Yoga theory sometimes leaves us nowhere; it’s mostly intellectual. What the mind can understand is very little. So in the name of Yoga practice, we do something that can expand the mind and then, little by little, we understand things in a better way. We don’t want to use too many words, or waste a lot of time in just talking. We want to practice. The Yoga practices are like minute pills, atomic doses, which can clean and elevate your mind.

Nothing has been achieved just by theory alone. That’s why, my Gurudev, Swami Sivanandaji, very often told us that an ounce of practice is much better than tons of theories. The main purpose of our practice is to bring the mind under our control, after making it as clean as possible. A clean mind and a controlled mind, are two points we must always remember. It is immaterial what you do, or when and where you do it. Behind all your actions, physical or even mental—that means the thoughts, your actions, and your speech—there should be a clear mind and a controlled mind.

Let us always remember these points: Whenever we start doing something, we should ask ourselves, Am I doing it with a clear mind? Or, is this action going to make my mind unclean? And, am I doing it with full control over my mind? Or, is it that I am following the mind and the mind is leading me? Consider these questions before all your actions. Then, you are practicing Yoga. Let us not think that Yoga consists only of asana and pranayama. Any action can become a Yoga practice if it is done with a clear mind that is under your control.

What makes the mind clean, or unclean? The purity or impurity of the mind depends on our motives. I am giving you the very essence of Yoga. If you condense all the volumes of books about Yoga, you will come to this point. If the motive is selfless, your action will be pure. But if there is even a tinge of selfishness behind the action, it loses its charm, it loses its purity. I’m just telling you that it’s immaterial what you do. Do anything, but let the motive be completely free from selfishness. Don’t expect anything for yourself; the reward of the actions should go to others. Do everything for the sake of others and don’t even expect a thank you. If you expect a thanks, then the action is polluted because you are expecting something; it is selfish. Just do for the sake of doing. But, if you can’t go to that level, then at least be happy by doing something for somebody else. There is no impurity in that.

We should know why we are asked not to do things with a personal desire or motive. It’s not for anybody else’s sake. It is for our own sake, because the minute we expect something, and if by any chance we do not get that, then all the charm is lost. You feel sad because you think, What is this? I did so much. I went out of the way to do this for that person. What kind of person is he or she not to even express a thanks! You will have these kinds of thoughts. That means your action has lost its meaning. After having done all these nice things, you are not happy because you don’t see a happy face in the other person. You don’t see any thankfulness in their face. But, having done all these things, why should you lose the joy of having done them by expecting something in return? If you expect something in return, it will seldom come to you. But, if you let go of any expectation, the joy follows you.

So, have a clear mind and a controlled mind. I’m just telling you what I have learned, what I’ve understood in all these years. This is the essence; this is the basic idea with which I work. And I am the proof—I’m always happy. Nobody can make upset me, nobody can disappoint me, I’m never unhappy.

These are the simple points to consider. Selfish action brings pain; it makes the mind impure. Selfless action keeps the mind always clean. If the mind is clean, it will easily come under your control. It will not go against you. It’s because the mind wants something for itself, because the selfishness is there, that it goes beyond your control. Even though you tell your mind, Don’t do that, it will say, No, no, somehow I must have it. I’m going to do that, or go there. You lose control of your own mind. So if you want one word for your sadhana, your spiritual practice, let it be selflessness. Raise above your selfishness. That is the essence of all the prayers. You say pray: I am Thine, all is Thine, Thy will be done. And if you don’t believe in God, you can let the idea of “Thine” mean the nature, or the universe, or Cosmic Consciousness. Take your sadhana and all your actions as a sort of social service to the humanity. Live for the sake of others and not for your personal interests.

The moment you say something is mine, it binds you. Mine binds you, thine liberates you. You need not go into a cave; you need not go to some secluded place to think this way. You can be anywhere. You can be in the home, you can be in the office, you can be traveling. Wherever you are, let this idea be running through all your actions. Let it be a guiding star.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda