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Yoga and Relaxation – Tony Crisp
Finding Wholeness – The Yoga of Finding the Seat – Chapter 4
The greatest Yoga teachings are spoken by those individuals who have realised the unconditional state. Because their ego is largely merged into That which forms the basis of their being, their words are to some extent, spoken by Life itself. This is possibly where the idea of Jesus and God being one arose, or why Jesus is reported as having said, “The Father and I are one.” What I wish to stress however, is that to some extent, such people are speaking things that arise beyond their own conscious personality. The biographies at the end of this book will tend to explain the feasibility of this a little further.
According to such teachings, the whole universe consists of two basic things, Prana and Akasha. These in turn arise from what remains, ever causeless, unknown, unconditional, formless and invisible.
The story is told of a student asking how he might obtain the knowledge and power of all things. The reply was that all things can be traced back to common sources. Understand the sources, and one can control the general. Reverting to the analogy of electricity again, through understanding the basic laws pertaining to electricity, we can produce light, heat, power, sound, vision etc. Such knowledge of the general allows us to produce many particular results. But the Yoga teachings state that there are general principles underlying all creation. To some extent we can see this with very little effort in the laws of polarity. That is, negative and positive. We see it in the working of magnets, electricity, the opposite sexes, cell structure, energy and inertia, light and darkness, atomic structure, cosmic bodies such as sun and earth, and so on. Here is a general principle that underlies all creation. If we really mastered the laws of polarity, we would have mastery over all the particulars or results of creation.
Prana and Akasha are, in fact, the basic polarities underlying all others. Akasha is the primal matter, or material of the universe, and Prana is the primal energy. When this primal energy, or Prana, acts upon the basic material, all known forms arise. A human being is an excellent example of the interplay of Prana and Akasha. But another way of describing this is to say that human life, as in fact cosmic life, is found in the opposites and opposition of chaos and order, light and darkness. The balance is the meeting of these opposites and not a fight agianst one or the other.
In some pictorial or symbolic philosophies or religions, these opposites are often expressed as the Divine Father and the Divine Mother. H. Spencer Lewis, in writing about these prime forces of the universe, said, “The negative is passive, static, receptive, and nurturing in contra-distinction to the positive, which is active, creative and dynamic. The negative registers a hunger for the positive, while the positive registers an urge, an impulse toward union with the negative, in order that it may, with the cooperation of the negative, cause a manifestation or creation. Neither can, of itself, produce any result, for one compliments the other, supplies what the other lacks.” (From “Rosicrucian Manual” AMORC.)
Looking around, we can see the truth of this in a thousand ways. Earth or matter is negative or receptive to light. Together they manifest colour. Electricity has a negative and positive polarity which only in unity produces a result. Movement, acting upon inert matter, also produces sound.
Taking light again into consideration we see that a luminous body projects light across the universe, as does the sun. While a receptive body such as earth receives it and manifests life thereby. Electricity, in its positive polarity, will leap across the sky as in lightning. While the negative conductor attracts and channels its expression. Even the shape of our sexual organs manifest perfectly the underlying law of polarity. The male organs project and give of themselves, while the female is negative, receptive, offering a fertile nurturing state which directs the expression of the positive.
The Yoga philosophy points out that this cannot help but be as it is, because all things arise from Prana and Akasha. All things are built in “their image.” For Prana and Akasha, intermingling and acting upon each other at a multitude of levels and variances, bring forth all form and experience.
We must also realise that latent in Prana is the ability to build form out of matter; to manifest sensation, feelings, emotion, intelligence and mind (in other words, Satchitananda). But just as light, heat and power cannot be realised while the two polarities of electricity are separate— so none of these can be manifest while Prana and Akasha are not married. This is why Yoga sometimes calls creation the “play of Brahm,” for life realises itself in its multifarious creatures.
What has all this got to do with Yoga and nerves? Well, because we are dealing with the underlying forces of our being, it has everything to do with it. For through seeing how the nervous or neurotic condition arises, we may come to see the validity of the Yoga methods used to cure it. Furthering our enquiry, we can say that our body and being are made “in the image” of the forces creating them, or at least, are an expression of those forces. In each cell of our body, we can see the “marriage” of Prana and Akasha. The body of the cell is made up of matter (Akasha) in various stages, while the nucleus pulsates and radiates energy (Prana) drawn from the atmosphere. If the nucleus no longer functions, the cell “dies”. In other words its shape breaks down, it no longer responds to stimuli, and it no longer expresses its usual characteristics. On the other hand, the Prana without the cell cannot manifest shape, energy, quality or characteristics such as displayed by liver, heart cells etc. Consciousness, emotions, sensation, memory, intelligence are the result of the collective unity of cells and Prana. Intelligence, memory, emotion, are all latent in the unity of Prana and Akasha even in a single cell. They are all latent, but they need a different organism, a different body, in order to manifest. Light, heat, power, sound are all latent in the unity of electrical polarities, but need different organisms, or machines to bring out these qualities. The same applies to the colours latent in the unit of light and matter. Particular surfaces, or chemical organic compounds, are necessary in order to manifest particular colour. In all things though, Earth is the Great Mother, Mater, or Matter. She nurtures and gives birth to the qualities of Prana.
