Mind is the master of senses and breath is the master of mind. The mind cannot be restrained without restraining the breath—mental activity keeps pace with respiration.
The Headstand: First Stage
Now that you have been practicing the Half-Headstand for a whole week, you should be ready to try the full Headstand, or Shirshãsana. By far the simplest, safest approach for the beginner is to try the posture first in a corner, in order to have maximum support. When you attempt the Headstand this way, you need feel neither nervous nor insecure, for the walls afford protection on both sides and exclude the possibility of a fall.
You will need a helping hand when you first try the Head-stand. (Photo by Jim Buhr)
However, you will need a helping hand to stand on your head the first time or two. You can safely ask almost anyone to help you, for no special skill is needed. One friend of mine, who lives alone and is the kind of person who hesitates on principle to trouble anyone, tells me she managed her very first headstand completely alone: she pushed an armchair to the wall close to the corner, then put her leg on the arm of the chair while practicing. This method sufficed until she acquired a sense of balance and confidence. Here is the way to do the Headstand:
A corner is helpful until you have acquired a sense of balance. (Photo by Jim Buhr)
TECHNIQUE: Put a quilt or folded blanket in your corner, so that it fits flat: do not use pillows, as these are too soft. Now interlock your fingers, place them cupped on the blanket, and place your head in the hollow of your palms, "nesting" it there, about one inch above the hair line. Do not place the head on the fingers or palms: this is a mistake made by many people. Now get up off your knees and take a few steps toward your head, as in the Half-Headstand. Then raise either leg as high as possible and have whoever is helping you grasp it by the ankle. On the count of three, make a little jump, while he or she simultaneously places the raised leg in the corner against the wall. The other leg will follow of its own accord. Your assistant can gently place his hands against your legs to keep you from falling back. And that is all there is to it!
You are now standing on your head with both legs straight up, supported on either side by the wall. All you have to do is to relax: if you keep the legs stiff, the body tense, and the spine arched, you will feel so uncomfortable that it would be better to come down at once. Moreover, if you tense up your assistant will find it difficult to raise your leg up against the wall. Consequently, if you find that you are simply unable to relax, but remain stiff and tense, it is best to let a few days go by before attempting the Headstand again.
You should not hold the Headstand for more than fifteen seconds in the beginning; then come down slowly, first bending the knees, then lowering the feet all the way to the ground. Remember always to keep the toes inverted, otherwise you may injure them when you reach the floor. If you prefer to have help in coming down too—which is not a bad idea until you have mastered the technique—then bend only one leg while the person helping you grasps the other one by the ankle and holds it lightly, letting it follow the one you yourself are lowering. Make certain the manipulation is done gently, without any pulling, hurry, or interference with the natural tempo of your own movements. Your assistant, by the way, should be standing at your right if you start coming down with the left foot, on your left if you come down with the right one.
After you have come down, remain kneeling for a few seconds with your head on the floor; then stand up, raise your arms above your head, inhale deeply, and lie down to rest. After a while take a few more deep breaths.
The Headstand done this way represents no difficulties at all. A great many persons can do it at once, without practice. Just remember to keep the toes pointed, the body relaxed, the spine straight, the neck and shoulders free from tension, and the elbows not too wide apart; for the weight of the body must partly be carried by the forearms.
It is so easy, in fact, to stand on one's head in a corner that after a press conference I often have reporters and photographers successfully trying it right in my room. And once, after completing a television interview in Washington, D.C., I found myself giving a class in Yoga to a whole roomful of enthusiastic studio technicians who had been watching the program. Most of them were able to do the corner Headstand then and there, and did it with ease.
I must warn you, however, that using a corner to steady yourself has one disadvantage: you can grow so accustomed to this method that it may take you longer to start doing the Headstand without safeguards, in the middle of the room. As far as the benefits of the posture go, this does not really matter, of course. But the correct, classical posture should be done without any support.
