Introduction – Yoga and Relaxation
Yoga and Relaxation – Tony Crisp
I am often asked the question, “What has yoga done for you?” As the value of the methods I am to explain rest largely upon the answer to that question, and as I am only a printed name to you, I will be immodest and reply.
But before I can answer adequately, it must be understood that there are a variety of yoga “methods”. One can reach the goals of these methods by using one’s body, mind, emotions, the everyday experiences of life, sound and music, or even apparently by doing very little at all. My experience is in only of a few of these methods. Even with these, which include the body, mind and emotions, I can only call myself a student. Having explained this I will now answer the original question.
My interest in yoga began at the age of sixteen. But it was not until I reached twenty-nine that anything serious was undertaken in either the physical or mental methods.
Previous to that time it had been largely a matter of studying the philosophy, with an occasional practice of mental disciplines. At twenty-nine I found myself almost constantly tired; physically and emotionally I was restless and discontent. Unfortunately for myself it was the type of discontent that could see no way out of its own problem and because of this I suffered fairly frequent depressions. At work it was often difficult to stay awake during the morning, and at the weekends, I would often sleep during the afternoon to recover from the week. For the first few months of my regular yoga practice, there seemed to be little result. Through foolishly trying to hurry the physical methods, my whole body ached after each practice, and I felt decidedly worse. Then, so subtly that it was noticeable by review only, my condition changed. My body slimmed down to the measurements of youth, my energy began to come back, and the week-ends were no longer a time to sleep. Feelings of loneliness and depression faded out, and although I was emotionally more easy-going and relaxed than ever before, my mind was more disciplined and perceptive.
In other people I have seen yoga cure internal growths; deafness; nervous tension; migraine; fears of the dark, inferiority or insecurity; and sexual restlessness. None of these results have been miraculous however, but arose from the discipline of regular and long lasting practice of the yoga principles.
Yoga is however, more than just a method of healing the body and mind. The word “yoga” is generally translated as meaning “union”, or to “yoke” – that is to unite the conscious self with that which gave rise to it, or to bring a greater degree of harmony between a person’s conscious sums and motives, and their underlying nature. Being a profound system of practical and theoretical psychology, it can also aid human beings to discover the hidden potentials of their own mind and emotions. To experience yoga then is to experience union between the individual and the universal or whole.
With regard to the history of yoga and its origins, it is impossible to he authoritative because of its great age. Recent history shows India as the home of the yoga we know. This is especially true of the physical (Hatha) yoga practices, which seem to have no ancient counterpart in other cultures. The other types of yoga however have great similarities with worldwide practices with common aims.
It is possible to suppose, not only because of this, but also because of traditional statements in yoga teachings, that it had its origins in a much older civilisation than the Indian, and in another part of the world. But present history is unable to prove or disprove these statements. However, I believe it can be authoritatively said that it is the oldest directly linked system of moral, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual welfare. Teachings released in recent years from India, Tibet, China, Japan and the other countries of the Far East, present us with living traditions of some of the world’s oldest teachings concerning the being of man, his origins, possibilities and relationship with the rest of the universe. That one of our most modern Sciences – psychiatry – has found enormous depths of information in these teachings is more than interesting.
That men and women of all cultures, all over the world, can still find something practical and sublime in the teachings, proves their universality and timelessness. For they areas universal in their simplest form, as timeless, as man’s need to cat and as ageless as those natural forces from which man emerged.
The way this book is laid out however, does not attempt to reflect traditional eastern yoga exactly-the traditions are full of symbology which has to be interpreted before we can understand. Instead, an attempt bat been made to give not only the practices, but also the spirit of yoga as seen in western adepts. Starting with the physical side because it is the most popular to our interest, the book then progresses to the subtler phases of yoga. It finishes with the philosophy underlying yoga practice, and the description and words of acknowledged masters of yoga.
No apologies arc made for the frequent mention of subjects generally thought of as inspirational. It has only been from the new “feeling”, the new “idea”, the new “impulse”, that societies have overcome lawlessness, sloth, sensuality and weakness. So ideas, emotions, impulses, although intangible, are powerful influences in the life of an individual and of society and this makes their discussion practical. From here on therefore, the principles will be allowed to speak for themselves.
