Can everybody practice Yoga? No. But every well-educated person can prepare for its future practice. For rapid progress you must have special capacities, as for anything else. In any of the sciences a man may study without being the possessor of very special capacity, although he cannot attain eminence therein; and so it is with Yoga. Anybody with a fair intelligence may learn something from Yoga which he may advantageously practice, but he cannot hope unless he starts with certain capacities, to be a success in Yoga in this life. It is only right to say that; for if any special science needs particular capacities in order to attain eminence therein, the science of sciences certainly cannot fall behind the ordinary sciences in the demands that it makes on its students.
Suppose I am asked: “Can I become a great mathematician?” What must be my answer? “You must have a natural aptitude and capacity for mathematics to be a great mathematician. If you have not that capacity, you cannot be a great mathematician in this life.”
But this does not mean that you cannot learn any mathematics. To be a great mathematician you must be born with a special capacity for mathematics. To be born with such a special capacity means that you have practiced it in very many lives and now you are born with it ready-made. It is the same with Yoga. Every man can learn a little of it. But to be a great Yogi means lives of practice. If these are behind you, you will have been born with the necessary faculties in the present birth.
There are three faculties which one must have to obtain success in Yoga. The first is a strong desire. “Desire ardently.” Such a desire is needed to break the strong links of desire which knit you to the outer world. Moreover, without that strong desire you will never go through all the difficulties that bat your way.
You must have the conviction that you will ultimately succeed, and the resolution to go on until you do succeed. It must be a desire so ardent and so firmly rooted, that obstacles only make it more keen. To such a man an obstacle is like fuel that you throw on a fire. It burns but the more strongly as it catches hold of it and finds it fuel for the burning. So difficulties and obstacles are but fuel to feed the fire of the yogi’s resolute desire. He only becomes the more firmly fixed, because he finds the difficulties.
If you have not this strong desire, its absence shows that you are new to the work, but you can begin to prepare for it in this life. You can create desire by thought; you cannot create desire by desire. Out of the desire nature, the training of the desire nature cannot come.
What is it in us that calls out desire? Look into your own mind, and you will find that memory and imagination are the two things that evoke desire most strongly. Hence thought is the means whereby all the changes in desire can be brought about. Thought, imagination, is the only creative power in you, and by imagination your powers are to be unfolded. The more you think of a desirable object, the stronger becomes the desire for it. Then think of Yoga as desirable, if you want to desire Yoga. Think about the results of Yoga and what it means for the world when you have become a yogi, and you will find your desire becoming stronger and stronger.
For it is only by thought that you can manage desire. You can do nothing with it by itself. You want the thing, or you do not want it, and within the limits of the desire nature you are helpless in its grasp. As just said, you cannot change desire by desire. You must go into another region of your being, the region of thought, and by thought you can make yourself desire or not desire, exactly as you like, if only you will use the right means, and those means, after all, are fairly simple.
Why is it you desire to possess a thing? Because you think it will make you happier. But suppose you know by past experience that in the long run it does not make you happier, but brings you sorrow, trouble, distress. You have at once, ready to your hands, the way to get rid of that desire. Think of the ultimate results. Let your mind dwell carefully on all the painful things. Jump over the momentary pleasure, and fix your thought steadily on the pain which follows the gratification of that desire. And when you have done that for a month or so, the very sight of those objects of desire will repel you. You will have associated it in your mind with suffering, and will recoil from it instinctively. You will not want it. You have changed the want, and have changed it by your power of imagination.
There is no more effective way of destroying a vice than by deliberately picturing the ultimate results of its indulgence. Persuade a young man who is inclined to be profligate to keep in his mind the image of an old profligate; show him the profligate worn out, desiring without the power to gratify; and if you can get him to think in that way, unconsciously he will begin to shrink from that which before attracted him; the very hideousness of the results frightens away the man from clinging to the object of desire. And the would-be yogi has to use his thought to mark out the desires he will permit, and the desires that he is determined to slay.
The next thing after a strong desire is a strong will. Will is desire. transmuted, its directing is changed from without to within. If your will is weak, you must strengthen it. Deal with it as you do with other weak things: strengthen it by practice. If a boy knows that he has weak arms, he says: “My arms are weak, but I shall practice gymnastics, work on the parallel bars: thus my arms. will grow strong.” It is the same with the will. Practice will make strong the little, weak will that you have at present.
Resolve, for example, saying: “I will do such and such thing every morning,” and do it. One thing at a time is enough for a feeble will. Make yourself a promise to do such and such a thing at such a time, and you will soon find that you will be ashamed to break your promise. When you have kept such a promise to yourself for a day, make it for a week, then for a fortnight.
Having succeeded, you can choose a harder thing to do, and so on. By this forcing of action, you strengthen the will. Day after day it grows greater in power, and you find your inner strength increases. First have a strong desire. Then transmute it into a strong will.
The third requisite for Yoga is a keen and broad intelligence. You cannot control your mind, unless you have a mind to control. Therefore you must develop your mind. You must study. By study, I do not mean the reading of books. I mean thinking. You may read a dozen books and your mind may be as feeble as in the beginning. But if you have read one serious book properly, then, by slow reading and much thinking, your intelligence will be nurtured and your; mind grow strong.
These are the things you want–a strong desire, an indomitable will, a keen. intelligence. Those are the capacities that you must unfold in order that the practice of Yoga may be possible to you. If your mind is very unsteady, if it is a butterfly mind like a child’s, you must make it steady. That comes by close study and thinking. You must unfold the mind by which you are to work.
Taken From “An Introduction To Yoga” by Annie Besant
- Yoga & Cosmic Consciousness (1-yoga.net)
- The Attraction of Doing the Opposite (yogiclarebear.com)
- Bikram Yoga Confession: how I lost my practice. (ohmybikram.wordpress.com)