Yoga for Peace
The idea of peace through Yoga may at first sight appear trivial or religious or mystic, but a closer analysis will reveal that this is a practicable idea – the cost of which is trifle but the benefits are immense. It is neither related to religious beliefs nor mysticism. A practitioner of Yoga knows its powerful and sobering impact on mind, and also knows how it can bring peace in mind and consequently on action with bearing on society. Yoga implies many things. There are many types of Yoga. Here, my focus is not on its typology or its origin or religious significance as my purpose is different. My purpose is to demonstrate how Yoga can dispel violence from human mind. I will focus on a particular kind of Yoga called Raja Yoga, which mainly involves breathing exercises. Yoga, derived from Sanskrit, means ‘join’ or ‘connection’ – the spiritual implication is joining God in individual to the God in universe.
Swami Vivekananda in his book Raja Yoga, first published in 1896, elaborated this Yoga. He argued that Yoga is scientific. Even an atheist by following the rules of Yoga can sharpen his mind, increase his mental power, develop a healthy body and maintain composure in worst situations. The main component of this Yoga is called Pranayam, which can be roughly translated as breathing exercises. This Yoga is mainly based on the premise that control of our breathing not only helps us control the inflow of oxygen into our lungs or outflow of carbon dioxide from a mere physiological point of view, but also helps control our mental activities with far reaching psychological and psychic implications. A simple test demonstrates that – a deep breathing, deep inhaling of oxygen into the lungs, has a soothing impact on our body. It is suggested by well wishers that when we get angry, or anxiety grips us, or we get nervous, we should take a deep breath and it helps. This is true. This is a rudimentary example.
Yoga is based on this simple principle but it can gradually acquire a higher pitch. Instead of doing this breathing exercise in case of ‘emergency’ or ‘necessity’ its proponents will suggest to continue this breathing exercise on a regular basis by following its rules. Any haphazard practice may have negative impact on health. As Vivekananda argued, Yoga is scientific and demands certain rules and procedures, and once these rules are followed Yoga can have transformational impact on the practitioner.
Like various kinds of Yoga, there are various kinds of breathing exercises or Pranayam. I will elaborate here the Anulom Vilom Pranayam. It is also called alternate breathing exercise. Any casual search of internet sites including YouTube will flash hundreds of video clips on this particular Pranayam. This exercise is simple – one has to breathe in one nostril and inhale maximum oxygen to lungs while closing the other nostril and exhale the air through the alternate nostril, and the next time air must be inhaled through this alternate nostril while keeping the other nostril closed but to exhale air through it. This breathing exercise should continue for some time. There is no fixed time for completing this exercise. It mostly depends on the practitioner and his or her comfort level and practice. The best time for this exercise is morning or evening; preferably the stomach should not be full or empty; the health should be in a good condition – the person should not be suffering from cold or fever or any health problems which create difficulties for this exercise. All these rules and procedures are amply available in internet sites.
What is the cost of this exercise? Nothing. I would suggest one should learn from a person who is already practicing this exercise. One may practice at will, and give up practice at will. The basic credo of Yoga is voluntary practice as any compulsion defies the very purpose of Yoga – peace and happiness. In the initial period it may appear difficult, but with few days practice it will be easier. Patanjali defines Yoga as ‘skill in works’. Yoga is always enabling, not obstructing. Everyday practice for about 5 to 10 minutes of Anulom Vilom can have lot of positive impacts on mind.
Am I writing something which is useless or unproductive from a peace perspective? I disagree. States spend billions of dollars to craft peace in conflict zones. They send emissaries to conflicting parties and invite them to negotiating table to achieve modicum of peace. They spend a lot of money in projects in academics and in civil society to conduct research, roundtables, and workshops, fact finding missions, working groups, conflict analysis and assessment. All these methods have their importance. If Yoga can be a priceless armor in this weaponry of conflict management/transformation/resolution process, then what is wrong?
Not that there has not been any application of Yoga in conflict transformation. One of the leading figures of India, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living Foundation, has applied his version of Yoga in conflict ridden Kashmir. His foundation imparted lessons to people in the region. He also applied these lessons to other conflict regions such as Sri Lanka. These can be replicated elsewhere. And the cost of such exercises is trifle. I will add that besides the youth, the leaders of the conflicting parties need to be convinced the utility of these exercises and its impact in soothing the tensions of mind. Tensions, anxiety, and insecurity breed and intensify enmity. These have sources in human mind, and once mind is composed and calm, these negative aspects can be fought more easily. This fighting will be inner than outer. And in this process Yoga can help. I emphasize that leaders or persons in high positions, whether in conflict regions or peace regions, need to practice Yoga.
In Afghanistan billions of dollars have been invested in crafting peace. Mediating powers have admitted that they have spent lot of money in bringing peace and stability in the war torn country. In this process they have bribed rebel groups like the Taliban and the government officials to build peace. This method of peace may have some tangible effects, but it is difficult at present to predict its long term impacts. My argument here is that unless these conflicting factions, whether the ruling establishment or the Taliban or other myriad ethnic factions, and external players, change their minds, peace will be a difficult enterprise. The parties consist of human beings, and unless these human beings change, the achieved peace may be a fractured or a negative one. I agree that achieving peace is a complex process. Hence, I argue to achieve positive peace all methods irrespective of their source or reach need to be used. Yoga is one.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include India-Russia relations, conflict and peace, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Jun 2013.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Yoga for Peace, is included. Thank you.
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