World Yoga Day – Interview with Swami Niranjan

Swami Niranjan’s Interview: This is the FULL text of the interview of Swami Niranjan by NDTV Anchor Manish Kumar
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to the people across the globe to observe a day as the World Yoga Day, a move welcomed by the International community. In addition, there is a new Ministry established for Yoga and Alternative Therapies, but people are curious as to what really is the road map for these initiatives. Watch the interview of Yoga Guru Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (SWAN) by NDTV Correspondent Manish Kumar (NDTV)
NDTV: Nowadays there is excitement relating to the subject of Yoga. Since the Prime Minister raised the issue of the World Yoga Day in the UN, and has spoken of solving the world’s problems including issues like global warming through the medium of Yoga. There is the subject of the World Yoga Day; 140 Nations have endorsed it. To understand Yoga of all the places in this world, you will need to travel to Munger, in Bihar (India). Speaking to us today is Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, perhaps the greatest Yoga exponent in the world today, and a living yoga legend. Swamiji, once again there is a focus on Yoga.
NDTV: How do you feel? People such as you for so many years were powering the Yoga movement. Did you ever expect such a day would indeed arrive (when a World Yoga Day would be celebrated, or Yoga would achieve global acceptance)? And how do you interpret it?
SWAN: We were waiting for this. For the last 50 years we have been working on imparting Yogic training. So we were waiting for this, knowing that someday it (Yoga) will attain global recognition. And the way it is now happening, and what the Prime Minister has announced is very good, and in my view is a first step, and in whichever way we can support him, we will.
NDTV: But tell me, the news is about celebrating a World Yoga Day, so is there not a concept like a World Yoga Day in Yoga?
SWAN: Earlier it wasn’t there. However, for the last 3-4 years, in some parts of the US, every January, there is the practice of public yoga on the roads (to celebrate Yoga). So this tradition has begun from there. And now, our Prime Minister has articulated it, and we like it that a World Yoga Day will be observed, so that people can understand that with sensitivity (awareness) of oneself, sensitivity (awareness) towards the environment we can maintain our life (force) and achieve excellence.
NDTV: But this World Yoga Day, when (which day) can should it be observed as per you? Because nobody knows the road-map of this. (02:09)
SWAN: There is no road-map for this, but in the last few years, since 2007, we have observed 25th of December as Yoga Day, and celebrate it as Yoga Poornima Day, because that is the day our Guru Swami Satyananda was born, and it was a Full Moon day (Poornima)… so we celebrate his birth as Yoga Poornima. And in the contemporary setting if someone could be characterized as having spread the message of Yoga, one of the important names that will be known is the name of our Guru Swami Satyananda ji.
NDTV: But tell me one thing, there is a confusion, we are laymen in this field. We don’t know anything about Yoga, is it an Art or a Science or is it a Religion or what is it?
SWAN: Yoga is a way of life. Even though many may confuse it to be linked to religion to culture, or they may characterize it as a part of Hindu Religion, but those who know Yoga, they accept that it itself is a culture by virtue of which we can imbibe excellence in each and every action/act/activity of our life. And in the ancient days Sadhus would practice Yoga, while the mainstream society considered it a means of attainment of Moksha or Self Realization, but our Paramguru Swami Sivananda ji said the objective of Yoga should be to uncover/develop the (hidden) potentialities of the human being. And once these creative faculties have been awakened/developed, then mental peace, stability and moksha are not far away, and in this context we are acknowledge Yoga as a Science of Life (Jiwan Vidya), through which we can attain physical fitness and mental peace (may be attained)
NDTV: But who practices Yoga? Is it the Hindus, the Muslims? Christians? Because whenever the topic of Yoga is examined, especially in the context of Islam, it is believed that there is no concept of Yoga. When you prescribe Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) it is met with resistance. So what is the religion of Yoga?
SWAN: There is no religion of Yoga. In 1971 we did some research in the Western civilizations, in South America, in the Northern side of the foreign countries, we found evidence in the form of drawings (statues) and historical literature and in the form of Yantras, from which we arrived at the conclusion that Yoga was once a great universal culture. But due to some reasons, maybe wars, maybe ravaging attacks, or natural calamities, the practice of Yoga in other civilizations became less, but these practices (and knowledge) were securely maintained in India.
