the mind to the unitariness of the Self and the non-objectivity of consciousness.

The niyamas mentioned by Patanjali are, generally speaking, the necessary disciplines of body, speech and mind that is an adjustment with the cosmos. A muddled head cannot practise yoga, and a busybody cannot practise yoga, because all distractions are contrary to the requirements of yoga.

Self-control and Self-realization are two aspects of yoga practice. For the sake of Self-realization, it is necessary for us to be self-controlled. On the one hand we restrain the self and on the other hand we realise the Self. The realization of the Self is possible only after the restraint of the self is properly achieved.


But who loves self-discipline whole-heartedly and why we are averse to discipline? Because we have been brought up in an atmosphere of enjoyment of the senses and too much social contact. This is how we have been brought up by our parents, by our teachers, by our friends; and this education, this culture, this civilization, which has gone into our blood, makes it impossible for us to follow any system or any kind of discipline. It is, therefore, necessary to awaken ourselves into the seriousness of the matter. We should forget the past, as it is never too late to mend, and earnestly take to this practice.


In our personal conduct and daily activity, there should be a method and a procedure - which means to say, everything should have its own time. One of the essentials contributing to success is the method of working and the procedure of behaviour and conduct.

One must know when we will get up in the morning, what we will do after getting up, whom we will see, how much work we will do, what to say at what time, in what manner, what to eat when to eat, in what quantity and quality, and so on - including even such minute details as bathing, walking, the time of going to sleep, what we do before going to sleep, what should be around us and what should not be there. All this should be at our fingertips. This is the discipline of the three essential factors, which are employed in our daily life: our body, our speech, and our thoughts.

This is method, this is system, this is niyama; and when this system is introduced into our life, we become ready for the higher practice. Each succeeding step becomes easy of approach and practice when the preceding step is firmly placed.


This systematization in one’s life is essential, because a system also reduces the burden of work and the feeling that there are a lot of things to do. The feeling that we have a lot to do is mostly due to chaotic behaviour because we do not have a system that works successfully. We do anything at any time. We meet any person at any time, and say anything that comes to mind. This is the reason why we often feel that there is some strain in our head. The strain is due to the fact that the mind is unable to adjust itself to sudden changes of circumstance. But, if we are already prepared because we know what is to be done at what time, the strain will not be felt. The stresses and strains that we feel in our life - which have to be avoided in yoga, of course - are mostly due to unmethodical speaking, thinking and working.

It is, therefore, necessary to have a systematic daily routine. And this system should be repeated until it becomes solid in our being. But many of us feel that the repetition of the same practice again and again is boring and we want to do new things every day. This is very common for many students of yoga. Why do we need to make so much of preparation and stick with the same practice for some time?


The daily procedure should not vary, because the system, whatever be the nature of that system, is a reflection of perfection. Perfection is the greatest of systems, and inasmuch as yoga is a movement towards the highest perfection that is available anywhere, the practice, even in the lower stages, should also reflect this character. Even our time for going for a walk, such a simple thing as it is, may be a disciplined process. It is said that this was the case with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He used to go for a walk at six o’clock, and everybody used to set their watch to it because it was exactly at the stroke of six. He never went five minutes earlier or five minutes later. Six o’clock meant six o’clock, and he went out for a walk.


Like a huge ceremony, celebration or function which may take place for one hour, but for which we go on making preparations for a month. For one month we work for a celebration that will take place for only one hour. Likewise, some great function is to take place in the form of yoga meditation, and for that so much preparation is being made. It is the glorious consummation that is called meditation, towards which we are moving; and the beauty of the function, and the perfection thereof, depend upon the meticulous care that we take in the preparations we make for it. There is no use laying too much stress merely on the achievement but only the function.

The idea that I need to move to advanced stages in my practice is due to a lack of this understanding.


Remember that we should not take an advanced step unless the earlier step is well placed. Hurry and too much enthusiasm are not called for. What is required is a pure, dispassionate understanding of our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Whatever our weaknesses are, they must be overcome by the strengths that we have. The body and the environment should be kept in such a condition that one feels spirited within oneself, uplifted in feelings, and light in one’s personality.

What is to be done to achieve this order in one’s life is an individual choice, according to one’s own conditions of living, strength of mind, and so on. But what it finally means in essence is that there should be a stipulated method of thinking, speaking and acting.

Then we will see that success is not far off even in the ordinary life of this world, not merely in the spiritual field, because method or system is the way by which we focus our energies and wherever there is a focusing of energy, there is strength - just as a focused beam of the sun’s rays can burn things, while the sun’s dissipated rays cannot.


After reading these lines, how will you put into practice what you have learned?

One possibility is to start a daily journal. The journal can include your daily sadhana, but also any other activity that you would like to do on a regular basis, such as going for a walk, sitting in silence without doing anything for a few minutes a day, keeping your phone off after 8 PM, or going to bed at or before 10 PM. Becoming aware of our habits is the first step in progress!

Overcome the “all or nothing” attitude in your practice. Say, “I will move my body at least 30 minutes every day”. The amount of time is irrelevant, consistency is the key.

The Sun Salutation - Yoga’s Ultimate Sequence

The traditional Surya Namaskaram, known as Sun Salutation, is practiced at the beginning of an asana session to warm up the body, and to acknowledge the inner sun and its profound role in regulating the body. According to yogic science, there are devas or divine impulses that rule the different parts of our human body. The 12 Sun Salutation movements arebased on the 12 zodiac signs and can help us to bein sync with our physical and mental cycles. In ancient days, this exercise was a daily routine as a part ofyogic spiritual practices, and was practiced in the early morning facing the sun to internalize the sun as part of our body system.

Though the Sun Salutation comes in many forms, the classical version described below involves linking twelve asanas. Every movement is accompanied with long, deep breaths, performed continuously without a break, without variations or pauses. Every round is made up of 12 different positions giving various vertebral movements to the spinal column. This 10-minute practice can be a very good workout for the cardiovascular system when practiced ina fasterpace. On the other hand, it can be very relaxing and reflective when practiced at a slower pace.As a result, vitality, confidence, ingenuity, instinctive and mental abilities increase.

Although rarely taught, each posture has a specific mantra meant to be verbally or silently repeated along with it. Advanced yogis may focus on each asana’s corresponding chakra in addition to repeating the mantra. Practiced with awareness of the physical body and the chakras, the series turnsfrom a moving meditation into a deep spiritual experience. Sun Salutation is the perfect embodiment of a yoga practice. It incorporates all of yoga’s core elements, weaving together asana, pranayama, mantra, and meditation to make a complete sadhana.

Each round is comprising 12 movements - once with the right leg leading and once with the left, and one should practice this sequence at least twelve rounds by repeating twelve names of the Lord Sun.


Start in Standing Pose (Tadasana)

Stand tall with the feet hip-distance wide, tailbone lengthening toward the earth. Let the arms relax next to the body. Bring awareness to the soles of the feet. Feel that gravity is anchoring the feet to the earth, pulling any tension in the body down and out the soles of the feet.

Step 1: Prayer Pose (Pranamasana)

1. Stand at the front edge of your mat. Keep your feet together, and make sure your weight is equally balanced on both the feet.Expand your chest and relax your shoulders.
2. Inhale. Lift both arms up from the sides, and as you Exhale, bring your palms together in front of the chest in prayer position.

