Hatha yoga of physical postures, is not a separate yoga
science in its own right; rather it is the physical discipline of the
integral teaching known as raja yoga.
Yoga means "union." On a physical level of application, this signifies the
complete harmony of all parts of the body–a balanced support of all the
members for one another in such a way that disease, or disharmony, is
faced with a united defense and can hardly make any inroad into the
Yoga–the neutralization of the waves of feeling–returns man to his natural
state. Delusion is an unnatural condition; divine vision, the only true,
or natural one. Applying this teaching to the body, we may understand that
disease and other symptoms of bodily in harmony are not natural to
man. If one can return to his natural state, disease will vanish as a
matter of course.
Western medicine, lacking this philosophical foundation, treats disease as
a natural phenomenon, one to be conquered, to be driven out of the body
with new, man-made nostrums, as if the conquest of disease were possible
only by battling the natural processes, by going against nature.
What are the results of the approach of Western medicine? Inevitably,
doctors have discovered many natural truths and have applied them. But the
philosophical orientation underlying their science is such that nature is
brought into play only because man cannot possibly get away from her,
being himself a product of nature. No effort is spared in Western medicine
to substitute the man-made for the natural wherever possible. There is the
constant expectation of some new "breakthrough" in the field of drugs that
will banish this or that disease from the face of the earth. Pathetic it
is to hear how many people, embracing this unnatural outlook, become
virtual slaves to the doctor's office. Embracing the unnatural, they must
also accept those basic symptoms of man's unnaturalness: physical
inharmony and disease. Doctors have been said to kill as many patients as
they cure. Whether or not this is an exaggeration, certain it is that the
patient who relies excessively on medical care, rather than on his own
inner strength, never seems to get well, and finds ample justification in
his chronic ill-health for continued (and costly) visits to the
The yoga postures help to harmonize the body with natural law. The yogi is
shown how to develop his own latent powers rather than lean weakly on some
outer agent for his physical well-being. Inasmuch as ill health is the
unnatural, not the natural, condition of the body, primary emphasis in
hatha yoga is placed on freeing the body of any impurity that may
prevent it from functioning as it should, rather than on introducing
outside forces strong enough to destroy all disease. A piano placed
without rollers on sandpaper would be difficult even for the strongest man
to move. But if the piano were placed on well-oiled rollers and on a slick
floor, even a child might be able to push it with ease. Even a little
physical vitality can become dynamic, if the unnatural obstructions to its
flow are removed.
Yogis and Western medical doctors both say that the toxins in the body
soon leave the bloodstream and settle in the joints. Yogis go on to say
that old age, too, settles first in the joints. Western medical doctors
have actually stated that the spinal discs of many people even in their
twenties already show signs of deterioration, owing to want of proper
irrigation. Western systems of physical exercise–sports, calisthenics, and
the like–do not develop the limberness necessary to keep the joints free
of toxins and the spinal column well irrigated with life force. In both of
these matters, the science of hatha yoga stands supreme.
Hatha yoga also exercises a gentle massage on the internal organs
and glands, gradually strengthening them to the point where providing
outside aid for them would only be "carrying coals to Newcastle."
Much emphasis is given in yoga to the elimination of waste from the body.
One form of waste, not commonly thought of as such, is tension. Tension
blocks the natural flow of energy in the body. It paralyzes one's normal
sense of physical and mental harmony. Human ills all derive more or less
directly from impairments in the body's energy-flow. The main reason for
eliminating waste from the body is to permit the free flow of energy.
Tension, the chief obstruction to this flow, is the first obstacle to be
overcome if the body is to return to its divinely natural state.
It will be evident from the foregoing that the secret of success in yoga
is relaxation, not strain. One should not force himself into a new
condition, but seek only to free himself of tensions and inharmonies that
have prevented him thus far from being fully himself. As I said in the
first lesson, relax into the poses, don't force yourself into them.
This is particularly true for the stretching poses.
Always do the postures when you are calm, physically and emotionally. They
should be done if possible in the open air, or near to an open window.
It's best not to practice them in a closed room, or where the air is
stale. Don't be in a hurry to go through the poses. Hold each pose after
you get into it; remember that the benefits often begin only after you
have remained in a pose for awhile.
Rest after each position for about as long as you held it, or for as long
as it takes for your heart to return to its normal beat. A little
judicious "cheating" is quite permissible. If you cannot keep your balance
in the Tree Pose, for example, don't be afraid to take the support of a
wall. In time you will find that you can do the pose properly, but the
road to perfection may be uphill.
Try to do the postures at the same time every day. Regularity is an
important feature of yogic discipline. As my great guru said: "Routinize
your life. God created routine. The sun shines until dusk, and the stars
shine until dawn."