TIME: Do the Headstand for fifteen seconds at first, adding fifteen more per week. The maximum time for it should not be more than twelve minutes, if it is done in conjunction with other exercises.
BENEFITS: The benefits of the Headstand are so numerous that it has been called the "King of Asanas. In the first place, it affects four of the most important endocrine glands—the pituitary, the pineal, the thyroid, and the parathyroids, glands that are responsible for our very existence, for they keep the body mechanism in good working order. As a consequence, the practice of the Headstand helps us to get relief from many of our troubles, physical as well as mental, or better still, to prevent them. Yoga recommends it highly for people suffering from nervousness, tension, fatigue, sleeplessness, dullness, fear, poor blood circulation, bad memory, asthma, headaches, constipation, congested throat, liver or spleen, for female disorders, the initial stages of eye and nose troubles and general lack of energy, vitality or self-confidence. But most important of all is the fact that it affects the pituitary, the master gland of the body.
In rare cases there are difficulties in the beginning. I once had a pupil, a prominent woman on a visit from New York to California, who was never able to do the Headstand because as soon as she tried it her nose would start bleeding. Some time later, when I saw her again in New York, we tried it again and this time she showed no ill-effects. She told me that in the interim she had been practicing other Yoga exercises; she had also been eating one or two slices of raw onion daily. Unable to decide what had been really responsible for her sudden success, we decided to split the credit. I don't suppose we shall ever arrive at an answer, and I give you the story without trying to draw too many inferences.
CAUTION: The Headstand should not be done by persons whose blood pressure is either very high—that is, above 150— or very low—below 100; by persons who get palpitations when they try it; or by those suffering from constipation, when the stool is excessively dry. It should also never be done by persons suffering from pus in the ears, from chronic nasal catarrh, or from very weak eye capillaries. Finally, it should be avoided by those with an organically defective pituitary, pineal or thyroid gland.
The Stretching Posture
Next you will do the Stretching Posture, called Paschim-atanãsana in Sanskrit. This too belongs to the group of basic Yoga postures. It very closely resembles the Head-to-Knee Pose, except that here both legs are stretched out, instead of just one.
TECHNIQUE: Sit up straight, with both legs extended, feet together, hands on sides. Take a deep breath, hold it a few seconds while slightly raising the upper part of your body, then begin to exhale, at the same time slowly bending forward until your hands grasp your big toes—or the soles of your feet— and your head touches your knees. Do not bend the knees, which should remain straight.
Remain in this position, holding the breath for a few seconds, then release your grip and return to the sitting position again.
Repeat once more and relax.
TIME: Hold the posture from two to fifteen seconds. Do it twice at first. If you wish, you may increase the number up to six times by adding one turn every fourteen days.
The Stretching Posture, or Paschimatanãsana, helps the digestion, reduces abdominal fat, and invigorates the pelvic region. It also benefits the sciatic nerves and helps prevent lumbago. (Top photo by Miller)
BENEFITS: The benefits of the Stretching Posture are much the same as those of the Head-to-Knee Pose. It helps overcome constipation, indigestion, lumbago, and to reduce abdominal fat. It massages the pelvic region, gives an invigorating pull to the hamstring muscles and the sciatic nerves. Sluggish bowels become more active through the practice of this Asana. It is also practiced in advanced stages of Yoga for its spiritual values.
CAUTION: When releasing the Stretching Posture to return to the original sitting position, do it slowly and smoothly, never in one sudden, jerking, upward movement. People suffering from constipation should practice it especially carefully. If at first you cannot reach your feet with your hands, you may grasp your ankles or calves instead; or try using a belt, handkerchief or towel for a strap, as in the Head-to-Knee posture. Be sure not to bend the knees.
Now lie down and take a brief rest.
The Plough Posture
Next you will do still another of the basic Yoga postures, the Plough. It is called Halãsana in Sanskrit.
