There is a beautiful biblical saying: “Seek the kingdom of God first and all the rest will be added unto you.” Whether you want it or not, it will come. Health, wealth, friends, money and fame will just come to you. They are the by-products of the most important thing: your peace. And just what is that kingdom and where is it? It is within you. Yoga explains that the kingdom of God is within you as a peaceful mind. Let the mind be peaceful and it becomes a beautiful throne for the Divine Light or energy to express itself. Yoga and meditation, which are not two different things but one and the same thing, are practiced with this goal: to calm the mind.
Yoga begins with the ethical aspects of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yama and niyama, which are the first steps in cleaning the mind. You can never calm the mind without cleaning it first. It’s almost like you can never drive a car without tuning it well. Cleaning the mind means that you stay away from any thought or any action that would disturb your mind. Then the mind gets into its natural pure, calm state. So the question is not how to calm the mind? Instead, it is a question of staying away from disturbing the mind. If left alone, the mind is peaceful, like a bowl of water. You don’t have to do something to make a bowl of water calm. Just don‘t shake it; don’t put your hand in it. Leave the water alone and it finds its own natural tranquility. The mind is exactly like that. And that is why we practice the yamas and niyamas, which are very similar to the Ten Commandments. These commandments say to not do this and that because if you do something like lie or steal your mind will be disturbed and you also will be disturbing others.
So, if you stay away from all the things that disturb your mind, it finds its balance. Yoga is something that you live; it’s not just that you go into a room somewhere and practice some Yoga for a little while. What are you doing then the rest of the hours? You can practice Yoga every minute of the day: when you eat, when you talk, and even when you sleep. Let there be a continuous, constant practice of Yoga. Have all your thoughts and actions based on not disturbing your mind. Of course, it’s not easy to do something like this directly with the mind, so we begin the work with the body, which is the gross form of the mind. The body is nothing but a solidified mind. The mind itself is a subtle thing, so that’s why if anything happens to the body the mind gets affected and if anything happens to the mind the body gets affected. If you think happily, your body expresses the joy. If you think some sad things, the body reflects it. That means that every thought has done something to the body.
The body is not something totally different even though we say mind and body. To me, mind and body are one and the same. It’s actually your mind that created your body. The mind had certain thought forms; certain desires to experience in this life, and so it built a body that would be conducive to that. Another way to think of this is that your karma created your body. Karma is nothing but the sum total of your past thoughts. So if you change the thoughts, you change the body. It‘s easier to begin with the physical, more touchable, and that is where the asana practice comes in. The physical postures are a link between the concrete mind and the subtle mind, also known as prana or breath.
Then the next practice is to regulate and calm the breath. We can see that when the mind becomes agitated, the breath gets disturbed right away. You breathe heavily if someone speaks some words to you that you don’t like very much and you begin to hold the breath. You become angry if you feel insulted. Make good use of the glue that holds the mind and breath and body together. To calm the mind, calm the breath. That is where the slow yogic deep breathing (deergha swasam) and alternate nostril breathing practice (nadi suddhi) becomes helpful. Anytime you feel agitated you can immediately begin to do some slow, deep breathing. It can be used very well in a therapeutic setting or in a personal practice. No matter what approach you use, let’s not forget that we all breathe! So, anyone can practice deep breathing to become calm. There is no need to wait for a prescription to breathe deeply.
Deep breathing and alternate breathing have many benefits. Remember, every deep breath puts vitality into the system. In Sanskrit it is called prana. Prana comes directly from the air that is inhaled. Your whole body becomes oxygenated. We need a lot of oxygen to burn up the toxins inside and to eliminate them. Any kind of overindulgence contributes to toxins building up or energy being drained and weakening the system. In our daily lives, there should be moderation in eating, sleeping, talking—in all that we do. If we overindulge in anything, our energy is drained. We may call that “ enjoyment” in life. Even scratching an itch is enjoyment, but the minute you remove your hand it burns again and if you scratch too much it bleeds. Is that real enjoyment? No, enjoyment means that whatever you are doing, it should be without any problems, without any sorrows. It is continuous enjoyment, not temporary. But in the name of temporary enjoyment we waste a lot of our energy. It’s important for us to understand how we get ourselves into situations where we become sick. Have we been smoking, drinking, or eating junk food that leaves a lot of toxins in the system? These are what depletes the immune system, what really cause disease. Once this is understood, we can begin to slowly stay away from all those undesirable things. Otherwise, if you just continue with those habits, then you will not become well again.
