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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Sadhguru on Inner Engineering and Meditation

May 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen and Diane Eaton
Sadghuru is the founder and head of India’s Isha Foundation, an organization dedicated to spreading the spiritual science of yoga since 1992. Isha operates many centers around the world, including a retreat center in McMinnville, Tennessee.

Sadhguru will bring his Inner Engineering Program, a “technology for well-being,” to Atlanta on June 3 and 4. For more information, visit

Natural Awakenings posed questions to Sadghuru in advance of his visit, and he took time out of his busy schedule to respond. His answers are lightly edited for clarity and length.

What is involved in your Inner Engineering program?

As a whole, the Inner Engineering process involves the body, mind, emotion and energy. What we do with the body and energy is a kind of transmission; it is not a teaching. It is the vital part of Inner Engineering.

But what do we do with the mind and emotion? Transforming the way you think and feel is a kind of a teaching that you can experience by a committed focus. Most human beings will see a tremendous change in their lives if how they think and feel changes. But many will find they cannot sustain that change. Inner Engineering focuses on transforming the very chemistry within—through careful balance and powerful energy processes.

What are some of the benefits of regular practice of Inner Engineering?

There is a lot of research happening about the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya [a pranayama practice taught in the Inner Engineering program]. Some of the universities, including Rutgers, Harvard, Indiana University and Florida University, have studied it.

Scientists found that the cortisol awakening response is significantly higher for people who have practiced Shambhavi. The cortisol awakening response marks different levels of wakefulness. You are not at the same level of awakening every moment of your life. If you have been practicing Shambhavi for at least 90 days, 30 minutes after you wake up in the morning, your cortisol awakening response is several times higher than usual.

The BDNF, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also increases, and the inflammatory markers greatly improve, too. And your DNA shows that after 90 days of practice, you are 6.4 years younger than what you were, on the cellular level. All of this has been established by responsible scientists. And above all, the most beautiful thing is, the level of calmness multiplies manifold while the brain is still active. This is a unique dimension of Shambhavi.

Inner Engineering includes a set of practices that “activate” the joints, muscles and energy system. Why is that important?

When you sleep, there is relaxation but also a certain level of immobility and inertia. In horizontal positions, lubricating fluids in the joints settle down and are not in circulation. So when you wake up, the body demands that you lubricate your joints first. If you suddenly start to work, exercise or walk, you could damage your joints. The joints have a concentration of energy nodules, so by activating the joints, everything in the system gets ignited for action.

Today, many people may be medically healthy, but they don’t experience a sense of inner well-being. To experience wholeness, one’s body, mind and energy must function at a certain level of inner intensity. This is not happening for most people because they are not taking charge of the well-being of their energy systems.

In yoga, when we speak of health, we do not look at the body or mind—but at energy. If your energy body is in proper balance and full flow, your physical and mental bodies will be in perfect health. Building a foundational yogic practice that establishes and activates your energy system is important so your body and mind are naturally fine.

We should distinguish between infectious and chronic diseases. Infections can be treated through medication, while the root cause of chronic ailments is in the energy body. If people are willing to do some sadhana [spiritual practice] to balance and activate their pranamaya kosha, or energy body, they can definitely be free of chronic ailments.

Of course, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink can affect us in many ways. But if the energy body is properly cultivated, they will not have much effect.

How does someone know if they’re ready to take the Inner Engineering program? 

Every human being is seeking a larger slice of life. Different people handle it in different ways. Someone runs after more money, someone goes on conquest, someone goes shopping, some run after knowledge, others after love. But however much you grow, there is still longing because it cannot be fulfilled by mastering physical creation. Yoga means to breach the barrier of physical creation, to dissolve the boundary into the boundless nature of existence.

Patanjali is known as the father of modern yoga. It is not that he invented yoga, but he assimilated it into a system. It was already there in various forms and he put it down into a kind of formula called sutras. There are over 200 different sutras. [Patanjali’s] Yoga Sutras are a tremendous document about life.

Patanjali starts the Yoga Sutras in a very strange way. The first chapter is half a sentence: “And now, yoga.” In a way, he is saying, “If you still think your life will become better with a new house, a new girlfriend, a new car, more money or whatever else, it is not yet time for yoga.” If you saw all that and you realized that it does not fulfill your life in any way: “And now, yoga.”

Just as there is a science and technology for external well-being, there is an entire science and technology for inner well-being—this is what yoga means. Inner Engineering is an effort to bring this possibility of yoga to the world, to sweep humanity with a non-religious, non-denominational spiritual movement, delivered in a scientific manner.

What motivated you to take a motorcycle trip around the U.S. and visit Native American reservations a few years ago? 

