With these thoughts in mind, the
practitioner will understand that he has not "done" a posture once he has
succeeded in assuming it. It is only at this point that he can begin truly to
derive the benefits of that pose.
An important difference between these
postures and calisthenics is that in yoga practice one must never strain. Relax,
never force yourself, into the prescribed positions. Stretch only slightly, if
at all, beyond the point of comfort. You will be astonished to see how many
poses you can accomplish by progressively deeper relaxation.
Yogis illustrate their teaching of
relaxation by the example of the cat. Observe this self-contained creature. It
never uses more of its body at any given moment than it needs. Lift it up when
it is resting, and observe how it hangs, limp, in your hands. Yet, so poised is
it that, from a position of complete repose, it can leap to its feet in an
instant, ready to defend itself against sudden danger.
The yogi, similarly, should act
always from a center of poise and calmness, of mental and physical relaxation.
When I first me the great yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda, he told me that, while
sitting in a chair giving interviews, he was not even aware of his body below
the chest. To be able so completely to relax the body when not using it, it is
necessary first to be in full control of it; to be able at will to be fully
conscious of every muscle.
The yoga postures, then, are not only
a series of physical positions, but exercises in mental awareness. The yogi must
be very deliberate in every movement. He must feel every muscle. Above all, he
must try to become conscious of the energy as it directs the muscular movements.
He must try to develop an awareness of his body as consisting primarily of
Between poses, he should calmly
withdraw his energy from the periphery of his body; he should rest within
himself. Savasana, the Corpse Pose, is particularly recommended for these
The yogi is enjoined to practice
moderation in everything. He should avoid eating too much, or too little. He
should not sleep too much, nor too little. (More than seven hours' sleep in a
night only drugs the nervous system.) He should be especially moderate in his
sex life. Sexual over-indulgence causes a tremendous drain on a person's natural
vitality. Continence, by contrast, provided it has the full consent of the mind,
can be a tremendous factor in helping one to achieve full vigor, mentally and
physically, and to attain deep spiritual insight.
Yoga practices help one to live in
harmony with the forces of nature. The yoga practitioner should assist this
harmonizing process by living as much as possible close to nature. He should get
out into the countryside whenever he can, there to enjoy the sunshine, to
breathe the fresh air. Yoga breathing exercises will help him to gain the
greatest possible benefit from nature's free gift of oxygen.
In fact, the yoga postures should
always, if possible, be practiced out-of-doors, or by an open window.
They should be practiced on an empty
stomach or at least three hours after eating. It is preferable that the body be
warm when performing them. But don't practice immediately after strenuous
activity. Don't practice so long, moreover, that the postures themselves result
in over-exertion and fatigue.
Women should use caution if they wish
to do yoga postures during the first day or two of the menstrual period.
Pregnant women who want to continue their practice of the postures are advised
to find one of the growing number of people who are specially trained in pre-
and postnatal yoga.
The postures should not be practiced,
save with the greatest of caution, when the body is unwell. Any posture that
gives rise to a feeling of pain (other than muscular) in the chest, abdomen, or
brain should be abandoned until the cause of pain has been ascertained. People
with high blood pressure should avoid all but the most gentle poses…
The duration of each posture must be
increased gradually. People beginning these postures after middle age should be
particularly careful to start slowly, with the easier poses, only bit by bit
working up to the more difficult ones.
It is important, finally, to stress
that persons who want to devote a great deal of time to these postures—to
become, in short, hatha yogis, rather than persons who use hatha yoga as a means
of achieving a more balanced, normal life—should practice them under a competent
guide. Hatha yoga is not to be gone into deeply on one's own.
No idle fancy, by the way. Science
has proved that matter is energy.