TECHNIQUE: First assume the Reverse Posture, whether with or without the aid of the table. Then slowly, without bending the knees, start to lower both legs while exhaling. When your toes reach the ground behind your head, you have achieved the Plough Posture.
The Plough Posture, or Halãsana, not only keeps the spine flexible but affects the thyroid gland, the liver, and the spleen. (Photo by David Hernandez)
Place the palms on the floor and remain in this position for a while, trying to do deep breathing. This may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but in a few days it will become easier for you. Then, while exhaling, return to the lying position, slowly lowering the spine until it again touches the floor, vertebra by vertebra. You accomplish this by bending the knees slightly, placing them above the forehead, then slowly gliding them down over the face, continuing a slow-motion unfoldment of the entire posture.
TIME: Retain the posture five seconds at first, then gradually increase to four minutes by adding five seconds per week. Repeat from two to four times, adding one time every fourteen days.
BENEFIT: The Plough Posture affects the thyroid gland, massages the liver and spleen, and stretches and pulls the vertebrae, thereby keeping the spine in a youthful, flexible, and healthy condition. People suffering from stiffness, obesity, muscular rheumatism, enlarged liver and spleen, constipation, indigestion, and arthritis will find this posture especially beneficial.
CAUTION: If you have not limbered up through previous exercise, do not attempt right away the final stage of this posture unless you have a naturally very flexible spine. Otherwise do not try to touch the floor with the toes for a few days. After that, try lying down with the head about two feet away from the wall—if you are tall the distance will have to be proportionately longer. Get into the Reverse Posture, then begin to lower the legs until the toes touch the wall; then start "walking" down the wall with the toes. Take care not to force them any lower than your spine comfortably allows, otherwise you are likely to injure a rigid muscle and the pain may last several weeks. This could only frighten you away from attempting the posture again, so please be very careful!
For a variation of the Plough Posture, bend both knees instead of keeping them straight—in this case the knees should almost touch the ears. The toes will be on the floor. After finishing the posture, lie down, relax, and then take a few deep breaths.
The Camel Posture
So far you have been mostly doing postures which require a forward bend, and only one, The Cobra, which utilizes a backward bend. The Camel Posture, or Ustrãsana in Sanskrit, which you will do now is another backward-bending exercise.
TECHNIQUE: Kneel down, sit on the heels, keeping the toes outstretched, and place the hands on the floor, directly behind the toes. Lean on them. Throw the head back.
Now, while inhaling deeply, slowly raise the buttocks off the knees, lifting the lower part of the body and arching the spine.
Remain in this posture while holding the breath, then return to original position: sit down on the heels, move head forward and exhale. Take a rest and repeat the whole exercise.
TIME: Hold the posture for six seconds, gradually increasing the time to thirty seconds. Repeat from two to five times. It is better to practice this posture in the morning than in the evening.
The Camel Posture, or Ustrãsana, has a good effect on the thyroid gland and the gonads. (Photo by Jim Buhr)
BENEFITS: The Camel Posture affects the thyroid glands and gonads, or sex glands. It gives elasticity to the spine and tones the muscles supporting it. People suffering from gas, constipation, displacement of the vertebrae and of the pelvic organs, that is, the ureter, urethra, urine bladder, uterus and Fallopian tubes, will find this exercise useful provided the displacement is not of a major nature.
CAUTION: People suffering from hernia should not attempt this posture.
The Lion Posture
Let us now do the Lion Posture, Simhãsana in Sanskrit. In spite of its fierce and grotesque appearance, this pose has no equal for overcoming various throat ailments, especially a sore throat.
One of my students, a woman lawyer, tells how with the help of this posture she once won a case she would otherwise have surely lost. On the morning of the trial she awoke with a bad sore throat. She felt desperate. Then, remembering the Lion Pose, she did it about six times in succession. It worked like magic—the throat cleared up completely. Incidentally, this Asana is exceptional in that it is effective within a few minutes.