NDTV: But who is the Guru of Yoga? Is it Swami Sivananda? Swami Satyananda? Or is it Patanjali?… (04:50)
SWAN: We divide Yoga into three parts historically. The first is the Ancient Phase. In the Ancient Phase, the Progenitor and Guru of Yoga is considered to be Lord Siva, and along with Him Lord Dattatreya, and Guru Gorakhnath, Guru Matsyendranath etc are renowned. Then comes the Medieval Phase of Yoga. In the Medieval Phase, the names of Patanjali, Gheranda, Swatmarama are prominent, whose teachings today we impart and spread in the world. And in the modern context, in the sphere of Yoga, Swami Sivananda ji, Swami Satyananda ji, Paramhansa Yogananda ji and Swami Vivekananda are renowned, through whom, in the modern day context, the Science of Yoga was taught and it spread. (05:45)
NDTV: But why isn’t Yoga reaching the masses? For example, even when we come to Munger, the doors of Munger Ashram are always closed. So my point is that the amount of popularization and spreading of the science in the midst of the common man that should have happened, why has that not happened?
SWAN: It has been spread also amongst the common man. In the Ashram we do not have so many facilities, and if reporters popularize us through interviews and large numbers of people come to the Ashram, it will be difficult for us to manage. But we always maintain a program, whereby the Courses in the Ashram are always on, but also, alongside that we go to the villages, the rural areas, in cities, in states our teachers continuously travel to teach/ preach the science of Yoga.
NDTV: We are now in front of the main building of the Munger Yoga Ashram. What is the history of this building? How did this movement begin here? Tell us.
SWAN: In the very beginning in 1975, we had come here, at that time in this spot there were ancient ruins. And then with the permission of the Government, we constructed this Yoga Ashram, and behind this was the vision of our Guruji, as to how we can make Yoga useful in the modern life, and the Yoga aspirants who come, we can provide them appropriate facilities, so that they can stay and practice in peace.
NDTV: Tell us one thing. Why did Swami Satyananda start his mission in Munger of all the places? Because Munger was known only for 3 things – the Cigarette Factory (ITC), the Gun Factory and the third is Yoga. Why Munger?
SWAN: In the tradition of Sannyasa there is a precept which requires a Sannyasin to stay on in the place he is, when his Guru leaves his body. So Swami Satyananda was in Munger when His Guru our Paramguru Swami Sivananda took Samadhi, hence according to the Sannyasa tradition, He had to establish Himself in Munger itself.
NDTV: How difficult was it? Because this area is kind of notorious. What kind of resistance did He encounter? Because it is not easy to create an institution of this sort.
SWAN: Our Guruji always said, that the people of Bihar are sleeping Hanumans. The only requirement is to tell them that such capabilities exist within you. So to tell them the only requirement is that of a Jambavanta (the mythical bear who reminded Hanuman of His extraordinary capabilities, and awakened Him). And of course when Swamiji initially came here, nobody knew Him, and people didn’t understand. But as the awareness and interactions grew, and the Ashram activities and Yoga programs began, then they came in large numbers to support Him. So His assertion was proved right that the people of Bihar are sleeping Hanumans.
NDTV: But even now in Bihar, the popularization and spread of Yoga is not so widespread. Why is it so? (08:58). Do Biharis not have the curiosity / willingness to learn or didn’t you have the resources to teach (09:04)?
SWAN: No, Biharis have great desire and interest to learn, adopt and understand Yoga, but our hands are restrained due to a continuous shortage of teachers, and most of the teachers we prepare here, they get ‘poached’ by other institutions and centers where they make them teach Yoga. So the normal amount of Yogic training that we should impart in our State (Bihar), we are currently unable to do so. But for that efforts are on. (09:43)
NDTV: Why is the degree (credentials) of Bihar Yoga considered so tough/difficult?