To deepen your practice:

Activate your feet and stand as if they are tripods.Activate your legs and keep your spine erect. Press the hands together, draw the shoulder blades down, broaden the collar bones, and lift up through the crown of the head.Bring awareness to the heart.
Concentration on: Anahata Chakra - Heart Center
Mantra: Om MitrayaNamaha (Salutations to the friend of all)

Step 2:Raised Arms Pose (Hasta Uttanasana)

1. Inhale. Lift your arms up and back, keeping the biceps close to the ears. The palms are either facing front or each other.
2. Arch back and push the hips forward. Bring awareness to the stretch in the abdominal organs.

To deepen your practice:

Sweep the arms out to the side and overhead. Press down through the feet, lift the heart, and look up between the hands as you draw the shoulder blades down.You may push the pelvis forward a little bit. Ensure you're reaching up with the fingers rather than trying to bend backward. If you have a weak back or pain, do not arch back rather stretch up straightto the sky.In this pose, the effort is to stretch the whole body up from the heels to the tips of the fingers.
Concentration on:Vishuddhi Chakra- Throat Center
Mantra: Om RavayeNamaha (Salutations to the shining one)

Step 3: Standing Forward Bend (Padahastasana)

1. Exhale. Bend forward from your waist, keeping the arms alongside the ears. As you exhale completely, bring the palms or fingers to touch the floor beside the feet, or as far as possible. The knees remain straight.

To deepen your practice:

If necessary, bend the knees as much as needed to place the palms down to the floor next to the feet.Fold forward from the hip joints. Lift the sit bones as you roll the thighs in and draw back the upper groin and outer hip. Now make a gentle effort to straighten the knees. Feel the stretch in the low back. It's a good idea to keep the hands fixed in this position and not move them henceforth until we finish the sequence.This pose also known as Hastapadasana.
Concentration on: Swadhisthana Chakra- Pelvic Center
Mantra: Om SuryayaNamaha (Salutations to He who induces activity)

Step 4: Low Lunge/ Equestrian pose (AshwaSanchalanasana)

1. Inhale. Take a long step backwards with your right leg as far as possible. Lower your right knee to the floor andthe toes stretch backward.
2. The left foot remains between the hands with the sole of the foot flat on the floor. Gently look up.

To deepen your practice:

Keep the left knee square over the left ankle as you lift the heart, moving the spine toward the front of the body and gaze forward. Draw the thighs away from each other. Lift through the crown of the head, broaden the collar bones, and draw the chin in slightly. Bring awareness to the stretch in the groin and thigh.
Concentration on: Ajna Chakra- Eyebrow Center
Mantra: Om BhanaveNamaha (Salutations to He who illuminates)

Step 5: Plank (Kumbhakasana)

1. Hold the breath and take your left leg back in line with the right and bring the whole body into a straight line.Gaze diagonally downward, keeping your head in line with your spine.

To deepen your practice:

Tuckthe right toes under and step the left foot back, straightening the legs. (Alternately, be on your knees.) Keep the lower belly engaged and the pelvis in line with the chest.Keep your arms perpendicular to the floor.Feel the legs and torso form one diagonal line.This pose also known as UttihitaChaturangaDandasana or Phalakasanaor Dandasana (Stick pose).

Concentration on:Vishuddhi Chakra- Throat Center
Mantra: Om KhagayaNamaha(Salutations to He who moves quickly in the sky)

Step 6: Salute with Eight Parts (AshtangaNamaskaram)

1. Exhale. Gently lower your knees, chin and chest to the floor.
2. The toes are tucked under and hips are lifted from the floor. Concentrate on the whole body. Arms are bent with elbows tucked in and hands under the shoulders.

Step 7: Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)

1. Inhale.Press your hips to the floor and slide your body forward and up, rising your chest up. Look upwards.
2. Your elbows should be bent keeping them close to the body and roll the shoulders down and back away from the ears. Keep the legs on the ground. Focus on relaxing the spine.

To deepen your practice:

As you inhale,press the hands into the floor, glide forward, and then make a gentle effort to lift the chest. Make a gentle effort to press the pelvis into the floor. Draw the shoulder blades down and lift from the back, drawing the legs down into the floor and out of the pelvis. Lengthen the back of the neck and draw the crown of the head and the toes away from each other.One can straighten the arms without locking the elbows after getting much flexibility.
Concentration on: Swadhisthana Chakra- Pelvic Center
Mantra: Om HiranyaGarbhayaNamaha (Salutations to the golden, cosmic Self)

Step 8:Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)

1. Exhale.Tuck the toes under and push the hips and the tailbone up to bring the body into an inverted ‘V’ pose.Align the head in between the arms. Bring awareness to the length of the spine and back of the legs.

To deepen your practice:

Exhale, lower the chest. Press through the shoulders up onto the hands and knees. Lift the sit bones to bring the pelvis up and back, and straighten the legs. Keep your heels on the ground and make a gentle effort to lift the tailbone up, going deeper into the stretch. The body’s weight is equally distributed between hands and feet.
Concentration on: Vishuddhi Chakra- Throat Center
Mantra: Om MarichayeNamaha(salutations to the Lord of dawn)

Step 9: Low Lunge (AshwaSanchalanasana) Equestrian pose

1. Inhale. Bring your right foot forward with a large step in between the two hands. Lower the left knee to the floor and the toes stretching backward.
2. The right foot remains between the hands and the sole of the foot is flat on the floor. Look up.

To deepen your practice:

Keep the right knee square over the right ankle as you lift the heart, moving the spine toward the front of the body and gaze forward. Draw the thighs away from each other. Lift through the crown of the head, broaden the collar bones, and draw the chin in slightly. Bring awareness to the stretch in the groin and thigh.

Place the right foot exactly between the two hands and the right shinboneperpendicular to the floor. In this position, make a gentle effort to push the hips down towards the floor, to deepen the stretch.
Concentration On: Ajna Chakra- Eyebrow Center
Mantra: Om AdityayaNamaha(salutations to the son of Aditi, the cosmic mother)

Step 10: Standing Forward Bend (Padahastasana)

1. Exhale. Bring the left foot forward. Keep the palms on the floor. You may bend the knees, if necessary.

To deepen your practice:

The feet should be hip-distance wide. Gently straighten your knees and if you can, draw the forehead toward the knees. Feel the stretch in the low back.Keep on breathing.This pose also known as Hastapadasana.
Concentration on: Swadhisthana Chakra- Pelvic Center
Mantra: Om SavitreNamaha (Salutations to the Lord of Creation)

Step 11: Raised Arms Pose (Hasta Uttanasana)

1. Inhale. Reach the arms forward and up. Align the arms with the ears and lift the torso.
2. Reach the arms toward the sky, arch the back, and push the hips forward. Bring awareness to the stretch in the abdomen.

To deepen your practice:

Make sure that your biceps are beside your ears. Aim to stretch up more instead of stretching backwards.Alternatively, roll the spine up vertebra by vertebra. Raise the hands up and bend backward a little bit, pushing the hips slightly outward.
Concentration on: Vishuddhi Chakra- Throat Center
Mantra: Om ArkayaNamaha (Salutations to He who is fit to be praised)

Step 12: Prayer Pose (Pranamasana)

1. Exhale.Bring the hands in to prayer position in front of the chest and return to the starting position.Bring awareness to the heart.

