Dr Rita Khanna
(36 Years of experience in teaching yoga)
We Already Know Our Answers
As students, teachers and practitioners of Yoga we will need to answer questions about Yoga. This may be preparing notes and sitting examinations, writing articles, designing research, an academic dissertation, preparing lectures, enquiries about Yoga by students or people in general, and interviews by journalists of print, television or radio, etc. We may have an extensive knowledge of the many details of the answers in our memories, but how can we ‘dig’ them up and present them in a sensible sequence? We already know them. We only need to develop the ability to recognize the most appropriate one to use, and apply it to the question at hand.
These are fundamental part of Yoga. They define the great extent of Yoga as compared with many other systems of human development. Often, the first question asked in interviews is: What is Yoga? We can use the Koshas to answer this. For instance, the definition of Yoga: Yoga is an ancient system of philosophy, lifestyle and techniques that evolves the whole person, the physical, the vitality, the mind and emotions, the psychic and wisdom qualities, and the realization of the spiritual reality of each of us. Here we have obviously used the Koshas for the definition. Another common question is: Are there any advantages Yoga has over psychology and psychiatry? We can start by saying that there are many similarities between the two, but Yoga goes further than psychology. We can use our mind in all sorts of ways, and as we practice them we start to recognize the form of the question, so that by the time the person has finished their question we have the best answer ready.
A question may be: How does Yoga help to develop the personality? We can start to answer thus: According to the Yogis, the basic aspects of the personality are security (Mooladhara), joy, sexuality (Swadhisthana), action, power, self-esteem (Manipura), love (Anahata), communication (Vishuddhi) and intellect, intuition, wisdom (Ajna) and Yoga helps to evolve these by clearing the mental blockages that are stopping us from realizing the highest levels of these within us. If the person persists with, How . . . ? we can continue by describing how the practices of Yoga work in this way. We can also use the physical aspects of the Chakras such as the musculo-skeletal system, the internal organs, the nerve plexuses, the endocrine glands and the immune system. These give us information as to how certain practices will affect the physical areas as well as the pranic, mental, emotional, etc.
This is a good perspective to use. If we are talking about the evolution of the personality, we are really dealing with the movement upwards from the Tamasic complex of ways of thinking, feeling and behaving – the animalistic attitudes and inclinations – through the Rajasic tendencies to the Sattwic, and then transcending them all. So we can really answer any question about human development by keeping the qualities of the Gunas in mind. We don’t have to mention them by name; most people won’t understand what we are talking about unless we are actually teaching about the Gunas itself.
We can use Ida/Pingala in many answers. Swara Yoga is fascinating because the basic concept is so simple – the balancing of the basic dimensions of the nature. Then there are relationships between the flow of the breath through the nostrils and the way it controls the dominance of the cerebral hemispheres – the flow of the breath through a nostril activating the hemisphere on the opposite side. By simply controlling the flow of the nostrils by various easy means, we can move from the cautious-negative thought patterns of the right hemisphere to the outgoing-positive patterns of the left hemisphere, or balance both.
Remember that most of even the simplest Yoga practices balance ida and pingala as well as doing other things. For instance, simple flexibility exercises, Surya namaskara, and so many of the other Asanas with their counter-postures create perfect balance. The same applies to Neti, Pranayamas, Yoga- nidra, Mantra and other practices. A fundamental aim of Yoga is balance. This is one of the reasons why it is superior, in the long run, to conventional therapies that try to rectify an imbalance directly, and end up with side effects and complications.
When we have questions about the Yoga practices such as: What sort of practices would you recommend for . . . we usually start thinking about the performed practices and we start talking about Asanas, Meditation practices etc., we forget the other extremely valuable parts of Yoga that design our ideal way of living. Of course, most of the things we will be dealing with are the performed practices and we usually mention those first because they are the things people expect to hear. Then we may say, “Of course, Yoga has a definite style about it, how we live our life is very important . . . Then this leads us into the lifestyle practices.
We can consider Lifestyle practices and Performed practices under the following headings:
• General lifestyle – simplicity, Sattwic intake, Sadhana, Seva
• Ethics – Yamas, Nyamas
• Karma Yoga- Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga.
• Asana, Pranayamas, Mudras and Bandhas
• Hatha – Shatkarmas; Meditation
• Mantra – Harmonious combinations of vibrations
When we are explaining these things, it is best to keep the language simple, unless we are talking to another Yogi. Instead of ‘Prana’ say ‘vitality’, instead of ‘Samskaras’ say ‘troublesome old memories’, etc. Remember that if you are interviewed on radio or TV, there are tens of thousands of people listening who know almost nothing about Yoga and really need its help. So the more they understand about the benefits Yoga has for them, the better it is. Keep it simple.
This stimulus-response tells us that a sensory stimulus (such as seeing a tiger coming or hearing the voice of a loved one) is given meaning for me (I-ness) by the brain forming a perception. Then the perception is passed through the memory to check if I have experienced it before and if so, is it good or bad. The instinctual mind (in an untrained animal) then acts on that information to decide what to do about it (e.g. attack, approach or run) but in the human the intellectual mind may be used to make a better quality decision.
Lord Krishna talks about this stimulus-response mechanism in the Bhagavad Gita. He says that it is also a variation of the relationship between the Jnanendriyas (ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose), the Antahkarana (highest, i.e. most abstract part of the mind) and the Karmendriyas (speech, hands, legs, genitals, anus). In fact, the whole mechanism can be seen as a comprehensive one. For instance, if we are trying to remember the characteristics of a mental illness such as anxiety disorder, we will see that most of these stages are affected by the disorders and that helps us to remember the symptoms and signs of those conditions.
Another example is, for instance, the question: “How does the ‘evolution’ of our personality affect our life?” We can explain how our perceptions of other people and our world become more positive, how our thoughts and attitudes become more positive, with better use of our intellectual abilities, positive emotions, enthusiastic motivation and harmonious behaviour and social relationships. By using the stages of the stimulus/response mechanism as ways of ‘jogging’ our memory about what we know of those characteristics, we ensure that we think of as many as possible when we are answering.
We can use this to answer many questions about the benefits of Yoga in the prevention and management of physical disorders. We already know so many of these that we can give a good answer, but this is a way to get as many as possible out of our memories in a logical order.
Human anatomy can be neatly classified as:
(1) Cellular physiology
(2) Support systems – skeletal, muscular
(3) Maintenance systems – respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, urinary, reproductive, skin
(4) Control systems – nervous, endocrine
(5) Defence systems – immune, blood coagulation.
If we also combine with details of the Yoga practices, we have a very comprehensive answer to any question on Yoga therapy or prevention.
The above examples are applied to answering questions and forming articles and lectures about Yoga. However, the same principles can be applied to any field of study. It only requires a person to identify the main classifications that apply to their area.