SWAN: It is considered difficult because the Yogic aspirants here have to live in Yogic discipline. We are not in favor of imparting one hour of instructions here in a day in the Ashram, and aspirants after that return to their homes for the rest of the time and go back to drinking, smoking etc, since then to what extent will they identify with Yogic Culture? When you live here, in this environment, from morning to evening you have a routine, and discipline within which you live, and you learn in that context, undoubtedly you will derive greater benefit.
NDTV: But Swamiji, tell me one thing, nowadays there are many schools of Yoga, like Swami Ramdev’s, which is very popular, he comes on the TV, and there is the Iyengar School of Yoga, you have your BSY; how, different and similar are these three? (10:44)
SWAN: See, there will always be a difference in approach. Since Sri Iyengar primarily teaches Hatha Yoga. And Sri Ramdev also, teaches Hatha Yoga primarily, which focuses on Asana and Pranayama. But BSY doesn’t teach about a limb or type of Yoga, instead preferring to teach about all the key elements (holistic yoga) of Yoga, because we believe that the connection of Yoga is with the life of the individual. And Yoga will awaken/develop the faculties of his personality, and therefore our Yoga programs include asana, pranayama, hatha yoga, raja yoga, karma yoga, gyana yoga, bhakti yoga, kriya yoga – all integrated. This is so that we can develop and experience every aspect of our personality.
NDTV: What are all these paths? Generally we believe Yoga to be a combination of Asana and Pranayama. (SWAN: Hmm … yes). To what extent is this true and correct?
SWAN: Not correct. Asanas constitute only 10% of Yoga, 90% are beyond Asanas.
NDTV: So what are they?
SWAN: There are various elements like Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Kundalini, Chakras, Kriya yoga.
NDTV: So what are these? This Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, what are these?
SWAN: See, the beginning of Yoga is via Hatha Yoga, whereby via Asanas and Pranayama, we make our body healthy. Once we have a healthy body, then we progress to Raja Yoga, in which we learn techniques for the management of the mind, stress, worries, tensions. And once we manage the oscillations of the mind, and attain peace and stability, then we progress to Kriya Yoga. And Kriya Yoga transforms our descending (external/ base) energies into ascending (subtle/internal) energies. And by the pursuit of Kriya Yoga, we awaken the latent un-awakened energy of the body, which people call the Kundalini. So Swami Satyananda had systematized and preached these three progressions of Yoga here. Starting with Hatha Yoga, then Raja Yoga, then Kriya Yoga. So mainly the systematic instructions of these three progressive categories of Yoga are imparted in this Ashram.
NDTV: There is one course here called the Sannyasa training course, which is a 3 year training course. We believe Sannyasa to be a phase in life after adopting which you are free from (normal) life and are free to do whatever you want, and can live in solitude. What is the meaning of Sannyasa training course?
SWAN: Sannyasa has two aspects. One is Virakti (detachment from sensory attachments) and the other is attainment of Spiritual Consciousness. So there are only 6-7 Virakt Sannyasis in this Ashram – those who have been given the traditional Sannyasa Diksha, and who follow the precepts of Sannyasa tradition. And the others who come here for training, they are coming to learn the aspect of Sannyasa focusing on how to awaken the Spiritual Consciousness in their lives. And here they are taught various aspects of Yoga, like Yogasanas, Pranayama, Kriyas, and they are exposed to different Spiritual aspects, so that they can understand how they can link Spirituality with their day to day lives in the external world.
NDTV: So after doing Sannyasa training you can still work in an office?
(SWAN: Definitely) You can live with your family?
SWAN: (Yes). Because that is training on how a Sannyasi must live his life. Once you know how a Sannyasi must live life, what should he think, what should be his objectives/goals, after that you are free to return and figure out what kind of a life to live within your family environment, and also pursue your occupation. And live the life of a Sadhu (aspirant).
NDTV: Sir, for a layman, who will decide which type of Yoga should be pursued and where should he go? This is confusion in the lives of everyone – they all want to pursue Yoga. (15:23) But they do not know which type of Yoga is important for him and which teacher he should follow. Don’t you think this should be more simplified?
