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A Textbook of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Stability of Body and Mind

Yoga amounts, finally, to a study of the Self, which has been defined as Consciousness. Yoga is a study of the Self; it is a study of Consciousness. That yoga is union is a well-known definition. It means that yoga is the art of union with Consciousness itself, which is another way of saying it is union with the Self.

In our considerations of the nature of the Self, we observed that there are three phases of the Self. It does not mean that there are three Selves. There are three presentations of the Self. The external self is all things in the world with which we are connected by any means whatsoever—by like or dislike, etc. We call this self the secondary self, or gaunatman. We have been going into some detail as to the nature of this external self, from which a gradual extrication has to be attempted. We spent the entire previous session considering this matter. What is this external self in which we are involved—the whole of society, people, things, and so on?

To repeat, Consciousness is involved in the order of the creation of things, right from the beginning. There is a gradual involvement from the higher to the lower until it condenses into solid attachments, physical associations, and clings to visible objects. By proper analytical methods, we realise that too much involvement in external affairs is not a beneficial thing.

Kings become beggars, possessions leave us, friends desert us; nobody in this world can be fully trusted. We realise this when our hair becomes grey, sometimes when it is too late to mend. We realise that all those who we thought were friends were not really friends; they were only matlab friends—friends for a purpose. And there is no security even in respect of property, money and land. Varieties of circumstances can make one lose all one's property. These circumstances may be legal, political, social, and so on. Conditions which are historical in their nature are so eluding and unintelligible that no one can trust anything. Tomorrow's fate, no one knows.

This is a kind of application of viveka, or the discriminative faculty, by which we guard ourselves before we find that it is too late. Viveka is a process of guarding ourselves from untoward conditions that may befall us. Any condition can befall any person in the world. No one is exempted from the process of evolution.

When we are youthful, our blood is warm and we are enthusiastic, so we do not realise this matter. We think we can become kings or amass a lot of wealth; we can occupy a high position in society; we can have the whole world as our associate and friend. As we become more mature in life, we see through the realities of things and begin to feel uncomfortable even with our own brother. All associations seem to be flimsy in their nature and we are likely to stand alone one day, dissociated from everything.

The lives of saints and the history of the world, these are the two things that you must read to know the fate of mankind and the types of experience through which one has to pass in life. Do not say that you are exempt. “Somebody else's plane crashed, not my plane.” You should not say that. Anybody's is everybody's.

The political and social history of the world and the lives of saints tell you how people have passed through varieties of experiences, all which lead to the conclusion that this world is not yours. Nothing in the world is yours. Nobody is yours. Nobody belongs to you. Nobody is your servant, your property, your friend. This is viveka, discrimination; this is understanding.

Then, what happens? This secondary self gradually drops off, like an old shirt. This discrimination is a panacea to cure the illness of attachment to external things, which constitute the secondary self. You will never feel comfortable with anything in the world. Everything is a very difficult situation. You are always guarded.

There is a homely illustration given by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of how spiritual seekers have to be guarded in this world. You cannot be simply sleeping, as if every-thing is milk and honey. It is not so. The illustration is of a person who is caught up in heavy rain at night. He has travelled a long distance, and he is exhausted. He has not eaten. Finally he finds a little hut, a deserted place, and he enters it. He finds it is a very comfortable shelter from the lashing rain. He is tired; he would like to sleep. When he reclines and tries to doze off, he looks around and sees that a snake's head is slowly protruding from a little hole. He is not comfortable. He looks to the other side, and another snake is slowly coming out of another hole. He finds that there are also two or three scorpions moving behind him. Will he sleep, even if he is tired? He cannot go out because it is raining. He will be watching all around. Like this, you have to live in this world. Do not be too comfortable.

Read the lives of all the great kings who came to this world—all the dictators, all the Caesars. They wanted to possess the whole Earth; see what happened to them. Never be attached to things. Do not say, “It is mine.” Do not say, “Without this, I cannot exist.” You can exist, and one day you have to exist independently. All these are illustrations of how you can free yourself from this entanglement in the false externality of selfhood, the entire world of association of any kind.

Then what happens if you succeed in this attempt? You go to Uttarkashi; you go to Gangotri. You say you have seen the world, and you go to some ashram, some dharmashala, and stay completely alone. “Nobody is there. I am alone.” What is alone is only this body, which is also a kind of self. So from one self, you have now come to another self. Both your attachment to involvement in a social household, and your political desire, have gone. Either you have understood things correctly, and so you do not want to have any further association, or you have become so old that you do not want to have, and cannot have, any connection with anything.

