Swamiji, in practising meditation or concentration, I not only get dullness, lethargy and sleepiness, but the joints of the body are very stiff. What can be done about this?
In raja yoga, concentration is the sixth of the eight steps: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. Sometimes you are not prepared for the sixth step. You listen to others saying, "Concentration is very good, you must do it." So you jump immediately to the sixth step, without preparing your mind, body, philosophy and lifestyle. Concentration is not an abstract practice. When you concentrate, changes also happen in the physical body as biochemical changes.
It has been found by scientists that during any practice of yoga, and especially during the concentration practices, biochemical changes take place in the body. This means that prior to that you must fulfil other requirements, such as pranayama and pratyahara.
When you concentrate, there is invariably depression in the nervous system. On account of this depression, sometimes you feel pain in your spine. This depression can take place sometimes in the sympathetic nervous system and sometimes in the parasympathetic nervous system. Therefore, before you attempt to practise concentration, you must purify your body with the help of pranayama and hatha yoga.
In raja yoga there are eight steps and the first two steps are yama and niyama. Yama means discipline. Niyama means routine. What is discipline? Satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, asteya, aparigraha. These are five disciplines according to your grihastha ashram or according to your sannyasa ashram. If you are a householder, a sannyasin, a student or a vanaprasthashrami you have to practise these five yamas accordingly.
Then come five niyamas: shaucha, purification. Purification means hatha yoga: neti, dhauti, basti, kapalbhati, trataka, nauli. They have to be practised; you should not be in a hurry to earn the benefits of concentration. Nowadays many books are printed on concentration. We also do it and we praise concentration very much. It is right, but preparations have to be there. Shaucha is hatha yoga. These six kriyas of hatha yoga are purificatory practices. So yama and niyama must be practised according to your ashrama. If you are a sannyasin or if you are a householder, you must practise accordingly.
When you sit for the practices of concentration the swara changes. The breath, which flows through the left and right nostril alternately, changes. Sometimes when you are practising concentration, the ida nadi is flowing and you will feel a lot of pain in the body and sleep. There is dullness because ida nadi creates depression in the system, and as a result you feel pain. If you are practising concentration when the pingala nadi is flowing, you will find no matter what you do, your mind continues to jump. Pingala nadi is surya nadi and ida nadi is chandra nadi. Pingala nadi has vitality, prana. Ida nadi has mental energy. Actually before you practise concentration, you should try to awaken your sushumna by pranayama. This does not happen all at once. It takes quite some time, quite a few years.
If you are practising advanced concentration, for one hour or half an hour, you must look after your diet also. If you take any item of food which is difficult to digest, it will cause lethargy, indolence and sleep. It will create tamasic vrittis. If you take onions, then they will deposit uric acid in the joints. Onions create uric acid in the system and during concentration, this uric acid is deposited in the joints and you feel pain. So you should keep this properly in your mind.
Can a person, who is preoccupied with household life, spend his time in the pursuit of yoga? Is it worth his while to do so?
You see there is no such thing as a householder. You must use the proper terms, pravritti and nivritti. Pravritti means involvement. Nivritti means retirement from involvement. All of you are on the pravritti marg. You are involved in responsibilities and duties. Many sannyasins of the Ramakrishna Mission or at Sivanandashram are also on the pravritti marg. They are not nivritti. They have not become free from involvement. That is also pravritti. This pravritti marga is explained in the Bhagavad Gita.
There are people who are involved, but they are detached. This is pravritti with nivritti. That is the life of a householder, grihastha. Nivritti with pravritti is the life of a sannyasin. Many times, the disciples of Buddha, Shankaracharya, Swami Sivananda, Swami Vivekananda and many others are leading the life of nivritti with pravritti, and householders are leading the life of pravritti with nivritti.
Therefore, the life of householders should not be underestimated. Many times there are certain affairs, certain items in the life of householders on account of which they feel that they may not be fit for yoga, because he marries, he has relationships with the family, wife or husband. He has children, he goes to work, and tells lies. Sometimes he is dishonest, sometimes he is selfish.
Many householders encounter this during their life and as a result they feel that they may not be fit to practise yoga. In my opinion, this is the view of puritans.
Yoga is for householders, just as medicine is for sick people. Medicine is not for healthy people. Yoga is not for yogis. For yogis it is jnana. For householders it is yoga. Therefore, the path of yoga is especially designed for the people who are following the path of pravritti.
—18 July 1983, Calcutta Ashram, India