Yoga is not twisting the body, but straightening the mind. – Chinmaya
In modern times the term ‘Yoga’ is widely misunderstood as Yoga-asanas. The above quote corrects our understanding.
Yoga-asanas form one of the limbs in the eight-limbed Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Yoga- asanas are important because they help us in keeping the body healthy. An unhealthy body always demands attention upon itself, and will not allow the mind to withdraw and meditate on God. Hence a healthy body is unavoidable for all spiritual practices.
But many immature seekers misunderstand the means to be the goal. They conclude that the only purpose of Yoga is to remain physically fit and healthy! When they have mastered all the bodily twistings and bendings, they declare themselves to be Gurus and Yogis of the highest order, and start their own Yoga Institutes charging heavy fees from their ignorant disciples!
Yoga is defined in Bhagavad Geeta as follows:
तं विद्यात् दुखसंयोगवियोगं योगसंज्ञितम् |= Disassociation from our association with sorrow is Yoga. समत्वम् योग उच्यते| = Quietening the mind is Yoga.
According to this definition, any one of us can be a Yogi. It is not the Rudraksha, or the ochre cloth, or the forehead-marks or the rituals that make a Yogi. Amidst all the disturbing and challenging situations, if we can keep a balanced mind, then according to Geeta, we are Yogis.
Amidst disobedient children, screaming husband, and the innumerable responsibilities of the household, if the housewife can remain calm and poised then she must be considered a Yogi. Even under work pressure, if the officer is maintaining his equipoise, then he too is a Yogi.
What should happen to a person who practices Yoga sincerely? This incident will make it clear:
A particular Swami had once stayed at the Sivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society) at Rishikesh for a considerable time and had done a lot of work for the Ashram. He then left the Ashram to do intense austerity. After long years, he was again seen in the Ashram premises for a short duration. But he went away without informing anyone. There was a discussion about his attitude towards the Ashram.
Someone reported the matter to Swami Sivananda and said, “Swamiji, perhaps he did not stay on at the Ashram because he was not given a rousing reception he might have expected.”
Swamiji said, “What reception? A sannyasin should not have such expectations and desires. He left the Ashram to do intense austerity and sadhana. If he had really done much austerity, he would have developed a loving heart, an entirely changed angle of vision, and this would have electrified whomever he met here. He would have adopted an attitude of humility, of service, of brotherly love towards everyone here. He would thus have endeared himself to everyone. Naturally, a different atmosphere would have been created. This is the way. He should always conquer people’s heart through love and service. There is no other way. If he was not able to do that, it means the sadhana was a continuous indulgence in inertia and an increased fattening of the ego.”
‘Straightening the mind’ means eradication of all vices and cultivation of all noble virtues mentioned in the scriptures. Twisting the body is easy; straightening the mind may take lifetimes!
A letter was on Swami Sivanandji’s table. A ‘great’ European Yogi had written to Swamiji requesting him to invite him to India. This was needed to obtain a passport.
Looking at the letter, Swamiji lamented: “What a big show of themselves do these so-called Yogis make? They fly from one country to another with so much pomp and ostentation. The net result? Only grand receptions, parties and farewells. Is it not?”
A visitor remarked, “Yes Swamiji. We have seen many of them move about in regal comforts.”
Swamiji smiled mischievously and said, “Some of them should be received with unique honour. Instead of flags and festoons adorning the reception entrance, people should hang old shoes and broom-sticks. What do you say?”
Devotees struggled to control their laughter.
Then Swamiji added, “We should not wait for the thing to happen actually. We should train ourselves. I have done so. I have beaten myself with shoes severely. This I used to do especially on Birthdays – just after returning to my Kutir. After the meetings where people had praised me, glorified me, deified me, I would go into my Kutir and beat myself nicely with a pair of shoes: ‘What are you? You wretched flesh-blood-excreta made body? Do you want garlands? Can you not wear torn clothes? Do you think that you are great? Do you want to be prostrated to? Now, take these beatings.’ ”
It is well said – “Yoga is not beating one’s own drums, but beating oneself to shape.”
A small batch of smartly uniformed school students arrived at the Sivananda Ashram at Rishikesh. In great joy, Swami Sivanandji greeted the youth. They were served tea and light refreshments. After speaking a word or two to each student, Swamiji addressed them all:
“Do you know the drill?”
“But do you know the Upanishadic drill?”
“What?” The boys looked at one another and ultimately at the teacher with a querying forehead, as if to ask: “Do you?” The teacher and the taught, all were eager to be taught by Swamiji.
The boys were quickly arrayed in two rows.
“Om Tat Sat”- Came the command from Swamiji. The boys instinctively stood to attention as Swamiji himself did so. Now started the drill.
“Matr Devo Bhava”- Palms folded at the chest in salutation.
“Pitr Devo Bhava” – Both hands raised above, vertically.
“Acharya Devo Bhava” – Hands brought down in one swing along with a nice folding at the hip.
“Atithi Devo Bhava” – Palms folded at the chest in salutation.
“Om Tat Sat” – Attention.
Then Swamiji explained the significance of this drill. “This is the Upanishadic drill. The words of command are great utterances of sages in the Upanishads. May your mother be your God. May your father be your God. May your teacher be your God. May your guest be your God. These feelings are roused up when you repeat these sentences. Slowly your inner nature is divinized.”
Then ‘Baithak” exercise:
‘Sita’- Fists clenched, fore-arms bent at the elbow and raised, then the entire body lowered assuming a ‘sitting on the heels’ position.
‘Rama’- Normal standing position, but with clenched fists, ready for another round.
‘Om tat Sat’: attention.
After a few such exercises, Swamiji then led the students in a march, with the marching tune: Bhum Bhum Bhum bhum Mahadeva; Hara Hara Hara Hara Sadashiva;
Then Swamiji lectured to the students on the essence of Yoga. A carpet was spread and Swamiji taught the children Yoga-asanas and explained their usefulness.
Swamiji then encouraged the boys to sing. One boy sang nice songs. There was then an elocution competition. One of the bright students explained in simple language how spiritual institutions were the crying need of the hour.
The students then formed themselves into two groups and requested Swamiji to give a topic for debate. Swamiji gave the topic: “Need for spiritual life.”
This put to test the boys’ creative faculties. It was wonderful how the boys spoke ‘for’ and ‘against’ the proposition.
Swamiji distributed prize books to the boys who took part in these competitions. The boys and the teacher were then served with tea and fruits and given a hearty send-off.
Swamiji was highly pleased. Within a brief spell of half-an-hour, he had sown the seed of spiritual life in the hearts of those intelligent boys – the future citizens of this glorious land.
O M T A T S A T