21st April 2015 Brussels, Belgium

(As a curtain raiser event to celebrate the International Day of Yoga on June 21, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was invited to speak on yoga and conduct a meditation session. The event titled “The Yoga Way” was organised by the Indian embassy in Brussels in cooperation with the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with India. Below is the transcript of Sri Sri’s discourse at the event)

If there is a competitor for God in the world today, I would say that it is stress. Stress has become almost synonymous to God – it is so omnipresent!

What really is stress?
Stress is too much to do, too little time, and no energy, Do you agree with me? In a short time, we have to do a lot, but there is no energy, and this causes stress.

How to get rid of stress?

  • By reducing the workload – This does not appear to be a possibility these days.
  • By increasing the time – This is which we cannot do. It is fixed, unless we go to another planet.
  • By increasing the energy level within us – And this is the only option we are left with.

When we have enough energy and enthusiasm, we are able to handle any challenge.

One aspect of the yoga way is to provide us with tools and techniques to lead a stress-free life and a tension-free life. On the other hand, I would say, yoga is also the greatest wealth of humankind.
What is wealth? Wealth is that which brings us comfort. The purpose of wealth is to bring happiness and comfort, isn’t it? If wealth doesn’t succeed in achieving this goal of bringing comfort to the human psyche, to human life, I would not call it wealth. And yoga is wealth, in the sense that it brings absolute comfort.

A violence-free society, disease-free body, confusion-free mind, inhibition-free intellect, trauma-free memory, and a sorrow-free soul is the birthright of every individual. Parliaments world over are striving to achieve this goal of human existence – happiness! We all want happiness, and yoga is the way for that much needed happiness factor in life.

Here again, we think yoga is some sort of exercise. In 80’s and 90’s when I would tour Europe, yoga was not easily accepted in the mainstream society. Yoga was considered to be some very hard exercises: like standing on the toes, or standing on one leg. The whole concept of yoga was very weird. It was the stuff that weird people do. Today, I am glad that there is an awakening and people have recognized the importance of yoga. The world over, yoga has become synonymous with relaxation, happiness, and a creative mind. Even big companies, in their advertisements put people sitting in a yoga position, or in a meditation pose to depict the inner peace one has. That is a very welcome move.

I would like to remind you, whether we like it or not, we are all born yogis.
You do not need a yoga teacher if you observe a baby anywhere in the world. From the age of 3 months to the age of 3 years, a baby does all the yoga postures. Their breathing, the way they sleep, the way they smile, everything is yoga. Babies are yoga teachers, they are yogis and that is how a baby is stress-free and happy.
A baby smiles 400 times in a day. The purpose of yoga is to put a smile on our face in spite of all the stress and tensions, or situations that we are put through in our day-to-day life.

The benefits of yoga are multifold.

  • It has many health benefits
  • It changes the behavior of a person because behavior depends on the stress levels in a person. It creates a friendly disposition and a very pleasant atmosphere in people
  • More than words we convey a lot through our presence; our vibrations. Yoga helps to improve our vibes.
    I would like to give an example:
    When someone close to you says, ‘Have a nice day’, and when an airhostess greets you saying, ‘Have a nice day!’, just observe and see, you can notice a clear difference When the air hostess greets you saying, ‘Have a nice day’, she really does not mean it. But the same words, when it comes to you from a close friend, it carries certain vibes
  • Speaking in terms of Quantum Physics, we are all emitting vibes or wavelengths. When communication breaks down, we often say, ‘Our wavelengths don’t match’.
    This is because our ability to communicate depends on our ability to receive communications from others. Here, yoga helps us to have that clear mind
  • Another issue that we face in society today is prejudice. All types of prejudice: prejudice of religion, race, gender, class, educational status, financial status, etc.
    All these different types of prejudice have clogged the mind of men and that is how conflicts arise in society. Yoga helps us to reach out and resolve this conflict created by prejudice. Spontaneously and naturally, yoga makes our mind free from prejudice.
    I would like to quote an incident that happened a few years ago in Ivory Coast. There was polarization between two villages, where the people of one village chased out the people from the other village. One of our volunteers went and talked to them, taught them some yoga and some meditation, and brought the people of both villages together. You can see from this experience, how the people could break that prejudice in their minds and shake hands with the people who were different. I think this is very much needed in the world today
  • Now, coming to the aspect of developing skills within oneself. The propounder of yoga has said, ‘Yoga Karmasu Kaushalam’ (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2.50). Lord Krishna has said, ‘Yoga is skill in action’. Yoga is not just an exercise, it is how skillfully you can communicate, and how skillfully you can act in any given situation. This again, is yoga. I do not think anyone here would say they do not want skill, or anyone here would say they do not want innovation. Innovation, intuition, skills, and better communication, all these are the main effects of yoga

