Yoga is for Everyone
by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda) (excerpted from the book: The Art and Science of 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 body.
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 inharmony 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 doctors.
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.” Approach the postures with an attitude of peace.