To deepen your practice:

Press the palms together and the feet into the floor. Lengthen up through the crown of the head. Activate your legs and keep your spine erect. Relax in this position and observe the sensations in your body Concentration on:Anahata Chakra - Heart Center Mantra: Om BhaskarayaNamaha (Salutations to He who leads to enlightenment)

This completes onehalf-round of the Sun Salutation. Release the arms by the sides and then repeat these 12 steps, stepping the left foot back and forward to complete a full round.

Ending the practice

To end this practice, lie down and relax your entire body in Savasana (Corpse pose) for two to three minutes. Your body needs sufficient time to adjust to the effects of the stretches of your Sun Salutations.Breathe and allow the heart rate to return to normal before moving on to other asanas.

Beginners can start with four to six slow rounds of Sun Salutations, adding one more each week. If they’re breathing heavily, they should pause in between each round and take several breaths.Intermediate students can practice up to 12 rounds of Sun Salutations at a moderate pace.


Avoid practicing Surya Namaskaram if you have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, hernia, intestinal tuberculosis, during the onset of menstruation or if you had a stroke.

Yoga in the Spirit of a Warrior (Part I)

Mani Raman looks into how our habit of struggling with life like fire-fighters is keeping us miserable. He suggests a different approach to life and yogic practice – the spirit of a warrior. This is the edited version of an informal talk given during Online Satsang on 27th May 2018.

In our life, we have made everything a battle, a battle we force ourselves to fight every moment. We struggle and fight to conquer life. The more we feel that we are losing the battle, the harder we fight. The harder we fight, the more frustrated we become, ending up feeling crushed and defeated by life. We may feel that life is against us and that frustration and failure are inevitable.

Life, however, destroys nobody. It is life that has brought us here, we were born out of it. If we fight with our own source of energy, we will be destroyed not by life but by our own violence.


This inner violence, this misery, is created by us, by our wrong approach to life. All skills that we have accumulated are misguided and unfit to solve our fundamental problem. We all carry a deep-rooted wound of rejection. We don’t have self-respect but only self-denial, self-condemnation. To compensate for it, we crave for validation and admiration which we have been trained to look for outside of us. We have learned this psychological strategy from our parents, society and our education system to get our rightful admiration and validation for everything that we face in our life.

Fully depending on external validation, we’ve become so afraid and so out of touch with our own self that we are constantly on guard and triggered every moment to wage a war. This trembling inside is due to the deep-rooted fear of ‘I am not enough’. We cannot depend on ourselves and we have to depend upon others. To depend upon others means that we need to rely on something outside of us which is not under our control. If that which we want to hold on to is not attainable or that which we hold on to is not available all the time we struggle and fight and deplete our energy in the process.


Life is not against us. We are a part of it and not separate from it. We are intrinsic and organic to it. It’s impossible to conquer life – the part cannot conquer the whole. Life is very spontaneous and flows and emerges by itself. Life is a dynamic dance of energies in the outer world as well as in one’s subjective inner world. So to face life with its multidimensional ever emerging layers, we first need to attend to this unfinished business – the fight within ourselves.

Whether we like it or not, we need to face this inner fight. We cannot escape. No matter where we go, the same life is waiting for us. We need to face it now. There is no way of escaping. We may think we can avoid conflict and difficulty. In the end, however, the flow of life itself is hampered by our continued effort to prevent discomfort and conflict. The sanskrit word avidya best describes this state. Avoidance and prevention therefore have no meaning. We cannot fight with life itself.


What we can do is develop the strength and ability to wage a clear and decisive fight against our own defensive mind, our own self-defeating patterns. This fight requires more than just a fire-fighter’s skill of putting out flames. A fire-fighter is trained to react and function with urgency. But in life and its unpredictable future, we have to negotiate not only the urgent but also the emergent – that which is not obvious and unforseeable, like a raging fire. The ability to deal with the emergent conditions of this battle of life demands much more than the functional skills of a fire-fighter. We all are like a fire-fighter trained with particular skills to deal with life and its incidents. The fight we are speaking about, however, requires the quality of a warrior. A warrior, like a fire-fighter, is trained to be skillful, but he stands in the battlefield, prepared to face anything that will emerge at anytime. Nothing can be predicted. He is not in a defensive mood. If one goes to war with dragging feet just to defend oneself, defeat and disaster are certain. A mind that is always on the defensive mood cannot gather the strength and enthusiasm necessary to win a war. A heavy heart and defensive mind will shrink in every way possible. A warrior, on the other hand, is whole and complete. He is fully there and for him even his fighting is a joyful, blissful affair. The word siddha in Yoga means ‘adept’, someone who is an accomplished performer of all of life’s arts. A siddha is ever free – before, during and after the battle.


To qualify for this state and for the capacity of a warrior, the fire-fighter needs to transform from self-condemnation to self-respect. The immense self-respect of a warrior is necessary in our daily practice, in Yoga and in our meditation. In life, most of us don’t have the luxury of choosing our battles. At least in our yogic practice we can choose how and with which attitude we approach our inner battle.

Our next article will introduce meditation techniques to put the warrior spirit to practice in your sadhana. You can sign up for our newsletter below to be notified once the article goes live.

Until then, we invite you to reflect:

What are you taking away from this article?
Do you recognise the fire-fighting habit in your life? If so, in which areas?
In which areas of your life are you already applying the spirit of a warrior?

We would love to hear from you - leave us a comment below this article or email us at namaste@yogavana.in.

Keep practicing.

Yoga & trauma healing - what wild animals can teach us

Photo by Jeena Jacobs on Unsplash

What is it that we can learn as human beings from the animal world in releasing stuck energy from our system? How does the practice of Yoga, specifically the Five Points of Yoga, contribute to trauma healing? Mani Raman elaborates on the interconnection between trauma as a physiological event and the traditional and non-competitive practice of Yoga.

Fight, Flight and Freeze

Have you ever seen a cheetah chase a deer? When a situation is perceived to be life-threatening, both mind and body mobilise vast amounts of energy in preparation to fight or escape. When the victim cannot fight the threat, it flees at seventy miles an hour and its sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is highly charged internally to support its action - commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. When the body and mind perceive stress, the SNS kicks in to produce cortisol and adrenaline to tighten the muscles and increase blood pressure to prepare the body for action.

There are two possibilities: the deer may escape or the cheetah takes its final lunge and the deer collapses. However, the fallen deer is not dead. From the outside, it looks motionless and appears to be dead, but inside, its nervous system is still highly charged from the chase. Though it is barely breathing or moving, the animal’s heart and brain are still racing. Any animal that is trapped in a situation where fight and flight are not viable options will use immobility as their first line of defense. The vital function of the immobility response is numbness. If the deer (or human) is killed while “frozen,” it will not suffer pain or even terror during its demise.

