Prevention is better than cure and that is where Yoga comes in. You are not trying to simply nibble away at the symptoms. We go to the very root cause of a disease. For example, if you get a headache you immediately take an aspirin. The headache is gone and you are happy. My question is: “Why should the head ache? Certainly not because you had not taken any aspirin in the first place. So, if the headache is not due to the lack of aspirin, there must be some other reason for the head to ache. Ask yourself:  Since when did it begin to ache? Did I eat something that was not good for me? What did I do? Did I over strain myself? Did I have a sleepless night? Look for the cause and then stay away from that. If the stomach aches that means the stomach is telling you, “Sorry, you have placed some wrong food into me.”

If you eat natural, organic food then the stomach says, “Okay, you gave me good food and not too much, so I’m fine.” If you ate a poor quality food or if the quantity was too much the stomach lets you know. If the stomach didn’t tell you anything what would happen? You would continue the bad habit and get very sick. So these aches and pains are our friends; they are warning signals that tell you that something is going wrong somewhere, so you will take care.

Most of our problems—physical ones and also our worries, hatred, fear, anxiety, and disappointments—are caused by our own wrong attitude in life. We allow our senses to just run around. We eat whatever we see that looks good or smells good. We don’t worry about the stomach or pause and ask it if it needs food. We simply ask the tongue and if the tongue says “eat,” that’s what we do. We have allowed the senses to become unruly and to run here and there as they want. We are enslaved by our own senses, our own minds and they create problems for us. Instead of realizing that we are the cause we put the blame on  somebody or something else.

Yoga asks you to understand that you are the cause for your happiness or your unhappiness. If you have many friends that means you have made your own mind a good friend of yours and that is why you see others as your friends. If you have not mastered your mind and your mind acts as an enemy to you, you will also see others as enemies and not as friends. You are your best friend and you are your worst enemy.

Self-reformation is the aim of Yoga and that is the same thing that you see in every faith or wisdom tradition. The individual must reform themselves both physically, and mentally. Only then can we be useful to others.

Once somebody expressed this concern to me: “I know I have a lot of weaknesses and am restless, but if I have to reform myself before I serve others it will take forever. If I have to wait to serve others until I find peace, health, and happiness within myself I will never be a useful person. There are so many problems in the world; there is so much that could be done to help, I can’t just sit and think of my own peace.” I responded with this example: “Suppose you are walking somewhere with a gallon can of gasoline. All of a sudden you see a house on fire and think: I must go and put the fire out but I don’t have time to go home and get some water. So, instead of taking the time to get water, you rush to the spot with some gasoline to put out the fire. Could that be done? If you don’t have water, don’t go there and pour gasoline on the fire.

Another person asked me: “There is so much restlessness and so may problems in the world. What can I possibly do?” I said, “If you want to do something to bring peace you must bring it with you. If you don’t have peace within and if you say, “I don’t have time to find peace in in me I should just go and help,” then you are going there with your own distressed mind. That means you will be adding one more distressed person to the situation.

We are all eager to serve and that’s fine, but it is necessary to prepare yourself for service and that’s why we become Yoga students. As a student you are accumulating the proper knowledge and experience so that you can go and share it with others. Before acquiring enough knowledge if you try to do share what is that you are going to share? Your foolishness?

If you are standing on the bank of a river and see someone drowning, as a great bighearted person you will want to pull them out of the water. If you don’t know how to swim and if you jump in, you will be one more person that drowns. Instead, take time to learn how to swim and then in a similar, future situation you can help. Now all you can do is shout for some help, but don’t jump into the water. You are all ready to serve others but become qualified first by making yourself both physically and mentally fit. That is purpose of Yoga.

Yoga is very practical. You don’t need to change your occupation or change your faith. Just be what you are, where you are, and see that this kind of transformation happens in your own body and mind. Stay away from anything and everything that would disturb your physical ease and mental ease, which is called disease. You already are easeful and peaceful by nature, but you have allowed that to be disturbed. When you are at peace, you don’t worry and you don’t feel bad about anything. Have you ever gone to a doctor and complained: “Oh the past ten days I have felt so good, so peaceful?” But the moment you lose your peace or your ease then you run to a doctor. That itself is the proof that your very nature is peaceful and easeful and if you could retain that peace and ease then you can become useful too.

There are certain practices that help to make us strong both physically and mentally. There is no need for me to give you a long list. It has already been given in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shall not kill, thou shall not lie,” and so on. Unfortunately they are all worded in the negative- don’t do this and don’t do that. If I started to add a few more “do nots,” you would put me into a knot! We have done enough “do nots,” is it not? Instead, let us do something positive. That is where the Yoga practices come in. Replace unhelpful habits with good ones and then the undesirable habits go away.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda