In ancient India the early Yogis were a group of mystics and scientists to whom the relationship between a mortal man and an immortal spirit was of great interest. They set about to find ways and means of uniting these two during the earthly life of man. They spent not decades but centuries in making their experiments with different methods of concentration, meditation and relaxation; with various breathing processes, postures and foods. When they finally succeeded in their experiments, they systematized the result of their findings and called it the science of Yoga. The aim of Yoga is to achieve reintegration of the individual consciousness with the cosmic consciousness.
H.H.Shri Kumarswamiji explains the ‘Teachings of Yoga’ in the below article.
Yoga has much to offer to you. It teaches you how to breathe correctly, correct breathing refreshes you both in body and mind. It teaches you how to relax completely, complete relaxation restores your vitality. It teaches you how to practise Asanas which, if properly done, protect you against cold, fever, constipation, headache and other troubles. It teaches you what to eat and what not to eat and judicious eating preserves your health. It teaches you how to meditate and meticulous meditation keeps your mind calm, collected and well balanced. Finally, it teaches you what to do in order to remain younger and live longer, regardless of your calendar age. Man’s deep yearning for eternal youth is as old as the race. Goethe immortalized it in his Faust who bartered away his soul to Mephistopheles for the gift of undying youth. Goethe’s masterpiece touches a sympathetic cord in all, for there is a Faust in every one of us. Years of patient research and tons of gold bars have been spent by mankind throughout the ages, in its attempt to find a way to perpetuate youth and prolong the span of life. High priests and alchemists of ancient times as well as scientists and surgeons in our days have all been and still are engaged in the pursuit of discovering the mysterious fount of youth. So far the secret still eludes the grasp and the best we have been able to do is to create an illusion of youth through mechanical aids – false teeth, dyed hair, face-lift. But the real problem remains unsolved. Only the Yoga science has been able to achieve definite results in preserving the vigour and youth of the body.
Yoga is a system of physical, mental and spiritual training. It originated in India thousands of years ago. It is not a cult nor a creed but it is a method of self realization which starts with the purification of the body and ends with the unfoldment of the spirit. A Yogi is neither a priest nor an oracle but a man who has attained spiritual illumination. He can be a Hindu, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hebrew, a Muslim or he may belong to no religion. In ancient India the early Yogis were a group of mystics and scientists to whom the relationship between the mortal man and the immortal spirit was of great interest. They set about to find ways and means of uniting these two during the earthly life of man. They spent not decades but centuries in making their experiments with different methods of concentration, meditation and relaxation; with various breathing processes, postures and foods. When they finally succeeded in their experiments, they systematized the result of their findings and called it the science of Yoga. The aim of Yoga is to achieve reintegration of the individual consciousness with the cosmic consciousness. Yoga pays particular care and attention to the purification of the body. It is often asked, why Yoga bestows so much attention on the body, when its aim is the spiritual union with the Divine. Yoga regards the body as a vehicle through which the spirit manifests itself. Just as a violinist takes care of his violin without which he would not be able to express his art, so a Yogi takes care of his body as the only instrument through which he can express his spiritual powers. To keep the body fit and free of disease, it needs a certain amount of fresh air, rest and exercise. Why does the body need exercise? Because without exercise the body loses its elasticity and youthfulness, grows stiff and heavy, accumulates fat and toxins and rapidly gets old and worn out. Of course there are a number of exercises such as games, sports, walking, riding, swimming, dancing etc.
Every form of exercise is good to a certain extent, but the ideal form of exercise is the practice of Yoga Asanas. They tone up the activities of the brain, glands, nerves, tissues and cells. They are both curative and recuperative in action. They are designed to bring the body into a condition where the healing forces of nature are able to do their work. The first step to gain the stability of the body is to practise the Asanas. There are a number of Asanas and tradition speaks of 84 Asanas. One need not master all of them, but at least 12 of them are to be mastered.They are : 1) Shirshasan, 2) Sarwangasana, 3) Halasana, 4) Paschimothanasana, 5) Matsyasana, 6) Yogamudrasana, 7) Simhasana, 8) Bhujangasana, 9) Shalbhasana, 10) Dhanurasana, 11) Ardha-Matsyendrasana and 12) Shavasana. Begin with Shirsasana and end with Shavasana. In Shavasana or corpse-pose, the whole body is relaxed. The hard floor is better for relaxation than a soft couch. The Yogis realized that no spiritual illumination could be attained by a person whose mind is restless and whose muscles are tense and rigid. A completely relaxed muscle discharge very little electricity. When the body is relaxed and the mind is at rest there is almost no dissipation of life-energy or Prana. From the observation of the behaviour of various animals, the Yogis found that cat serves as the best example of relaxation. Watch a cat and see how it stretches and yawns and how limp its body becomes when it rests. If you try to lift it up, it will hang lifelessly from your hand like a wet bath-towel. When you are tired and need a rest, try to imitate the cat and just lie relaxed on the carpet.