“It is maintained that the study and practice of Yoga purifies the body, improves the health, and strengthens the mind; that, above all, it intensifies spiritual growth. Every person with sound mind and body is capable of attaining Yoga in some measure. The earlier in life the training is begun the better, but it is never too late to start its practices.” So writes Theos Bernard.
If we wish to improve the health of our body, the balance of our emotions, the function of our mind, or even the realisation of our spiritual qualities, where can we begin? The beginning of any enterprise is of great importance. This is because results are likely to develop in direct proportion to the way we have begun. The Yoga teachings as to how one must begin are often very specific. So before undertaking anything, we must have a clear-cut idea as to what goal we are hoping to achieve. Without this we will not be able to judge whether the direction we are taking it the right one, or whether, having begun, we are approaching that goal. It might even be helpful to put into words, or write down, what we hope for.
If it is physical health, we might say, “My body either helps or retards my activities and happiness in life. Therefore, to bring it to greater health is to benefit all of my life experience.”
In seeking emotional harmony we could say, `While my body is like a vehicle, it is through my emotions that all of life appears to me. Gladness can lighten even physical illness or pain, while morbidity darkens even the treasures of our life. To bring my emotions to harmony is to see the world in a new light.”
While for mental activity we can say, `My body is a vehicle, my emotions a response to life, but it is my mind that sees meaning, that can understand or direct these others. To bring my mind to order is to direct my body and my happiness in a worthwhile manner.”
And if we seek benefits of the Spirit, one could say, “While my body is a vehicle, my emotions a response, and my mind that which directs, it is through some other part of me I call the Spirit, that I can realise a sense of unity with the rest of life and
living beings. Without this I might be just a dissociated cell in the immensity of life’s process. It relates me to others, not only in the past and present, but also in the future, for it is the breath of the Eternal. Thus I seek to realise my Spirit, and to know what I am.”
Having defined our goal to some extent, we can take the next step in getting there. It must be understood, before doing this, that Yoga practice is only a more direct application of things that people are doing every day of the week. Everybody is practising Yoga in some degree, but doing so unconsciously. By deciding to do it consciously we will be purposefully practising things we have been doing all our life. Through purposefully exercising our body, our emotions, or our mind, we bring them under the greater direction of our will, and see each one, even the mind, as vehicles of expression and realisation. To do this needs time and perseverance.
Realising that any great goal in life requires, if we are to reach it, not only time and perseverance, but other things, traditional Yoga outlines certain rules. For instance, if a person has not developed perseverance, what point is there in taking up any new practice? We might hope that it interests us more than the last, but no discipline of body or mind is even worth beginning unless we decide on perseverance. For this reason the Yoga traditions state that one should first practise Yama.
The word “yama” means “restraint” or “control”. This “restraint” applies to rules of conduct. These are ten in number and are: Non-Injuring; Non-Lying; Non-Stealing; Non-Attachment to Sensual Desires; Non-Attachment to Grievances; Non-Immersion in Inertia; Non-Attachment to Self Interests; Non-Attachment to Conceptions of Self; Non-Gluttony; Cleanliness. Patanjali, one of Yoga’s great authorities says that simply by the sincere practice of Yama, definite results will accrue – such as happiness, intuition, vigour of body and mind, effectiveness of speech, etc.
Why should yama be necessary at the outset? It is because the human being is largely the slave of his instincts, emotions and mental conceptions. Members of opposing political factions may fight to the death. This is not because there is a basic enmity, but because neither can let go of their opinions. To be more specific, however, if we are controlled by our instincts we will soon give up our Yoga practice. If we lie, we have not the courage to face that which made us lie, and some stages of Yoga need courage.
The desire to injure includes the ability to injure or destroy subtle parts of one’s own nature that are struggling to be expressed, and so on. The rules are not intended to be merely moralistic, but to awaken latent possibilities within the individual.
In the Yoga classic Gheranda Samhita, the first two rules of Yoga, Yams and Niyama, are included as one in the first rule “Purification” but they can be considered as types of purification. The five rules of Niyama, or Non-restraint, a re: Purity; Contentment; Austerity; Self Study; Dedication to Universal Motives.