In our own beings, Mother constantly receives, nurtures, and brings forth the influx of Our Heavenly Father (Prana in the atmosphere) as our energy, form, consciousness, and mind. Thus, when one prays to the Divine Mother, one prays to that part of one’s being, that part of all beings, that is the eternal virgin, receiving and giving birth to the invisible Father, and providing Him with a form. In this light, many religious doctrines become quite logical expressions of fundamental laws, and we can even see for ourselves how “the Word became flesh.”
The great trial of existence, one which all conscious creatures experience to some extent, arises from the apparent individuality of consciousness. In other words, while with a little thought one can see that but for the constant activity of forces within and about us we would cease to exist, yet we cannot help but think of ourselves as distinct and separate from all other beings, even our parents. This distinctness and aloneness of self, gives rise to a feeling of “I” or “me” as distinct from “you.” It also makes possible personal decisions and actions, based on the illusion of being separate. Every day we do things, speak and plan with this “self” in mind. In our present state we cannot help but act thus. Yet this places an enormous strain upon us, and may throw us out of harmony with ourselves. For such decisions actions, words and thoughts, almost always arise out of ignorance of the forces that have brought us into being, and upon which we constantly depend. As we are an expression of these, we may thus be acting against ourselves. This causes conflict within us, and dis-ease throughout our system.
If on the other hand, we can conceive of a time in mankind’s history when he had no sense of “I”, or personal identity, such as many or most animals experience, we have an idea of a condition in which one does not act against oneself. As one does not decide one’s actions, they arise Spontaneously out of the needs and expressions of the creative forces in one.
Here we have the concept of the Garden of Eden expressed in Genesis. It is the Paradisical state where men do not deny or pervert the desires of the Father within them. While the original sin, a state into which we are now all born, is the first “individual” course of action that conflicts with one’s own being.
In the Christian doctrine we are thus told that man sets himself against God, and only by following the will of God can he regain Paradise. Yoga does not argue this, but merely re-phrases it, saying that while a man denies his own inborn nature, he cannot help but experience dis-ease or conflict. It can also now be seen with even greater clarity, why Yoga suggests quieting the surface individual self. Only in this way can the difference be seen between personal desires and pretensions, and those of one’s primal being, the Mother and Father.
There are dangers along the path, however, for all quests in search of real Father and Mother, take us back to the womb. We reach back to that state of being that existed before our birth. One of the classical subjects for meditation in Zen Buddhism is “What was my face before I was born?” While in the Bible we have a similar thing expressed in several places, one being “Before Abraham was, I am.” The unconditional consciousness is, after all, that state of being-consciousness-bliss that exists before we were born. Or, in other words, before we became aware as an individual.
It would appear, then, that life experience in the body is a coming to realisation of all that is latent in unity of the Mother and Father, or Prana and Akasha. The return to the womb, by itself, would not be a conscious taking part in the act of creation, which is a constant unfolding and unveiling and not a static existence in the unconditional.
Getting back to our Yoga and nerves, however, we have said that our existence as a conscious being depends upon, and is an outcome of, the unity between Prana and Akasha. The Prana on uniting with the organised structures of our body, divides into ten different types of manifestation. These are classified in the Yoga philosophy as the Vayus, namely, Prana, Apana, Samana, Udana, Uyana, Naga, Kurma, Krkara, Devadatta and Dhanamjaya. Each of these control different functions in the body, such as sight, muscular activity, sensual impressions, consciousness and thought, digestion and assimilation, desires, etc.
Thus, according to these teachings, all the many and varied expressions of our life are due to the prana manifesting in our being. The nervous condition, sickness, madness, diseases of various types, are due to something upsetting the balance and relationship between one’s body and the vital force that gives it life. Through our actions, thoughts, desires, food or drink, we have added something to ourselves, causing Karma—the results of our actions out of harmony with our true nature. Christianity calls this sin.
