What You Should Know About Yoga
Welcome, friend, to the ever-growing circle of yoga students here in the Americas as well as the world over. Let us hope that the study and practice of this most ancient, yet still unsurpassed, art and science of living will give you the key to youth, health and long life, and help you find harmony, peace of mind and true happiness. It has done that for countless people throughout the centuries, and it is now your turn to try this age-old method and test its effectiveness. For, unless you yourself are benefited by Yoga, no recounting of even the most wonderful results achieved by others will be of the slightest use to you.
Once you have started the Yoga practices, their influence will soon become apparent in your everyday life. You will begin to enjoy better health, sounder sleep, a keener mind and a more cheerful disposition. Your body will gradually acquire a pleasant lightness and suppleness, your mind will become more calm and your tensions diminish. You will also notice an improvement in your figure, posture, vision, and general appearance, for you will start looking younger and feeling more alive.
The secret of Yoga lies in the fact that it deals with the entire man, not with just one o£ his aspects. It is concerned with growth—physical, mental, moral and spiritual. It develops forces that are already within you. Beginning with improved health and added physical well-being, it works up slowly through the mental to the spiritual. The transition is so gradual that you may not even be aware of it until you realize that a change in you has already taken place.
The following passage from a writing on Yoga will explain how this actually happens:
When a student of Yoga determines and rightly directs his course, a molecular change takes place in his body until, in about six months, this change begins to affect his tastes and habits. It also expands the power of his mind. As the force within him becomes awakened, his state of consciousness also changes—he ceases to be lonely, his fears vanish and his happiness comes within his reach.
The advanced stages of Yoga require many years of special preparation—practices for which the American mode of living, its tempo and surroundings, are not well suited. Under existing circumstances these advanced practices may even prove dangerous and detrimental to your physical and mental well-being and balance. It is better, therefore, to leave them alone and to limit yourself to the practice of the Yoga postures and deep breathing and relaxation exercises, with some of the time devoted to concentration and meditation.
Before we begin the important part of our first lesson, the deep breathing and postures, I would like to give you, in question-and-answer form, a general idea of Yoga so that you, as a student, may know some facts about it. But first, please do not make the mistake so common in America of using the words Yogi and Yoga interchangeably. Yoga is a science that gives a human being the knowledge of his true Self, whereas a yogi is a man who has mastered this science; he may also be called a yógin, while a woman is a yógini.
Many people still think that Yoga is a religion. Others believe it to be a kind of magic. Some associate Yoga with the rope trick, with snake-charming, fire-eating or sitting on nail-beds, lying on broken glass, walking on sharp swords, etc. Sometimes it is even linked to fortune telling, spiritualism, hypnotism and other "isms." In reality, Yoga is a method, a system of physical, mental and spiritual development.
Q): What is the meaning of the word "Yoga"?
A: The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj," which means join, or union. The purpose of all Yogas is to unite man, the finite, with the Infinite, with Cosmic Consciousness, Truth, God, Light or whatever other name one chooses to call the Ultimate Reality. Yoga, as they say in India, is a marriage of spirit and matter.
Q: Is there only one Yoga?
A: Yoga has several branches or divisions, but the goal, the aim of all of them is the same—the achievement of a union with the Supreme Consciousness. In Karma Yoga, for instance, this is achieved through work and action; in Jnana (or Gnani) Yoga, through knowledge and study; in Bhakti Yoga, through devotion and selfless love; in Mantra Yoga through repetitions of certain invocations and sounds. Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga) is the Yoga of consciousness, the highest form of Yoga. Its practice usually starts with Hatha Yoga which gives the body the necessary health and strength to endure the hardships of the more advanced stages of training.
Hatha Yoga is the Yoga of physical well-being. It consists of several steps and is preceded by the Yama-Niyama, the ten rules of the Yoga code of morality. The first stage is called Asana, or posture; the second is Pranayama, or breath control; the third is Pratyahara or nerve control; the fourth is Dharana, or mind control; the fifth is Dhyiana, or meditation; and finally there is Samadhi, the state of ultimate bliss and spiritual enlightenment. Strictly speaking the last four stages of Hat ha Yoga already merge into the realm of Raja Yoga.
Q: What does "Hatha" mean?
A: Ha stands for the sun and tha for the moon. The correct translation of Hatha Yoga would be solar and lunar Yoga, since it deals with the solar and lunar qualities of breath and Prana.
Q: What is "Prana"?
A: Prana is a subtle life energy existing in the air in fluid form. Everything living, from men to amoebae, from plants to animals, is charged with Prana. Without Prana there is no life.
Q: What religion does a yogi profess?
A: A yogi can belong to any religion or to none at all. In this case, he usually forms his own relationship with the Ultimate Reality once he has come closer to It.
Q: Can a Catholic take up Yoga?
A: Certainly, since Yoga is not a religion. In fact, a Catholic association has been recently formed in Bangalore, India, in order to introduce the Yoga Asanas to the Catholic young men there, and to integrate them into the Catholic way of life.
Q: If the goal of Yoga is a spiritual illumination, why then is so much attention given to the care of the body?
A: The yogis regard the human body as a temple of the Living Spirit and believe that as such it should be brought to the highest state of perfection. Also, the advanced practices of Yoga require great power of endurance. The body might not be able to stand the strain without special preparation.
Q: What is the origin of Yoga?
A: Yoga was originated in India several thousand years ago. According to the German Professor Max Mueller, Yoga is about 6,000 years old, but other sources suggest it is much older than that.
Q: Who originated Yoga?
A: This is not known. Patanjali, who lived about 200 B.C., is called the Father of Yoga because he was the first to put into writing what had until that time been handed down only verbally from master, or guru, to pupil, or chela.
Q: Can the average American take up Yoga for the improvement of his physical condition?
A: The Yoga postures, breathing and relaxation exercises can be taken up by anyone who wants to improve his physical or mental condition. One need not go into the more advanced stages of the training.
Q: What is the age limit for a Yoga student?
A: Normally, one should not start before the age of six and not after the age of sixty-five, although many people do start later and still obtain good results—see the letter on page 204 in Appendix II. One can continue the practice of Yoga postures for the rest of one's life.
Q: Can Yoga cure disease?
A: Yoga cannot cure anything. The healing work is done by nature. Yoga exercises can only help remove impurities and obstructions, so that nature may be given a chance to accomplish her task successfully.
Q: What is the difference between Yoga exercises and other gymnastics?
A: Yoga Asanas are an art applied to the anatomy of the living body, whereas gymnastics are a form of engineering applied to the muscles of the body. The aim of Yoga postures is not merely the superficial development of muscles. These postures tend to normalize the functions of the entire organism, to regulate the involuntary processes of respiration, circulation, digestion, elimination, metabolism, etc., and to affect the working of all the glands and organs, as well as the nervous system and the mind. This result is achieved by doing deep breathing while the body is placed in various postures. Each of these exercises creates a different totality in the functional relationship within the organism. Hence, Yoga is able to influence man physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. Yoga emphasizes the philosophy of exercise. Under its training one experiences a sense of awakening. All of one's capacities are heightened, and one achieves balance and stamina through these exercises, some of which are modeled after the movements of various animals. In Yoga, relaxation is taught as an art, breathing as a science, and mental control of the body as a means of harmonizing the body, mind, and spirit.
Infinite energy is at the disposal of man if he knows how to get it, and this is a part of the science of Yoga.
ADAMS BECK, The Story of Philosophy
Are You Ready To Move Onto The Next Lesson? Click Here...