The “immobility response” used by the deer is just as important a survival tool as “fight” and “flight.” This normal survival strategy is also called the “freezing” response. Now there is a possibility that the deer will not be devoured immediately. The cheetah may drag its apparently dead prey behind a bush, and then go seek out its hungry cubs, safely hidden at a distance. While the cheetah is gone, the temporarily “frozen” deer may awaken from its state of shock, will stand up on wobbly legs, then shake and tremble in order to discharge the vast amount of energy in a normalization procedure, take a few tentative steps, then bound off in search of the herd as if nothing unusual had occurred.

It’s all about energy

We humans use the immobility response—frozen energy— regularly when we are injured or even when we feel overwhelmed after trying fight or flight response. Unlike the deer, though, we humans tend to have trouble returning to normal after being in this state.
Animals in the wild instinctively discharge all their compressed energy and seldom develop adverse symptoms. We humans are not as adept in this arena. When we are unable liberate these powerful forces, we become victims of trauma. In our often unsuccessful attempts to discharge these energies, we may become fixated on them. This residual energy does not simply go away. It persists in the body, and often forces the formation of a wide variety of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, psychosomatic and behavioral problems. These symptoms are the organism’s way of containing the undischarged residual energy.

What prevents people from returning to normal functioning after a threat no longer exists? How do wild animals successfully return to their normal state? Can we release our excess energy the way animals naturally do?

The answer lies in the particular type of spontaneous shaking, trembling, and breathing that animals do. The key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaptation of wild animals as they ‘shake out’ and pass through the immobility response and become fully mobile and functional. If you observe an animal’s behavior once they escaped and before rejoining their herd, they shake off, tremble and breathe heavily. If they have not trembled and breathed, they will not survive. Humans do, in fact, possess the same built-in ability to shake off threats that animals do. If given appropriate guidance, human beings can and do shake off the effects of overwhelming events and return to their lives using exactly the same procedures that animals use.

Physiological shock at the cellular level

In our society it is commonly thought that we should ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’, in effect ignoring the trauma that we have experienced and pushing it down deeper and deeper. We are in a rush to return to a life as usual and the psychic wound is left in a stressed state (the root of the word trauma is wound). Although humans rarely die from trauma, if we don’t resolve it, our lives can be severely affected and limited by its effects. All attempts to address our traumatic past may seem to work only temporarily. Deep down, we remain stuck and under the influence of traumatic triggers. These triggering events challenge our self-regulation, i.e. our ability to return to a state of equilibrium and balance, and keep the trauma circuits intact.

Then how do we heal from trauma? The key to healing traumatic symptoms in human beings is, understanding that trauma is primarily physiological. Trauma is something that happened initially to our body and our instincts. Only then its effects spread to our mind and emotions. It exists there in the body, on a cellular level. It is also important to understand that our physiological mechanism is governed by and resides in the primitive, instinctual parts of our brain and nervous system which are not under our direct conscious control.

Yoga - a systematic method for healing

The purpose of the practice of Yoga postures - called asana-s - is not just to increase flexibility, blood circulation, burning calories and improving our balance and posture as modern day advertisements may suggest. It is a systematic practice to connect with our body on a cellular level and to develop mindfulness in how we relate to ourselves, coming out of frozen energy and freeing ourselves from traumatic symptoms.

The traditional and non-competitive approach of Yoga practice - comprising the Five Points of Yoga outlined below - helps one to be fully at home in one’s body, with oneself and the world.


The whole body exists as an organic unity, in a deep rhythm of its own. Yoga exercises release all sorts of accumulated toxins from the body. Stretching stimulates receptors in the nervous system that decrease the production of stress hormones. Asana practice enhances the flexibility of the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments and stimulates circulation. Flexibility and strength of the spine keep the body youthful.


Conscious breathing allows one to notice one's surroundings, to pay attention to oneself and decompress. It connects the body to its battery, the solar plexus, which is a storehouse of energy. Stress and depression can be overcome by breathing more deeply with increased awareness.


Taking time to relax means taking time out of one's busy life to pay attention to the body and mind. Conscious relaxation techniques relieve the body of existing stress symptoms and also helps develop resilience against external stress factors. Once body and mind are freed from constant overload, they are at ease and perform more efficiently.


Right diet is eating in tune with your body’s and nature's rhythms. It promotes health and has a balancing effect on body and mind. A yogic diet is natural, simple to prepare, easy to digest, calming for the mind and causes the least harm to other living beings and the environment.


Eliminates negative thought patterns by becoming aware of hidden unconscious mental and emotional patterns through mindfulness and inquiry. This is the way to Inner Peace.

Harvesting your learning

What did you take away from this article? What was new for you, what surprised you?

We invite you to commit to a practice or intention for a fixed number of days to incorporate the insights into your daily life.

"I will practice 15 minutes of relaxation daily for 7 days and consciously keep my focus on areas in my body that feel stuck."
"I will spend 2 hours per week for the next two weeks educating myself about trauma."

What will you do?

You're welcome to let us know by commenting below this article or sending us an email to namaste@yogavana.in.

Keep practising!

Sources & Recommended Reading

Peter A. Lavine: What Resets our Nervous System after Trauma
Peter A. Lavine: Nature's Lessons in Healing Trauma
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The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, fitness, or other health program.

There Is Only One

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

What is the soul? A little caterpillar was sitting, on a leaf right in front of us. With one end on the leaf it stretched out its other end, probing for a foothold on another leaf. As soon as it had this foothold, it lifted its other end and passed on to the new leaf. Even so does the soul. Neither the soul nor the body was ever born. They are in a continuous process called recycling.

There is one shakti (power) which does everything. It is not as though one God delivers me here, another preserves me and the third carries me away. One power that sustains me also brings about the change known as death. There is only one power in the whole universe. When it functions in a certain manner there is conception, birth. Functioning as the multiplication of cells, it is preservation, living. When it's function is disintegration it is called death, which in reality is merely “going out of sight”, for what exists cannot be nonexistent. When this power creates, it is called Brahma Shakti; as the preserver, it is known as Vishnu Shakti and as the destroyer (redeemer) Shiva Shakti.

- Swami Venkatesananda

Loneliness to Self-transcendence

Loneliness hurts, so you go and seek somebody’s company. That somebody might be pleasant for a few minutes and then he also pricks you, hurts you. Immediately the self wakes up. And immediately the self wakes up there is unhappiness. Even if this is an extraordinarily beautiful relationship, it has to come to an end. When that comes to an end the self wakes up again and there is misery until there is another dimension and another direction in which the awareness can be made to flow, and that is within.

Here there is self-transcendence – awareness seems to pierce the self and go beyond it. But here there is movement of awareness towards the centre, there is no movement away from the centre, and the self is asleep again because it is left behind – therefore there is centring of consciousness. This could last forever if you want, because there it is yourself – there is nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing was gained and so there is no loss. Loneliness is already a projection of the self. How? This self, this wall, creates the image of an ideal condition which it calls happiness. No-one has so far really defined ‘happiness’ and even if somebody has tried, that definition is not accepted by everyone – which means that happiness is a myth created by the self in order to make itself miserable! I have an image of happiness, and since I do not measure up to that or I do not have that which constitutes happiness, I must be unhappy – I am not unhappy! Having created this unhappy situation, the self tries to project itself, tries to grasp something in order to fill this void, this loneliness. This loneliness is self-created, it is not there – I am always lonely, alone.