Prevention is better than cure. But if you become unwell, and make the necessary changes in your lifestyle, then whatever therapy you use, it will help you. Dr. Dean Ornish, my student and good friend, likes to say that if you mop up the floor but keep the water faucet running, the floor will never become dry. So, stop the bad habits and the medicines will work.
There are certain cleansing processes called kriyas that are part of the system of Hatha Yoga. They can be very helpful in eliminating toxins from the body. But to understand them, it is important to understand how the system gets affected in the first place: it is by putting the wrong liquids, air, and food into the body. When I talk about eating clean food, what I mean by clean is measured differently. Does the food bring good vibrations into the system? Is it the product of love? Is it given to you lovingly? Think about whether the animals go to you happily. Do they say, “Go ahead, take my thigh, take this and that part of me?” No, so if the food comes with bad vibrations, it is polluted and even though the lab may say that it is a healthy animal, it really is not; it carries toxins. Whatever we eat should also bring good vibrations into the body. By eating food without considering all these things, we accumulate a lot of toxins. Unclean physical foods bring toxins, and unclean mental foods create unhealthy emotions! So we have to clean it all up; to eliminate what was put in. And that is why we have the kriyas.
You may prevent some additional toxins from coming into your system by your good habits but, still, you need to eliminate those that are already present in the system. Pranayama (the yogic breathing techniques) is a kriya that will help a lot to eliminate toxins. When people find it difficult to give up certain unhelpful habits such as overeating, drinking, smoking, or various other addictions, it is mainly because of the toxins that have already found a home in the system. Unless all that is eliminated, you will continue to have the addiction so you must burn it out. For that, pranayama is the best technique. With deep, vigorous breathing (kapalabhati and bhastrika), you literally burn it out. And a more subtle approach is chanting—it’s an enchanting practice! When you repeat mantras, you are using sound vibrations. Those vibrations can also burn out toxins. There are even cleaning processes that use sonic sound to clean cloth and jewels and many other things. Sound energy can penetrate into every cell and clean it out.
Mantras are also kriyas. They are sounds or phrases that have tremendous energy and they have a cleansing effect on the system. They can create heat or they can cool the system. These sacred sounds can burn excess mucus and can eliminate wind problems or intestinal gas. If you are cold, you can chant some “Rama Rama Rama” to warm you up. Simply repeat “Ram, Ram, Ram” continuously and you will feel heat coming into the system. Once the toxins are eliminated, you won’t have the craving for the unhealthy substance any longer. Take smoking, for example. The nicotine that has found a home in your body constantly wants more, even if you no longer want to smoke. The nicotine that is still in you is what is creating the craving. The way to stop that craving is to eliminate the nicotine that is lodged in the system. Then, you will no longer have problems. Otherwise, you will stay addicted. This is the reason so many people fail in their attempts to stop habits like drinking and smoking. But the simple Yoga practices will help you to eliminate the toxins.
Change to a clean diet, do a lot of pranayama, proper visualization, chanting, and meditation. When you chant, you are communicating directly with the cosmic energy, which you call God. According to the Bible, “In the beginning, was the Word.” But what is meant by “Word,” is really sound. In the beginning was the sound. That means, the unmanifest Cosmic Consciousness, when it wanted to manifest or express itself, it expressed as sound vibrations. Hindus call it nada brahman. Nada means sound. Brahman refers to Cosmic Consciousness, the luminosity that is our true nature. “Let there be Light.” God used sound to express that. So the world is created by sound and it will also certainly be destroyed by sound. And that’s a sound way of doing things! If you want to communicate with the Higher Power, manifested as sound, you can use another sound. A transmitting station and a receiving set should vibrate on the same wavelength. Some of the mantras have the same frequency as the cosmic sound, which you call the divine sound.
My Master, Swami Sivanandaji always said, “The essence of all the Yoga philosophy is simply to be well and do well. Be good, do good.” So I wish you all success in bringing that wellness to yourself and to others. Remember, charity begins at home. That means you must get yourself well first, and then you can help others to become well. Your very vibration of wellness will influence everyone who comes to you. Don’t always depend on temporary cures. If you can avoid all the quick, temporary fixes and use the more natural, preventive methods you will be doing a great service to yourself and to others who come to you for help.