TECHNIQUE: Sit down on your heels, or in a chair if sitting on the heels is difficult for you, and place your hands on your knees. After taking a deep breath, exhale and stick out your tongue as far as possible, almost to the point of gagging. While doing this, stiffen up the fingers and spread them far apart. Open the mouth and eyes wide, and tense the neck and throat as well as the entire body, but especially the throat. Keep this posture for a few seconds, remaining very tense, then relax.
The Lion Posture, or Simhãsana, tones the muscles and ligaments of the throat. (Photo by Jim Buhr)
In the final stage you first cross your ankles and then sit down on the crossed heels.
TIME: This posture normally can be repeated two to three times, but if you are on the point of developing a sore throat, do it six to ten times in succession several times a day.
BENEFITS: The Lion Posture affects the throat by sending an extra supply of blood to it. The Lion Posture also massages and tones the muscles and ligaments of the throat, at the same time strengthening and invigorating the entire body. People suffering from enlarged tonsils and a throat susceptible to infection should practice this posture daily.
CAUTION: Do not do this posture immediately following a meal, as you are likely to throw up.
The Footlift Pose: Second Movement
We shall now attempt the second movement of the Footlift Pose or "Stork," the first part of which we did in Lesson Two; by now you are probably able to remain standing without hopping around on one leg like a lame bird.
TECHNIQUE: Get into the first movement of the posture, as directed in Lesson One. Stand on the right foot, keeping the left foot high on the right thigh and holding it with the right hand. Keep the left knee on a level with the right knee. Now take a deep breath and, while exhaling it, bend forward until the fingers of your left hand touch the ground. Bend your head down to touch the knee, or try to do so. The left heel should press firmly against the abdomen. Remain in this position, holding the breath; then return to the first position, take a few deep breaths, and relax. Repeat the exercise again. Next do the same exercise standing on the left leg. Just as in the second breathing exercise of your first lesson, keep the buttocks in when bending forward. The bending should be done from above the waist, by the spine.
The Footlift Pose, Second Movement. Practiced persistently, this exercise will develop steadiness and balance. (Photo by Miller)
TIME: Hold this position from two to twenty seconds, repeating it two to five times.
BENEFITS: The Footlift strengthens the legs, massages the abdomen, and is a beneficial exercise for people troubled with constipation, gas, and fat around the abdomen. It is especially good for acquiring steadiness and balance.
The Cleansing Breath
To do the Cleansing Breath, stand straight with feet close together and arms hanging loosely at the sides. Take a deep breath, hold it for a little while, then purse your lips as if you were going to whistle. Now start exhaling forcefully, little by little, but do not blow the air out as if you were blowing out a candle, and do not puff out the cheeks which should, rather, be hollowed.
These successive and forceful exhalations will feel almost like slight coughs which expel the air until the lungs are completely empty. The effort of the exhalation should be felt in the chest and in the back.
Rest for a little while, then repeat. After a week you may repeat this routine several times a day.
BENEFITS: The Cleansing Breath, as its name indicates, cleans and ventilates the lungs; it also tones up the entire system. You should do the Cleansing Breath at the conclusion of each lesson, just before the final relaxation.
The Walking Breathing Exercise
Before concluding the lesson with relaxation we shall do the Walking Breathing exercise. This is done in exactly the same way as Rhythmic Breathing except that you do it while walking. Use each step as a count, as you used the pulse beat in Rhythmic Breathing.
Stand erect, exhale first, then start walking, right foot first. Take four steps while inhaling, hold the breath in for two steps, exhale for four steps, and hold the breath out for two steps. Without stopping, continue the routine: inhale on four steps, hold the breath in for two steps, and so forth. Do not interrupt the walking—keep it rhythmical. The breathing should be done in one continuous flow: do not inhale in four short breaths, a mistake which many beginners tend to make. Inhale one deep breath to the count of four, hold it to the count of two, exhale it to the count of four, and again hold the emptiness to the count of two. This completes one round. Make five such rounds a day the first week—no more—adding one round per week.