Now, all that the yogi asks is stop there and look – look at what the self is doing. When you are enjoying something, the self is fast asleep, but the moment you investigate this, the self wakes up because you are ‘pouring’ awareness into it. The awareness was distracted, the self was asleep and the awareness was flowing towards something else, and because the self was asleep, you thought there was happiness.

When this awareness strikes, the self is withdrawn into it – that is called pratyahara. That is, you do not project anything anymore. Everything in the world is exactly as it is.

This is the other form of self-forgetfulness, which is marvellous when you go right down to the core of your centre, you pierce the thing called ‘self’ and enter into yourself. There you are completely centred but ‘self-forgetful’.
- Excerpts from Swami Venkatesananda

Advancing In Yoga Sadhana

This talk given by Swami Vishnudevananda at the inauguration of the first Sivananda Yoga Sadhana Intensive in June, 1988 remains as an inspiration to me always. No matter how negative and low in energy you are, it will lift you as Swamiji was standing in front of you and talking to you directly. I have read it many times personally as well as to the students, but it remains as fresh as when I read it for the first time and I hope it will serve as a wonderful inspiration to you, too!

I would like to begin by speaking about the spiritual path we are climbing through Yoga. You might say that it is an uphill climb. There are ups and downs. You climb up and then once again go down. There is no straight path to the top and there are many obstacles. In some places the road is wide but then suddenly narrows. We may come to a bush through which it is very difficult to penetrate, and even though we continue, we do not know where we are going.

So it is with the spiritual journey. In the beginning it is all very wonderful: "Ah, yes, I can do asanas, pranayama, etc." But then suddenly you come to that big bush in your path and you don't know in which direction to go. If somehow you come out of the bush, you come next to a swamp. Some students disappear in the quicksand and never come out. Nevertheless, it is possible to penetrate these obstacles and reach the top. Now you can see all around beautifully. Now you can meditate and enjoy full freedom. No more birth; no more death; you' ve got an eternal holiday.

These experiences are familiar to the yogi. He finds no smooth road to the top. Those who succeed come from different directions, having followed different teachers, but once they reach the top, everything is the same. On the way the obstacles will differ, but at the top the view is the same.

The purpose of the practice of Yoga is to give your life a boost, to put your spiritual progress in first gear. Then you may go into second gear and maybe into third gear where you can cruise comfortably after climbing the hills. This is unlike most worldly people who just coast downhill without knowing about brakes, thinking that happiness is somewhere down there, waiting for them. They go straight down hill, faster and faster into numerous disasters such as cancer, AIDS, high blood pressure, heart trouble. Soon it is too late and they crash. So even though it may seem very easy, please don't coast downhill. We will show you another way. The path was laid out by the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient text used by Yogis to create the power to go uphill all the way to the top. This path was laid out by great beings called siddhas: Matsyendranath, his disciple Gorakshanath and others, fourteen in all. This is one of the earliest treatises on Hatha Yoga; all the modern books are based on it. It is the central route. All of us have only expanded and expounded on it in different ways. In addition to following the practices laid out in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I strongly recommend the study of books such as Shankaracharya's Viveka Chudamani, and the Srimad Bhagavatam. The Viveka Chudamani is a very beautiful book; those who follow its instruction will create the necessary dispassion to surmount the obstacles created by rajas (passion or activity). In addition, we also need devotion, because without God's grace we cannot reach the Source no matter how hard we strive. To help create this devotion, we read from the Bhagavatam.

This practice is not something I invented; it is the traditional method which I myself followed intensively when I was with Master Sivananda in the Himalayas. I lived in the forest where there were cobras and tigers. Sometimes I could hear the tigers from my cottage when they would come by to drink water and they would roar. I had only a flimsy door which they could easily have pushed through. Nevertheless, in such an environment I went through this training morning, noon, evening, and midnight, practicing for almost fourteen hours daily. I hardly slept - just two or three hours a night. But I can't begin to describe the tremendous power that builds up.

The purpose here is to increase the vibratory level in a very short time. In Sanskrit this work is expressed as "Shakti Sanchar." We want to make the Shakti move from its dormant or static state to the dynamic state through sadhana or spiritual practice. However please be careful not to go beyond your capacity. Do not do too much at once; do not go too deep or too fast; do not work too intensively, or else a kickback will come. That is why I modify the practice to suit the particular evolution of my students. I never give a practice unless I myself have experienced it. Also, though I like discipline, I believe that this discipline must come from within. I show my students how this can be accomplished and then leave them to practise as if they were alone in the forest. To this I added just a little group practice for reinforcement. In addition, my students make out a resolve form and keep a spiritual diary which I look at to check their progress so that I can prescribe a little more or a little less of a particular practice. We meet together for an hour each day to talk about our practice, to receive some instruction about technical things and to improve the performance of some of these procedures.

My main instruction, is to control the mind. Secondly, avoid unnecessary desires with one exception - desire to increase your will power. If you satisfy one desire, ten more will come to take its place. When will you ever be finished with all those desires? But if you develop your will power and kill even one desire, you will be strong. Then you will easily kill ten more, and then hundred.

Om Namah Sivaya! - Swami Vishnudevananda

Can a Yogi pray to God?

Question: How, being a Yogi, can you pray to God, when you don't know your own personality?

Swami Vishnu: Both are one and the same. When you know God you know yourself. And when you know you, you know God. Because God is not different from you. You are that God - Brahman. So if you are praying, you are praying actually to your Self, to the Self which is within you. When you put that Self - the Atman - outside, it becomes God.. When you put that same God inside you, it becomes your Self. It's one and the same.

In the beginning it is not possible to see God inside, so you put Him outside and come and prostrate to Him. Even though I know the Vedanta philosophy, still I put up pictures of Master and of Nataraja. I prostrate before them before I sit so that my ego will not come up. I will never go without praying. Though I know the philosophy, I know that it's just only words. I have not completely reached the oneness with the Supreme; I have not melted my ego. Maybe through the God's grace and Guru's grace, I may. God knows. But on my own, I've got no strength. I also can fall down after fifty years spent on the spiritual path. There is still no guarantee that I'll stick to this path. Just as the king of England renounced everything for a woman, so also I might renounce all my spiritual growth in a moment, get married and live like a householder. There's no guarantee. Only God can help me.

I pray every morning and every evening: "Oh God, You came in this form. You made me to teach." I never think that I am a super Guru who came to bless you and take you to heaven. I've never said that. I am a struggling soul just like you. If God keeps me on the spiritual path, I'm very, very happy. But, it's not by my will power that I am staying on the spiritual path. Prayer is very essential. It doesn't matter in which state you are or what type of Yoga you are doing, keep that prayer always in your heart. Ask God to give you strength to stick to the spiritual path.

Yoga - From Mechanical to Organic Relationship

Harmony implies an adjustment of oneself with an environment that is external to oneself. When there is no proper adjustment of one thing with another thing, we call it disharmony. When there is a proper adjustment, a smooth working of one principle, one person with another, we regard it as harmony.

