Renowned Spiritual Leader, Humanitarian & Founder, The Art of Living Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will lead Yoga celebrations with thousands of New Yorkers at the Lincoln Centre. A prominent voice of Yoga, he has taken this ancient Indian science to 152 countries in the past 34 years. Gurudev has also been invited by the United Nations to address world representatives at the celebrations of the first-ever International Day of Yoga. In this tete-a-tete, the Spiritual Master highlights the deeper and infinite potential of this science, dispels doubts about it being anti-religion and speaks on the various benefits of yoga.
The word yoga means different things to different people. Some say it is asanas, some believe it is the spiritual path and some talk about the health benefits. So what according to you is yoga?
Sri Sri: Yoga is not just a physical exercise or asanas. Yoga is a complete science. It unites the body, mind, spirit and the universe. Yoga brings that much needed peace in every individual. It also makes a big difference in one’s behavior, thought pattern and attitude. I would say yoga is almost indispensible. If you want to be sane, sensitive, sensible, strong and intuitive you have to follow yoga.
Sometimes people talk about the mystic element of yoga. What is that mystic element?
Gurudev: If mysticism is explained, it no longer remains mysticism. It is something to be experienced. Mysticism is something that keeps life alive and fills you with love and energy, which lasts for lifetimes.
Is meditation a part of yoga?
Gurudev: Meditation is definitely a part of yoga. Yoga has to be meditative; else, it will just become an exercise, gymnastics.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has said ‘Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam’. What does that mean?
Gurudev: This means ‘yoga is skill in action’. Yoga and skill are synonymous; if you are skillful it means somewhere you have followed the principle of yoga. And if you are doing yoga, pranayama, meditation, and following all the yama niyamas, you will definitely acquire skill in your action.
What is that skill that makes a person a yogi?
Gurudev: The skill is to see how you keep your spirit uplifted, your energy not drained and yet get your job done. This comes only by yoga. Usually when you do some work, you tend to drain yourself. And by the time the fruit of action comes, you are so exhausted that you are unable to enjoy it. So yoga is that skill which keeps your spirit alive, your energy high and yet brings you achievement.
How does one detach oneself from the result of an action?
Gurudev: When you have lot of enthusiasm and energy, you are in the present moment. You take things as they come. You are not expecting something. Your action is an expression of joy rather than expecting joy out of a result.
You say yoga is not about exercise. This is a contrasting picture of yoga, as the world knows it. So what is it all about?
Gurudev: No doubt, postures and exercises are part of yoga. But it should not be limited or misunderstood as just exercise. It is a holistic development, expression and connection of human life. Every baby is a yogi. A baby exhibits all the qualities of a yogi - its postures, breathing pattern, perceptual ability, sharpness and the ability to stay in the present moment.
You say every child is a yogi. So what is it that we lose when we grow up that stops us from being a yogi?
Gurudev: We lose our naturalness and intuitive ability. Animals and children have more intuition than adults do. This is because we make things so complicated in our mind when in reality it may not be so. There is a tendency of the mind to latch onto something negative. If ten compliments are given to you and one insult, what does the mind latch on to? The insult! This tendency of latching on to the negative is not there in a baby. Somehow, we acquire this tendency as we grow up. With yoga, we get back to our original nature where we look at the positive aspects in life and see how the things can be done. This is needed in every field of activity. When things appear gloomy everywhere, it is yoga that brings the much needed enthusiasm, energy and intuitive ability.
Yoga also talks about an element of wonder, what is that?
Gurudev: Wonder is a preface to yoga. The ancient rishis have said 'Vismaya Yoga Bhumika’, which means ‘a sense of wonder is the preface for yoga’. When your observation of yourself and of nature creates a wonder within, then a mysticism dawns in your life. That connection to something ethereal, something so beautiful, concrete yet very abstract, comes up in our life. If you do not wonder then you are not a yogi.
Yoga seems to be more of a mind skill. Then what about hatha yoga?