Around 20 years ago, I was in a small cottage in Central Hill Lake, and I just walked into the forest and encountered something very strange. It was almost like a frozen Native American spirit. This experience was probably the most painful experience in my life. I have never seen any being in that kind of pain—shame, resentment, deceit, anger—all this put together. After that, I started inquiring about it, and I found out that that region is called the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Nation was removed as a part of the Removal Act, and they were made to walk to Oklahoma in bad weather. Thousands of them died, so it is called the Trail of Tears. That is when I decided to set up a center there as well.

Our 4000-acre center is at the head of the Trail of Tears. It is a beautiful place on one level, but it was the pain that drew me to that place. Since then, I have been looking at their culture and at the various tribes. Most people would not know that there used to be over 500 Native American nations in the United States, and today they are all there in a nominal way. 

So I have been looking at making this trip, but my schedule never allowed it. In 2020, because of the virus, I had the time. So I thought there is no better way to travel than on a motorcycle.

Today, in modern society, the environment is in the textbook, but for these people, the environment is in their hearts. They are not living on this earth; they are the earth. They live this in every way. Unless that happens to modern societies—unless we have ecological concerns in our hearts—we will only talk about it as an abstract science that does not concern us. I think this message and this culture is very vital for this generation and the next, if we want to do something significant about addressing the ecological concerns that we have.

What, if anything, did you notice about Americans when you traveled around the country?

Only when life bothers you, when life disturbs you, when life makes you wonder, “Is this all worth it? What is this all about?” do you start looking at what could be beyond this. If you are too satisfied with a bellyful of breakfast, you will not look beyond. When everything has worked in your life but still you do not know what the hell is happening, that is when you look beyond. Poverty brings a huge hope that if this certain thing happens, everything will be okay. Affluence brings hopelessness, where everything is okay but still nothing is okay.

You cannot ask the poor man to turn spiritual when he still firmly believes, “When I win the lottery, everything is going to be okay.” You cannot turn him inward. Only when a person has the experience or the intelligence to see beyond their current experience are they willing to look for something beyond. Either they won the lottery and nothing happened, or they see people who have won the lottery but nothing happened to them. Either one of these things should have happened. 

That is why it is mostly the affluent countries in the world, like America, that are turning spiritual. Because of the affluence that the nation has achieved, many Americans have reached that place now where they are looking beyond. They are ready for a spiritual process.

At the same time, many Americans are in a depressed state. Moving from poverty to affluence, either for an individual or a society, takes enormous effort. If you just look back on the history of the United States, three to four generations worked really hard to get the society to this level of affluence. And when you finally reach here, what happens? Forty percent of the people are on antidepressants. Is it not very important that, with economic well-being, human beings are in a condition to enjoy and use it as a way to make their lives even better? If there is no joy, that is a real waste of life. That need not happen if you maintain a few basic things about your life.

I have been active in the United States for over 20 years now. For whatever reason, the United States has acquired a leadership position; it has become iconic in its own way. Whatever you do, everyone else wants to do the same. Whatever you wear, eat or drink, everyone wants to do the same things. Now it is very important you behave responsibly. It is a privilege that you should exploit to transform humanity.

So if America meditates, the whole world will meditate. That is why I am revving it up in America.

How do you define meditation?

The English word “meditation” doesn’t mean anything because if you sit with closed eyes, you are “meditating.” But with eyes closed, you could do many things—japa [mantra], tapa [ascetism], dharana [concentration], dhyana [meditation], samadhi [oneness], shoonya [conscious non-doing]. Or you might have mastered the art of sleeping in vertical postures! When most people use the word “meditation,” they are referring to dhyana.

Dhyana means to go beyond the limitations of the physical body and the mind. When you are identified as the body, your whole life is only about survival. When you are identified as the mind, your whole perspective is enslaved to the social perspective, to the religious perspective, to the family perspective. You cannot look beyond that.

Your body and mind are things that you have accumulated over a period of time. Your body is just a heap of food you have eaten; your mind is just a heap of impressions you have gathered from the outside. These instruments of body and mind are sufficient to live in this world for survival. But life will not be fulfilled with them. Yoga and dhyana are scientific tools that help you to transcend the limitations of your body and mind and experience the true quality of who you are.

Along with meditation, pranayama, which many of us think of as breathing practices, make up a core portion of the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya, which you teach in the Completion Program. Can you clarify the relationship between pranayama and meditation?

Meditation and pranayama are separate but they are supportive of each other. For a person who is practicing pranayama properly, meditation comes easily.

Meditation means a certain elevation in your energy. Unless you create that kind of energy—with the right kind of food, attitude, and practices—meditation will just be a struggle because meditation cannot be done. If you create the necessary atmosphere, it blossoms in you. You cannot make a flower bloom, but you can have a garden full of flowers if you know how to manage the conditions. So by practicing pranayama, you are creating a conducive atmosphere. With pranayama, you are maturing your energies. As the energy matures, it naturally tends to become meditative. ❧
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