From lifelong experience and practice, Shanti developed his transformative philosophy. By practicing yoga and living a dynamic balanced life, one can achieve personal transformation and serve society. Following are some of the core ideas Yogi Shanti Desai teaches and lives by.
The Self – Atman
Self is the essence of our very existence. Self is the primary root on which the external universe is based. There is no value in the world without the Self.The goal of life is Self-Realization. Self is the essence of our very existence. Because of the Self, the external universe exists for us.
The spiritual path is for brave souls. One needs to wake up and realize his own Self. The hindrances in Self-realization are the conditioning from the past, illusions about the future and escapes in the present. We have to be free from the past and the imagined future.
Primary and Secondary Goals
First we need to think clearly without fear, fantasy or concern for public opinion. We have to realize that our primary goal is to find bliss and use the secondary goals of total health, money, time and wisdom to direct and balance our life. Knowledge is power. With the clarity of goal, we can use the world as a means and set the direction for Self-realization.
You have to be strong enough to save yourself before saving the world. Your first priority should be to nurture yourself and transform yourself from within. It is not a selfish activity. By becoming strong and focused you become an effective instrument to serve others. Attaining personal liberation, peace and contentment makes you free from the prison of the world. It becomes your joyous natural duty to serve the world as an instrument of God. The external world remains the same, but your world has changed. Worldly life becomes play instead of a chore.
Asana - Yoga Postures
Raja Yoga is the royal path toward the attainment of Self Realization. There are eight limbs to Raja Yoga; the first four limbs are known as Hatha Yoga. Asana is an important part of Hatha Yoga. ‘Ha’ means sun and ‘Tha’ means moon. Hatha Yoga means harmonizing energy within the body to prepare one for meditation and Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga involves yoga positions, breathing, nutrition, cleansing, relaxation and philosophies to harmonize life.
In Sanskrit, Asana means a comfortable, steady position. This steady position is required for meditation. Ideally the lotus or any steady position for sitting is called Asana. Restlessness in the body comes from many toxins and impurities within the body.
Scriptures describe 84 major positions for purifying the body. These positions stretch muscles, stimulate the functions of vital organs, nervous system, endocrine system, circulatory system, digestive system and the excretory system.
For practical purposes, Shanti recommends only a nine-step program for total attunement of the body, energy and mind. One does not need to spend hours practicing 84 positions or to torture the body. Asanas are for making friendship with our body. One can practice at one’s own level without competition.
The Meaning and Goal of Yoga
Yoga means integration of body, mind, and spirit. Peace and harmony come in proportion to this integration. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root "Yuj" which means yoking or union. Yoga is a way of uniting the body, mind, and spirit to God (Cosmic-consciousness). The practice of Yoga begins with a systematic awareness and mastery of our physical, mental, and spiritual nature. Gradually we discover our higher self as we develop our potential and bring our total being into harmony and rhythm with the universe. The definition and goal of Yoga are explained from various points of view as follows:
Many Paths of Yoga
There are many branches of Yoga leading to the ultimate goal of Self-realization. The choice of path or combinations of paths depends on individual temperaments and tendencies. There are four major branches of Yoga:
1. Karma Yoga (Yoga of action)
This involves performing one's duties as a service to God without attachments to the consequences, an ideal approach for active and service-oriented persons.
2. Gnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge or wisdom)
This involves discrimination between real and unreal, using an intellectual approach and analytical techniques. This path is ideal for people with intellectual tendencies.
3. Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of love and devotion)
This approach directs love away from material things towards God and expands into love for the creation of God. It is a good approach for people with emotional tendencies.
4. Raja Yoga (King of Yoga)
This is the most scientific Yoga. It controls the body, nerves, and mind through physical and mental disciplines.
There are several minor Yogas which can be placed under the above categories. Mantra Yoga is a Yoga of sacred invocations and sound vibrations. It is a part of Bhakti Yoga. Kundalini Yoga involves awakening the hidden energy by using many physical means and breathing techniques. Kriya Yoga also awakens energy by physical and mental means. Hatha Yoga involves physical positions and breathing techniques.
Meditation is the continuous flow of concentration and thought. Concentration is like dripping water and meditation is like flowing water. The mind becomes quieter and more harmonious as restlessness is removed. In meditation the mind does not go blank, but the frequency of brain waves change. Meditation produces alpha brain waves, which is the creative and intuitive state of mind.
The purpose of meditation is to know thy Self. Our true Self is the true source of happiness and wisdom. Meditation is to remove the memories and regrets of the past, fantasy and worries of the future and to settle in the present. One cultivates aloneness of the Self. With this, one gains wisdom, intuition and direction in life.
Most problems in life are imagined, created by a restless mind. When the mind settles down, one can eliminate these illusions. With meditation, restlessness is removed and the underlying reality of the Self is experienced.
The mind can be made quieter simply by awareness and observation of the breath. The activity of breath and mind are closely connected. When the breath becomes slower the rhythmic the mind also becomes sharper and clearer. One finds freedom from stress and basic health problems. You can gain mastery of compulsive behavior, remaining in the present and acting wisely. This turns daily activities into meditation. This is the primary stage of meditation and can be attained by an average person at any age or physical condition.
Holistic Living - Health, Money, Time and Wisdom
Holistic lifestyle means flowing in rhythm with nature. One needs four basic tools to find success in life or to find the greatest joy and freedom in life: health, money, time and wisdom.
The first three have to exist together in a balanced way for practical benefits. For example; if one plans to take two weeks’ vacation one will need money time and health, if one of the three is lacking the vacation will be cancelled or interrupted. Wisdom is the most essential of all, it give direction in life.
One needs physical, mental and emotional health. The body is the primary tool for life's journey. Good physical health means a healthy body and healthy senses. Good mental health means a mind that is quiet, content, open and receptive. It has to be free from restlessness, worry, fear, ambition, expectation and prejudice. Good emotional health means one's capacity to love oneself and others.
One can buy some freedom and peace of mind with a surplus of money. One should exert a minimum effort to fulfill the financial needs of life. One needs to simplify life and adjust as necessary in order to obtain financial freedom, which can be utilized for the spiritual journey.
Everyone has twenty-four hours during the day. One who has set priorities finds time for important things in life. If time is not managed, energy will be scattered.
One needs wisdom along with the above three to balance and direct them properly. Without proper direction and wisdom, success can destroy life. For example, a person may be ambitious and driven to become financially successful, but in attaining success, he sacrifices time with his family and time for spiritual growth. He ignores his health. When he attains success, he loses his capacity to enjoy life. His body is diseased and his mind is conditioned to be restless. If he balances the above three, he attains joy in everyday life from beginning to end.