SWAN: Yes, certainly, and for this we have established and we manage the Yoga Mitra Mandalas in different cities/towns, where the trained disciples of that area, make a community and teach Yoga to aspirants. And in our country there is an acute shortage of Yoga Centers, and apart from Centers, even teachers are few. But we never conduct a summary 1 week course and certify trainers. Our minimum training is one month. In this aspirants learn the basics of Yoga, and after that they return to your home and family, and they spread/teach Yoga. After that we have a 4 month course, after which you can professionally become a Yoga teacher. After that we have a 1 Year course, and then we have a 2 year course, and then a 3 year course. So the minimum qualification is for 1 month. So we start with 1 month, then 4 months, then 1 year.
NDTV: Sir, but for me, based on my specific problems, what is more beneficial for me? BSY or Iyengar Yoga? Who decides this?
SWAN: Nobody can decide this. Everyone has their inclination and needs. Many ailments we cannot treat but Sri Iyengar manages to treat, because his Asana program is different. And there are so many ailments that they cannot cure and their aspirants come to us, which we manage to cure, because we have a different way of teaching those techniques. To each his own.
NDTV: Sir, Yoga and therapy. Tell me, regarding the curative aspect of Yoga – is this a first aid remedy or alternative medicine or post diagnosis recourse. What is it? Different Yoga teachers claim they have cure for ailments (including cancer). But tell me, the therapies in Yoga, or the research which you do, what is it? It’s a supplement or in itself it’s a cure
SWAN: This is not a cure. Because you mentioned cancer, I will give you an example. In 1977-78, we performed an experiment on cancer, and in that experiment, we taught them very simple practices, of asana, of pranayama, of relaxation and concentration. The asanas restored the blood circulation in their bodies, pranayama increased their energy levels, relaxation techniques freed them from their mental tensions, and with dhyana (concentration) there was an increase in their creative power of auto suggestion (sankalpa). And these cancer patients who had been declared by physicians as having a life span of no more than 1 year to live, with these 4 sets of practices, 20-25 years later they were leading healthy lives. But we do not make a claim to cure cancer, (because we know that if you practice Yoga properly and) our Guruji would always maintain that if an individual practices yoga with 100% dedication following the rules of Yoga, he will be freed of the most incurable of diseases, because there is a relationship with balancing the energies / imbalances. (19:47)
NDTV: However, I have one more question that if one falls ill, is Yoga an alternative therapy, complementary or post-operative?
SWAN: I will say it is complementary. I say from my experience it is complementary, because along with Yoga therapy, allopathic diagnosis, yoga practice and Ayurvedic diet, these 3 are very powerful together. Discipline in eating in lines with Ayurveda, yoga practices and diagnosis in line with Allopathy. So these three together become a very powerful technique.
NDTV: What we hear about Ramdev Baba having (ayurvedic medicinal) cures for ailments, and they do research on herbal medicines, which are supposed to cure ailments, do you feel this is a little bit of a grey zone/danger zone? (20:46)
SWAN: Yes. I don’t have much knowledge of medicines and cures, but I believe merely that by making Yoga the central principle we can attain good health, and when we see others giving out different types of medicines, then the mind does not accept that.
NDTV: I have one question, do you believe at this time in the Nation, the requirement of Yoga teachers is being met, and if not, what should be done about it? So who will produce (the teachers)? Since our country has a population of 1.2 billion, and in a country of 1.2 Billion spread across, obviously all the teachers cannot come from one source. What should be the role (of the government)?
SWAN: The Indian government had selected four institutions in India, and officially the gazette notification was also published. In the North, there is Sivananda Ashram, in the East there is BSY, in the South there is Vivekananda Kendra, and in the West there is Kaivalya Dham Lonavala. The Indian government has recognized these four institutions as resource centers or training centers, but in our country in addition to these four, there are many small institutions and ashrams, where yoga instruction is imparted, and nowadays everybody is trying to make Yoga attractive, and to make it attractive, they drape yoga with new costumes to make it dazzling. Whereas Yoga is a simple culture of living life, and for this the Indian government had accorded recognition to only four institutions, where Yogic instruction may be imparted. And wherever we get an opportunity, we also say this
NDTV: But why is BSY so ‘closed’. They say there is quite a lot of stiffness, and is a ‘closed group’, and if you go anywhere else the entry is quite easy, compared to here, despite BSY being the oldest.