The external self has gone; you have dropped it. But your false self—this mithyatman, this body—clings to you. You cannot get rid of it as easily as you can get rid of associations with the world. You can leave everything and sit somewhere without having any association with things, but you cannot leave this body somewhere and sit somewhere else. That is not possible. So here is a greater difficulty for you.

Yoga is union with the Self. Now, what kind of self? It is union with the real Self, which is something well known to you. You cannot say that this body is the real Self. It is a false Self. We have seen through our analysis of the three states of consciousness—waking, dream and sleep—that our real Self is indicated in our condition of sleep. It is not this physical body, which has to be cast off one day. Our physical body will die, and we will still continue to exist.

In a similar manner as you exercised discrimination and understanding in respect of the external self, you have also to do something with this bodily self. It has to be handled in a particular manner. With your detachment, or non-attachment to things outside, the disharmony that existed earlier between you and the world outside has almost been eliminated. Now the disharmony that is between this body and the world of nature has also to be looked after. You felt that this external self is mainly a kind of psychological self. Friendship, love, hatred, wealth, position—these are all only ideas in the head. They do not physically exist outside, yet they harass you very much.

This body is of a different character. It is made up of the five elements. Earth, water, fire, air and ether constitute the building bricks, the substance of every formation in this world, including your own body. In a cosmic sense, you may say even this body is a kind of thought. But it is too much for you to think like that. You must go slowly. It is more difficult to handle the body than to handle the world of relations outside. You can make adjustments with the world, but you cannot make any adjustment with this body. It has its own say.

The problem with this body is that it is considered as an independent entity, outside the world of nature—which is made up of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether—notwithstanding the fact that it is not outside nature. The building is not outside the bricks. The bricks and the building are inseparable. Why is it that you consider your body as independent of the external world of nature, though it is made up of the same substance as the world outside? It is due to the intense affirmation of consciousness in a particular location. Desires, which are the forces generated by a particular affirmation of consciousness, cause the gravitation of particles of matter around themselves, and the formation of the body ensues.

This body is a shape taken by particles of matter due to the attraction, or the gravitational pull, of the desireful affirmation of a centre of consciousness, which is called the ego, or the jiva. Otherwise, there is no reason for believing that the body is existing totally outside nature. We cannot feel ourselves in harmony with the trends of nature. The seasons change, and we cannot accommodate ourselves to that. We feel very uncomfortable. If it is raining, we do not like it; if it is hot or cold, it is no good; if the wind blows, it is also no good. Nothing is good for us. The body cannot accustom itself to these conditions.

There are various laws of nature, which the body does not always follow. Persons who are acquainted with the system of natural healing, called naturopathy, know something about how natural laws operate in the world and how we live an unnatural life. We fall sick for various reasons—psychologically, as well as naturally.

The yoga technique prescribes certain methods of adjustment of the body with the world of nature. There are various methods. One of them is the well-known system of the practice of yoga exercises: yoga asanas. You do exercises every day, but you must do it as yoga, not as an exercise. It is not a game or a physical training that you are performing. Yoga exercises, these asanas, become yoga only under certain conditions; otherwise, they are mere exercises like football, cricket, and so on. How do physical exercises become yoga? I said that yoga is union with Reality. What kind of union with Reality is possible by the exercise of the limbs of the physical body? There are various answers to this question.

Firstly, you must realise that you are a psychophysical individual, a mind and body complex. The so-called person that you are is a very interesting blend of mind and body, thought and physicality, idea and form. You cannot be simply the body without the mind, nor are you merely the mind without the body.

You can very well appreciate the effect of the mind on the body when you consider that mental disturbances have an impact on the body. When you are grief-stricken, when you are bereaved, when you have lost all property, when your life is at stake, see how thoughts affect the body. They can make you physically sick. Intense thought, of whatever nature, can have such an effect upon the physiological system that it will look as if the body is crumbling. People who are grief-stricken do not eat for many days. Why should they not eat, when the eating is done by the body? Your mind is not eating, but the mind says that your body should not eat. It has got a control, an authority over the body. Suppose you have suddenly lost all your wealth in the stock market. What will you do? You will go and lie down, as if you are dead. Why should you physically lie down when the body is perfectly all right? The mind tells the body that you are finished, and so you do not eat; you lie down. This is an example of how the mind can affect the body, showing how intimately the mind is connected with the body.