It is harmony what we seek in every field of life in our day-to-day existence. And when this harmony gets imbibed into our consciousness, our personality gets stabilised. This stability of personality, harmony in all walks of life, is called Yoga. Now, the question which may arise in our mind at the very outset is, what harmony actually means and why harmony is regarded as the essential of life?

First an example from our common experience will help us to understand this.

You must have seen heaps of stones on the roadside. All those stones in a group put together in one place. In that heap of stones, perhaps each stone is touching every other stone. Though each piece of inorganic matter called stone in that heap is connected by way of contact with every other stone in the heap, we cannot say that any particular stone is integrally related to every other stone in that heap. They are mechanically connected, not vitally related. There is a difference between a mechanical connection and a vital, organic relationship. The contact of one stone with another stone in a heap is mechanical. There is no life in this connection. If one stone is taken from that heap, the other stones will not be affected in any manner. They will remain as they were. There will not be any kind of harm done to the remaining stones or a diminution in their structure if a few stones are removed from the heap. So, a mechanical group is that in which parts are so related to the whole that if some parts are removed from the whole, the remaining parts are not affected at all. That is what is meant by mechanical relationship.

Then secondly, there is something called organic relationship and is something different. We have the example of our body itself. We know very well that our physical body is made up of minute organisms called cells. These cells are so connected to one another that they give the appearance of a single whole called the body, similar to a heap of stones on the roadside, we may say, in one way. But what is the difference? While the removal of a few stones from the heap does not vitally affect the remaining stones, removal of a few limbs of our body vitally affects the whole body. We know what it would be to an individual, a human being, if the limbs are to be amputated —the legs or the arms removed. Remove a portion of the body of a person; what a difference it makes! The very existence of the body is seriously affected. To come to the point, the harmony of the body is disturbed. That is why when a limb of the body is cut off; there is intense pain, agony and a dislike towards it. We dislike any kind of interference with the limbs or organs of our body because the limbs are vitally connected as a living whole in the system of our personality. You are present in your fingers, you are present in your toes, and you are present in your nose, and so on. You, as a complete whole, are present in every part of your body. This is the difference between a mechanical relationship and a vital relationship.

Then Thirdly how I am, as an individual connected with my friend, my family, my pet, my car and my house, my cosmos, etc?

I can understand the vital connection of my organs within the body. Is it not all that exist outside my body are just objects, matter, inert like those stones connected without any vital relation?

Don’t they remain outside me as objects and not vitally connected like my organs with my body.

Does this vital connection end only with my body? Do I achieve harmony by eating healthy, taking care of this body?

Do I ever remain unaffected like those stones when there is disharmony outside my body? Why am I affected when those outside objects? The teaching of Yoga comes here and becomes very essential in our learning process to go further.

Yoga says that, you are an organic part of the universe, not a mechanical part like a stone in a heap. You are vitally related to the whole cosmos, so that you are an essential part of the cosmos. Our connection with the universe outside is not like the connection of a stone in a heap so that we may do anything we like without affecting the world outside. Our connection, our relationship with the world outside is such that it can be compared to the relationship of the limbs of the body to the whole system of the body. We are vitally related to the cosmos, not mechanically connected. We have a prejudice, an old habit of thinking that the objects are outside us. But, do you know that your ten fingers are outside you? They are objects; you can see them as you see any other objects in the world. If these ten fingers (i.e. these objects) can become part of your personality, then why should not other objects in the world become part of your personality? They do not become, because you have limited your consciousness by an old prejudice of thought. Prejudice is irrational; it simply asserts itself and is not amenable to reason. Why should you limit your consciousness to your small body? What do you gain? Why not extend it to other persons? Why not feel that all people seated here are part of a wider, social individual, just as you imagine you are a human individual? Why limit your consciousness to the people seated here? Go further to the vaster world and imagine that you are the world-individual! This world-individual is what religion means by God. How do we see this? Next week.

Question on Karma

Question: If a man steals, is he creating new Karma, or is he suffering some Karma from the past?

Swami Vishnu: Action and reaction are one and the same. You can't separate the action from the reaction. If, as I'm walking along the street, I see a person lying injured, I can't say, "Oh, it's his karma. Let him die there. He is suffering because he did some wrong Karma in the past." and then walk by. His karma may be bad; he is suffering for that. But I also have a duty: to help. As a human being, love and compassion are inherent in me. He may die; I may not be able to save him. But I must try. As an example: There is an artist from Bulgaria living near the Yoga Camp. I used to take people there sometimes to see his paintings.

One day I went there and he said, "Swamiji, our dog is missing. If you ever see him anywhere nearby, please report it to me." The next day I was driving to Montreal alone, and I saw a dog just like his lying on the road. It was partially paralyzed from being hit by a car. I thought that it must be his missing dog, so I put it in my station wagon and directly brought it to the artist. He took one look and said, "Swamiji, it's not my dog."

So now what shall I do? Shall I throw the dog back on the road? No. I am stuck with a paralyzed dog. I must do whatever I can. So, I brought it to a veterinarian. He found that the pelvis and legs were so broken that it would never be able to walk again. The animal was in such a tremendous pain from internal injuries that he had to be put to sleep. It was very hard for me to do that, but I brought the dog to the ASPCA and told them the situation. They said, "Okay we know what to do." I was asked to bring the dog over to be put inside a window. Do you know what was behind this window? The gas chamber. But what could I do? I couldn't keep it since it was in such pain with no way to be cured. That the only thing I could do.
So, with my own hands I put a live dog into a gas chamber. Do I get bad Karma for that? If I do, I don't mind at all, because I couldn't bear to see the suffering of that dog. That was my entire intention - to end his suffering.
So it is not the action but the intention. My intention was not to bring any suffering to the dog. I would have done anything if I could have saved that dog and given him help. But the dog's karma was that he had to die, and at the last moment I must carry him to the death chamber. That's my Karma. Somehow some past relationship existed. But I did not do my part with malice or anger; I was helpless.

I'll give another example of how Karma works. I was on a pilgrimage as a swami. The custom is that we wander penniless, begging food when hungry. I wanted to go to the Himalayas, to Badrinath, at about 15,000 or 16,000 feet with only one small blanket. I had never seen snow before in my life. I was barefoot and had no money because I had decided to go by begging, even though it is very difficult to get any food in those places. Many pilgrims carried their own food. In those days there was no but or anything, just a small tiny path. Each day you walked about 15 or 20 miles and then rested and cooked a little food before continuing to walk until evening. But, as I didn't have any food or money, I had to rely solely on begging in order to survive.

After walking a few days, hunger came more and more. One morning, when people started cooking their food, I climbed up to the near village to beg some food, but there were only very poor people so I came down without getting anything. I was lying under a tree. I had only my cloth and a blanket and a vessel. I was really hungry and tired. It was evening and I had to walk again without food. I was only 18 or 19 then. As I was thinking that I must get up, an old pilgrim walked by. He saw a swami lying under a tree and he asked me, "Are you hungry? Do you want something?" "Yes, I am hungry. I want something." Pilgrims usually carried only enough food for 30 days. He carried some dried food fried in ghee and with sugar on it. He had just a certain amount, enough so that he can reach his destination and then come back, because there's nothing to get on the route. But from this small ration, he took some carefully, and gave it to me. I put out my cloth and he put the food in there. I was so happy - something to eat and it smelled so wonderful too. Then I thought, "the sun is hot. Let me take a bath in the Ganges; afterwards I can really enjoy the food." So I left the food there on the shore in my cloth and jumped into the Ganges. After one dip I came out shivering. As I picked up my cloth, all the food fell out into the water.