SWAN: BSY from the very beginning was run by Sannyasis. There is no Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4 (government official) worker / manager running the show. From sweeping the floor to running a class, from cooking food to running the administration – it is all managed by us Sannyasis. And this tradition was established by our Guruji that there will be no employee in the ashram, only those doing desire-free sewa by Sannyasis will be done here. Now since only 15-20 Sannyasis live here and they have to do everything, we have limited our interaction with people and imparting of yoga training in line with our routine, but as our capability also increases, we once again open our doors. For example, last year we hosted the World Yoga Convention (in October). After that till March the crowds that came here were becoming unmanageable, and we were unable to manage other key activities of the Ashram. So from April this year, we resolved to close the doors of the Ashram for an year, and this year by closeting ourselves in the Ashram, we are charting out what needs to be the role and requirements of Yoga over the next 50 years. And along with that training is also on, so that people can go out and in a systematic manner impart training.
NDTV: Sir, is there medical research happening here? What is this? What are the findings? And what is the validity?
SWAN: In the Ashram we do not conduct medical research. We do medical research in collaboration with medical institutions and doctors and hospitals, and we launch a project with them. For example in the BHEL Hospital in Bhopal, we are conducting research on High Blood pressure and Diabetes, With Apoorva Medical College Sambhalpur, we are doing research on Diabetes. Raipur Medical College we are researching Asthma. Mumbai KEM Hospital we are researching Hypertenison. So with the cooperation of the medical fraternity and the collaboration with medical institutions we are conducting this kind of research, and in a way it is a clinical activity itself. Now we are making efforts to collaborate with Apollo Hospital Hyderabad, which is reputed for Cancer therapy, there we wish to conduct a clinical study of effect of Yoga on Cancer. So in this manner with cooperation of different doctors and hospitals, we are conducting research.
NDTV: So what are the findings of these research projects? What is the contribution of Yoga? What are the findings?
SWAN: the findings are very good. Much of the medicine intake is unnecessary, body resistance is developing, medicine can be take, healing is happening, Findings are very encouraging, and the compilation of the findings of the research we publish in our publications.
NDTV: I have a basic question, my basic question is now that the Prime Minister is emphasizing Yoga so much, and you have dedicated yourself 24 X 7 to Yoga, so in your view what steps should be taken? What is the road map? How should he develop this area? What are your views? (27:12)
SWAN: In my view for Yoga in India there should be a National Resource Center. We had given these suggestions in the past as well. The Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga that has been established in Delhi, there we were keen to establish a National Resource Center for yoga, where all the work done in our country relating to Yoga, all the institutions relating to yoga, all should be recorded there, there should be publications and research and the different traditions of yoga taught in different institutions should also be taught there. So we will have one place in the country, where we will have all the Yogic schools, traditions, literature, techniques and viewpoints. So a National Resource Center of Yoga is important. In addition, we have to ensure that in Yoga, there should be a minimum qualification for Yoga. Like there is a minimum qualification for Medicine, there must be one for Yoga, and Yoga should be divided into two parts – one, that is necessary/ beneficial for society, and important for their health, that helps in managing tensions and reducing mental vacillations; this should be the objective of one part which has to be popularized in society, to make our lives balanced and well managed. And the other should be to develop the potentialities / faculties of our personality. And the person who wishes to impart training on the socially beneficial part, this should be supported fully in these 4 institutions recognized by the government. In addition, higher forms of Yoga, like Kriya Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Nada Yoga, Mantra Yoga – there should also be awareness in society about these forms of Yoga, to make people aware that Yoga is not merely Asana and Pranayama and is not merely linked to the physical body but is a multi-faceted science of life.
NDTV: Thank you very much Swamiji. This was Swami Niranjanananda ji, who is saying that in the World the Yoga movement has arrived at a decisive point, and the coming days are luminous at least for Yoga. (30:12)