Similarly, the other way around, the body can affect the mind. Suppose you inhale chloroform, or some anaesthetic has been injected into your body. The mind ceases thinking; you become unconscious. Chemical changes in the system can bring about psychological changes. Hence, the body can influence the mind, and the mind can influence the body. That is to say, you are a beautiful blend of physicality and mentality, form and idea.

So when you do yoga exercises, who is doing the exercise? It is very important to remember this point, especially as these exercises are supposed to be union with Reality. What Reality? In these earlier stages, it goes without saying that the body, being part and parcel of the physical world of nature, has to be set in tune with it.

There is mostly a physical imbalance in people, and physiological functions do not take place in the manner they ought to really take place. You have some kind of complaint from some part of the body. There is no adjustment of the parts of the physiological system. Either you cannot breathe, or you cannot think, or you sneeze, or you get a stomach ache, or something else. In the same way as the mind has such a connection with the body, there is another thing which also has a connection with the body, which is called prana. Your breathing process has a tremendous influence on the physical condition and, incidentally, on the mental condition also.

The prana pervades the whole body, right from the toe to the centre of the head, and it flows through the nerves of the body, the nadis or fine nerve currents, keeping you feeling alive as a whole person. The body by itself is a corpse; it has no life. It is the prana that makes you feel that there is life in the body, just as an iron rod becomes hot due to the fire that passes through it, but the rod itself is not hot. When you touch a heated iron rod, you say it has burned your finger. What has burned you is not the iron rod, but the fire in it. Likewise, the prana pervading the entire body, down to the minute cells of the system, gives you a sensation of equality, wholeness, and a feeling of healthiness.

Therefore, three factors seem to be before us when we take a step in the practice of yoga. Now we are carefully going into the inner circle of yoga from the outer arrangements, about which we have discussed enough. Yoga exercises actually commence yoga proper. Asana is the beginning of real yoga. When you do the asanas, three factors must be taken into consideration: your thoughts, your body, and the pranas.

Suppose your mind is intensely disturbed or agitated for some reason or other, and you are in a state of torn emotion. That is not the time to do physical exercise. You should not say yoga will make you all right. In that condition of the mind, asana cannot make you all right. Sometimes, it will even make you worse. The mind has to be in perfect agreement with the body; only then can the body cooperate in the practice of these exercises. If your mind does not want it, you will ache all over, and the asana will not do you any good.

Desires of the mind, which actually constitute the mind, have an influence upon the flow of the prana. Wherever your thoughts are, there your prana also is. When you think something, the mind moves towards that thing, of course. But more than that, and apart from that, the prana also moves towards it. The idea of the object creates a love-hate relationship with the object, and the prana energises it.

The prana in the body does not always move in an equilibrated fashion of harmony. When the body becomes old, it looks ugly, and some parts of the body demand greater attention than other parts. The sense organs demand a lion's share of pranic energy. A particular sense organ says that it must have all the energy for itself. “All the water should flow through my field,” as quarrelling villagers sometimes say.

When you go on seeing something with great attention, as in the projection of a moving picture, you do not hear or think about anything else. You do not even know what is happening around you. When you go on gazing, the prana is impinging upon the screen. Or when you hear the beautiful performance of an orchestra, the prana is directed in that fashion. When you eat a good meal and are highly delighted with it, there also the mind is thinking of it, and so the prana goes in the direction of the digestion of the food. Any other activity also demands the movement of the prana in a similar manner. Inasmuch as you do not always think in a harmonious manner and your thoughts are distracted, the prana in the body also moves in a distracted fashion. There is no harmonious movement of the prana. It is in a jumble everywhere.

Yoga asanas, correctly performed in a sequential, systematic manner, have something like the effect of acupuncture upon the system, by which certain knots in which the prana is tied are untied, and they are made to flow in an even manner. The yoga exercise teacher should know all these things, and know what particular difficulty each student has. All students of yoga exercises are not uniform in their nature. They have mental, psychological, emotional, and even physical differences.

In the earliest of stages of the yoga practice, everything goes well; there is nothing wrong. But in advanced stages, you have to take these factors into consideration. What is the mind thinking? If the asana is performed by the body but the mind is not participating, then there is no cooperation between one part of yourself and another part. If you are physically doing sirshasana, the mind should also be doing it simultaneously. The thoughts move together with the movement of the limbs.

