You’ve heard a lot about yoga, but not much about how it works. America’s leading psychic authority exposes the facts in language you can understand.
By Hereward Carrington
The first is known as Yama, which consists in self-discipline; calm, inward poise, detachment from this world’s goods and chattels, etc. The mind must be purified and clarified. Coupled with this, good health must attained, by means of diet, external and internal hydrotherapeuticnmeasures, and so forth.
Yogis contend that a sound, healthy body is absolutely essential to anyone seeking true
spiritual enlightenment. They despise the ascetics and fakirs who mortify their bodies.
The second step is known as Niyama, and here these mental and physical disciplines are carried still further. Detachment from the world, and the desire for spiritual enlightenment, are more fully cultivated.
The third step is known as Asana, which means bodily posture. There are two or three reasons
why such importance is given to these postures, which become quite intelligible when explained. (Statues of Buddha are nearly always shown assuming one of the most famous of these postures.)
What are these reasons? Well, if you will sit still in a chair for a few minutes, thinking
intently about something, you will probably find that the first thing that begins to intrude
itself upon your chain of thought is the body. You become restless, irritable; you want to move about and fidget and change your position. This obviously interferes with the flow of thought. There must be positions, thought the Yogis, which one can assume, which will prevent this from happening. They experimented, and finally discovered eighty-four postures or positions, any one of which you can assume (with more or less effort) and, once assumed, you can retain that position for hours, without the body intruding itself upon the consciousness. You have, so to say, eliminated the body for the time being, leaving the mind free to carry on its own activities unhampered by it. (Another reason is that these postures are thought to facilitate the flow of certain “currents” within the body- which we shall come to presently.)
Many of these postures are extremely hard for the average Westerner to assume, though some of them are relatively easy. In all of them the spine must be held straight, while the muscles are relaxed. Thus, in this stage, absolute control of the body is attained.
The fourth step still deals mainly with the body. This is known as Pranayama, and means
(roughly) breathing exercises. Much has been written about breathing, and its effects upon the mind, in oriental literature. We in the west know the value of deep breathing exercises, from the purely health-giving point-of-view. But the Orientals go much more deeply into the subject than this.
They believe that the air we breathe, in addition to its obvious chemical constituents, also
contains a subtle, vital principle known as prana. This we inhale into the system also, when
deep breathing is undertaken. Obviously, the deeper the breath, the more prana we inhale, and, once inside the body, we can begin to do things with it-direct it into certain channels of
activity. We utilize this energy for specific purposes. All sorts of breathing exercises are given in consequence.
The first thing to learn, in breathing exercises, is: Nose versus Mouth breathing. Every doctor
will tell you to breathe through the nose, but very few people know how to do that properly. You ought to breathe as though you were smelling a flower, and taking the scent straight down, into the lungs. But you must do it in this way: instead of the air striking between the eyes, so to say, you must try to relax the nose and the passages, so that the air goes straight down into the throat. Different sounds are made in the different kinds of breathing.
A good way to obtain a large volume of air without opening the mouth is this: hold the teeth
open (just enough to get a finger between them) and close the lips. They call this position the
“rabbit throat,” because it makes one look like a rabbit! When you have done this, you must draw down the lower or under part of the throat and mouth. Normally this is very soft; when you press down it becomes tense and hard. Do this as you hold the teeth apart and the lips closed. This opens all the passages and gives you an enormous passage for air.
There are three kinds of breathing -upper, middle and lower (diaphragmic). You should be able to fill any part of the lungs separately.
The full breath is from the abdomen up. Bend slightly forward, and exhale completely. Now
inhale until you have a full breath; retain it. The chest must be kept elevated all the time.
Now, when you get to this point, you must begin certain exercises; and the first and the most simple of these is to hold the breath for a definite period, and then exhale. This establishes a
rhythm . . .
Now a few words regarding specific or particular kinds of breathing. There is what is known as the “Cleansing Breath.” Inhale a full breath; then, when holding the breath, pucker the lips as though whistling; then exhale very quickly; then hold; then out again in little gasps, as it
were. This will be found very stimulating.
Like all breathing exercises, this must be undertaken with relaxed muscles. You cannot think
properly if the muscles are tense anywhere in the body. There is also a definite connection between tension and memory- as Dr. Bates proved long ago.
Prana-gathering exercises should be undertaken on a flat, hard bed. As you inhale, imagine that you are at the same time imbibing psychic energy -prana. Imagine that there is an enormous field of energy or force all around you, which you only have to “tap”; that this is vitalizing, and that you are drawing it into you at the same time that you are breathing. As you inhale this, and retain the breath, you then begin to will that the prana shall circulate through the entire system, in much the same way that the blood circulates.
