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The Yoga of the Tongue

By Deborah Allison tongue
Yoga continues its widening sweep into mainstream America. It is one of the greatest success stories of a foreign based philosophy and technique becoming a household word. However, it is mainly understood and practiced in terms of postures and stretches—basically, a body based technique. Yet there are many practices—be they body based or not—that lead to resolution of the mind's fluctuations and allow the "seer" to reside only in the Self which is, by definition, Yoga.

In the formal sense, Yoga is one of the six shad darshanas, the six great systems of Indian Philosophy. The primary shastra or authentic text for yoga is the Raja Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali, a work of some 2,500 years of antiquity. It is divided into four sections or padas. The first section is the Samadhi Pada in which Patanjali lays out the definition of Yoga and describes with amazing brevity the whole range of the mind's states and what promotes and distracts it from the settled state of samadhi.

The second is the Sadhana Pada describing the various methodologies by which the state of resolution can be obtained and maintained. This famous section starts with a sutra that, for all intents and purposes, describes the pillars which uphold the edifice of Yoga, the settled state of resolution. The sage tells us that austerity, self knowledge and acceptance of the natural order of things are the three keys of the practice of yoga. The original Sanskrit gives these concepts in this same order—tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara pranidhana.

Austerity or tapas has been a source of unfortunate misunderstanding through the ages. Strain, distortion, and even the torture of the body have all been practiced in the name of austerity. However, the point of tapas is to exert some will in the direction of aligning to the nature of things. As with many Sanskrit terms, there is no really perfect translation of tapas so we go with austerity. Two very approachable kinds of austerity involve food and drink. It is therefore very common, not only in the Vedic Sampradaya but also throughout the cultures of the world, to fast in order to align better with the inner reality and set oneself apart from the external world at appropriate or auspicious times for such practices.

However, a practice that is largely overlooked which is simple (perhaps deceptively so!) and has profound implications for authentic communication can be dubbed "the yoga of the tongue." The tongue has a very special place in the philosophy of Sankhya, the first of the six systems of Indian Philosophy. Sankhya lays out all the categories of creation including the five organs of senses and the five organs of action. The tongue is the only item that repeats in two different categories. It is both a sense organ (taste) and an organ of action (speaking). The power of speech is profound. It affects others in the world around us and if it can be controlled in a natural way arising from awareness, then an individual is the master of what comes in and what goes out.

There are excessive forms of this practice which can go in the direction of a vow of complete silence extending even to written communication, and a less extreme version where the practitioner does not speak but may write. Although it may be a very worthwhile practice, unless it is for short periods of time, it is obviously not suitable for those who are involved and engaged as members of Western society.

However, there is a mindful practice of speech, one could say yoga of speech or tongue, that anyone can do at any time and ideally at all times. It is based on the concept of the three persons that are indicated in grammar: namely, the third person, middle or second person and the first person. The third person refers to the topic, a person is doing something. The second person is the one who is being spoken to and is represented by the pronoun "you." The first person is, of course, the speaker.

Austerity or tapas in the context of speech requires the speaker to ask him or herself three questions: Is what I am about to say worth saying? Is the topic of interest to this other person? Am I able to address this topic in a way that is knowledgeable, and in an excellent manner?

There are, in turn, three components to the idea of "excellent" and they are the keys to the practice. The speech should be pleasant or charming (priyam bruyat). It should be proper or fitting to the occasion (hitam bruyat) and it should be truthful, insightful and accurate (satyam bruyat). These must be synthesized and developed into a lifetime practice that becomes natural and spontaneous.

Here is a typical example of how these three ingredients get violated on a daily basis. Imagine going shopping at a huge venue like Costco®. You arrive at the door and an employee says to you in a pleasant way, "Hi, how are you doing. It's a great day isn't it? I would love to be fishing. I'm going to go as soon as I get off work today. Do you like fishing?" This employee is failing to observe the notion of hitam (fitting and appropriate). You are not remotely interested in hearing about the fact that he wants to go fishing. You just want to buy a TV.

You approach another employee who politely says, "Can I help you?" Relieved, you say, "Yes, thanks, I am looking for a TV." The employee says "Aisle 52." After walking the equivalent of three city blocks, you find that aisle 52 not only does not have any televisions, but that it does not even exist! The employee was appropriate in asking if he could help you (hitam). He was pleasant in his manner (priyam) but he violated satyam—it was neither truthful or accurate or insightful.

You then go up to a gruff-looking employee and ask where you might find a TV. He barks at you "Aisle 3." You reluctantly say, "Are you sure?" The employee looks at you like he would like to punch you and informs you in a nasty way that he has worked in this location for eight years and knows exactly where everything is located. You quickly go to aisle 3 and find the TV. This employee has told you the truth (satyam) which was appropriate to your inquiry (hitam) but grossly violated priyam (pleasant).

Admittedly, these are rather simple examples but just think about the implications of this kind of practice. Imagine how the world would be changed if journalists, politicians, spin doctors, teachers, mothers, neighbors, and friends all practiced this kind of yoga? How would it change if YOU practiced this yoga?!?

"How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world that has such people in it!" Miranda, The Tempest, William Shakespeare.

(c) copyright 2007 Michael Laughrin.

From the August/September, 2007 issue of Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. Click to subscribe to this free Jyotish newsletter.

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