The lifestyle of Indian people has deteriorated. For thousands of years they ate simple food, but now they have rich food. Until recently they lived in huts and slept on the floor, but now they live in flats and sleep in beds. They moved about on foot and traveled on bicycles, but now they use cars and airplanes. This disturbs the metabolism.
Your lifestyle affects your body, mind and character, it affects your whole life. The way you live matters, the way you eat matters. Why don’t you eat sitting on the ground? You eat at the table because it is hygienic. Many things have changed in the name of hygiene. Therefore, in India thousands of people attend asana and pranayama classes, some with diabetes, some with high blood pressure, some with epilepsy. Thus yoga has become a form of medical treatment or therapy. But yoga does not mean medical treatment or therapy. Yoga means the union of ida and pingala, the union of purusha and prakriti. There are two forces, one is life and the other is the mind. Life is pingala nadi and the mind is ida nadi. The union is yoga.
Asana and pranayama is not yoga, it is a discipline of yoga. Just as there are disciplines or faculties in education, such as chemistry, biology and politics, similarly yoga has many faculties. Hatha yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, laya yoga and kriya yoga are all faculties; they are only forms of yoga. The ultimate yoga is when the pranic or life force, the mental force and the spiritual force join together, just for a minute.
Just as a tortoise withdraws all its limbs, in the same way, just for a minute withdraw the mind, withdraw all the forces, withdraw the entire consciousness and become zero. Just for one minute every day, either in the morning or at night, forget everything. Forget that you are a man or a woman, a Hindu or a Muslim, good or bad, lucky or unlucky, sick or healthy, tall or short, a model, a hero or a zero. Forget everything and just become zero for the time being.
In the Bhagavad Gita (2:58) there is a reference to this idea: Yadaa samharate chaayam koormongaaniva sarvashah indriyaanamindriyaarthebhyastasya prajnaa pratisthitaa. It means that if a person can withdraw his senses from sense objects for some time, just as the tortoise withdraws its limbs inside its shell, then his mind is steady. Our mind is not steady, but we always say ‘be steady’. To make the mind steady we have to withdraw our thoughts, withdraw our total awareness. Use pranayama if you like, use concentration or any of the kriyas; there are thousands of ways to go in, just for a minute or two every day. Withdraw the senses from the sense objects, then I will accept that your mind is steady; otherwise it is unsteady.
There are five senses through which you experience the external world: nose or smell, eyes or perception, ears or hearing, tongue or taste, and skin or touch. Through the eyes you can see objects, through the ears you hear sound, through touch you feel heat and cold. If you are blind, you cannot see; if you are deaf, you cannot hear. In Sanskrit, the five senses are called indriyas. Indriya means ‘medium’. The five senses are the five mediums of experience. These five senses should be withdrawn.
You may do pooja, you may go to church or to the temple, chant Jai Jagadish Hare and so on, but they are all rituals. Frankly speaking, they lead you nowhere. It is up to you whether you perform rituals. But the reality is that these five senses through which you experience this external mundane world should be withdrawn within for a period of time. That is yoga. When I talk about yoga, I mean only that.
Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah. The definition of yoga is very clear: yoga is controlling the tendencies, the activities, the modifications of the mind. It is said that controlling the tendencies of the mind is yoga. Asana and pranayama are not yoga, they are limbs or parts of yoga. Do not forget that. Just as we have vedangas, limbs or parts of the Vedas, similarly there are limbs or parts of yoga.
Why do you practice yoga? To correct the many problems in your physical body, the hormonal imbalances and disturbances in the electrical circuits and circulation. Through yogasanas you tell your body, sthiram sukham asanam. Sthiram means not moving, just being steady; sukham means comfortable. It does not mean acrobatics. These are the two important definitions of yogasana.
By practicing asanas the body becomes free from the disturbances caused by the dwandwas, the pairs of opposites. Heat and cold, pain and pleasure, birth and death, are dwandwas. Everywhere you look there are two opposites. Our life is an experience of opposites. When a child is born, there is happiness, but when he dies, there is unhappiness. When you get a lot of money, there is happiness, but when the bank fails, there is unhappiness. A human being always experiences these two opposites, which disturb the systems in the body. When these disturbances are corrected through asanas, then the pairs of opposites have no more impact. That is the definition of asana, and that is its limit. Don’t say that through asana you will realize God. Asana has a different role to play, pranayama has a different role to play. The ultimate is when you are able to isolate your sense experiences for at least a minute or two every day, until the last day of your life – then you will get what you are searching for.