Yoga — now a household word - is still clothed in mystery and misunderstanding. Many students are confused by Sanskrit terms and the many different ‘paths’ of yoga expounded by various schools.
In this concise yet exhaustive volume, now a widely read text for students of yoga and spirituality, the author has clarified the doubts and questions of students from all parts of the world. In his wide travels he has instructed aspirants of every racial and religious group and understood their basic and urgent needs.
Endorsed with forewords from the Vatican and heads of Anglican, Jewish and Sufi faiths, ‘Yoga’ is highly recommended reading for all seekers of truth, saner living and self knowledge.
Swami Venkatesananda, for twenty years a recluse and asetic disciple of the world renown sage Swami Sivananda, spent the next twenty years continuing his service of Guru and humanity, teaching through word and example the ideal of enlightened life: the practice of yoga in a modern context. The most outstanding feature of his life and writings is the simplicity which is reflected in his ‘common sense’ view of our seemingly complex problems.
Swami Venkatesananda’s practical instruction in yoga postures, meditation and the application of yoga philosophy indicate his deep personal knowledge and insight into both the’ teachings themselves and the dynamics of life.
During the first part of my stay in South Africa in 1961, I noticed an intense desire on the part of many Indians and Non-Indians to rediscover for adoption in their own lives a saner2 glue of life. The impact of materialistic civilization made it difficult Sir them to assimilate orthodox teaching as offered in the scriptures; they were not quite satisfied with a complete break-away from tradition into the free-thinker’s bye-lanes where all but the chosen lose their path altogether. For their benefit I prepared a pamphlet "The Handbook of Yoga" —— explaining the orthodox principles I: simpler style, without, however, deviating from tradition. The re-e; use was very encouraging.
When I was in Mauritius in 1963, Mr. K.L. Dassagne of the "Mauritius Times” asked me to contribute a series of articles on Yoga. I based these articles on the former pamphlet, considerably expanding the thoughts, to make them clearer. The results were still; more encouraging. I offer my grateful thanks to Mr. Dassagne and the editor of the "Mauritius Times”, the hon. Mr. B. Ramallah for allowing me the hospitality of their paper.
Since my return to Mauritius in April 1964, I have: as: repeatedly asked to publish all the articles in book form. I have: put them all together and added a few more to make the book comprehensive and offer it at the feet of the lord who dwells in the heart of all earnest seekers after him.
It was a rare spiritual encounter meeting Swami Venkatesananda and it will always remain vivid in my memory and consciousness with a special significance. When I listened to, and ex-changed dialogue with him at many meetings and retreats where we appeared together his beautiful simplicity coupled with abounding wisdom, immediately makes itself manifest. This double essence of scholarship and humanity make Swami Venkatesananda an out-standing teacher. Martin Buber would have called him "a Mensh”, meaning freely, a man of quality in all areas.
In translating this insight and simplicity into his book on Yoga, we get the same inspiration and wisdom from his words as he points out ways to live out and act out the principles of Yoga in the mainstream of living.
His book, interestingly enough, points out similarities to the old movement of Hassidism, and the more current aspect of NEO-HASSIDISM within the Jewish religion which emphasizes worship through JOY, the SINCHA concept, worship through SERVICE, the AVODAH concept, and worship through PURPOSE, or the Kavanah concept. These relate to the faith, acts, and discipline that Swamiji describes so eloquently in his book. When he describes the quest for happiness, meditation and service, it relates to the psychological, existential formula for living and growing on a three—rung “Psycho-Social-Spiritual” basis. This refers to the Me level of personal insight to self-defeating defenses and mechanisms on the un•conscious level, with the commitment of finding out "WHO AM I "and "WHAT AM I FEELIG." It further refers to the I—YOU level of social obligation or my commitment to my fellowman and society or "HOW DO I LOVE" and "HOW DO l GIVE". Finally, it refers to the I - Thou level of spiritual involvement or my dedication to God and my cosmic role in perfecting creation as a partner to God.
Swami Venkatesananda has related powerfully to these basic issues in his book by summing up his teachings on Yoga as promoting "discipline, faith, and social solidarity".
The readers will find this book a personal and spiritual guide and lesson for life enhancement.
In spiritual fellowship personal inspiration and deep respect I relate to this book on Yoga and to Swami Venkatesananda with gratitude.
In the western world today wherever the idea that Yoga is magic has been dispelled, it is regarded as a unique and unparalleled system of physical culture (which it is) and nothing more; which is it not). People who are anxious to save on doctor’s bills, women who are figure-conscious, good-livers who yet want to escape from the tension inherent in their-way of life —- these people practice Yoga but they ignore the fundamental thesis in yoga, the unity of body mind-spirit.
