“Under the sword raised high
is hell making you tremble
But walk on
And there us the land of Bliss”
-Anonymous Zen Quotation
“Since war begins in the minds of men, it is the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be built.”1 Conflict is an inevitable aspect of the world in which we live. Some conflict can be argued as necessary and, even, as a catalyst for movement and progression. Other forms of conflict, especially in violent manifestations, are inarguably destructive and can only be said to impede human progress and development. Concerning the latter, the prospect of transforming conflict and building peace among the billions of people in this world is extraordinarily daunting, and rightfully so. If, however, we come to the understanding that all external conflict between people has its roots in internal conflict within each individual, a glimmer of hope begins to spread its light. The age-old wisdom of climbing a flight of stairs one step at a time provides the guidance for how this seemingly insurmountable task of creating sustainable harmony around the world can be approached. The metaphorical step represents each individual caught in the cyclical hands of debilitating conflict. The process of climbing represents the building of awareness and the gradual reconditioning of the minds of individuals. This is where the light resides. This is where the possibility of a collective awakening becomes more tangible. As with many of life’s dilemmas, insight can be drawn from ancient wisdom. The Indian science of yoga is said to have been created with the intention of rooting out the cause of mental conflicts and can play an integral part in the step by step transformation process.
Before delving into the role yoga can play in transforming conflict, it is important to explore the root of all conflict in greater depth. Fear, ignorance, and egoism; these make up the seeds of internal conflicts that are planted in our subconscious minds, starting from childhood. In yoga, these impressions deep within the mind are called samskaras. When we engage in external conflict in our lives, it is due to the brain’s reaction based on these samskaras; an interaction between the limbic system and cerebral cortex. The memory of our past experiences is stored in the cerebral cortex. As we walk through our daily lives our sensory organs transmit data through nerve impulses to the brain. It becomes the job of the limbic system to compare this incoming data to the information already engrained; driving our reactions to the external environment surrounding us. A positive reaction results when no contradiction is detected upon comparison, but when information of opposing or unfamiliar nature enters, a reaction of tension occurs. The brain performs in this manner out of protection, so that one can be warned of any dangerous situations. Unfortunately, the mental conditioning of humans seems to be so voluminous that the limbic system is in a perpetual state of over-reaction. This creates unhappiness, tension, anger, and other emotional upsets. The irony lies in the fact that most people do not understand why they are experiencing these intense feelings.
If you think back to the last external conflict you experienced, you will be able to trace t back to an internal insecurity, fear, or disturbance you have. Picture yourself getting angry at a stranger who accidentally bumped you gently on the street. This is a displacement of anger; an inappropriate projection of the already stressful state of mind you were in. At the other end of the spectrum, in the midst of war, when one neighbor starts killing another neighbor, this violence can be attributed to their deep-rooted fear of insecurity and intense attachment to ego in such a time of chaos. A close friend quickly turns into an enemy, a threat, a source of conflict. The reality of tracing back all issues to mental impressions reveals itself when one starts to analyze and break down their conflicts.
Without understanding this, people get consumed by the distractions of their external environment that only further increase their mental stresses. The key toward eliminating this negative habitual thinking pattern is awareness, which is available to each and every human being. Awareness must be drawn inwards, so the exploration of mind can begin and the root of all conflict within each of us can be severed.
This concept can be compared to pulling weeds in the garden. If one does not take care to pull out the entire root, the weed will continue to grow back time and time again. We must identify the point of origin of our problems instead of bringing temporary relief through quick and hasty “fixes” or complete avoidance that leave us susceptible to the repetitious nature of conflict. This is where yoga comes in. As simple as it sounds, the component of relaxation within yogic practices has immense potential to spark a shifting of awareness in individuals. Every person has experienced the power of taking time to calm down in states of anger; allowing themselves to see the situation from a less hyperactive state and preventing the over-reaction that the threatened brain was initially prompting in the heat of the moment. Complete relaxation of body and mind can be seen as the state of being that opens the gates for knowing the mind more fully and becoming more receptive to creating new thought processes; breaking habitual behavioral patterns. When we start to understand ourselves, we are capable of consciously reprogramming the mind. Sadly, many of the world’s people are walking in blind ignorance of all that relates to self, continuously trying to control their uncontrollable external environment that brings them further from the controllable inner harmony.
Yoga provides a systematic process of relaxation that gradually builds strong willpower to make the fleeting tension-relief, both physical and mental, felt during practice more lasting. Even if the original intention was not of self-development, the desire to maintain this achieved state of wellbeing can motivate practitioners to make the necessary attitude changes toward a new life direction.
All yogic practices are intended to enhance the mind-body connection in some manner. To achieve the abovementioned state of relaxation, the practices of pranayama, omkar chanting, and yoga nidra are especially useful and easily accessible to every human being.
