Sivananda Yoga FAQ
Q 1: Can asceticism lead to enlightenment?
A: Asceticism is really the austere life of sense-control and mental concentration lived for the purpose of devotional practices or spiritual meditations. True asceticism necessarily includes a strict observance of the moral and ethical disciplines, on the basis of which the higher practices are undertaken. Asceticism is a means to enlightenment in as much as it prepares the ground for meditation which leads to wisdom and realization. Sometimes, asceticism is taken in its narrower sense of bodily mortification alone. But this is a grave error and this alone cannot lead to enlightenment without the calming of the passions and discipline of the mind.
Q 2: How is it that we see many wicked persons flourishing in this world while the good souls suffer? Why is God merciful to some and heartless to some else?
A: This is an age-old question, as old as the world itself. The great Bhishma shed tears when he was on his death-bed. When questioned why he cried, he replied that the Pandavas were great devotees of the Lord and always abided by the laws of Dharma. Above all, the Lord was constantly with them in the form of Krishna. And yet they underwent so much of suffering. Some wicked persons do flourish in this world of hypocrisy, but it does not mean that they are free from suffering. The really good souls do not suffer as much as the ‘flourishing’ wicked ones, for peace is in the hearts of the former. To be able to abide by the ideals they hold sacred is by itself a great cause of happiness. The welfare and the misery of people can be explained only in terms of the law of Karma. Good persons suffer because of the mistakes they had committed in their past incarnations. Wicked persons, who seem to be well off, are now reaping the results of their past good actions, but will have to pay the price of their present ones, later. It is the law of Karma that lifts God above all the good and the bad conditions of man. If God were made responsible for the material state of affairs of the individual or the enjoyment or suffering of man, then God would cease to be God, for a partial God, dishing out favours to some and withholding them from the others, would be no God at all.
Q 3: Is it dangerous to practice Pranayam without the assistance of a Guru or teacher?
A: You can practice ordinary Pranayam exercises without the help of a Guru. There is no danger in practicing Pranayam, Asana, etc., if you are careful, if you use your common-sense. People are unnecessarily alarmed. There is danger in everything if you are careless. If you are careless in getting down the steps of a staircase, you will fall down and break your legs. If you are careless when you walk in the busy parts of a city, you will be crushed by the motor-cars. If you are careless when you purchase a ticket at the railway station, you will lose your money-purse. If you are careless in dispensing mixtures, you will kill the patients by giving a poison or a wrong medicine or by administering a medicine in over-doses. Even so, when you practice Pranayam, you will have to be careful about your diet. You should avoid over-loading, you should take light, easily digestible and nutritious food. You should be moderate in copulation. You should not go beyond your capacity in retaining the breath. You should first practice inhalation and exhalation only (without retention of breath) for one or two months. You should gradually increase the ratio from 1:4:2 to 16:64:32. You should exhale very very slowly. If these rules are observed, there is no danger at all in the practice of Pranayam. A Guru is necessary if you want to practice Kumbhaka or retention of breath for a long time and unite Apana with Prana. The books written by realized Yogins can guide you if you are not able to get a Guru. But it is better to have a Guru by your side. Or you can get the lessons from him and practice them at home. You can keep regular correspondence with him. You can retain the breath from 1/2 to 1 or 2 minutes without any difficulty or danger. If you cannot get a realized Yogi, you can approach senior students of Yoga. They also can help you.
Feel you are the all-pervading Atman. – Sri Swami Sivananda
There is no virtue like Truthfulness. – Sri Swami Sivananda
APANA – a vayu; the negative vital air; the opposite to prana (positive vital air)
Hatha Yoga means the Yoga or union between ‘Ha’ and ‘Tha’. ‘Ha’ means the sun. ‘Tha’ means the moon. Prana is known by the name of sun. Apana is known by the name of moon. Hatha Yoga is the union of the Prana and the Apana.
KUMBHAKA – retention of breath during pranayama practice; a pause where there is no exhalation and no inhalation.
When both air currents are completely stopped, one is said to be in Kumbhaka. Through Kevala Kumbhaka, the knowledge of Kundalini arises. Kundalini is aroused and the Sushumna is free from all sorts of obstacles, attaining perfection in Hatha Yoga. You can practice this Kumbhaka three times a day. He who knows Pranayama and Kevala is the real Yogi. This Kumbhaka cures all diseases and promotes longevity.
Saturate your mind with divine thoughts. – Sri Swami Sivananda