The yogi believes in the ideal of a ‘sound mind in a sound body’ but that is because he knows that body and mind are basically one, a single unit with two poles as it were, that what happens in one inevitably reflects in and affects the other. Yet his ultimate aim is not a ‘body perfect’, because he knows that the body itself is subject to decay and decomposition. It is an instrument worth keeping in good working order while the work lasts. It is a vehicle best to maintain well till it takes him to his destination. The destination is described as self-realisation.
The path to self-realisation has been well and beautifully laid by our ancients. To begin with the physical body is well trained, yet the student of yoga does not pay too much attention to body musculature. Yoga postures exert a profound and salutary influence upon the internal vital organs of the body. Right from here the genius of yoga becomes apparent. Special attention is devoted to that part of the physical and vital anatomy which distinguishes man from the animal kingdom, the brain. Man possesses. A highly developed and complex brain; he only possesses it, but does not always use it! Disused brain atrophies! Gerontologists have discovered that one of the principal causes of failing intellectual powers-.associated with senility is decreased blood supply to the brain. Hence one of the most famous of yoga postures, the siras asana or• the headstand keeps the brain cells charged with energy. It is natural-reputed to arrest mental senility, to improve memory and to preserve intellectual faculties from being impaired even in ripe old age. Taking advantages of the earth’s gravitational pull the yogi’s heart pours an abundant supply of blood into his head recharging the cells strengthening the vital organs in the head such as the eyes and the ears nourishing the all important endocrine glands the pineal and the pituitary. The latter in conjunction with the other glands of the endocrine system is responsible for the emotional balance or imbalance of the personality and hence the yogi enjoys a balanced personality. Almost all of the yoga postures (loosely called exercises) are woven around the backbone to ensure its flexibility and strength. If the backbone is supple the central nervous system is strong and the psychic force called prana circulates freely preventing disease and promoting well being. Some postures look after the endocrine glands. Others squeeze massage and relax and the other vital organs of the body like the abdominal viscera the lungs and the limbs.
Beyond Mind and Body
Modern psychosomatic medicine is beginning to recognize the intimate relationship between mental or emotional states and disease. A tense nervous system and hormonal imbalance brought about by stress and strain, wrong thinking and ill-feeling, can expose the physical body to germs and viruses, whereas a strong nervous system and hormonal balance maintained by the practice of yoga, which includes psychological and emotional order, can neutralize the effects of germs and viruses. Moreover, one who is tense tends to grip and hold these germs and viruses within him!
Yoga promotes well-being. But, this is not just absence of illness. It is a condition that really transcends the body and the mind. This is the purpose of yoga. An athlete or gymnast exercises the body in order proudly to display it; a yogi exercises the body in order to discover the marvellous intelligence that is built into it. An unhealthy body houses a distracted mind which is obsessed by the malfunctioning of the diseased organ. In fact, such malfunctioning is the fruit of man’s ignorance of and crime against the intelligence that fills every cell of the body: when the mind or the will does not interfere, this intelligence functions perfectly (for instance. in deep sleep), and when there is ego-interference and consequent disturbance in balance, the adjustment that the intelligence makes in order to restore the balance is what is popularly known as physical or psychological malfunction or illness. The yogi, while practicing the yoga postures discovers this astounding truth: this inner intelligence is beyond the mind and the ego, and he cannot ‘add a cubit to his stature by taking a thought’. A healthy body looks after itself, freeing his mind for other, more serious work.
Once the yogi is established in this state of well-being, he is able to pursue his spiritual goal unaffected by even physical illness which may be occasioned by other ‘natural’ factors. His body looks after itself, and he looks towards his spiritual goal.
Perhaps this is what ‘mind over matter’ means: here, the ‘mind’ does not refer to the thinking faculty, but to that which beyond it, beyond the ‘me’. This intelligence at once pervades in mind and the body and, therefore, transcends both of them. It’s often known as the self, the spirit, the higher mind, the soul or the indwelling presence.
If the physical part of yoga has been carefully, systematically)` and diligently practiced, the yogi’s mind would naturally be calm and his emotions under control, yet it will not do to take these for granted. Yoga involves strict mental and emotional (moral) discipline, too. While certain breathing exercises called pranayama •the yogi in his control of thought and emotion, he is advised to watch them in their own spheres. The physical practices of yoga without the corresponding effort to control the mind and the‘•• irons fail to achieve anything; because while the yoga postures; onward psychological and emotional order, the willful disturbance of that order in the psychological sphere neutralizes the benefit. Unmindful of this the student of yoga complains that he has made no progress.
When the intelligent control over the mind and the• emotion goes hand-in-hand with the physical postures of yoga and the breathing exercises, the yogi very soon achieves an indescribable peace of mind. This is the very opposite of drug induced peace. The peace of mind that the yogi enjoys is characterized by a conscious experience of inner power, and a powerful experience of consciousness. A still mind reflects the inner spirit in all its divine majesty.
The disturbed mind is opaque. The still mind is transparent and the light of the spirit is radiated through it without the least distortion.
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