Last month, I was on tour in the U.S. where I got to meet many students. People can’t always come to Mysore, so it is very important that I go to see them. Over a few days, I give conferences. I always ask students if they have sensible yogi questions. My answers, I hope, will help them understand what yoga is so that they can experience it in this lifetime.
I remember a student asked me about sleep. If you sleep too much then you become very lazy and your body becomes unhealthy. We are not lions who sleep 20 hours. Six to seven hours is good. This is common sense, but it is also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a sacred Vedic text, “Yuktāhāra-vihārasya, yukta-ceṣṭasya karmasu, yukta-svapnāvabodhasya, yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā.” [This translates to: “One who is regulated in habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system. ”]
One should regulate food intake, too, by not eating too much and not eating too little. The body needs only a certain amount of food to keep it nourished. If you go to India, you might order a thali, which is a platter with several small dishes laid out around rice with chapatti. If you eat this three times a day you will die; it’s too much food.
Bhagavad Gita says to regulate not only food and sleep, but also to manage work and recreation. Eight hours of work is enough. You can’t work 20 hours. You can’t be at a festival for 20 hours. If you do too much of any of these, your yoga will suffer.
So yogis should be very careful with what they do, how much they do, how much they sleep, how much they eat, how much they work. This is called tapas, which can mean how you dedicate or organize your life. Upsetting your body’s rhythm will disturb your own sadhana and practice. Good habits are very important. If you habitually eat one day at 8 o’clock and the next day at midnight it will upset your body. Try to eat your food at the same time each day. Keep your sleep habits the same. If you keep on the same schedule, your body stays balanced, and you better focus your energies.
A student asked me about drinking alcohol. Why do you, or does anyone, drink alcohol, to relax, to feel differently, to lose your senses? It’s like external ecstasy. You give up on finding this sensation naturally so you go for something external. It’s common sense if you have alcohol over time you damage your body and organs. It’s like ahimsa, you are doing ahimsa to yourself. Because your mind is very weak, you are attracted to something external. You can’t control yourself. You crave this external help. Four months back, I quit coffee. Alcohol is a higher addiction, but coffee is also an addiction. My body craved it. I felt shaky. But I had a strong mind. I never had coffee after I quit.
So you have to strengthen your mind. This Ashtanga practice is to strengthen your mind. What happens if you have alcohol in the night and then come to practice? The hangover is there the next day. You are exhausted, not blissful.
I can live, everyone can live, without these things. And things like too much or too little food, sleep, work, definitely affect your yoga practice. Overindulging or intoxicants disturbs everything. But once a stable mind is there, you can do anything. You can get rid of all the delusions. This is the main thing yoga does. Regular practice is compulsory for everyone. Don’t worry about how much you’re bending or not. Be on the mat. Try to do whatever asanas you can. Try to do the breathing techniques. Padmasana, sirsasana, sarvangasana, these asanas strengthen you mentally and physically. Many habits that don’t work for your mind and body, you can get rid of when you practice yoga, but when you overindulge then your yoga will suffer.
Photography by Tom Rosenthal