In this prana-gathering and distribution, hold the breath, and at the same time feel – be
conscious of every part of your body; follow the prana-current as it circulates. This teaches
you to be conscious of your body throughout – to feel with every part of it. If you have ever
observed wild animals, you cannot fail to have been struck by the aliveness of their whole
bodies. The more nearly we can approach this, the more aware and intensely alive do we become.
From any point-of-view, then, these breathing exercises, wisely undertaken, will prove
healthful and life-giving . . .
Coupled with these, in this stage, are the pronunciation of certain words, or phrases, known as Mantras. These are the so-called “words of power,” and the mere utterance of them is said to stimulate into vibratory activity certain “vital centers” in the body. It is not that the
meaning of the mantras signifies anything particularly; it is their sound, when uttered, which is important. These are said over and over again, and hence are intimately conneoted with breath control.
There are many such mantras. One of the most famous of these is the single word OM, or more properly AUM. Many subtle symbolic meanings are attached to this word. Often, it is combined with other words, constituting such famous mantras as Aum- Tat Sat Aum; or, Aum Mani Padme Hum. These mantras may be heard chanted by thousands of priests throughout India, Tibet, China, and the orient generally.
We now come to the fifth step or stage, known as Prayahara. In this we begin our mental
exercises proper the first steps being preparatory to this. It means, roughly, meditation. The
yogis contend that, if you want to write anything on a blackboard, the blackboard must be clean. If you wish to write your name in the sand, it must be undisturbed by wind and tide. So, before we can begin to do anything with the mind, strictly speaking, we must first of all learn how to still it, and render it calm and placid.
If you will turn your attention inward, for a few moments, you will probably find that your
mind is like a sea-serpent: turning and twisting in all directions. It is never still an
instant . . .
We can never control the mind so long as this condition lasts. So, the first thing we must learn
is to shut-off the outer senses, and their stimulations, and then turn our attention inward,
upon our mind, and analyze it, learning how to calm and quiet it.
Various exercises are accordingly given for the stilling of the mind. However, it is not made
absolutely negative and blank. Distinctions are made between the various types of meditation; those “with seed,” and those “without seed.” The former is the type we must learn to cultivate. It consists in complete passivity of the mind without, so to say, “letting-go” of the mind. The sense of Self must be retained – without the feeling of Self. This may be difficult to grasp, but an analogy may help to make it clear.
Suppose you are watching a football game. You become excited as you observe it. But you do not say to yourself, “I am excited.” You merely feel the excitement. Yet you feel it! Similarly, you remain, as a sort of background, in these meditation exercises, without actually projecting
yourself into them.
Having now learned how to still the mind, and control it, you begin, in the next stage, to do
something with it; to direct and utilize it. This step is known as Dharana, and means
concentration. One or two simple exercises may be given, by way of illustration.
Draw the picture of (say) a cross heavy black on a white background. Stand this up on a table
where you can observe it. Now look at the cross for several seconds, fixing it firmly in your
mind. Next close your eyes, and try to reconstruct this cross before you in space. Try to see it
with “the mind’s eye.” Your object is to hold it steadily before you in space . . . But, as you
try to do so, you will doubtless notice all sorts of extraordinary things happening! The cross will change its form, its shape,- its color; it will become distorted, or vanish altogether, only to
reappear again a few moments later. All these peculiarities show how your mind “wabbles.” It is not steady and onepointed, as it should be. You have not held your mind fixed firmly on the
object of contemplation.
All these fluctuations in consciousness are technically known as “breaks” – breaks in
consciousness. The number of such breaks is important, indictating your degree of
concentration. Place before you a piece of paper, and hold in your hand a pencil, the point of
which rests lightly upon the paper. Every time your attention wanders, make a little mark upon the paper. Be honest with yourself! See how many such marks you have made at the end of three minutes. You will be surprised! It will show you how badly you need such concentration exercises.
One simple method of checking the number of breaks is to have a number of beads loosely
threaded on a piece of string. Every time your mind wanders, pull over a bead. Count them at the end of your period of concentration. This action is almost automatic, and is performed with a minimum of distraction. This is of course the origin of “telling the beads,” which was practised in the orient hundreds of years B.C. It is indicative of the wanderings of your mind from the object of contemplation.
The seventh stage is known as Dhyana, and this is difficult to describe in simple words. An
analogy will help to make it clearer.