Having said all of this, does yoga conflict with any of our belief systems? If I believe in a particular religion, or a particular philosophy, or if I follow a particular political line of thought, does that come in conflict with yoga? I would say, not at all, as yoga always promotes harmony in diversity, it encourages diversity. The word ‘yoga’ itself means ‘uniting’ (uniting diverse aspects of existence, of life).

Whether you are a businessman, or a public figure, or a private individual, you want peace, you want to smile, you want to be happy, isn’t it? This happiness can only happen when we look at the root cause of unhappiness, and unhappiness is because of lack of vision, stress, tension and worry.

Again, European Union, you have been talking quite a bit about GDH. I suppose from GDP we are moving towards Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH). Yoga is something that can aid that, it can be a very useful tool.
A large percentage of our population today is suffering from depression. Just popping a Prozac or anti-depressants will not help. We need something that is so natural, as natural as our breath, that we can use and elevate our spirit and feel that much needed happiness; that pursuit of happiness that everybody is after.

I just want to ask you, when you are happy, what is it that you feel? Have you noticed a sense of expansion within you? Suppose you are complemented, or you accomplished something you wanted to accomplish, you will find that there is something in you that is expanding. At the same time, when we face a failure or when someone insults you, what happens? There is something in you that shrinks. So, yoga is putting your attention on this something in you that seem to be expanding when you are happy, and crushing or contracting when you feel unhappy.

Often, we feel helpless about our negative emotions. Neither in school, nor at home does anyone teach us about how to handle our negative emotions. If you are upset, you remain upset, or wait for time to heal it. Yoga has a secret to turn around this state of mind. It empowers you to feel the way you want to feel at any time, instead of being a victim of your own feelings. It makes you so independent.

In our experience of teaching half a million people in prisons around the world, this is what we have found: every culprit says he is a victim of something. When we heal the victim in him, the culprit disappears. And something as simple as the breath can do this job for us. We just need to learn how to breathe in different rhythms, in different patterns, to eliminate those traumas, those strong impressions in the mind, the pain and suffering we have been carrying in our heart.

Patanjali, the profounder of yoga, in his Yoga Sutras, he enunciated the purpose of yoga. He said ‘Heyam Dukham Anagatham’. The purpose of yoga is to stop misery before it comes.
On many counts, this is very useful. When a conflict is boiling somewhere, ask people to breathe, sit together and communicate better, you will see that you can resolve the conflict right at the very root cause of it. Whether it is greed, jealousy, anger, hatred, or frustration, all these negative emotions can be healed or re-oriented through yoga, and this is my experience throughout the world.

Yoga also helps people to be more responsible, and to take more responsibility in their life. This is called Karma Yoga. A Karma Yogi is one who takes responsibility.
We all play many roles in our life. We have an option to play the role either as a yogi or as a non-yogi; one who is responsible or one who is not-so-responsible. You can have a responsible teacher, a responsible doctor, or a businessman who cares.
Caring, sharing, and responsibility are the characters that yoga simply nurtures inside of us. We all have this inside us. The entire population has this, but it needs nurturing. I would say yoga is one of the best tools to nurture an individual to take responsibility.