I was engaged in competitive performance sports, followed by long workouts in the gym, all through my youth. During the last 15 years, I’ve been practicing just yoga, and I can truthfully say it’s far superior to all the grueling activities of my youth.

What’s Yoga’s Foundation and What Are Its Benefits?

I was engaged in competitive performance sports, followed by long workouts in the gym, all through my youth. During the last 15 years, I’ve been practicing just yoga, and I can truthfully say it’s far superior to all the grueling activities of my youth.

Strengthening and stretching the muscles and spine just by using the body’s own weight allows healthy people to be free from any back, shoulder, and neck pains. As a result, yogis (people who practice yoga) start to not only enjoy their daily lives more gracefully, they can also practice their hobbies—such as tennis, soccer, basketball, skiing, surfing, hiking, and so on—for longer without any injury to themselves. This is reason enough to include yoga in your daily routine, but the benefits of yoga are also felt in the mind, and these are actually much greater than the physical benefits. While practicing yoga, the yogi inhales and exhales evenly from the nose. In other words, regardless of the difficulty of the pose, a yogi never loses awareness of his or her breath. This enables the yogi to improve his or her awareness by remaining calm, even in the most difficult poses, which in turn enables him or her to tackle the mind’s tricks during daily life. In other words, the deeper you practice yoga, the more you master your mind.

What Does It Mean to Master Your Mind?

All our activities have a common goal: to become happy and stay that way. I believe most of us don’t object to this, but our minds present the biggest obstacle to achieving it. When the mind takes over, it can build a prison for us without us realizing it.

To clarify, however, our mind is a very useful tool if we use it correctly. We need it to carry out our daily tasks, to understand what we’re reading, to communicate with others, and even to decide what to wear every morning. It’s an essential vehicle to fulfil our practical needs, but that’s all. As long as we use our minds just for those matters that need it—in other words, as long as we remain its master—there will be no problem whatsoever. Our minds are extremely clever and cunning, however, so it continuously seeks opportunities where it can gain control. It constantly creates internal noises in an attempt to disturb our natural, peaceful state of pure joy and bliss, much like the state we enjoyed when we were kids.

What Do You Mean by the Mind’s Internal Noise?

The mind uses various methods to take control. We are all energetic beings who can enjoy pure joy and bliss as long as we preserve the frequency and vibration level of our energy. You can see this pure happiness when we watch children in their natural state of joy. In essence, we are pure loving beings, a kind of love-generator. In time, as the mind/ego emerges, our personalities start to develop and distance ourselves from our essence. Of course, we need the ego for survival at a basic level, but the moment it starts to take control by lowering our frequencies, we become trapped in its prison. Whenever we fall for the mind’s tricks, our energy levels drop and we move away from pure happiness.

The mind uses six weapons, which I refer to as Anger-Anxiety-Arrogance and Jealousy-Fear-Greed (or AAA-JFG for short)—to lure us into its prison.

In his famous book The Art of War, Sun-Tzu teaches that once you know the strengths and capabilities of your enemy, you can develop your own defenses. In the same manner, we need to be aware of the mind’s weapons, capabilities, and strategies. Ironically, we need to use the mind to reach this understanding. In other words, we overcome the mind’s manipulations by using it against itself. The only thing we need do is constantly and relentlessly observe our minds. We don’t expect to gain anything from the mind like this, but it’s like keeping an eye on that thief who you know wants to rob you. It reminds us that we’re the bosses in every situation, and this keeps out mental energy high.

How Can We Deal with the Mind’s Trickery?

Let’s look at fear and anxiety, which can lower our energy levels instantly. Over the years, we look at the experiences of ourselves and others, and we see how we all travel on paths that are designed for our individual needs. When we look back on our lives and connect the dots between important events, we see how such events brought us fear and anxiety. This was actually needed for our own evolution, so it happened just as we needed it.

It’s much like climbing a mountain, where each and every step is essential to moving forward. Once we understand this deeply, we experience great ease in every event we encounter. As our ancestors said, “There is good fortune hidden in every misfortune.” The key point is to accept that whatever happens, it happens for our own good. Accept this with complete faith, just like accepting a physical law like gravity. We simply trust in the divine and our true nature, just like during our first nine months in the womb.