There is a Chinese and Japanese technique called tai chi. It is an exercise which is a psychophysical movement of the whole system, bringing about a kind of meditational activity of the entire organism. It is something very beautiful. Tai chi is a system of blending the thought and the body in a kind of yoga exercise, in a manner that the thought, the prana and the physiological organs are set in a harmonious movement.

The point that I am driving at is that when you are engaged in the performance of a yoga exercise, your mind should be happy to do that exercise. It is not an imposition that is inflicted upon you, and it is not something done as a routine, whether you want to do it or not. It is a very necessary thing, and the mind is happy about it. The whole point is that your mind has to be happy with what you are doing. You should not do a thing when the mind is unhappy about it. You should not say, “This is a stupid thing to do.” You should say, “I shall do it, and I am glad to do it. It is good for me. I am happy and pleased.” Then that exercise will benefit you. Even when you eat, you must feel happy. “Beautiful! I like this food.” If you go on condemning it, the food will become poison.

Yoga asana is also a mental asana, as well as being physical. It is also emotional. Unhappy people will not derive benefit from mere physical movements. By a carefully ordained performance of these exercises, the disparity that is usually there between the functions of the body and the laws of nature is diminished. The appetites of the sense organs become less and less intense. Passions get gradually subdued because appetites, passions and desires are the vehemence of the sense organs in respect of their attachment to only this particular body, irrespective of anything else in the world.

The more are you concerned only with this body, the more is the appetite, the more is the desire, the more is the passion, and so on. But the less is your concern with this body and the greater is your understanding of its relation with other things in the world, the less is the appetite, and you can get on with fewer physical comforts than when you are totally physically bound and want infinite physical comforts.

Asana is described in various ways in such textbooks as Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Siva Samhita, etc. They are all good. You can have any exercise for the purpose of your health, but if you are serious about the higher achievements of yoga practice, you need not go into all the asanas. For the purpose of maintaining sound health, a dozen asanas will do, the aim behind the performance of these yoga asanas being the maintenance of a steady posture of the body.

What is the steady posture? As I mentioned, the steady posture can be defined as a harmonious balance maintained between the physicality of your body and nature's laws. That is one aspect of the matter which is very important, of course, so that you may not fall sick. You are friendly with what is operating outside in nature and with how nature works.

In the Ayurveda system of medical science, there are prescriptions of how you have to conduct yourself during different seasons. It does not mean that you should eat the same food all 365 days of the year. When the seasons change, the diet changes. The Ayurveda Shastra, such as the Charaka Samhita and others, say that during the monsoon season there are certain items which you should not eat, such as yoghurt. If you eat yoghurt and cold food when it is heavily raining, you will have a sore throat, feverishness, etc. There are certain seasons during which you should not eat pulses because they cannot be digested. During some period, milk is not taken. At other times, vegetables with many seeds inside, such as eggplant, should not be eaten because the seeds cannot be easily digested.

When the sun is very hot, you have to behave in one way. When the cold wind is blowing or it is raining, or at the junction of seasons, such as spring and autumn, when people generally fall sick, certain other things have to be done. An adjustment of diet is prescribed in the Ayurveda Shastra; and other things are also there, such as your habits, your way of working, the time of sleeping, and so on. We have wonderful sciences in India even for having a physically comfortable life, let alone higher things like yoga practice.

The ultimate aim of the yoga practice of asana is steady posture. It is steadiness, harmony with nature's prescriptions, and basically it is steadiness in seatedness. Yoga is meditation, finally. A particular operation of thought is called meditation. For that, you have to be seated. Why should you be seated? Can you not lie down, stand up or walk? When the mind is concentrated, the body loses its mental grip, and the mind will not pay sufficient attention to the maintenance of the balance of the body when it is concentrating on something else. If you start standing and concentrating, you may fall down, and if you lie down, you are likely to go to sleep. Hence, lying down and standing are not considered as proper postures for yoga meditation.

The seated posture, āsīnaḥ sambḥavāt (B.S. 4.1.7), is a sutra in the Brahma Sutras: Success follows from a seated posture. You can see by experimenting every day. Do not do meditation, do not think anything, but at least be seated. Do not get up and move about. For half an hour continuously, sit in one posture. See what difference takes place in your personality. You will feel a kind of tingling sensation flowing through the nerves. You will feel a fixity of posture. And if you sit for a long time, you may even feel as if you are a very heavy hill. That sensation will follow.