If you feel that four steps are too long for you, count three steps and hold one. If, on the contrary, four are not enough and you feel you want to continue the inhalation, take six steps or even eight, and hold the breath on a count of three or four steps respectively. In either case, you should take an even number of steps while breathing in and out, as the retention is done in half the time taken for inhalation or exhalation.
You can do the Walking Breathing exercise not only while going through your lesson, but also at any other time while you are walking, especially when the air is clean—in a park, a forest, or at the seashore. You can do it while walking to your car or bus, descending a staircase, on your way to pick up your mail from the letter box, during a coffee break in your office, in fact, whenever you think of it. Simply interrupt your usual walking tempo, stop to inhale and exhale deeply. Then start rhythmic breathing to the count of slow and even steps.
Conclude your lesson by doing the relaxation and meditation.
ON RELAXATION AND THE ENDOCRINE GLANDS
Before a new student joins my class, he is usually asked, among other things, what is his reason for taking up Yoga.
The great majority, I find, want to learn how to relax. Even if they have other motives, relaxation is almost invariably mentioned.
Men and women alike seem to suffer widely from what they call "nerves." One constantly hears people saying, "I am all on edge," "My nerves are in bad shape," "It's nothing but my poor nerves. ..." Such neuro-muscular tensions are seldom due to disease of either the nerves or the muscles, but rather reactions of the body to the impressions of the mind. They stem from conscious or unconscious thoughts dictated mostly by various kinds of fears.
Take the case of Mr. Al D., for instance. This man came to me complaining of nervous tension. "It drives me simply crazy," were his exact words. "The point is that I am in the grip of this thing and can do nothing about it. Take yesterday morning, for instance. I got up feeling fine, relaxed as a kitten. Then came the mail, and the moment I saw those bills and the letter from my lawyer I felt my neck muscles tighten. I couldn't stop it—it spread to the upper part of my back and shoulders. Then I got a headache, and at the office I wasn't worth my salt. Last night I lay imagining all sorts of things, including the loss of my job, and today I feel like jumping into the lake. That tightening of the muscles seems to have no end. Isn't there some way a man can throw off this thing? Loosen up, relax, be himself again?"
It took quite a while to teach Mr. D. the deep breathing technique, for he kept doing it the hard—and consequently the wrong—way: He seemed unable to relax of his own accord. Finally I made him lie down, close his eyes and imagine himself at the seashore, with the waves coming and receding, coming and receding, coming and receding. Then, kneeling behind him so that he could hear me breathe, I began doing Deep Breathing after instructing him to visualize a mounting wave with each inhalation and a receding one with each exhalation. "Let me do the deep breathing alone at first," I suggested. "You can join in whenever you are sufficiently relaxed to go along." Within a few minutes we were breathing in unison.
I have seldom witnessed such a wild outburst of joy as this man gave way to, following his first relaxation lesson. Once he discovered there was a way to learn to relax, he simply could not contain himself. In cases like his, the real trouble is that the tension itself sets up a vicious circle, with mental strain the result of purely physical conditions, or body tension the result of emotional stresses and strains. Once this is the case, the circle is difficult to break. For example, a thyroid that is over-active or exhausted as the result of hard living may in turn produce a physical state that leads to emotional disturbance; and this further accentuates "nervousness," or neuro-muscular tension. The more wound-up a person becomes, the more difficult it is for the body to shake itself free.
Generally speaking, with civilized people, the tensions start with their imaginative, fear-ridden responses to their overcomplicated environment. Man's effort to find a way out of this dilemma goes a long, long way back. He tries just about every remedy: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, long walks, mowing the lawn or playing golf. He tries sex, war, and religion, and various "isms." He sometimes also tries death. But his problem is yet to be solved.
Right now he is trying to escape to the moon. He will probably succeed, too, but he will take his fears and tensions with him. Yet since man can neither run away from nor forget himself, wouldn't the most logical answer be to turn within, to his own inner self, and there seek—and find—the solution to his driving problem? Curiously enough, this is the one remedy he seldom thinks of trying, except in a few individual cases.
