Question and Answer

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Why is the life span of people today so short compared to our ancestors?

Our ancestors had a regulated, disciplined life. They were not slaves of their senses as the modern people are. They used to do japa, pranayama, worship and study of religious books like the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavatam and the Ramayana. They used to do charity and selfless service, and observe auspicious days like Ekadasi, Sri Ramnavami, Sri Krishna Ashtami and Dattatreya Jayanti. They used to conduct spiritual conferences and pray for world peace and not for their individual selves. They used to take plenty of physical exercise in the form of walking ten to twenty miles a day and at a stretch.

They used to observe yama and niyama rigidly. They used to live mostly in villages and not in congested areas. They were self-reliant and not dependent on others even for trivial matters. When today’s generation realizes the value of the way of ancient living, surely it will achieve all that it desires with the grace of the Lord.

Can physical and mental degeneration give way to physical and mental regeneration?

The Indian yogis have conclusively proved that by following a regimen it is quite possible to rebuild the human body, reconstruct the human mind and regain lost youth, strength and beauty. The key to accomplishing this remarkable feat according to the saints, sages and rishis of yore is to be found in yoga asanas.

Yoga means union, the union of the individual soul, jivatma, with the Supreme Soul, paramatma. Asana is an easy and comfortable pose or posture. Therefore, the term yoga asanas means postures by which the yoga practitioner can unite the individual soul with the Supreme Soul quite easily. The relationship between mind and body is so complete and subtle that it is no wonder that physical training will induce mental transformation.

What is prana?

Prana is the oldest force, which starts functioning from the moment the child is conceived. Other organs of the body, such as hearing, begin to function only when their special abodes, the ears, are formed. Prana is called the oldest and the best in the Upanishads because it gained the victory in the fight between mind and the five organs. Prana functions even while the mind is absent during deep sleep.

Prana is the link between the physical and the astral bodies. When the slender thread-like prana is cut off, the astral body separates from the physical body, and death is the result. The prana that was working in the physical body is withdrawn into the astral body.

Prana digests the food, turns it into chyle and blood and sends it into the brain and the mind. It is prana that pumps blood from the heart into the arteries, and the mind is able to think, reflect and meditate on the Self.

Prana is the universal principle of energy and is all-pervading. It may either be in a static or dynamic state. It is found in all forms, from the lowest to the highest, from the ant to the elephant, from the unicellular amoeba to a human being, from the elementary form of plant life to the developed form of animal life. It is prana that shines in the eyes. It is through the power of prana that the ear hears, the eye sees, the skin feels, the tongue tastes, the nose smells. The brain and the intellect perform their respective functions. The smile on the face of a young lady, the melody in music, the power in the emphatic utterances of an orator, the charm in the words of one’s beloved wife – all these and many more have their origin in prana.

Fire burns through prana. Wind blows through prana. Rivers flow due to prana. The steamer and the airplane, the train and the motor car move only through the power of prana. Radio waves travel due to prana. Prana is electron, proton, force, magnetism and electricity.

A strong and healthy person has an abundance of prana, nerve-force or vitality. The prana is supplied by food, water, air, solar energy and so on. The supply of prana is received by the nervous system and is absorbed in breathing. The excess of prana is stored in the brain and nerve centres.

What is the difference between pranayama in hatha yoga and raja yoga?

The practice of concentration and pranayama are interdependent. If one practises pranayama, one will have concentration. Natural pranayama follows the practice of concentration. A hatha yogi practises pranayama and then controls the mind. He rises from a lower to a higher level; whereas a raja yogi practises concentration and thus controls prana. He comes down from a higher level. They both meet on a common platform in the end. There are different practices for different temperaments. For some the practice of pranayama is easier to start with, for others the practice of concentration.

How can I reduce my sleeping hours and have control over sleep?

You should not reduce your sleep by the use of medicine. That will affect your system. Sufficient rest must be given to the body through sleep. When you regularly enter into deep meditation, the system derives considerable rest and automatically sleep can be reduced. That will not affect your health.

Sleep should be reduced gradually and cautiously. For one month go to bed at 9.30 pm and get up at 4 am. After one month, go to bed at 10 pm and get up at 3.30 am. Again, after one month go to bed at 10.30 pm and get up at 3 am. Sleeping during the day must be avoided.

Does purity of food lead to purity of mind?

Take a glass of champagne and sit for meditation. Take a glass of orange juice and sit for meditation. You will know the difference. Different food exercises different influences on different compartments of the brain. By taking champagne, meat and garlic the mind will be confused and become restless when you sit for meditation. By taking milk and fruits you will have good concentration.

The rishis lived on fruits and milk. The Chhandogya Upanishad says, “Pure food leads to purity of mind and then one attains moksha, liberation.” You should have dietetic discipline.

Non-vegetarian food is not sattwic. It is not good for a spiritual seeker. Live for a month on milk and fruits and see. Give up meat for one month and see. Practical experience will tell you what is bad for the mind.

Of all systems of medicine, which system is the most effective and harmless?

Every system of medicine has got its own advantages and disadvantages. Each has its own supremacy and deficiencies. Ayurveda holds the foremost place in my heart. It has been expounded by Lord Dhanvantari who is the Ayurveda Pita, father of ayurveda. The effect of its treatment is lasting and unhampered.

It is the origin and source of most of the other systems of medicine. As regards immediate cure with least delay, allopathy occupies first place. Homeopathy is the most harmless system of medicine and the cheapest.