Being a trained yoga instructor and a practicing Hindu, I want to highlight the most meaningful takeaway from my practice. The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the epic Mahabharata which narrates the struggle between two groups of cousins and their journey to succession as kings and princes. It is one of the most important texts of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita is the divine knowledge narrated by Shri Krishna to Arjun before he fought the battle of Kurukshetra. These are two consecutive shlokas (verses 62 and 63) from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.
ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंस: सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते |
सङ्गात्सञ्जायते काम: कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते ||BG 2.62||
क्रोधाद्भवति सम्मोह: सम्मोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रम: |
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद् बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति ||BG2.63||
Dhyāyato viṣayānpuṁsaḥ saṅgasteṣūpajayate |
Saṅgātsaṁjāyate kāmaḥ kāmātkrodho’bhijāyate ||Gītā-2-62||
Krodhādbhavati sammohaḥ sammohātsmṛtivibhramaḥ |
Smṛtibhraṁśād buddhināśo buddhināśātpraṇaśyati ||Gītā-2-63||
These verses describe how emotions emerge in the human mind. Here is the passage in English: Brooding on objects of desires, we develop an attachment to them. From attachment arises desire. When you desire an object, you get frustrated until you obtain it. If you obtain it then you become greedy for more which also leads to frustration. Frustration creates intense negative emotions and leads to anger. Anger leads to delusion. Once you become delusional, you lose your power to reason and think logically. The power to think analytically is called Buddhi, a virtue unique to humans. Once your Buddhi is destroyed you are no different than an animal. Ruined reason, ultimately, leads to downfall.
Lord Krishna goes on to suggest the way to get out of this vicious cycle. He asks us to become “Stithpradnya”. By tuning into your Infinite Self, you can achieve true happiness without being sucked into negative emotions. A Stithpradnya is a person who has perfected equanimity of mind, no longer perturbed by adversity or craving prosperity. Their mind is free from extreme emotions and is full of wisdom and patience. They’ve perfected these things because they are deeply connected to their true Self, the Atman. Yoga is one of the ways suggested to become Stithpradnya because it helps you connect to your true Self, Atman.
To exemplify how this works for me, let’s assume that I have a great desire to get an A on a sociology paper. I am working on the paper because I am attached to the outcome of getting an A. But I don’t get my desired grade. I was so attached to getting an A that my grade frustrates and angers me. I spend time brooding on this and sulking which affects my whole day. My reasoning and judgment are clouded by frustration and I perform poorly on a midterm. If I was connected to my Atman, as a Stithpradnya, the outcome would have been different. I would have worked on my paper to the best of my best ability, rather than overthinking about getting an A. After getting my grade, I would have felt disappointed for some time, but I would be able to move on because my Yoga practice makes my mind equanimous. This would prevent the cycle of negative emotions that would follow otherwise.
Last semester was a true test of this verse. I was taking a heavy credit load, applying to graduate school, working at a research lab, and actively participating in this fellowship. Every time I felt dejected, I turned to these teachings. I made an effort to not judge myself for my negative emotions, and instead to understand and meditate on the root causes of my attachments. I turned to yoga and meditation to clear my head of negative thoughts so I could think logically. Once I identified and acknowledged my feelings (with use of these practices), it was easy for me to work through them. The experience I had last semester strengthened my faith and also helped me identify the most important teaching for me from the Bhagavad Gita.
Isn’t this what modern mental health research is telling us? — acknowledge your feelings without judgment and move on. The use of yoga to overcome your problems and connect with your Atman fascinates me. Becoming perfectly equanimous is close to impossible but striving to achieve that state through yoga has changed me.