Suppose you are looking at something. At the moment, you are conscious of at least two things – yourself, and, the object you are looking at. But this is an illusion! There are no two things in the universe, in the last analysis: only one thing! The fact that we are apparently conscious of two things shows the fatally erroneous structure of the human mind. Realizing this, you must make an endeavor to become one with the object – to unify yourself with it; and, as you hold the mental image of the object before you in space, willing to merge with it, suddenly a sort of “click” takes place in the mind, and you and the object are no longer two, but one! You have merged with it, or it with you, and you have become one. This is a very rough picture of what is aimed at in this seventh stage.
Finally, in the eighth step, Samadhi, this same sort of union takes place with the Supreme
Consciousness, and you become one with it also. Instead of merging with a simple mental image, you do the same thing with the Greater Mind. When this is accomplished, you become, for the time being, virtually omniscient – since you are in intimate contact with the font of all wisdom and all knowledge. You have “attained.” You have arrived at the Cosmic Conscious state – by means of a perfectly systematic series of physical, mental, psychic and spiritual exercises.
This then is the object of the Yogi. This is his aim and purpose . . .
Now, during the course of this development, certain psychic powers are said to be acquired by the holy man, almost incidentally. He does not seek them especially, but, as the result of his inner training, such extraordinary faculties as telepathy, clairvoyance, the power to foresee the future, the ability to leave the body, or even to die at will (and so forth) are acquired. The development of these psychic powers is not due to the path of development itself so much as to certain added practices which go along with it. In order to understand how this comes about, we must first of all explain certain beliefs held by the Yogis as to the structure of man; for, from our western standpoint, these involve what can only be described as a whole system of mythical physiology and psychology. To the Yogis, however, these beliefs are very real.
To begin with, they assert that there resides, at the base of the spine, a mysterious, vital
power or energy, known as the Kundalini. This is usually symbolized as a serpent, in three-and-a- half coils, with its head erect, like a cobra. It is known as the “Serpent Power.”
Also, there are said to be, within the human body, seven secret Centers, known as Chakras,
which while dormant in those psychically undeveloped – can be roused into activity by the
proper methods. They then become centers of vital, active force. They glow and become alive,
and, with their awakening, various psychic powers are said to be spontaneously acquired.
The first of these centers, as we have said, resides at the base of the spine. The second is
situated at the root of the sexual organ; the third the solar plexus; the fourth near the heart; the fifth in the throat; the sixth between the eye-brows, while the seventh is situated in and just above the head.
All these centers or Chakras are given special Sanscrit names. They are likened to “lotuses,”
having so many petals – the number varying with the various centers. On these petals are depicted animals; and also Sanscrit letters.
The scientist would say: “Where are these various centers? I fail to find them! When dissecting a human body, I can find no trace of any such centers.” But the Yogi would reply, “Of course not. They are not composed of physical matter. They are more properly centers of vital force which, being invisible, cannot be seen upon the operating table.” Yet in a living body they are said to exist . . .
Connecting these various centers are innumerable ramifying channels, like etheric nerves,
known as Nadis. There are said to be some 72,000 of these!
It must be understood that the animals and letters depicted on the various “Petals” are purely
symbolic; they have no physical reality because the petals themselves have no physical reality
either. They are intended to be mere symbols of power. Nor, must it be understood that the
Chakras are in any way identified with the parts of the body indicated (the heart, etc.). They
are thought to reside within the spinal cord; but, to understand how this can be, a further series of physiological suppositions is necessitated.
Inside the center of the spinal cord – according to the Yoga teachings – there is a hollow tube,
and beside it, on either side, are two smaller, subsidiary tubes. The central passage is known
as the Sushumna, and the two smaller ones as the Ida and Pingala.
When this Kundalini power: is roused into activity, it rises up and animates in turn the various psychic centers in the body. With their awakening, the powers we have mentioned come into play.
How is the Kundalini awakened? Well in order to understand this, we must go back to the very beginning of our graduated Course . . . Because of his method of life and his cleansing of the body, the Yogi is enabled to undertake these exercises without discomfort or danger. The suitable asana (posture) facilitates the flow of the “psychic currents,” which are set into activity within the body. During the breathing exercises, prana is inhaled, locked in the lungs, and then directed downward, through the Sushumna, against the lowest of the centers – at the base of the spine. This is accomplished by means of the proper meditation and concentration exercises.
When this energy strikes the lowest center – wherein Kundalini lies sleeping -she wakens into
activity and begins to move upward, gradually awakening in turn the seven chakras (vital
centers). As these are stimulated into activity, in turn, the psychic powers come into play.
These may then be utilized. By continuing the exercises, Cosmic Consciousness is finally
attained. . . .