Some years ago a German magazine carried an article entitled, "The Death of the Manager: The Scourge of the Successful Man . . . Yoga to Remedy 'Manager-Disease' . . . Ancient India Prescription . . . Relaxation Instead of Tension . . . Daily Breathing Exercises Prolong Life." 1 An impressive illustration then pictured the manager lying dead at the entrance to the conference room. A snuffed-out candle in the background stood as a symbol of the premature end of his life, for it could have burned much longer. The silhouette of several Yoga postures below suggested that this was what the manager had failed to do. Otherwise he might have prolonged his life.
The article said that half the big executives, businessmen, politicians and other persons of importance who had recently died "in the prime of life" usually had succumbed to degenerative diseases such as weak hearts or circulatory disturbances. All these men had died of overwork, overstrain, over-exhaustion, over-tension. Also they had eaten too much, drunk too much, and smoked too much. But their main trouble had been stress. Therefore diabetes, arthritis, coronary thrombosis, constipation, headaches, neurasthenia, a pot-belly and a sway back had been common ailments among them. Usually they had fought their troubles with pills and drugs which did not touch the real hidden enemies—fear, tension, and wrong concepts of living.
"The manager," this same article went on, "could have smoked cigars and sipped highballs for another thirty years, had he known about Hatha Yoga." After this statement a description of the breathing exercises and postures followed, urging everyone to learn from Yoga its invaluable technique for the relaxation of body and mind, for the preservation of youth and health, and for the prolongation of the span of life.
Except for the cigars and highballs, which to me are a strange kind of reward to hold out for taking up Yoga, the article was much to the point and very convincing. Furthermore, it probably aroused great interest in Yoga among those who read it. For why not learn the secrets of relaxation, youth, health and longevity from those who have proven through the centuries the effectiveness of their system, instead of relying on panaceas offered by people who themselves are engaged in a "rat-race"?
1 Muenchener Illustrierte, September 12, 1953.
It is true that no mechanical device or gadget, no pill or nostrum, can be effective for very long when the problem is to relieve the mind from stress and the body from strain. And physical and mental relaxation is one of the ABCs of Yoga. You yourself may have noticed by now, if you have been doing the relaxation exercises regularly at the end of every lesson without skipping, how these exercises induce not only muscular, but also mental ease. This will become still more apparent as you practice the Headstand which we began today. Still another step toward true relaxation will come with the meditation which will be part of your final lesson.
Yet how can the Headstand relax one, you may ask, when on your first attempt, it has made you feel anything but relaxed? The answer is simply that you must not become impatient-it will not be long before you will feel at ease while standing upside down. There is, by the way, a good physical explanation for this, and I would like to take time right here to go into the physiology of what happens when the human body is upturned in this way.
The Headstand has an effect on two of the glands we have already described as the most vital ones in our body, the pituitary and the pineal, both of which are located in the head cavity. When you stand upside down, a larger amount of blood —blood which is being further enriched through deep breathing—begins to flow to the head, and thus carries an extra supply of energy to these glands.
Chart of the Endocrine Gland System.
You may remember from the chapter on the endocrine system in my previous book what are the functions of the various glands. If not, the chart on this page will help refresh your memory. As you see, the endocrines are all situated at strategic points in the body. In addition to the pituitary and pineal in the cranium, the thyroid and parathyroids are behind the larynx at the base of the neck; the thymus is in the upper part of the chest above the heart (this gland, incidentally, shrinks in size and importance as we stop growing); the two adrenals are on top of the kidneys; and the gonads, or sex glands, lie in the lower part of the trunk, below the digestive organs.
