Sivananda Yoga FAQ
Q 1: In one of your lessons it states the aspirant should fast only once a month. Gandhiji and others have also stressed the importance of fasting. They say that one should fast at least three or four times in a month and fasting helps self-control. Please advise.
A: Fasting does help in self-control. Too much fasting weakens the body and the mind and retards spiritual Sadhana. Fasting is a great Prayaschitta. It expiates any kind of sin quickly. It has a tremendous purifying influence on the heart. Read Manu Smriti. As the vast majority are afraid of fasting too much, I have prescribed only a day of fasting in a month. Young, robust, plethoric people can fast twice or thrice in a month, if passion troubles them much.
Q 2: Are there, in the practice of Yoga, any definite indications to measure the aspirant’s progress, for instance, some experiences that he would have after, say, three months of practice, others which he would come upon after a year, and so on?
A: Various Yogas give various experiences. The practice of Pranayam and Hatha Yogic Kriyas, for instance, would give a graded series of psychic experiences. Seeing all kinds of ethereal lights and hearing certain Anahata sounds belong to this category. Here, the sages who have propounded these Yogas have given very definite stages of spiritual experience. As the Kundalini passes from Chakra to Chakra, the Yogi has certain definite, verifiable experiences. That is because each Chakra governs a particular Tattva, and its mastery, therefore, gives specific experiences. Similarly, in Tantrik Sadhana also, they have been able to give a definite chart of spiritual experiences. Each Sadhana has its own particular Siddhi; and therefore, the experiences of all Sadhaks following a particular Sadhana are invariably the same. But, these are all lower experiences of an inferior type. They are psychic experiences which need not necessarily denote the aspirant’s spiritual progress. Even the Bhakta’s experiences of horripilation, shedding of tears, etc., though they are not so perfectly graded as those of the Hatha Yoga practitioner, do not necessarily indicate spiritual progress. When you enter the domain of the Spirit, you come into the sphere of the Infinite. Infinite are the Yogas and infinite are the experiences too. Each man’s Yoga is his own. For, he has brought his own Samskaras and Vasanas and he strives in his own way to reach the goal. These two, interacting on each other, give him his various experiences. For instance, as he approaches the transcendental, infinite, immortal Self, the aspirant would enjoy great inner peace and indescribable happiness. He is not easily affected by what goes on around him. Not only this, he is able to radiate peace and happiness to all those who come into contact with him. He becomes good and radiates goodness. This is the most important sign of spiritual progress. God is perfect goodness. The aspirant who progresses towards the realization of God, therefore, grows in goodness. His evil qualities slowly vanish and are replaced by sublime virtues. If this most essential element is not there, then all other visions and sounds are practically useless. By his mere presence the advanced Yogi is able to inspire people to lead a good life, free from hatred and malice. His heart is filled with cosmic love, and therefore, he serves all spontaneously and selflessly. These are all real signs of spiritual progress. But, beyond all these, is the ultimate experience. That is indescribable. Peace and happiness, undisturbed tranquillity of mind– these are all great signs of progress, but they do not constitute the goal. The goal is to become God. You must become one with God. This is achieved through ceaseless practice of meditation after establishing oneself in virtue and goodness. That supreme experience, when the Yogi feels he is one with God, no words can describe.
Q 3: It is mentioned in our Puranas, in the days of yore, Akashvani was frequently heard by our ancestors who were forewarned of coming events. Is it credible? Or, was it only the voice of their own inner intuition?
A: There is some order in the four Yugas. The consciousness of man grows grosser and grosser as time rolls by. In the previous Yugas, man’s consciousness was subtler than it is in this Yuga. In the Satya Yuga, Bhagavan used to move amidst mankind. Human consciousness was not far removed from divine consciousness. In the Treta Yuga, man’s consciousness grew grosser. Though God was not constantly moving amidst human beings, there were frequent Avataras of the Lord. In the Dvapara Yuga, man’s consciousness grew grosser still; and only the immortal Brahma-Rishis like Narada, Visvamitra, etc., used to move amongst men, and also, Akashvanis used to warn people of coming events. Now we feel that Akashvani is a very rare and miraculous thing; in the previous Yugas it was not so. Devas themselves used to move amongst men. And Akashvani used to forewarn the people regularly. Just as we have our Government, the celestials also have their own Government. Whenever they wished to communicate with mankind, they used to do so through Akashvani. Nowadays the deity communicates with the people mainly through dreams and visions. That is practically the only form of communication with human beings that Devas have retained in this Yuga.
Try your best to make others, as well as yourself, better, wise and happy. – Sri Swami Sivananda
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Do not hate the evil-hearted, the jealous and the selfish. It is they who promote your salvation. – Sri Swami Sivananda
Pranayama terms, ‘Svasa’ is the inspiratory breath. Inhale. ‘Prasvasa’ is the expiratory breath. Exhale.
Tasmin sati svasa prasvasayor-gativicchedah pranayamah —
“Regulation of breath, or the control of Prana, is the stoppage of inhalation and exhalation, which follows after securing that steadiness of posture or seat.”
This is the definition of Pranayama in the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali.
Take up the practice of Pranayama after you have gained steadiness in your Asana (seat). If you are able to sit from half to one hour even, you can take up the practice of Pranayama. Make any spiritual progress with the practice of Pranayama.
Atman is the fountain of all bliss. – Sri Swami Sivananda