Do you understand the suffering I went through? Food came to my hand. Almost to my mouth. But my Karma was that I could not eat. That pilgrim's Karma was to give me from his own rations. It doesn't matter whether I am going to eat or not. That's not his problem. He has to share his food with another hungry person. And he did this with all his heart. But my Karma was there; I could not eat.

Now do you understand how karma works? My Karma was that I must have taken some food from someone's mouth before, perhaps in a previous life. So I had to undergo the same suffering as I had created for another person. I did not share, so I suffered.

That evening I walked under painful conditions. I reached the next place where we were going to camp for the night. An old swami came and looked at me. He asked me, "Where do you come from?" "I come from Sivananda Ashram. I am going on a pilgrimage." He took me by the hand as if he knew me and led me to a small hut. There a sumptuous meal was waiting. After we ate he said, "you cannot go alone; I will take you." From then onwards he fed me. So I must have also earned some good Karma.

Karma has brought me so many things. I've got ashrams in various places. I've got Paradise Island which has a private beach, and I've got yachts and boats and so forth. But none of them do I keep for my sake or in my name. I don't have a penny. I will not keep any money in the bank in my name, not will I keep a house or anything. If I did that while all these people are working without getting a penny, my Karma would be so painful, like the lowest animal eating human flesh.

So your Karma will work out. Your duty is only to have love and to serve. Don't worry about good karma or bad karma. We don't know whether we are making fresh karma or enjoying old karma. We don't know. The peace of mind will come.

The Three Powers in Yoga

This is an edited version of a talk by Swami Vishnudevananda on the importance of practice. It was given to Advanced Yoga Teacher Trainees and guests following the Inauguration of the Course on 5th August, 1986. The whole system of the practice of Yoga is described by Swamiji in a simple way, and even a complete beginner can understand it and will be inspired to continue on the path of Yoga

There are three types of power: Iccha Shakti, Jnana Shakti, and Kriya Shakti. Iccha Shakti is thought power, Jnana Shakti is will power, and Kriya Shakti is action power. Everything originates in thought power. When thought power is intensified and made pure it becomes will power and when will power becomes stronger and purer you will have action power in your physical body. You all had a desire to come for a Yoga Vacation, a Teachers’ Training Course or an Advanced Teachers’ Training Course. That is thought power, but that thought power is not sufficient. Many people want to do what you are doing but they don’t have the will power. Will power will not come by merely thinking. How do you increase your will power? Will power comes by practice. It comes by performing action. Practice is the only way that you will get will power. We have lost our power due to our wrong living, wrong conditions, wrong thinking. We have to relearn everything, just like a man who is paralysed goes to physiotherapy and relearns how to use his limbs again. In the same way, our will power is paralysed. Only when you have will power can you do anything you want. Nothing can stand before you. The only thing that stands in your way is lack of will. That is all. All the great achievements by any human being on this planet are done through the power of will, either good or bad. The people who climbed Mount Everest, how many times did they fail? How many lost their lives? But still they did not stop; they went on until they reached the top. That is called will power, but that will power did not come by merely wanting it. It came through action, suffering and pain. You must understand that you can gain nothing without intense effort, without pain. That’s the law: no pain, no gain. You will see one day that your pain will be converted into sweet fragrance, but you won’t see it now, today, when you are suffering. “The purpose of all this physical discipline through action – the asanas and pranayama – is to increase your inner will power. ” I went as an eighteen year old boy to Master’s Ashram. I lived in the Himalayan caves. I lived in the tiger-infested forest. I lived alone. I did intense sadhana for years and years. Four times a day I did my sadhana, morning, mid-day, evening and midnight. I hardly slept – only two or three hours. The will power created during that intense sadhana created all these Ashrams. The strength I gained through my will power and discipline is the cause of the materialisation of the Yoga Camp. So whatever you are doing, the pranayama, the asanas, getting up in the morning, it actually adds to your will power, your shakti. Don’t think that what you are doing now is just a temporary thing. All of this has a cumulative effect. The purpose of all this physical discipline through action, the asanas and pranayama, is to increase your inner will power. It will make it pure. At that time thought becomes very powerful. Anything that you think will materialise. That is the law. Nothing happens in this universe without your thought. But at present your thought is very vague. Like water flowing in a wide area it doesn’t have any power. Samadhi Estates, where my house is now, was a marshland, a complete swamp. Nobody could even walk there. I drained the marsh, made a small lake with an outlet, and created a waterfall and an island. It took planning. But without that planning that marshland would still be there and the mosquitoes would still be breeding. It is the same thing with your mind. Your mind contains the power, the energy, but it is just like a swamp. It has no force. A little water goes here, a little water there, a little stagnation. Mosquitoes start breeding. Somewhere some plants are growing, and some weeds. That can all be converted through positive action. That is what Yoga is all about. Asanas are not just physical exercises. Asanas belong to the system of Raja Yoga: yama, niyama, asana. It’s the third anga, the third limb. Asanas and pranayama are part of Raja Yoga. Patanjali did not elaborate on asanas and pranayama in the Raja Yoga Sutras except for ‘Sthira-sukham asanam’ – easy comfortable pose – and inhale, exhale. Why? Patanjali did not elaborate on them because in the ancient days in the Gurukula system they were practicing the yama, niyama, asanas, and pranayama in their daily life. Later on the energy level started to go down, people became tamasic, and their will power went. They were only thinking that they were Raja Yogis. They didn’t want to practice any physical exercises. They lost their will power. The asanas and pranayama got watered down and became empty rituals that were performed without understanding. In every religion you will find empty ritual because the action is no longer understood. Action without understanding will not bring will power. Blind faith will not bring will power. Mechanical action and blind faith are not the purpose of Yoga. We have both theory and practice: theory to understand the purpose behind it and then the practice with proper understanding and physical discipline. Then you become strong physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s called the holistic approach. So don’t learn anything blindly, just because Swami Vishnu says so. Grain contains a lot of stones: you can remove the stones without removing the grains, or you can remove the grains without removing the stones. Once you have taken the grains away from the stones you throw the stones away. In a similar way, there are many stones in your mind so you extract the good things by repeating your mantra. Another example is a field with weeds. A field contains many weeds so you just pull them out. This is the purpose of mantra, the purpose of pranayama, and it is also the purpose of asana. It is not just physical exercise; it increases your will power.