Gurudev: Hatha yoga is stretching your boundaries a little bit. We all define our boundaries and stay there. Boundaries limit our ability. Hatha yoga says, “Ok stretch a little bit, extend your boundary little by little.” This expands our physical ability as well as our mental and emotional stability. When the body is stable, the mind also becomes stable. Emotions become refined and the spirit feels elevated. So hatha yoga is essential in the sense that it stretches your boundaries.
Is meditation enough? Do we really need asanas? If yes, why?
Gurudev: If one is aged, sick, or not used to exercising, then one does not need to do physical postures. They can do some breathing exercises and meditation. Meditation is the real substance. It is like a soul and everything else is like dressing on it. You can’t have a body without a soul and you can’t have a soul without a body. Patanjali has spoken about the eight limbs of yoga. And limbs develop simultaneously, not one after another. In a womb, a baby does not develop the legs first and then develop the arms or head. All the limbs are developed simultaneously. So all the eight limbs of yoga go together.
What is needed to free yoga from its dogmatic baggage the way people perceive it to be?
Gurudev: You cannot avoid dogmatism. It has entered science, social structures, politics and various fields of life. All that you can do is make people aware of dogmatism. It has to go by itself through sheer awareness. That is why I say that a violence free society, disease free body, confusion free mind, inhibition free intellect, trauma free memory and sorrow free soul are all an ideal situation for human life and evolution. Education should lead people to this direction where they can get out of dogmas and prejudices. Or if they become a good yogi, they will see life and the world in totally different angle; the whole vision of life and universe changes.
There seems to be a fear among some sections that yogic practices will lead them away from their religion and faith. Is yoga against religion?
Gurudev: Is technology against any religion? Yoga is a technology, a technique that will enable you to be more energetic, happier, and more compassionate. Which religion says you should not be compassionate? Which religion says you should not be happy? Which religion says you should not be friendly and your behavior should not be loving? Yoga is a technology that removes stress, anger, greed, and all negative emotions. How can someone think this as anti-religion or against his or her faith? If they think so, it is their ignorance because yoga gives freedom to think about people. Is freedom to think against religion? Does not religion bring you freedom? If a religion does not advocate freedom of thinking and freedom of spirit, then it is doing injustice to humanity and its own followers. The purpose and goal of all faith is to bring peace, love, freedom and a sense of belongingness, brotherhood and sisterhood to the whole planet. And yoga is the technology to achieve these goals of faiths. Though yoga was conceived in the ancient Sanatana Dharma tradition (ancient Hindu Vedic culture), it does not limit itself to a set of ideology or theories. It opens its avenues to every person in the world for betterment of life.
Can yoga become a tool for building a diplomatic relationship for India?
Gurudev: Yoga, though born in India, belongs to entire humanity. You cannot limit any knowledge on this planet to geography. If you limit the knowledge to a geographical condition then it is not universal, it loses its magnanimity and dignity. I would say yoga belongs to the people of the planet. Definitely, since it is born in India, the country should take pride in yoga and in bringing out these invaluable streams of knowledge. At the same time, I would say people everywhere in the world should own it as their own. The ancient thought is ‘Vasudaiva Kutumabakam’, which means ‘The whole world is one family’. So when we consider the whole world as one family then anything that belongs to any one member of the family belongs to the whole family. So, although yoga is an integral part of Indian culture, tradition and history, it belongs to the whole planet.
What is the difference between a yogi and a yoga teacher? Can a yogi be a yoga teacher too?
Gurudev: If you are not a yogi, you cannot be a yoga teacher. A yogi is not someone who has to have long hair, beard or being weird. A yogi is someone who is skillful, calm and serene, happy, content and like a child. Every baby is a yogi and every yogi is a baby. Otherwise, he/she is not a yogi. This does not mean being childish or not growing up. It means feeling that freshness of a child, simplicity, sincerity, a mind without any fear, inhibition or arrogance. It is someone whose consciousness is developed. That is what signifies or qualifies a yogi.
This article was also published on IBNLive.com under the title 'Though born in India, Yoga belongs to entire humanity says Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar' and can be read here.