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The Role of the Guru and Self-Effort in Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati in front of an image of Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1)

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati in front of an image of Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

THIS ARTICLE WAS SHARED FROM BIHAR SCHOOL OF YOGA

The true potential of yoga and its capacity of transformation is discovered in the adoption of yoga as a complete way of life. This allows a balanced, integrated development of all the human faculties, including those of head, heart and hands, so that one is able to live well and manage all the challenges of life with balance, positivity and creativity. Such a person can live happily and with fulfilment, at the same time contributing constructively to others, their society and their environment.

As with learning anything in depth, it is necessary to have a guide when one aspires to deepen one’s connection with yoga and spirituality. This is even more so with yoga and spiritual life, as due to our existing limitations, we cannot see ourselves or the path we must travel with any clarity. Without a guide, an aspirant is like a blind person walking alone on an unknown road to an unknown destination and is exposed to all the hazards of such a journey: distractions, pitfalls, taking a wrong turn, highway robbers, and more.

Blessed are those aspirants who have the opportunity to seek the guidance of one of those rare souls who, motivated by compassion, live amongst us solely to work for the wellbeing of humanity and the entire world. As spiritual scientists, these extraordinary people have seen deeply into the problems people face. They have given humanity the legacy of the knowledge of the causes of suffering and how it can be removed, including through the path of yoga. Through their teachings and their example, the spiritual luminaries have blazed the trail for others to follow.

Guru gives the appropriate teachings.

A living luminary is able to convey the teachings of the ancient science of yoga according to the needs of the time and the nature of the people. As society has evolved in various ways at different times, the ancient knowledge of the saints, sages and seers has been applied differently to meet the particular conditions and needs that prevailed at each such time.

Pervasive negative qualities weigh the human nature down, like gravity, which operates whether one is aware of it or not. Although one may have intellectual understanding and aspiration, everyone is subject to the pull of the inner negative qualities that obstruct perception and distort understanding, behaviour and performance. It is easy for aspirants to make misguided efforts.

For example, when aspirants first come to yoga, it is very natural to choose those practices that they enjoy or find beneficial in some way. The problem comes when people do not move beyond this, while still expecting spiritual development. When even our yoga practice is based on our likes and dislikes, rather than on the aims and systems of yoga, how can we expect yoga to lead to inner transformation? Guru reminds aspirants that yoga has its own purposes and aims, and its own comprehensive system that must be followed in the proper sequence and manner to experience the benefits.

Guru points out the right path.

As well as knowing the path that the aspirant must travel, the guru can see the nature of the aspirant, including their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs. This allows the guru to give guidance to the aspirant for their journey, to give a map showing the best path to take, as well as how to avoid the many pitfalls, distractions, obstacles and traps along the route. For example, the guru may explain to aspirants in Satsang or may provide opportunities in daily life for aspirants to face and overcome their inner blocks.

Guru gives the required practices and techniques.

As a spiritual scientist, the guru understands the mind and its behaviour, and human nature in all its expression, and is, therefore, able to point out the weaknesses and shortcomings that hold aspirants back. Everyone is subject to the harmful, restrictive influence of the six enemies: kama (desire), krodha (anger, aggression), lobha (greed), mada (arrogance, egotism), moha (delusion) and matsarya (jealousy, envy). These are the fundamental barriers to spiritual development that must be overcome if one wishes to transform the quality of one’s mind, behaviour and experience of life – if one wishes to evolve.

The guru’s teachings and guidance help aspirants to develop a new, deeper understanding of their own perceptions, thoughts, responses and actions, and to realize where a qualitative improvement is needed. The guru also gives the required practices and techniques to manage and, in the course of time, to overcome the six enemies.

Such practices include the cultivation of beneficial, strengthening and uplifting qualities that equip the aspirant for the on-going journey, and the practice of sanyam, learning to guide one’s behaviour and expressions in a positive direction. The key practice is Pratipaksha bhavana, where one makes the effort on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis to replace thoughts and responses that restrict one’s development and connection with life with the opposite positive quality.

Pranayama session at Bihar School of Yoga. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

 Each one must walk the path themselves.

While the guru conveys the teachings and shows the way, each person must walk their own path; nobody else can do it. Each person remains responsible for all their efforts: for their own wellbeing and development, for nurturing their inspiration, and for deepening their inner experience and connection. For those who wish to experience the transformative potential of yoga and a qualitative change in life, it is necessary to be open to imbibe the teachings, to be willing to face one’s shortcomings, and to strive over a sustained period of time for improvement in all one’s faculties and expressions.

Learning to stand on one’s own two feet, facing life with clarity, balance, inner strength and dignity, is more important than any asana. This is the yoga that helps one to overcome limitations and cultivate positive qualities and strengths and to discover how one can best participate in life. This is the yoga of transformation, through the process of imbibing, realizing and expressing.

This article was shared from Bihar School of Yoga and published on the Yoga.in Blog. The Bihar School of Yoga is one of the best-known yoga schools, recognized across India and abroad for the quality of its teaching and as the home of yoga Nidra. The school was founded in 1963 by Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati. It is voted to be one of the best schools in India on yoga.info. For more general information on the Bihar School of Yoga, click yoga.info, yoga.in or on the Bihar School of Yoga’s website itself. 

Key elements of Raja Yoga : Asana & Pranayama

Comfortable and steady posture. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

BY SUSHANT PANDEY

Concept of Asana

Asana (posture) and Pranayama are the 3rd and 4th limbs in the text of Patanjali Yoga Sutra. Asana literally means ‘seat’. In the text of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, Asana is described as a seat of meditation. In the second chapter, verse 46; Patanjali defines asana as ‘sthiram sukham asanam’. This verse is translated as ‘posture (should be) steady and comfortable’. While defining posture Patanjali was well aware of the body-mind connection. Therefore he puts asana after Yama (social codes of conduct) and Niyama (personal codes of conduct). He knows that having practised or incorporated the aspects of Yama and Niyama in life, sitting steady is possible. Sthirta (steadiness) of the body is only possible when one has channelled the mental energies. Otherwise sitting still is a big task. (more…)

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