The functions of all of the endocrine, or ductless, glands are interconnected, although each has its own duties to perform. Another name for the endocrines is glands of internal secretions, because they secrete various hormones, without which our organism could not function properly. And hormones are best defined as those various substances formed inside the endocrine glands which activate specifically receptive organs. Insulin, for instance, is a hormone secreted by the thyroid gland, cortisone by the adrenal glands, and so on. If any of the endocrine glands becomes either over- or underactive, we may lose or accumulate weight in various parts of the body.
The master gland or, as it has often been referred to, the "boss of them all," is the pituitary, for it regulates the activities of all the others. Although very small in size—no larger than a green pea—the pituitary is nevertheless of paramount importance to our well being. As many as twelve various hormones are known to be manufactured inside it.
"We know for example," writes Dr. John A. Schindler in his stimulating book, How to Live 365 Days a Year,2 "that there is one hormone of the pituitary that raises blood pressure, another that makes smooth muscles contract, one that inhibits the kidneys from producing urine, one that stimulates the kidneys to make more urine. Then there is a whole group of hormones that regulate the other endocrine glands of the body. These other glands produce many more hormones to regulate just everything that goes on in our bodies."
The reason I am including all this information in this discussion is that out of it you may evolve a real understanding of many of your own health problems. Think of the human body as potentially threatened by an enemy army, whether in the form of bacterial invasion, virus infection, or emotional stress. The after-effects of drugs, injuries, operations, exposure to high altitude, to excessive heat, cold, moisture or dryness, muscular over-exertion, shock, and even starvation are included among these dangers. Think of the pituitary gland as a master spirit which is able, alone, to fight off any attack by any of these enemies, and you will begin to get the picture.
2 Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1954.
More specifically, the various dangers threatening our well-being are sometimes referred to as stressors, while the result of their negative influence is called stress. This, at any rate, is the way Dr. Hans Selye described them in his monumental work, Stress of Life?3 and in The Story of the Adaptation Syndrome.4 He explains that the most dangerous and most powerful of all stressors are those of our own emotions that upset and aggravate us. That is why the job of an executive often carries with it diabetes or peptic ulcers: it is the result of driving one's self into performing all kinds of unpleasant duties, the duties of a hard taskmaster. A man in a subordinate job, on the other hand, is more likely to suffer from colds, tiredness, nausea, weakness, arthritis, asthma, inflammation and all sorts of aches and pains. This is, of course, a generalization; ulcers or arthritis may happen to anyone.
The findings of Dr. Hans Selye have thrown a completely new light on the function of the pituitary gland and its capacity to mobilize the body's defense forces against any kind of invaders.
It is impossible here to go into further details of this fascinating subject, as it requires more time and space than I have at my disposal. But I would like to alert you to the fact that most of our diseases are not due to the toxins of virus or bacteria as such, but to the stressors that, offsetting the normal activity of the pituitary gland, throw it off balance, and thus lower our resistance to illness.
Because the worst offenders are the psychic stressors which produce emotional upsets, a high-strung, intellectual person is more subject to them than a less sensitive individual. And, what we often blame on our nerves should actually be blamed on our glands.
Here is a secret of relaxation and youth given by a man who doesn't know what tension and stress are and who at ninety-four, looks, feels and works like a person half his age. "My strength lies in never hating or even opposing anyone," Jacques Romano told the writer interviewing him. Then he went on to explain that he was a Buddhist when with a Buddhist, a Christian when with a Christian, a dog when with a dog, etc. In conclusion he said: "Treat people as if they were flowers and you will have a happy life." 5
You probably see for yourself now where Yoga comes into the picture: The practice of the Headstand has a direct influence on the functions of the pituitary gland which regulates our entire well-being.
3 New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1956.
4 Montreal, Canada: Acta, Inc., 1952.
Rhythmic breathing and relaxation exercises enable us to overcome muscular tension and mental strain which also adversely affect the hormonal secretion of this gland.
Thus you can see how Yoga can restore the normal working order of our entire organism, and why relaxation of body and mind go hand in hand with health, youth, happiness and a long life.
5 The New Yorker, July 19, 1958.
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