Desire, thought, will and action: these all go together. Only then will you have pure will power. Thought means inquiry, reasoning. That is also very important. Without reasoning you cannot think properly. Your thought becomes merely instinct, blind. A child also thinks, but his thought is instinct. When he is unhappy he will cry. He doesn’t know how to express his emotions, or how he feels. When he is happy he laughs. When you are happy you know there must be a reason for it. You know you are going to get married tomorrow and so you are happy today. The reason should be pure. The only purpose here is to find our freedom. We have lost our freedom. We have tremendous power and strength within, unbelievable shakti, but all is lost because from childhood onward we never learned how to discipline ourselves. In ancient days they taught that discipline. A child went into the Gurukula system and then married and became a householder. Before that he had all the strength and power to control himself. He could change his environment through thought alone. That is what he was practising. We have lost all these things. Many of you are starting later in life, some are starting earlier in life. It makes no difference because this is not the first time you have started. Just because you started late in your life that doesn’t mean that you did not have training in your previous life. If you didn’t have training in your previous life you would not be able to practise intensively because your will power would not be sufficient. Obstacles will dampen your will power. When you face these obstacles head on then the will power will come. When we retreat from these obstacles – ‘Oh, it’s too much; I don’t want this’ – it is finished. Obstacles will come, especially when you are on the spiritual path. The entire universe is going to stop you because you are going upstream and everything is going downstream. You are opposing these forces which are pushing you downstream. All these years, all these thousands of lifetimes, you are going downstream. Now you are pushing upstream. Upstream is not easy. Your hands are aching, your muscles are aching. Before, downstream, the water is pushing you along. You can go downstream like everybody else. Downstream is very easy, no will power is necessary. To climb up, even five feet upstream, tremendous energy is necessary. It’s the same on the spiritual path too. Training in Yoga is only a way to increase your strength to go upward, but the more you go upward the more the current will push you down. There will be so many obstacles. The higher you reach the more obstacles there will be. So don’t think that there will be less obstacles. They will increase. You will be bewildered. Before you started practising asanas, pranayama and japa your life was very easy and comfortable. Now everything becomes very horrible. You see peoples’ thoughts. We start to blame everybody when things are going wrong. You don’t understand that things are not going wrong when you are struggling harder. You are progressing. You just don’t understand: no pain no gain. That is the law of the universe. Everywhere there is pain if you want to gain something. But if you don’t want to gain anything then you can just move on downstream. What Yoga gives you is a method to go against the current according to your strength. We have to go upward. There should be no going backward. That is not going to be easy, but don’t stop. As the purification goes on you will feel the benefit. At an early age you can put tremendous effort into your sadhana. If you wait until your children have grown and you have a big bank balance you’ll never do it. Unless you have tremendous will power when you are younger you will never be able to sit for asanas, pranayama and meditation when you are older. Your mind will have been with your wife, your husband, your children, and your career for all these years. It cannot just run after God at a later date. So, increase your will power. There will be temporary setbacks and depression, but when there is depression just change a little bit: take a walk, take a swim, repeat some mantras or go to the Temple. Do an additional fifteen minutes of pranayama, meditation and japa. Do not neglect your practice. Take it seriously and practise with full understanding. Understand why you are doing all these things. Don’t practise mechanically just because Swami Vishnu says so. It is your life. You have to put in the effort and then you will increase your will power. Anything that you have done is not lost. You can use it, just like money that you have earned and put in the bank. If depression comes you can take a few deep breaths and then strength will come and you will become a strong, powerful person. Peace and joy will come and you will get your freedom. Om Shanti

Loving God’s violent world?

Question: My question relates to the problem of suffering. It's hard to understand how God could create a world in which there is violence and war that He would allow so many people to die in such ways. He just doesn't seem like a loving God at all.

Swami Vishnu: That type of God you have created in your mind. You created a God to suit your own particular temperament. To you, God doesn’t seem like a loving God. But how could a loving God forgive anybody? I’m not speaking in philosophical terms. A civilized person like you, of course, might be a vegetarian. However, suppose you went to a restaurant and ordered lobster. You can see the lobster in the aquarium, alive. It is taken, put in boiling water, and then served. Did you ever ask if God created this lobster? Had the lobster no pain in the hot water, so that afterwards you can enjoy it?

If you want God to forgive, then you must also behave like a human, loving person. You may not see its suffering, but a lobster suffers exactly like you and me from its point of view. Being compassionate means having compassion for all beings that God created. When you have that compassion, then God will protect you, then His grace will be there. God’s laws are clearly written. "Thou shalt not kill." "Love thy neighbor as thyself." You have disobeyed God’s commands, and now you’re accusing God of cruelty.

Let’s forget about the lobster. Americans and Russians have enough missiles to destroy each other many times over. How many times can you destroy something? How many times can they kill everyone? Have you ever thought that the Russians, Americans, Chinese, Hindus, Catholics and Protestants are all human beings? Death is as painful for Russians as it is for Americans. Death is as painful for the poor as it is for the rich. The moment we apply a label - communist, non-communist, Russian, American - we forget these are people. If these are things and not human beings, we see them as fit to be killed. Because another person is different, you are ready to destroy him. You not only want him dead, you want him to die in a miserable way. Where is your compassion? How can God forgive you then? I'll tell you a story. You have heard the biblical story about the Israelites fleeing Egypt. The Egyptians were chasing them, the Red Sea opened, and the Egyptians drowned. The Israelites were happy, jumping and dancing. Does anyone know what God said? He admonished them, saying, "How can you dance when my children are drowning?" God did not favor the Egyptians or the Israelites. The Egyptians made a mistake and were brought suffering through their Karma. The Israelites had no authority to jump and dance because their enemies were dying. They should have shown compassion.

God loves not only Christians but that is what they believe. Hindus believe Krishna is on their side. Muslims think Allah is on their side and are ready to kill all non-Muslims.

You blame God for cruelty, but you’ve forgotten his teachings. All are His creation, whether lobster, or saint, or sinner. You should love everybody. When you cannot love, you are punished for your actions. Your karma brings you about your particular state of suffering. How are you going to learn from your mistakes unless you are punished? God not only punishes now; your punishment will continue in the hereafter. Your good karma will follow you also.

Until and unless you change your thoughts and love everyone, you will suffer. You must see all as God, not as Russians or Americans, East Germans and West Germans. That's why I flew over the Berlin Wall. There was only one Germany, but they built a wall creating East Germans and West Germans. With those labels in mind, they start killing each other. Until you remove such labels, you will suffer here and in the hereafter, too. That's the purpose of suffering - to see that you are not a label, that you are not a human being. You are the infinite God. That thou art. The Self is immortal; there's no death or birth. You are not identifying with the God that’s within you. You are identifying with the body with name and form, so you are punished.

Pain is also a dream, but that pain is necessary until you learn. Each time you learn, there's suffering, and you change. Because of the subconscious memory of your own suffering, you don’t want to see suffering in others as well. You need to learn to love everybody. Jesus said, "I and my father are one. I am in you. You are in me." You do not understand this philosophy and until you learn this, you will repeatedly be punished.

Several thousand lives you have lived and suffered, that's why you are listening to this lecture. Others won't come to hear this at all. You have an intuition of your past mistakes and you wish to correct them. That's God's Grace.

God's punishment is like that of a parent. A mother punishes her child, but not out of anger. Until the child is punished, he does not change in the right direction. We have all made so many mistakes. We are still making mistakes. I'm not saying I'm great and you're small or you're worse. I am also suffering. Everyone is suffering. If I suffer it is not God who brought that suffering. I brought it myself through my own actions. I have to pay and learn but I won't make my mistake again.

God is merciful. God said, "Love they neighbor as thyself, and "Thou shalt not kill." That is his philosophy. Don't think that he is not loving. Om Shantih.