There are several examples, such as opening a new door after another one closes or finding passion in a new career after losing your job. These events bring great anxiety at the time. We also sometimes cultivate our awareness after going through severe sickness, or watching somebody close to us get sick, and this brings desperation at first. Even when we meet someone who can guide us to new horizons, it causes great anxiety at first.

In other words, the more we can surrender ourselves to life and go with the flow, the more we can evade the mind’s traps of fear and anxiety. This state of surrender shouldn’t be interpreted as being weak. We should still do our best to change things within the limits of our ethical values, but for some inevitable events, it’s essential to avoid using phrases words like “I should have…” and “I could have…” and shun the mind’s disturbing internal dialogue.

After a while, we start to understand that with our thoughts and our reactions to events, we determine our own reality and life pattern. We continue to stay in the state of fear and anxiety until we can understand the lessons. The divine system does not judge anyone, however. When it comes to those living with fear, anxiety, and a low frequency, the universe assumes they “enjoy” this kind of life, so it constructs appropriate life plans complete with challenges. On the other hand, easier life plans are constructed for those who surrender to life and trust in what’s happening. In other words, we don’t get what we want, but we do get what we are.

Let’s also observe the states of anger and arrogance, which again can rapidly lower our frequencies. We all received our earliest education from different parents, so our environment plays a major role in our development. It contributes to our personalities, and so we react to events in our own way. Whenever we criticize someone or become angry at someone’s behavior, we need to realize that we would have acted the same way if our personality had developed the same. This insight enables us to preserve our energy by accepting others with tolerance and forgiveness, rather than letting anger lower it. Although this seems difficult at first, it is a quality we can develop by looking at every event in daily life as a training opportunity, remembering that our attitudes define our altitude in life.

The mind, however, is so cunning that it immediately initiates the feeling of “being right” in every event by using its next weapon, arrogance. There’s a very nice phrase that sums it up: “You can be right, or you can be free.” As long as we remain trapped in the mind’s prison, it makes us believe that we are right in everything we do. For example, you might humiliate a waiter by lambasting him in front of others when he clumsily spills salad dressing on your shirt, because it provoked your arrogance. Your mind immediately justifies your actions by saying, “You did fine. Somebody had to take action. He’ll be more careful in future.” However, what if that waiter had lost his closest friend that morning or his wife had experienced a miscarriage the day before, adversely effecting his concentration? If you had experienced events like these, you would have probably also spilled the salad dressing that day. Forgetting tolerance and approaching events judgmentally, just for the sake of being right, enables the mind to manipulate us to its fullest extent, causing a rapid decrease in our energy and eliminating any possibility of being free.

Later on, on a more subtle level, when the mind understands how advanced the person is, it becomes more cunning and uses the weapon of duality. For example, if we watch a beautiful sunset and feel in touch with our essence at that moment, the mind disturbs the serenity by whispering, “Isn’t that a beautiful sunset?” This subtle whisper starts a wave of duality in our quiet minds by triggering comparisons with other sunsets we enjoyed in the past, tearing us away from appreciating the moment.

What’s more, endless desires continuously move us away from our natural state. There’s nothing wrong with desire in its pure form, because there would be no progress in society without it. We would just be lazy individuals that contribute nothing to our environments. Problems arise, however, when desire turns into greed, which is separated by a very thin line. Actually, all we need to preserve our essence, and therefore feel true joy, is a warm place to sleep, some food and clothing, a healthy body, and exposure to nature. Indeed, these basic needs are met in most of us, but only a few of us feel gratitude. When desire turns into greed, we live in five-bedroom houses, even though we only use one bedroom, or we start becoming angry over the little things, such as the soup being served a little cold, while forgetting that a baby dies from starvation in Africa every five seconds. We wear most of the clothes in our wardrobes just once a year, if that, and insist on always having the latest smartphone, even though we only make phone calls on it. We trade in the sedan for a sporty convertible. We get bored with the beautiful 3-star hotel on the beach and look for a 5-star one instead. It’s so easy to think of examples. Once the mind takes control, we constantly want more and more. Sadly, the mind also tells us to keep all these hard-earned luxuries by turning us into over-worked, selfish individuals who are full with stress and anxiety, people who justify any means to survive and win. In the end, losing any of these unnecessary rewards makes us unhappy and traps us in a cycle of desire and suffering. At a later stage, we realize that materialistic things contribute nothing to our natural state of pure joy and happiness. In most cases, unfortunately, we only reach this wisdom after long years or after experiencing severe trauma, such as losing our health or ending a relationship.

