Author: Paramahamsa Niranjanananda Saraswati

Author’s Bio-data:
Chancellor of Bihar Yoga Bharati at Munger, Bihar, India – the first yoga university in the world – and President of the Bihar School of Yoga.
He was initiated into the Paramahamsa tradition at the age of 30 (in 1990) and succeeded Paramahamsa Satyananda Saraswati.
He has written many classical books on Yoga, Tantra and the Upanishads, and has conducted intensive Yoga and Sannyasa courses to spread the seeds of yoga in all directions. At present he divides his time between overseas visits – to the many Satyananda Ashrams and Yoga centres around the world – tours within India and his headquarters at Ganga Darshan, the Ashram in Munger that also houses the Bihar School of Yoga and Bihar Yoga Bharati.

Up to now we have been trying to understand the philosophy, the system and the tradition of yoga. But the time has come when we need to apply yoga to improve our lives – and not only our own life but also that of the society in which we live. Therefore the theme of our gathering is the application of yoga in the new millennium.

Yoga is a subject that deals with the management of our physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual states. It is a very wide subject and there are many schools of yoga in the world today. Our attempt has been to understand yoga in the context of our present day situations and environment, and to discover how we can derive the benefits from this ancient practice.

I am often asked how our yoga is different from the other yogic systems and traditions that exist. We have been working with yoga for the last thirty years and trying to develop it with a particular idea or vision in relation to human nature. This yoga promotes physical well-being through the practices of Hatha Yoga (the harmonizing of complementary energies through physical practices) and Raja Yoga (the calming of mental energies through meditative practices).

Our yoga promotes mental well-being through the practices of Pratyahara (relaxing and detaching from the five senses in order to turn ‘inwards’), Dharana (focusing the attention), Dhyana (maintaining mental stillness) – these are the fifth, sixth and seventh of Patanjali’s eight limbs – together with Mantra (the use of sacred sounds), Raja (meditation) and Bhakti (unconditional love towards One and All).
We look for self-discovery through classical Kriyas (yoga cleansing and purification practices) and Kundalini Yoga (the raising of energy through the subtle body system).

I belong to a tradition of renunciates (called Sannyasins, and given the title Swami at initiation) who dedicated their lives to preserving the knowledge (Vidya), and to bringing out that knowledge of human development when the times demanded it. Renunciation is our personal life but our professional life is yoga. Therefore it must be made clear that the yogic concepts should not be confused with any form of religion, cult or group. Yoga should be understood as a science that deals with the management of human personality – harmony of body, harmony of mind, and the experience of spirit.

We have forgotten to look at the big picture and we are looking at a very small point in the picture. Just imagine that there is a computer printout in black and white – a dot matrix printout of the world – and we place that picture on the floor. An ant comes along, walks on top of the image and wanders around it. If you ask the ant ‘what did you see?’ it will say ‘I did not see anything, just a white field with some black dots’. But if you can lift the ant up onto your finger and say ‘look now…’, the ant will say ‘Wow! That’s our world!’ We have to become like that. That is the planet Earth and we are wandering around, looking at little black spots all over. We are not able to see the big picture that represents humanity or humanism.

The greater challenge in our life is to follow the laws of humanism, and this is where yoga comes in. It is a philosophy, a practice, a system to provide this understanding and this concept of an integrated human personality within a united human society. It is to this end that the yoga practitioners in the past, over hundreds and thousand of years, developed a series of practices by which we could attain physical health, mental harmony and spiritual upliftment. This is the kind of yoga that we represent and that we teach.

The name of the headquarters of the yogic movement to which we belong is Ganga Darshan Yoga Ashram, at Munger in Bihar, India. ‘Ganga’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘purity’ and ‘Darshan’ means ‘vision’ – the vision of the pure awakened self. That is the inspiration for the Bihar Yoga system (also called the Satyananda Yoga system), plus all the associated centres and activities that go on continuously all over the world. Ganga Darshan Yoga Ashram is a movement in itself, reaching out to people to help them find health, happiness, fulfilment and joy in their lives.

The tradition of Ganga Darshan begins with Swami Sivananda, my spiritual ‘Grandfather’, who was a medical doctor who later on left his practice to take up the yogic and sannyasa life. Through this life and this system he started to help people to find their own place in life. Swami Sivananda had many disciples who spread out throughout the world to propagate yoga. One of them was Swami Satyananda, our guru and teacher (now living in retirement).

Swami Satyananda is recognized as one of the first yoga teachers to speak about yoga in scientific terms. Prior to that, yoga was seen as a mystical, religious or philosophical subject. It was through the efforts of Swami Satyananda that research started to discover the benefits and the effects of yoga in managing physical, psychological and spiritual imbalances and disorders. Today those activities have gone a long way. The Bihar School of Yoga was established in 1963 to propagate yoga. Today it conducts health management courses, and other courses with the emphasis on bringing yoga closer to people. Courses are conducted for general ailments, respiratory disorders, diabetes, gynaecological problems, hypertension, arthritis, back problems, digestive problems, etc., relating to health – which, at the same time, deepen our understanding of yogic procedures. Special advanced yogic courses are conducted to become aware of human potential.

