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yoga philosophy

Lifestyle Yoga

Happiness Is Not in the Gulab Jamun

September 15, 2019

Missing my Sunday runs around the Ulsoor Lake.

I’ve been working on completing assignments for my MSc. The one I’m working on now is about happiness and man’s quest for it.

Lately more and more people reach out to me to discuss how to feel better rather than look better. They are interested in the mental and emotional benefits, rather than the physical benefits of yoga.

According to the Upanishads all beings (humans and animals) are instinctively attuned to sukha prapti (to gain happiness) and dukha niviritti (to overcome the misery). It’s this instinct that drives us. A penthouse, a limited edition car and an exclusive gym membership are the stuff dreams are made of, yet happiness still eludes us. Retail therapy isn’t getting us any closer to sukha prapti.

Psychosomatic conditions are rising at an alarming rate. We’re buying more than ever before but we’re also more sad. If only it was possible to buy away depression. We pin our hopes for happiness on objects of enjoyment and come away disheartened.

The Upanishads dealt with this question centuries ago. They state that man is in search of Reality and Happiness. This search yields answers to question such as the meaning of life, the goal of life and truth. It can drive away existential angst.

So whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us.

As my Vedas professor lectured: Whether it is eating gulab jamuns, getting the latest mobile phone or going on an expensive vacation, we want these because we feel these fulfill a deep seated need within us. We also want promotions, awards and praise. But the 50th gulab jamun doesn’t taste as good as the first one. The mobile phone loses it’s charm when the next version comes out. A vacation ends. And the desire for awards and promotions is never ending. Happiness is not in the gulab jamun or the mobile phone. Happiness shouldn’t be ephemeral like a vacation.

If only we could prolong the feeling of gastronomic delight of that first gulab jamun, of the excitement of the penthouse and car. Meditation is nothing but the prolonging of that state of bliss. Our happiness is always in response to an external event or object, and so it disappears in the absence of that stimulant. The Upanishads liken bliss to the musk of the musk deer. The deer searches the entire forest for the source of the glorious scent, and ultimately finds that he is the origin. Similarly, our happiness may be stimulated by something external, but the origin of the bliss is within us and therefore always accessible. To connect with this bliss you need to silence the citta vritti (the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind).

The Upanishads have stated that yoga (beyond just the asanas) is the solution. The Gita states: yoga citta vritti nirodah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the thoughts in the mind. When the fluctuations cease, silence pervades. And through this silence you can discover your bliss.

Happiness according to Vedic texts

Taittiriya Upanishad: When speech recedes and the mind reaches not there, one realizes Ananda, the Brahman; there he fears not.

Bhagvad Gita: Mind calmed down, sinless, all passions subdued, the Yogi establishes himself in the state of Brahman, the Supreme happiness.

Brahma Sutra: Brahman is Ananda, as repeatedly emphasized in the Upanishad.

Lifestyle Yoga

How Yoga Can Help Create a Better India…and a Better World

January 25, 2016

I’ve been watching a lot of videos of master teachers Saraswati and Sharath Jois lately to glean wisdom from their philosophy.  Yoga is a living breathing philosophy.  The way it was taught and practiced a hundred years ago was different from how it is being taught and practiced now.  The world is changing.  And with that, yoga’s role in this changing world.

Just 50 years ago perhaps the greatest challenge in the yoga world was the lack of awareness of the practice.  Now the challenges are greater.  Advances in science, increases in population, changes in lifestyle etc., have brought along an increase in stress and psychosomatic diseases.  Which has resulted in an increase in crime.

Sharath Jois, in one of his many interviews says that besides asanas we have to practice Ahimsa and Satya.  And if hundreds of people practiced Satya and Ahimsa, then it will be good for society.  There will be no violence and no bad things happening.  That’s the message that yoga is trying to give us.  Sharath goes on to say that our responsibility is not only to think about ourselves but also to think about the plants and the animals and other living beings.   I guess here he’s trying to tell us that to live in harmony is perhaps the best way to co-exist with each other and with the life around us.  And if every one of us practices Satya and Ahimsa, we can change the world.

In recent years a lot of young people have started coming forward to drive change.  Whether it’s in politics, entrepreneurship, social work, education etc., the youth has made an impact.  However, at a deeper level, to make a change in the fabric of the social psyche itself, maybe we need to practice Ahimsa and Satya with ourselves.  Know when to push forward and to hold ourselves back.  To know which battles are worth fighting and which are just fueling our ego.   To sometimes accept that though we tried our best, but our best wasn’t good enough.  (Which is OK because there are too many more mountains to climb so wallowing in self pity isn’t a good idea.)

Sharath also says, “Life is very precious, life is very important.  So how you lead your life is very important.”

A little more Satya and Ahimsa with the usual Asana will help us create a better world.



Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day #10

December 9, 2015

As a teacher I come across a lot of people who start to look for ‘results’ after only a couple of days of practice.  I think it’s always a good idea to practice yoga for at least a month before you start to look for ‘results’.  And in my experience, the changes come more as a realization, than as a tick on a list of goals.  Usually, when a student approaches yoga with a time bound goal, they get disappointed.  Truth is, you can’t put a deadline on when you will start to notice changes and how long it will take you to get a particular result.  The more effort you put into your practice, the better your practice will be.  But there is always room for improvement because it is a continuously evolving practice.  I’ve spoken to a lot of yogis here about what makes them converge here from all over the world, saving up holidays, leaving family and friends behind to come to practice in a small city in Karnataka where their classes are bursting at the seams, they have to acclimatize and they are not likely to get any personal attention from the super busy teachers.  If they want to ‘learn’ something, they could go to an exclusive workshop or practice with their teachers in smaller classes.  I’ve found that for a lot of people this is like Mecca.  This is where their guru’s guru taught.  They come to soak in the energy and practice with the most famous Ashtangis in the world.

I agree with these sentiments now.  But when I applied to practice here, I realize that I didn’t really think too much about what I was going to achieve and learn here.  At this point I can’t really define what drew me to Mysore, except for the fact that I wanted to try Ashtanga yoga and I reasoned that if ‘the’ school for Ashtanga was next door (in Mysore), then it only makes sense for me to drive down here.  I’m glad I had no expectations.  It allowed me to immerse myself in the classes with calmness and no sense of urgency.  My mind wasn’t constantly busy and noisy.  Although I felt that my body was made out of wood the first couple of days, gradually I started to feel that I could actually extend more.  Now, in forward folds I am able to make minor adjustments that make a great difference to the asana.  I have become better at the asanas, but I suspect another reason I’m able to make the minor adjustments is that I have a better connection to my body.  The intense focus on breath with movement ensures that you slow down and feel what the movement is trying to teach you.  Today Saraswati showed me the Tiryangamukha ekpada paschimattanasana.  It’s a slightly longer sequence but I think I’ll be able to repeat it tomorrow.

Even though I endured chanting class today, I went for a Yoga Sutras class today.  This class also involved a lot of chanting.  I’m coming to the conclusion that although I love yoga philosophy, I would rather it not be mixed with chanting Sanskrit.

Another thing I notice is the serious lack of Indian yoga students here!  There’s just a handful of us.  It would be worth finding out why there so few when the number of yoga teachers has grown exponentially all over the country.


Why Yama and Niyama?

August 22, 2013

The philosophy of yoga has 8 limbs (ashta anga = eight limbs).  The first two of these are:

1.  Yama – These are the set of ‘don’ts’.  They can also be considered to be universal moral commandments.  Patanjali laid down these principles as general ethical principles that must be followed on a daily basis.  These are:

  • Ahimsa (non violence) – refraining from any kind of violence, thought, deed action.  This includes not harming yourself.
  • Truth (satya)
  • Non  stealing (asteya)- this deals with controlling and reducing desires and wants.  The observance of asteya gives the practitioner freedom from avarice.
  • Continence (brahmacharya) – refraining from sex in mind and body.  This principle has many interpretations.  Purists believe this means no sex, period.  However, yoga is not a practice exclusively for celibates.  Taking this into consideration, this principle implies abstaining from ‘immoral’ acts of sex.  Morals are a function of the society we live in and therefore might differ from one person to the next.  However, (generally speaking) sex which is outside marriage, or without the consent of the other person, sex as a means of wielding power, sex to harm the other person….is ‘immoral’.  Brahmacharya deals with a disciplined sexual life rather than a non-existent one.
  • Non covetousness (aparigraha) – not desiring things which are not necessary for life.  This includes emotional and intellectual possessiveness.

2. Niyama – These are the set of ‘dos’.  Practicing these leads to self restraint and thereby self purification.  These are:

  • Saucha – purity/cleanliness.  There are two kinds of purity which must be strived for.  These are:
  1. External:  External purity implies purity of behavior and habits.  Cleaniliness of your physical body and your surroundings.  So things such as showering daily and wearing clean clothes and changing your socks :).
  2. Internal:  Internal purity deal with getting rid of any negative or harmful emotion that might be bottled up or that might be manifesting itself on a daily basis.  These negative emotions are:
      *Kama – passion
      *Krodha – anger
      *Lobha – greed
      *Moha – infatuation
      *Mada – pride
                *Matsarya – malice and envy
  • Santosa – contentment
  • Tapas – austerity
  • Svadhyaya – study of scriptures/one self
  • Isvara pranidhana – surrender to the lord of all our actions


Because yoga is the path to enlightenment, it is important, necessary and imperative that yama and niyama be followed.  Without these yoga becomes just a physical practice of asanas.  That’s like having a Blackberry and only using it to make and receive calls.  However, a Blackberry can be used to schedule meetings, check your mail, chat, listen to music and so on and so forth.  If yoga is practiced with a view to only reap the physical benefits, then you are merely scratching the surface of an ancient philosophy which can add so much value to your life.

So to sum up – practice your yama and niyama!!! 🙂