Some general instructions about the Asanas:
1) Yogasanas should be performed early in the morning in a well ventilated room.
2) The bowels must be cleared before starting the Asanas. It is not desirable to bathe immediately after the Asanas are performed; but a bath can be taken just before starting the Asanas.
3) The Asanas must always be done bare footed on a carpet or rug spread out on a hard and even surface. Clothing should be as light and loose as possible.
4) The beginners should practise simple Asanas, through practice the rest can be mastered.
5) For beginners 30 seconds should suffice for maintaining a particular Asana. Gradually the duration should be increased.
6) Throughout the performance of the Asanas breathing should be normal.
We do not pay any serious attention to breathing, the most important of all our bodily functions. It has never occurred to many of us that a great deal of our physical and mental troubles are due to the fact that we do not breathe correctly. Life and breath are synonymous. We live as long as we breathe. We start our life with the first breath and end it with the last breath. We never stop breathing whether we are awake or asleep. We can exist without food for weeks and without water for few days but without air we cannot exist even for a few minutes. Air is the most important nourishment for our blood. All the activities of the body from digestion to creative thinking depend upon the oxygen supply through breathing; yet we treat breathing with utter indifference. If there is a deficiency in the supply of oxygen, the process of ionization will be incomplete and the food is partially assimilated. Nearly 50 percent of delinquency in minors is due to oxygen starvation which is the result of shallow breathing and lack of fresh air. The habit of shallow breathing is one of many unnatural habits that modern civilization has forced upon us. It has been proved that in the civilized world only babies breathe in a natural way. In order to enjoy good health a person needs approximately 60 deep breaths in a day. Shallow breathing is directly or indirectly responsible for a number of physical and mental diseases ranging from nervous disorders to common cold. To function properly the brain requires three times more oxygen than the rest of the body. If it does not get its due allotment, it extracts it from the body supply. That is why brainworkers often possess a poor physic and bad health. Deep breathing not only nourishes the whole system but also cleanses it. We pay a dear price for having forgotten that we are an integral part of nature. In spite of all our inventions and achievements in the field of mechanics, we are not mere machines. If we are really anxious to keep physically fit and mentally alert, we should begin to reeducate ourselves in the ways of living as taught by Yoga.
Prana is not mere breath but it is cosmic energy. It is a life-giving principle which pervades the whole atmosphere. It is manifested in every form of existence – organic and inorganic. By breathing exercises it is possible to raise the degree of circulation of Prana in the body. The surplus of Prana is stored in the solar plexus which is the battery of the human body. We breathe better during night when we are asleep. The breath of a sleeping man is much deeper and is often accompanied by a mild, hissing sound. We must remember that we breathe through the pores of our skin, hence light cloths are to be worn at bed time. The process of breathing is much more wide-spread than we generally suppose. We are told that the creation of the world began when the Creator breathed upon the waters. It has been proved that plants and metals also breathe. Astronomers tell us that even the sun breathes regularly, each breath taking eleven years and causing at its fullness the appearance of the sun’s spots upon the surface.
Man must contain a definite amount of air to counteract the law of gravitation which pulls him to the earth. At sea level the pressure is about 16 pounds per square inch. This must be equalized by the intake of air. That is why the lungs never empty all the air they contain. Their total capacity is said to be 250 cubic inches but they only empty 150 so that there always remains 100 cubic inches of air within them. To cleanse and refresh lungs, prolonged exhalation or Rechaka is the most efficacious.
This article ‘Teachings of Yoga’ is taken from H.H.Mahatapasvi Shri Kumarswamiji’s book, ‘Dimensions of Yoga’.