Seatedness is the proper posture. Various instructions are given for the purpose of maintaining this steadiness of posture. In the beginning, you can lean against a wall so that you may not feel an ache in the spine. Use a cushion so that there may not be pain in the knees. Later on you can sit any way you like.

Physical steadiness of the posture is achieved by the continuous maintenance of it on the one hand and, at the same time, the entertaining of a thought similar to it. Again the same question arises: The mind should not be somewhere else. It should also be in that posture. The mind should be concentrating on something which is steady.

In an aphorism of Patanjali there is an interesting prescription: prayatna saithilya ananta samāpattibhyām (Y.S. 2.47). Feel completely relaxed. Do not be rigid. Feel that you have practically isolated yourself from the body. You are not there in the body. This is a kind of relaxation method. Do not be rigid, because then you will feel pain. Prayatna saithilya means effortlessness. Your work should be an effortless performance, without rigidity and pain; then the performance is a happy one. People dance and act in drama theatres spontaneously, not with rigidity and fixity. In a similar manner, let there be an effortless seatedness of the body.

The mind is also to think of something which is fixed. What is fixed in this world? We may think of the Earth itself; it is very steady. You are as steady as the whole planet Earth or the solar system. The word ‘ananta' is used in this sutra: prayatna saithilya ananta samāpattibhyām. Think of the ananta. What is the ananta? There are two meanings for it. One is the traditional meaning, and the other is the philosophical meaning.

The Puranas say that a huge snake with millions of hoods, called Ananta, is supporting the physical world. An old grandmother's tale says that earthquakes are due to the tremors caused when this large snake shifts the load of the Earth from one hood to another hood. Then the Earth shakes, and there is an earthquake. How steadily that great snake is positioning the entire cosmos! Some Puranas say that the eight directions of the Earth are maintained in position by eight elephants, called Diggajas. This is all mythology, theology, etc., and is only to suggest the way in which you can think of the position to be maintained.

Ananta also means without end—that is, non-finite, infinite, endless. Can you think of endlessness? Think of space from all sides. Imagine that you are moving in space to the right; you are moving further and further to the right; the space has no end. You are moving to the left—no end, no end. You are moving high up, to the top—no end, no end; and then you are going down. Imagine that, at one stroke, you are moving in all directions in space. Immediately you feel a kind of fixity of your mind. You must think all six directions at the same time: the four quarters, plus above and below. Endlessness, from all sides, engulfs you in such a manner that you have nothing to think. When there is nothing to think, there is fixity of the mind as well as the body. This is the way in which you can attain stability of yoga posture for the purpose of higher achievements in yoga.

This is something about this false Self—this body. I have not told you everything about it, only a little bit. This body is connected with physical nature; it is made up of the same elements as this world is made, and you have to live in a state of harmony with the natural seasons, etc. It starts with yoga asanas, and asanas lead to the posture of the body. This is one thing. But there is something more about this false body.

The body is not a solid stone sitting here, so that you can just take it for granted. It is also a tremendous involvement, and it is not solid. In the same way as your relations with society outside are not one solid arrangement and are a juxtaposition of various techniques of mental operation with things and persons outside, so is the case with this physical personality. It is not entirely physical, though it looks like that. It has internal components, which are the reason why this physical body appears to be in this form.

This physical personality is not a solidity, in the same way as your relations with society outside are not one solid arrangement. It is a juxtaposition of various techniques of mental operation with things and persons outside. This physical personality is not entirely physical, though it looks that way. It has internal components, which are the reason why this physical body appears to be in this form. So merely doing asanas may not be sufficient. Something else also has to be done in order to control this body; and when I say ‘body', I mean all that constitutes your personality.

Your personality is the body. The outermost part of this personality is the physical body, but there are internal layers which Vedanta philosophy, Sankhya philosophy and others tell you are the body of sense organs, the body of vital energy, the body of pure psychic operations, the body of intellect, reason, and many other things. If you are ignorant of these internal citizens of this little world of your personality, and imagine that you are only this solid body, you will be thoroughly mistaken.

So from the outer world of social relations we have come to the physical body, and now we shall see what else is inside this so-called individual personality.