We must be very careful in deciding just what is the action, or sin, causing our state of unhappiness or sickness. So many dogmas and fanatical preachers have decided just what one should not do. There are a thousand such opinions, while one only has one relationship with the creative forces. There is no greater thermometer of this relationship than one’s own happiness. If there are large gaps in this happiness, then there must be large gaps in one’s relationship with self. A great deal of self honesty, willingness to make and admit mistakes, is also necessary. Not that, in the deepest sense, one has the ability to cure oneself, but the creative forces can be allowed to balance themselves. All one strives at is a surrendering of one’s inharmonious activities to the Transforming Influence.
One of the methods of surrendering to this healing, or harmonising of our being, has already been described in the chapter on relaxation, but there are other methods to suit different temperaments, or to help one past difficult parts of the process of healing. At best there should be a balancing of all the main methods, involving as they do, the body, passions, emotions and mind. In practice, however, we often find that there grows out of us, the understanding and affinity for one or two of the paths.
From what has been said about Prana and our body, one can see with greater clarity just why relaxation can be healing. Another of the great healing methods used by Yoga is called “Pranayama.” This method will be explained next, as it is very helpful in difficult cases, or those that do not yield easily to relaxation.
A great deal of misunderstanding has grown up around the word Pranayama. Usually this word is taken to mean various breathing exercises. It can in fact be rightly used to refer to these, but if it is taken to mean breathing exercises alone, not only is the word misunderstood, but one might even practise the breathing exercises without really understanding their purposes. Using them without understanding them could also easily lead to misuse of them. Criticism of Yoga and its methods are, more often than not, built upon such misinformation.
We will, therefore, look more closely at the word. In the first chapter it was seen that the word “Yama” means restraint, control or discipline. Having just dealt with Prana, we can sum it up as the primary positive power in the universe which, in unity with Akasha, the primary matter, brings forth all form, awareness and mind.
As one cannot control something that is primal or unmanifest, one can only control, restrain or direct, those things that spring from it. Therefore, if the word suggests the control of Prana, it should be taken to mean the control of it as it manifests or directing what has arisen from it. So “Pranayama” means controlling, restraining or directing the prana as it manifests in the body. Therefore, by controlling a function of our being, Such as breathing, thinking, moving, feeling, heartbeat, digestion, sexuality, emotions, etc., we are practising a form of Pranayama. The value of this in a nervous condition will now become apparent.
The nervous or neurotic condition, shows itself in such symptoms as fear of people, the future, heights, going out, oneself, the dark, etc., palpitations of heart, irregular breathing, shallow chest breathing or inability to breathe properly (asthma, bronchitis), inability to find sexual satisfaction with the opposite sex—strong sex desires but apprehension—emotional turbulence, depression, suicidal tendencies, lack of feeling and so on. Whatever the intermediate causes, such as emotional and sexual shock during infancy, the underlying factor, as far as Yoga is concerned, is disturbed pranic harmony in the body. The reason for attempting to control one of the body functions in order to control or direct Prana, is equally simple and basic. Function and source of function are irrevocably locked together. If irregular nervous impulses or unbalanced glandular action are causing Sudden changes of emotion, migraine, heart pains or stomach ache; by controlling one of the functions of the nervous activity we control the nervous impulse. It follows then, that if we could easily control the heart beat, and make it regular and slow, we would also be altering the nervous impulses that control heartbeat. As all the nervous activity of the body is inter-meshed, by controlling one Such function we influence our whole being.
Yoga methods use control of heart, mind, emotions, posture, sensations and breathing. Of all these, possibly breathing is the one most convenient to control consciously. This is why Pranayama is usually linked with the idea of breathing exercises. By controlling or regulating one of the functions of our being, we influence the whole tone of our system, even down to the most basic levels of cell balance. We begin to calm and quiet the disorders of our nervous and organic systems, and alter our experience of living.
The Yogi, in his quest to realise union with his cosmic Mother and Father, and thus realise his true identity, uses breathing to gradually quieten his whole system, and thus go beyond ego into the unconditional. Just as it was said that the deepest aspect of the practice of Yama was not the restraint or discipline of emotions and passions, but the non-attachment to them, so also the deepest aspect of Pranayama is to become unattached to manifestation, that the potential or Prana may be fully released. Because in the end, it is not control and restraint of Prana that is aimed at, but a magnificent release and realisation of the hidden potentials in our own being.
