When I was very young, I didnt know anything about yoga. During my student life I was always very healthy. I have never had any physical, mental or emotional problems. After completing my formal education I went to Swami Sivananda, my guru in Rishikesh. I didnt go to him in order to learn yoga. All I wanted was a more complete life. I had a philosophy and a religion of my own. I had definite views about life and I didnt want to be in the same category as my parents. I wanted to be different from them. I asked my father, Are you happy with your way of life? He said, No. So I asked, Then why do you want me to live like that? Let me make a different life for myself.
So I went to my guru to live a monastic life, to evolve my personality and my whole being. I lived with him for twelve years and after that I lived a homeless life as a parivrajaka, a wandering mendicant, for nine years. During my period of wandering, I went all over India and I came to Nepal several times of course, not as a preacher, but as a beggar. I also went to Afghanistan, Burma and Ceylon. I travelled by foot, bullock cart, elephant, train and plane. While I was wandering, I realised how much humanity was suffering. Wherever I went, people came to me with their problems and I had no answer for them.
In 1956, I came to Munger and decided to find a solution for people. I had a solution for myself and I didnt need hatha yoga, raja yoga or karma yoga. But humanity was suffering and I felt that yogic techniques could definitely provide a solution for them. What about medical science, psychiatry and prosperity? People have those things and still they are suffering. This means that those things are not the solution. The answer had to be found somewhere else. So I stayed in Munger on and off from 1956 to 1963. In 1963 I found the answer yoga. Munger was a very backward place and the property given to me there for founding an ashram was very small, but I stayed because Munger is the place where I found a solution for the suffering of humanity.
In 1956, when we started the International Yoga Fellowship, there was ignorance and misunderstanding of yoga everywhere. When I was on my first world tour in 196869, I found that it was very difficult for people to understand exactly what yoga meant. Some had vague and incomplete information and thought yoga was a kind of magic or psychic feat. They were not able to understand or place yoga in the scheme of their lives. So we started training sannyasins and sending them all over the world in order to show people what yoga meant.
I have been all over the world, not once, but many times, and I have found that everywhere people are looking for illumination. The physical, mental and spiritual problems confronting people of this modern civilisation are innumerable. They are beyond the knowledge of doctors and the control of the government. They are beyond the mental hospitals which will never be able to save humanity. Therefore, in 1963 I established the Bihar School of Yoga. At that time I did not have a single disciple. Now I have yoga centres all over the world, not because I am a good organiser, but because the principles and practices of yoga are scientifically based. They have already been well tested by the rishis and munis in our land for thousands of years.
More interesting, however, is the series of scientific evaluations of yoga which have developed in recent years. Scientists and doctors all over the world are now trying to understand how and why yoga has such a great influence on the human body and mind. Research conducted in the USSR, Poland, France, England, America, Australia and in India also has proved beyond any doubt that the practices of yoga are a scientific process by which physical and mental diseases can be overcome. Yoga is not merely to tone up the body or reduce fat. Now scientists are conducting research into the influence of yogic practices on the brain wave patterns.
Today yoga can accept the challenge of the modern scientists who started yogic research with doubt and scepticism, but were soon fantastically impressed by the direct correlations they found between science and yoga. Now yogic research is being carried out in many countries around the world. A research project into the effects of asanas on coronary diseases is being sponsored by the central Government of India and the Chief Research Officer is Dr. Shreenivas, head of the Cardiology Department at the Patna Medical College Hospital. This research is almost complete. Over 700 heart patients have been referred to us by the hospital and we have succeeded in helping them towards self-rehabilitation using yogic techniques.
Practical experiments on hypertension and high blood pressure have also been conducted in Bombay by Dr. K.K. Datey who has shown that the practices of pranayama and yoga nidra can bring down high blood pressure without the help of medicine. So you can understand that hatha yoga, the system of asanas and pranayama which we teach to people, is not a religious practice. It is more than that. It is a practice for health.
I have spent many years teaching asanas and pranayamas throughout the length and breadth of India and around the world. People are grateful and realise that something important has come down to them from the ancient rishis and munis. This tradition of rishis and munis, the saviours and the saints, is very old. They were not idiot beggars, they were masters of the human body and mind. The way they explained yoga was simply fantastic. They spoke about ida, pingala and sushumna, which in medical science are called the sympathetic, parasympathetic and central nervous systems. The rishis said that when ida and pingala nadis work in complete harmony with each other, man lives a balanced life. In the same way medical science has proven that when the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous impulses are in balance with each other, man is a balanced personality. If they are out of balance, there will be mental or physical problems.
Yogasanas and pranayamas are very important for everybody, especially people suffering from diseases and insomnia. Many yoga teachers go to mental hospitals and teach hatha yoga, purification of the nadis and all the different systems of the body. Just as you clean your car, change the oil, tune it, do the servicing and repairs, in the same way, hatha yoga is a system by which you repair the body and accelerate its functional efficiency by cleaning the whole nervous system.
Hatha yoga practices are very powerful. The practice of neti kriya alone will help so much in sinusitis, which doctors have been struggling with for decades. Neti is a simple technique done with a small pot of saline water which you pour through one nostril and out the other. It takes barely five minutes. Cases of adenoids, polyps, sinusitis and mucous infections in the nose can be properly healed just by this simple kriya. There are many different hatha yoga practices and they provide a solution for the ailments of our present generation.
Dr. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, said, With the advancement of civilisation, the body-mind relationship will suffer from other dimensions of disease. You must understand this. When you suffer from a cough today, the cause is not the same as it was fifty years ago. The discomfort of coughs, colds, asthma or bronchitis is the same as it was fifty years ago, but the cause is not the same. Today man is living only in the body. The first impressions are received in the mind and then transferred to the body in the form of a disease.