The culmination of the Bihar school of Yoga is the Bihar Yoga Bharati, which got official recognition ten years ago from the Education Department of the Government of India as a Yoga University – the first of its kind in the modern world. We run courses on yoga philosophy, yoga psychology, applied yoga and yoga ecology. Every year we hope to include new subjects that will further enhance our understanding of the relationship that we have with each other, nature and the universe.

Another institution guided by Ganga Darshan is Sivananda Math. This is a social and charitable institution working for the development of the weaker and underprivileged sections of Indian society. There are many different activities and all the programs are conducted in the form of service, totally free. We have adopted 10,000 families spread out in 21 villages. Their welfare is totally managed by us, whether it be medical or educational or self-employment – even their clothing and food. We hope eventually to expand our activities to other regions, not only in India but around the globe wherever people are in need of assistance.

Another institution is the Yoga Research foundation. Last year we started a project with one of the best hospital chains in India, in which we are studying the effects of yoga in the management of cancer. We have taken 400 cancer patients and, under clinical supervision, we are trying to see how yoga can improve their condition. If it works, if it is proved, it will create a revolution in the world of medicine.

A recently formed organization is the Yoga Publications Trust. It has been given the responsibility of disseminating the yogic knowledge with the help of books, multi-media, audio-visuals, audiocassettes, videocassettes, etc.

Another institution is the Children’s Yoga Fellowship, concerned with holistic education. How are we going to evolve and to respond to different situations in life? There are different forms of education. There is I.Q., Intelligence Quotient, which is related to the intellect. There is E.Q., Emotional Quotient, which is related to the heart. And there is S.Q., Social Quotient. These are the three components of personality – intelligence, emotions and interaction. Or Head, Heart and Hands.

The process of education in the world today prizes intellectual development and we have been taught to believe that the higher the I.Q. the better the person is. This idea is wrong – a higher I.Q. can mean less ability to interact positively in society, and to relate with other people, because there is an imbalance. If we only work with our intellect it is a lopsided development of human nature. The human personality is a combination of the qualities of head, heart and hands. The Children’s Yoga Fellowship is a very dynamic movement. Within the span of five years it has over a thousand children yoga teachers who teach yoga better than all of us present here! They can sympathize with the problems.

I took small children between 7 and 9 years old to a meeting with the Department of Education in New Delhi to decide the policy of incorporating yoga in education. They said ‘You people decide what we are going to learn without knowing our problems. We, the children, want this form of education…’ and they gave an outline which was very much appreciated by the department. Let us hope that a balanced educational system can evolve in the course of time, which will look into all these three aspects of a child’s personality.

We seek prosperity through wisdom. ‘Prosperity’ does not mean financial power but the ability to live happily, joyously, in a contented way. Once you have contentment – no matter how or where you live – you are always at peace with yourself. This contentment comes with wisdom, with realization. This has been the broad outline of the Bihar or Satyananda system. Hatha Yoga influences the physical and the psychic aspects. Raja Yoga influences the mental, psychic and spiritual aspects. Bhakti yoga influences the emotional, social and spiritual aspects. Karma Yoga (acting always for the One and All rather than for one’s own self) influences the physical, emotional, social and spiritual aspects.

Each yoga has the ability to influence a particular aspect or dimension of our life. The Bihar or Satyananda Yoga system makes an attempt to access all the diverse areas of our life where we are actively participating and interacting.

What, then, are the components that we are trying to develop, awaken and enhance through the practices of yoga?

  • In the physical dimension we are looking for health, vitality, flexibility, strength, relaxation, self-control and grace.
  • In the mental dimension we are looking for relaxation, concentration, improvement of memory, attainment of clarity, creativity, mental balance and awareness.
  • In the emotional area we are looking for equanimity, self-acceptance, inner peace, development of the personality, self-control, transformation and devotion. Devotion means one-pointed awareness, not in a religious context but channelled emotions.
  • In the social dimension of yoga we are looking for service, interaction, awareness, personality, understanding and acceptance.
  • In the spiritual dimension we are looking for self-realization, expanded awareness, union, compassion, understanding, surrender and intuition.

We have seen over the last thirty years that these are areas that can be tapped through the right application of yoga. There was a lot of mysticism involved with yoga in the past but our system went deep into the traditions of yoga and brought out the techniques, discovering and systemizing the techniques that are outlined here. This is an ongoing process.

I felt it would be appropriate to look at the scope of the work being done, not only in India but also throughout the world. Apart from the health component of yoga, we have been successful in bringing yoga to sports. We have been requested to teach yoga for the improvement of performance of athletes participating in national and international events. We are about to start teaching yoga for the railways – to the drivers, the engineers, the officers, the workers – because this is a very big area in India, where everything moves on trains. We have been requested to teach yoga to the military police because they have very stressful jobs. We have been teaching yoga in 24 prisons in the state of Bihar very successfully for the last five years, with beautiful results. The life-term prisoners have experienced a reduction of guilt, anger and frustration and an increase of peace and joy.

Such activities are being guided and conducted not only in India but also in many other parts of the world. We have to understand that when we are able to help others we will find peace in ourselves. And when we only try to help ourselves we will open the doors for the accumulation of more and more desires that can never be satisfied. Therefore the principle of yoga is give, give and give.

This article forms a part of the manuscript for the book "Applied Yoga" which is being published by BSY