How Does Yoga Contribute to What You’re Saying?

Yoga teaching involves eight stages. Physical movements, called asanas, and breathing exercises, known as pranamayas, are just two of these eight stages. In the first two stages, yogis learn the art of living without harming either themselves or their environment by living with full tolerance and gratitude, pure from greed. During this purification stage, a yogi discovers the truth of the saying “You are what you eat,” so he or she makes food choices much more consciously, concentrating just on the foods that cleanse the body and mind.

At the next stage, practicing asanas daily provides not just great physical health but also life discipline. Thanks to the five-thousand-year-old yogic tradition, the asanas carry with them a great wisdom. Those who practice them routinely soon become free from many of today’s common complaints, such as back, shoulder, and neck pains, as well as migraines and headaches. It’s certainly difficult for anyone with physical pain and low energy to attain mental health. In fact, yoga’s main contribution comes at the mental level, in the battle against the traps of the mind. If we observe ourselves under stress, anger, anxiety, or fear, we see there is a common pattern to all these situations, namely how we become off-balanced and our breathing becomes shorter and shallower. The main emphasis in yoga practice is on breathing, and this differentiates yoga from similar practices. With unique breathing techniques, a yogi inhales and exhales evenly during the entire session. In time, the yogi starts to master this calmness, being able to control breathing in even the most challenging asanas, such as the difficult balance poses. Speaking from my own experience, I can confirm that yoga practice on the mat helps me to stay centered and calm in challenging circumstances, especially unexpected ones. Nevertheless, it’s still much easier to react in situations when we have time to think, but in those sudden emergencies, it’s much harder to stay calm and preserve our energy frequency. Imagine you’re facing an unpleasant situation and feel like you’ll lose your cool soon. It’s just like water boiling in a pan. It needs some time to reach boiling point, but then it’s very difficult to bring it back to its previous, cool state. Similarly, it’s very hard for us to restore our calm and kind attitudes once we reach our internal boiling point. With this knowledge, we can cope with situations by reversing the sequence as soon as possible. The moment we perceive an unpleasant situation, we can start performing a conscious breathing technique that keeps us from reaching boiling point.

In short, yoga develops the skills needed to approach daily events in a non-reactional manner. It’s a great defense against the mind, which constantly tries to rob us of the present moment by shadowing our awareness. With constant practice, a yogi can protect him or herself from the mind’s tricks and start to be the master of the mind, attaining a natural state of bliss in the process. It’s like the difference between a cup filled with water, which shakes at the slightest impact, and a cup filled with honey, which hardly shakes at all. Moreover, all these benefits are sustainable, healthy, and cheap, especially when compared to our modern-day “solutions,” such as antidepressants or relying on alcohol or overeating.

What’s Yoga’s Acceptance? How Should We Start?

Unfortunately, yoga has still not received the attention it deserves, particularly among men. There is a misconception that yoga is a very passive practice. There are various yoga styles—such as Vinyasa, Iyengar, Anusara, Yin, and Ashtanga—all having the same objective. In time, a practitioner finds the most suitable yoga style. For example, I practice Ashtanga, which is a very dynamic style that generates a great deal of sweat, and I believe it’s very suitable for men. Practicing yoga incorrectly can lead to serious injuries, so I recommend that newcomers start in a good yoga studio that’s dedicated itself to yoga for some time.

Finally, I’d like to conclude with a very inspirational saying from the great master B.K.S. Iyengar: “Yoga is a light that once lit, will never dim.” Just give it a try.