Anxiety comes when there is uncertainty in our life because mind is afraid of the unknown. What is known to us does not make us fearful. It is the unknown territory of the future that makes us fearful. Nobody knows what the future holds for us, and that is the main reason why many people are interested in astrology, tarot and palm readers. They want to know about their future; what will happen to them and their family.
When we read newspapers and watch news, it is filled with unfortunate incidents, all the bad, catastrophic scenarios. Every day you encounter people who are facing difficulties in their life, who are seriously ill or had to face accidents; people committing adultery and some others dying unexpectedly. All these events create uncertainty in your life, the fear of death looms over your head.
Whether we recognize it or not, deep down all fears are rooted in this one fear and that is the fear of death. Nobody knows what it will be like after death, where will we go, or how does it feel to be dying. And the mind is such that if it starts to ponder on one bad thing, it catches on other negativities, which creates a cascade of fears. It begins from a very subtle form but it grows into an overwhelming anxiety or even panic attacks. Thus, the purpose of yoga and spiritual life is to observe the mind and learn how to manage these fears.
Right now, the mind is sinking in its own fears and it wants to dig into it, but at the same time it wants to run away. Surely, you can run away from your office or your home, but how will you run away from your own mind? You can go to another country, or to a cave high in the mountains, but the problem is that the mind is going to come with you. You might go to the moon and be there all alone, yet your mind which is carrying all the fears inside will be there with you!
Sometimes people want to sit in meditation like a Buddha, but they have unknowingly hired twenty people to punch them. While they are meditating these people are punching and pushing them. Can such a person sit calmly and stoically? These twenty people are not outside, they are inside; the mind creates pressures, pulls and pushes, and in this state if one wishes to meditate, he will sadly fail.
Before meditation, yoga talks about five yamas and five niyamas, which are the moral codes of life. Every yama and niyama has an obvious meaning and a subtler meaning. For example, ahimsa, which means non-violence: When you hit somebody, it is obviously violence but if you punch yourself, that is also a form of violence. Satya, being truthful: When you lie to somebody, it is not good but when you lie to yourself it means you are not being truthful to yourself. When you put on a facade and when people ask you ‘how are you?’, you say, ‘I am happy’. But are you happy? Those who are lying can never have a peaceful mind. Aparigraha, non-hoarding: you can perhaps manage without holding material things but are you able not to hold past memories or emotions in your mind?
And the top most quality is Isvara pranidhana - surrender to the Lord. For example, if somebody is the chief minister of state, his children roam the streets, proudly asking, ‘Do you know who my father is?’ They exhibit their father’s power. Now, we can use this example for Isvara pranidhana and say, ‘I am not alone, my Lord is with me’. How much courage such person would have! The Creator, the One who runs this whole drama of the Universe is my father, my mother!
In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says, ‘I am the father of this Universe.’ It means that we, the individual souls who are living in this world, are all Lord’s children. If I have Lord as my father or my mother, then why would I be afraid? Even if I don’t know my future, my father knows me and he is taking care of me. Small children sometimes fall asleep in their parents’ lap, or the parents are walking carrying the child on the shoulder, and the child’s head is bouncing up and down, but it doesn’t disturb his sleep because the child has a deep faith that ‘my mother or my father is holding me hence nothing bad can happen to me’. This is called Isvara pranidhana. I am not alone; my Lord is with me wherever I may go. This kind of faith takes away all the fears, pains and anxiety of life. There are many beautiful stories in puranas about bhaktas like Prahlad, Dhruva or Sudama; there were always some people trying to harm them and yet they were protected by the power of their deep faith and surrender to the Lord.
Seekers should follow the five yamas and the five niyamas, and then proceed to the next step which is practice of yoga asanas. After the practice of asanas comes pranayama and meditation. These steps should not be skipped as every step prepares the mind for the next one. Unfortunately, people don’t have any knowledge about yamas, niyamas or asanas, and they go straight to pranayama and then complain that it is not working or their mind is too restless. Everything requires a system which needs to be followed. Whichever path you might choose, it requires you to understand the system and follow it properly.
Why are asanas important for the mind? Because the body is the seen part of the mind, whereas the mind is the invisible part of the body. To understand the link between these two, let’s take the example of traditional Chinese acupuncture. According to acupuncture, it is dangerous for the body if the yang (fire) rises in your liver, stomach, gallbladder or pericardium. It talks about energy channels and their obstruction. If you wake up at three a.m. unable to sleep, if you suffer from acidity and digestion problems, or you are mentally distressed, it might mean that your liver heat is rising. This rising heat reflects many suppressed emotions like sadness or anger.
If you practice asanas like janushirasana, paschimottanasana, navasana, you will work on these channels, so that they can function without any obstruction which will result in healthier organs. Once that happens, the quality of your mind will begin to improve. You are working on your body but it is going to reflect in your mind.
Once you persistently follow the practice of yama, niyama and asana, then when you sit down for pranayama, it will give you great results. Reading about it is not enough though. You need to experience it for yourself to see how easily, gradually, and spontaneously you will be able to change the patterns of the mind, the way the mind thinks and the body functions, so that there is no room for anxiety, worries and fear. You will be able to live peacefully with the belief that ‘My Lord is with me’.