For example, I know a businessman, who had an eighteen-year-old son. One day the son went swimming and drowned. When the father found out, he did not weep. He was dumbfounded, silent, unable to express his agony. From that moment on he started having asthmatic attacks. He suffered from asthma for three years until he heard that I could treat him. So he came to me and I taught him hatha yoga practices. I also taught him antar mouna, a practice whereby he could express his agony. He had to cry to release his sorrow. But first he had to go back to the point of agony, to the place where the disease began. That businessman is all right now. Our suffering starts from the depths of our personality. Therefore, the practices of hatha yoga must be coupled with raja yoga or meditation.
Yoga is a science and an important part of education. Therefore, I have been trying my best in India and abroad also to integrate it with all levels of education. In ancient days children were taught three practices surya namaskara, nadi shodhana pranayama and Gayatri mantra, at the time of the sacred thread ceremony around the age of seven or eight. Now parents are unable to teach their children the significance of these practices because they themselves no longer understand the real meaning behind them.
At the top of the spinal cord there is a small gland about the size of a peanut. Modern science calls it the pineal gland. In yoga it is known as ajna chakra or the guru chakra. It is situated directly behind the mid eyebrow. This gland is a remnant of the animal body. It remains intact up to the age of seven and then it starts degenerating. The pineal gland is a lock for the pituitary gland. As long as the pineal is functioning the secretion of the pituitary hormones is controlled.
The pituitary is in the mid brain. It secretes different groups of hormones called pituitary hormones. In yoga the pituitary gland is known as sahasrara chakra, the place of Paramshiva, the thousand-petalled lotus. The pituitary hormones interact with all the bodily functions. At a particular moment in life, this gland sends forth the hormones which develop our masculine or feminine personality. Thus we become male or female, physically as well as emotionally.
Our sex glands are formed and become operative only when the ajna chakra or the pineal gland starts degenerating. As long as a child has a functioning pineal gland, sexual aggressiveness will never manifest. This is why sadhus and mahatmas concentrate on ajna chakra. As long as this chakra or the pineal gland is intact and healthy, sexual life will be perfectly balanced. Thus parents of old used to teach their children surya namaskara, nadi shodhana pranayama and Gayatri mantra, so that they could live a balanced life until the age of maturity. This is the scientific application of yoga.
In western countries scientists and doctors have started flashing red signals saying, Medicine is dangerous. Medicines are necessary, but at the same time one has to depend more on yoga. Nowadays big industries everywhere are conducting yoga courses for their executives. In India the Hindustan Steel Ltd gives yoga courses for their managers and executives. At Bihar Coke and Coal Ltd, the biggest coal authority in India, we have compared yoga with other efficiency methods and the statistics have shown that yoga scores very high. Therefore, in our daily life as well as in business, yoga can help us to increase our efficiency.
I am not opposed to any other system of physical exercise. I have studied almost all of them, including judo and karate, but I know that they are limited. The contribution of yoga to humanity is far greater than as a messenger of peace. We need yoga practices such as yoga nidra, prana vidya, neti and dhauti. Guru Gorakhnath, one of the most important exponents of hatha yoga, has explained in his book Goraksha Samhita what hatha yoga is. When you have mastered hatha yoga, then you can go on to the practice of meditation.
Meditation is not necessarily concentration on God, but it is realisation of the inner dimension of your own personality. You have much more within than you know. Man is infinite. His mind is powerful and capable, but he hasnt realised this yet. The individual awareness is potentially cosmic. Therefore, it is very important that everybody should devote ten minutes each day to its discovery. With meditation, dhyana yoga, you start a new chapter in your life. Once you are involved in dhyana yoga, doing your practices in the correct way, your experiences and your personality will become steady and lasting. Your attitude towards yourself and your life will be fantastic.
Is yoga a direct method for moksha?
It is a very difficult question, but I will try my best to answer it. Perfect freedom is not an outcome of yoga. I am a devotee of yoga; I am a teacher and a preacher rather than a pioneer. But I think that yoga is a means by which we come to a certain point of consciousness from which we can go forward to moksha. Yoga is not a direct method of emancipation, mukti or nirvana, but by yoga you do develop. There is no way other than yoga by which you develop a particular dimension of consciousness, a kind of drishti (inner eye) by which you then proceed further towards moksha.
What are the stages of sannyasa?
When we become sannyasins, for the first few years we live with a guru and try to imbibe the best from him. We seek his guidance for a particular period, traditionally twelve years, and after this we become mendicants. We leave the ashram and then we are on our own. Having been trained by the guru for twelve years, we have become very responsible thinkers. We know how to live without being caught up in maya or temptations. For a number of years we keep on walking just like beggars. I have been to Kathmandu a number of times just like a beggar, sleeping somewhere in a tent, on a lawn or in some wayside hut.
By living with many different people and having different experiences, we come to understand the way people think, how and why they suffer, the purpose of life and what exactly evolution means. By meeting thousands of people for a number of years, we come to a conclusion as to what should be done. Then we establish ourselves at one particular place and the disciples gather around.
When I was moving about all over India, Ceylon, Afghanistan, Nepal and Burma, I had a vision and in my mind came yoga. I was never a fanatic about yoga. My personal spiritual life consisted of total surrender. This is my nature and right from childhood I had always envisioned surrender as the highest reality. Still, when I was moving around, I realised that yoga was the need of the people. So I started teaching yoga. Now everybody is doing yoga.