One or two points of interest may now be mentioned in connection with this system. The first is that, from their standpoint, the allegory of Eve and the serpent, in the Garden of Eden, is
really symbolical of the premature- awakening of the Serpent Power (Kundalini) by some mythical being called Eve. From their point of-view the Biblical story is merely a westernized version of that tragedy.
Then, as these deep breathing exercises are undertaken, various sounds of an internal nature.
are said to be heard. There are seven of these in all: rushing water, a flute, a cymbal, a drum, etc., finally ending in the “Soundless Sound” – “The Voice of the Silence.” These sounds are doubtless due to physiological causes . . .
How much is true and how much mythical in all this teaching? Attempts have been made, during the past few years, to correlate some of these ideas with our western knowledge. Dr. Vesant Rele, for example, gave an address before the Calcutta Medical Society, some years ago, in which he tried to show the relationships between the seven vital centers (chakras) and the known nervous plexuses and ductless glands in the body. Mrs. Alice Bailey did much the same thing in her book “The Soul and its Mechanism.” Dr. Behanan recently subjected himself to detailed scientific study, in a modern laboratory, while undertaking the breathing exercises, etc. . . . There is doubtless much of interest here that could be discovered by a detailed and systematic study of this whole subject.
In connection with the breathing exercises (coupled with the necessary concentration) it is said that several well-defined phenomena may be noted. There are at least four such stages. These are: (1) the body breaks out into a profuse perspiration; (2) everything appears to “go black” before you. That passes off, and then you experience (3) the sensation of hopping about like a frog. If you are sitting cross-legged, this is a curious feeling. Physically you do not move although apparently in some cases you do; but the theory is that you only hop about like this
because the body is not properly balanced. If, they say, it were properly balanced, then,
instead of hopping about, you would go straight up into the air – which is (4) “levitation.” This is accomplished by an internal equilibrium of forces, which tend to offset the pull of gravity, and the levitation of the human body is said to be accomplished by these means.
There are various Breaths: The Sun and the Moon Breaths, etc. Their union constitutes the
“Royal Marriage.” One of these is through the right nostril, the other through the left. So, in
these breathing exercises, they frequently close one nostril at a time, by means of the finger,
so as to inhale through the other nostril. This insures a greater intake of prana, via the Sun or
Moon Breath, as the case may be.
When these Breaths unite a “moisture” is said to be formed in the throat, which is likened to
“nectar.” This tends to drip down the throat and thus become lost. In order to prevent this, the Yogis undertake certain exercises intended to lengthen and strengthen the tongue, so that this can be turned backward, into the throat – thus blocking the passage, and preventing the escape of this precious “nectar.” When dammed-up in this way, it is absorbed by the body, and generates great vital and spiritual powers . . .
There can be no doubt that the Yogis, by reason of their methods of self-discipline, have
acquired an extraordinary degree of control over their bodies and their functions. They can
cause astonishing variations in the beat of the heart, control the flow of blood, control the
activities of the various internal organs place themselves in a state of catalepsy, induce
death at will, etc.
It must not be thought that these Yogis and so-called Holy Men (as distinguished from the fakirs and itinerant performers) are a race of gloomy ascetics, altogether shut-off from the world of reality; for such is by no means the case. Many students have described them as perhaps the healthiest, happiest group of men they have ever known. When not actively engaged in their spiritual exercises, they live normal, relatively social lives. They believe that sound bodily health is the basis and substratum of all sound development, and have only a profound contempt for the road-side fakirs who hold up one arm until it withers, or otherwise castigate their bodies in a series of weird ascetic exercises. The Yogis have an extraordinary command of their bodies and their functionings. They are free of cares and worries; for, if you have nothing worldly to lose, what is there to worry about? They are happy, because they have achieved a certain wisdom and vision, and realize that they are on the Path of Attainment. They are free of fears and inner disharmonies – which, as we all know, are the bases of our individual break-downs, and a destructive element in our civilization. With the elimination of all these factors, why should they not attain happiness – as well as wisdom?
Is it suggested, then, that we should all become Yogis? By no means! In the first place, such a
mode of life is quite unsuited to our civilization; and secondly, it is the author’s contention
that India – and Oriental countries generally – have hindered their progress enormously because of their lop-sided interest and absorption in religious and spiritual ideas. If we pay too little interest to such things – and neglect our inner lives, by reason of our immersion in the material world -they pay too much attention to them, thereby losing touch with concrete
realities. As Bernard Shaw once remarked (in effect): “the result of everyone entering a
nunnery or becoming an ascetic would be just as disastrous as for everyone to become a
murderer or a pickpocket.”