This is where the aim of Pranayama must be reiterated. It is not the breathing exercise, or mental discipline, that by itself gives us relief from our inharmonious condition. The method or technique is only a vehicle, or means of transport. By its use one moves one’s centre of consciousness out from its usual abode of immersion in sense impressions, desires, fears and thoughts.
Thus far the method will take us by itself, but no further. By its use we may have found a quiet place within us, but this is not self-realisation. This is not a meeting with our Source. It is not a transformation of our life, for although a variety of methods may transport us to the quiet spot from whence a view of Satchitananda can take place, the great marriage only occurs when the right relationship between the conscious and unconscious comes about. This will be explained more fully later. Meanwhile, it is interesting to realise how fully our being is an expression of universal principles. It has already been pointed out how each cell in our body is a tiny union between Prana and Akasha. The nucleus of each cell acts as a receiving centre, a point of resonance, for the contact between the matter and the cosmic energy.
As all things in the universe must also be expressions of the same fundamental principles, even the planets are great cells in another cosmic body. Our Earth, for instance, also has a nucleus, or molten core, which likewise pours out energy to the surface and beyond. However, the earth and the cells of our body are what might be called material cells. That is, the nucleus of radiating energy is surrounded by matter. While the energy still radiates it is conditioned by, married to, and directed by, its physical body. When the nucleus is no longer active—that is, when the physical body of the cell or planet can no longer harmoniously relate to the Prana, or cosmic energy, the cell or planet dies. Or, it no longer displays the qualities of life. In a cell, pulsations of energy no longer radiate from the centre, while the moon is possibly an example of a dead world.
These are material cells. There are, however, spiritual cells, or the other polarity of cell, for in life there are always opposites. So a Spiritual cell is one in which the nucleus is matter surrounded by Prana, instead of Prana surrounded by matter. As a cosmic example of this we have the sun of our own solar system, and the suns of other systems. Most of our own cosmic energy, or Prana, is radiated by our sun. As these positive radiations are the forces, are the very things that fructified the earth (mother), and together brought forth living forms, the sun can be thought of as the Father force. Yoga philosophy, sees the sun as a channel for the cosmic energies it dispenses, as the body cell is.
While the sun is a spiritual or positive cell in a macrocosmic sense, our own body is a positive cell in a microcosmic sense. It too is a material nucleus for cosmic energies from the depths of space. If we think of our body as a vehicle for the expression and realisation of energy, mind, and intelligence of cosmic vastness, we begin to understand the hidden potential in the latent human being that the Yogi attempts to realise. As man is born of cosmic parents, Sun and Earth, he is a child of the universe, an expression of vast powers, holding in himself the seeds of his own parents. That only a few realise anything of these possibilities is because only a few present the right “surface,” the right material for their own innate life. For just as the colours hidden in light cannot manifest until the right chemical compound is brought together, so the possibilities hidden in life are only able to express when the right state of physical, mental and emotional being is achieved. Thus, the physical evolution of mans form is entirely bound up with what he is enabled to express of his innate possibilities. Which again points to the need for careful consideration of our diet, exercise, rest and recreation in mental and emotional spheres. Also, the evolution of form and inner states necessary to the realisation of one’s innate possibilities is speeded up through the various Yoga methods.
These methods or paths are many, the most widely used being Hatha, Raja, Bhakti, Mantra, Gnana and Karma. Of these Hatha has already been mentioned. Raja, Bhakti and Karma will be dealt with later. All of them, however, are in some degree a practice of Pranayama. To quote from the Srimad Bhagavatam, “Seated in a secluded place, free from all disturbing thoughts of the world, one must first repeat in one’s mind the sacred word (OM), with understanding of its meaning. The word OM is one with God, and indeed is God. By this practice alone, one gains control of Prana and of the mind.”
Yet it is not the mere stilling of body and mind, the stilling of prana’s manifestations, that should be aimed at, but the going beyond even the duality of Prana and Akasha into the ALL, the absolute, where there are no opposites. This is one of the most important secrets of relaxation or meditation. Namely, not to hold on to, or become immersed in, any of the inner phenomena that occur. If one does, one immediately Stops at that point, or even loses what was reached. The inner only unfolds in proportion to the degree the outer self lets go its hold, as described in relaxation. While if the outer grasps what is being revealed, it either disappears, or the process of unveiling stops. This is a matter of experience, and can be seen for oneself as one passes through the stages of this self-revelation. These stages being listed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as, “In all the Yogas there are four states:
(I) Arambha or the preliminary, (2) Ghata, or the state of a jar (i.e. empty, receptive) (3) Parichaya (knowledge—the unveiling) (4) Nispatti (consummation).” Such is the path of Yoga.