Pranayama is the expansion of vital energy through breathing techniques. Yogic science explains how the irregular breathing most of us engage in throughout the day disrupts our brain rhythm and results in blockages of our energy channels, called nadis. This has negative implications for our physical, emotional, and mental states. Without knowing it, we are inviting conflict into our lives just through the way we breathe. Using pranayama, one can regulate their breathing to a more natural manner that supports stability and calming of the mind. The nadis get purified and activated; clearing energy stuck in unconscious mental patterns. A bridge is created between the conscious and unconscious mind, readying the individual for pushing past limitations and entering a new state of enhanced awareness and control.
Omkar chanting is another yogic practice that can be used to reach calmness and clarity of mind. In Yogic philosophy, the AUM vibrational sound is called Pranava, or the mother of all sounds. Chanting this sound creates a powerful vibrational energy throughout the body and mind. Similar to pranayama, Omkar chanting brings the consciousness inwards, dispels negative distractions, and frees space for the creation of positive energy.
Yet another supportive yogic practice is called Yoga Nidra, or yogic “sleep”, which was developed by Swami Satyanand Saraswati. The name is deceiving in that one is actually in between the awakened state and sleep during practice. Through the act of listening and feeling, shutting off all other sense organs, one is able to bypass the intellect and reach the subconscious mind more easily. Visualizations are used to help the self recognize the deep-seated samskaras of one’s mind. Nidra provides a safe environment for mind exploration, desensitizing the practitioner to often painful memories stored in the brain, the facing of which can be extremely intimidating and terrifying. Yoga Nidra empowers the individual as they become their own therapist on the process toward healing and reconditioning. All three of these practices set the stage for self-development by quieting the body and mind and releasing the built-up resistance we unconsciously cling to.
Once reaching more permanent relaxation in our lives, we must utilize the power of our intellect to consciously invalidate negative, tension-creating thoughts replacing them with thoughts conducive to a more balanced and content way of life. Clear-mindedness precedes effectual reconditioning. With a newfound awareness, one is able to understand and identify their samskaras and start the process of purging the roots of conflict. Imagine the potential positive energy that could flow through this freed up space and bring each self toward a more harmonious life internally and externally.
Yoga and dance have both been portals of toward self-development in my own personal experience; physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I wholeheartedly believe that my consistent yogic practice here during the training has allowed me to experience the benefits I have discussed of the relaxation techniques; deepening my self-awareness and giving me the needed momentum for my ongoing journey of reprogramming. I can say the most influential of the practices on my mental balance has been Yoga Nidra. I have been able to surrender to the complete relaxation it provides, which has contributed to a noticeable balance and sense of control over my often exaggerated emotional waves. My determination toward self-realization in the past few weeks has already revealed some deep samskaras within me. I can see the connection between these impressions and the conflicts of my life. Fear of failure and rejection haunt me throughout my life and I have finally come to the realization that I have myself been the harshest judge of them all. In not fully accepting myself, I have caused innumerous external conflicts with those around me, leading to self-guilt and only deepening the vicious cycle of disharmony. With Yoga Nidra and all other yogic practices, I have gained more acute awareness and experienced the releasing of some very powerful inner blockages.
The philosophy of yoga as a whole supports a non-violent and connected way of life. Sadly, we find ourselves living in a world plagued with false dichotomies; good vs. bad, success vs. failure, white vs. black, the self vs. others, and so on. Yoga promotes the awakening of individuals to our shared universal consciousness instead of the self-created separateness that tears us apart. The realization of oneness is the light we must choose to spread. We must harness a spirit of acceptance for ourselves and for others and recognize and find peace in the common thread of fear that exists within each of us. We each come with our own unique package of mental conditioning and some people are less cognizant of their dependence on this. We must see the potential of every human even if they lack this awareness. Change can only be sustainably created step by step and can only take place in wiling individuals. Energy should not be wasted on trying to force change, for this is always a futile effort doomed for failure. Transforming the conflicts of the world is no easy feat, but if we light one candle at a time, each candle, or individual, can spread the flame to other individuals, then ignite entire communities in an exponential manner. Every small act can have an influence on the force of energy toward positive change and positivity is contagious by nature. It is the ultimate desire of every human to reach a state of pure happiness despite all that we unknowingly do that brings us away from it. We must lead by example and lend a guiding hand whenever possible. Yoga is one of the many means we can use to bring on a new age of consciousness where dialogue, understanding, self-awareness, and inner harmony become the norm, and not the exception. “If we change ourselves, we change the world.” 2
The views expressed are solely those of the author. Yogapoint.com may or may not agree with all statements.
• Taken from the UNESCO Constitution
• Yoga for Health, Healing, and Harmony by Dr. Ulka Ajit Natu
• Curbing Anger: Spreading Love by Bhikku Visuddhacara
• Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya by Swami Satyanand Saraswati
• Ask & It Is Given: Law of Attraction by Esther and Jerry Hicks
• Omkar Lecture Transciption by Mrs. Poornima Mandlik