In modern society there is not only a push to do more and achieve more, but a constant bombardment from media to consume more. This is taught by media images and advertisements that try to convince us that the external consumption of material things will give us greater happiness and peace of mind.
However, the truth that the yogis teach is that the way to true inner peace has nothing to do with things on the outside, nor what we accomplish, achieve and obtain — or even from what we do. Instead, the yogis teach us that being in touch with the essence of who we really are, the innermost Self, is the key to inner and lasting peace. This can be realized with a few simple steps a day, practicing some simple yogic tools to connect us with our true nature. It is in this connection with the deepest part of us of that we can experience the simplicity and joy of just “being.”
Swami Vishnudevananda, who founded the Sivananda Yoga centers and ashrams in the U.S., said, “It is impossible to find peace outside. If you want to find peace, you have to look for peace where it is. If you want to find peace, you must first of all find it within. If you find this peace within, you will also find it outside. So if you want to have external peace, find, first of all, the peace within.”
His guru, Sivananda, said, “To achieve that state of lasting happiness and absolute peace, we must first know how to calm the mind, to concentrate and go beyond the mind. By turning the mind’s concentration inward, upon the self, we can deepen that experience of perfect concentration. This is the state of Meditation.”
To sit and do nothing but observe the breath, perhaps a sound (mantra) or other tools to calm the mind, brings so many benefits. It is so simple that many people overlook it and seek external ways to find peace. When we start to meditate, and sit still, for even a few minutes a day, we may see that truly “less is more,” as joy and peace is obtained not in the “doing” but by the “being” of your true nature.
To make our lives more simple and create a few more minutes a day to meditate and “be” with our innermost Self, we can follow some basic ideas from the yogic way of living.
Yoga, or “union,” is an ancient science to help us reach a greater connection with ourselves and the world around us. Yoga includes postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), chanting, relaxation, meditation, nonviolent actions and diet (vegetarian) and healthy, balanced eating and living. Even trying small steps from the yogic ideas brings greater health and balance and can impact our life in beneficial ways.
Everyone can benefit from yoga, because yoga can be modified to suit your needs. The benefits are numerous, ranging from pain relief to peace of mind.
A simple way to think of it is that yoga can be summarized as a full lifestyle. Swami Vishnudevananda condensed the essence of the yoga teachings into five principles for physical and mental health, as well as spiritual growth:
- Proper Exercises — asana
- Proper Breathing — pranayama
- Proper Relaxation — savasana
- Proper Diet — vegetarian
- Positive Thinking and Meditation — dhyana
Using these five principals for a holistic yogic lifestyle for inner peace, outer health and harmony with animals and the earth, plus some additional ideas suggested here, can contribute more simplicity, more peace and greater harmony to our day.
10 Ideas to Simplify Our Lives:
- Proper Exercise: Each day do a little bit of exercise (yoga, tai chi, qigong, swimming, walking, etc.) It is better to practice yoga or tai chi 15 minutes day than waiting until your weekend or holiday schedule allows a full hour class or practice time. Modify exercise or yoga routines so that it works for your schedule. When we keep it simple, we are more likely to be consistent. Walking, tai chi and yoga do not require any equipment and can be done anywhere.
- Proper Breathing: The yogis offer breathing techniques for specific effects, such as increasing energy or calming the mind. Many practices exist, but if you just start out by simply paying attention to the breath, or even taking a few slow deep breaths a day — the most simple thing we can do without needing to change our environment — that is a great start. Also, when we slow the breath down, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response we have when we are under stress.
- Proper Relaxation: The yogis give tools for deep, conscious relaxation (often done after yoga postures), but you can even practice relaxation during a lunch break, while sitting on a bench or — if you don’t have time in the day — by spending a few minutes at night being conscious of the relaxation process before you go to sleep. Simply watch the muscles in your body relax one by one as you bring awareness to each part of the body. Observe your breath, allowing the mind and body to unwind and relax deeply.
- Proper Diet: The yogis have taught that there is no need to harm any living being, including the animals. A simple plant-based diet, including fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, does not harm animals or our health, and it is best for the Earth. It is so simple to prepare fresh salads and steamed vegetables with rice. Simple eating also is easier on the digestive tract.
- Positive Thinking: It takes no time at all to change a thought. When you realize your mind is too busy or being negative, try the yogic technique called prakti paksha bhavana by replacing a negative thought with a positive one. Choose which thought to focus on when you meditate. “Everything that happens in your mind is reflected in your body,” says the yoga master T.K.V. Desikachar.
- Meditation: Sitting in silence a few minutes or more a day allows the mind to settle and the body to relax, and that creates a better sense of well-being. Even when life is hectic and busy, allow a few minutes a day to just “be.” That is so useful for the immune system, and it allows the mind to gain clarity and the body to relax and restore energy. Keep it simple. Find a quiet place in your home or outside to just pause, sit and observe the breath. Allow the thoughts to come and go. Over time, the mind will get more quiet and peaceful.
- Proper Sleep: Each day, get proper sleep and rest. The amount of hours needed will vary for each person. Creating a soothing nighttime ritual may allow for deeper sleep. A nighttime ritual can include herbal tea, or reading a yoga book at night instead of watching the TV or internet, which may create disturbances in the mind or emotions.
- Unplug from technology each day: Although cell phones, internet and modern technology are designed to make our lives more efficient, and even easier, they often distract us from being in the present moment, being with other people and noticing our surroundings. Each time you go to exercise, before bedtime or when you first wake up, try to take some time to be with your breath, body and surroundings and take a break from computers and cell phones.
- Let go of things you don’t need: A simple, zen-like environment will help the mind focus and be more at peace. Get rid of clothes you don’t need by donating them to a local homeless shelter. Donate books you no longer want. See what you can let go of to create more room for simplicity in your home, office and life. This includes not only material belongings that you no longer want or use, but excess thoughts that no longer serve your greater good and inner peace. When we let go of the old, we make room for the new.
- Spend time in nature: Nature is healing and it brings so much joy. Watching birds, feeling the sunshine on your face and enjoying the change of seasons is so simple, yet we are often so busy in our minds that we overlook it. Physicians in San Francisco and other areas are now prescribing park time to patients. Each day, find some time to breathe in the fresh air. This can be while you walk to your car, when you’re at work, or when you can take a walk through a park or on a beach. Even if you are unable to get outside, take three slow deep breaths right now and notice the trees and sky outside and come back to the present moment. Feel the body as you inhale, and relax the mind as you exhale.
- Joy is within: Go within to find joy and peace instead of finding it on the outside. It is much more simple to sit a few minutes in silence, to notice the breath or enjoy a walk, than it is to need an external way to find the peace. When you tap in to the peace within, it is always there to return to. Regardless of your circumstances, relationships and outer world, the mind can always rest on the breath.
Here is a little song of the Yoga of Synthesis for daily practice from Swami Sivananda:
Eat a little, drink a little,
Talk a little, sleep a little,
Mix a little, move a little,
Serve a little, rest a little
Work a little, relax a little,
Study a little, worship a little,
Do Asanas (yoga postures) a little, Pranayamas (yogic breathing exercises) a little,
Reflect a little, Meditate a little,
Do Japa (mantra repetition) a little, do Kirtan (devotional chanting) a little,
Write Mantra a little, have Satsanga (gathering of spiritually like minded people) a little.
Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize.
Be Good, Do good; Be kind, Be compassionate.
Enquire “Who am I?” Know the Self and be Free. — from www.sivanandaonline.org