"Simply the best"
You may have heard Tina Turner sing that phrase, for all it is worth.
There is good yoga and other forms of yoga. The term 'yoga' covers a lot of practises and ways of living, even a philosophy of life. Among Westerners, it typically means body postures, with breathing exercises added, and maybe some easy parts of higher yoga, which is also caller yoga-meditation. There are many books about it - dozens on dozens.
All in all, good yoga can bring many benefits. You might wonder which forms of "body yoga" are wise to learn. Some of the easier ones. Not just any easy posture, but a well tailored program of simple and carefully tailored postures, so that their effects in turn help one another and form a well rounded whole - which means an easy programme.
If Maharishi's small pamphlet, Yoga Asanas (yoga postures) were available at an affordable price, I would perhaps say, "Run and buy it." What then? There are student courses based on it. Such courses are taught in India, Iowa, and the Netherlands, for example. The effects matter. I quote something from a hospital in India:
The daily practice of ten minutes of Yoga Asanas followed by five minutes of Pranayama and about thirty minutes of Deep Meditation as taught by the Centers of Transcendental Meditation all over the world is recommended to those who seek the harmonious development of body, mind and soul.
The program of traditional yoga postures referred to above, has been taught since the 1950s to "restore the life force, promote health and maintain normal conditions in the body," keeping the body flexible too. As it is stated in the same pamphlet: "Even though at the present time you feel healthy enough, with these Yoga Asanas you will find yourself feeling better and in a more heightened state of energy and stability of mind," and "No change in diet is needed for health and strength if your usual diet agrees with you." The advice is to "spread a woolen blanket on the floor" and run through the program in ten minutes or so. It may be as easy as that.
Maybe you are lucky and get the pamphlet, and maybe not. As you try, you might come to wonder whether William Sands' Maharishi's Yoga: The Royal Path to Enlightenment from 2013 goes into a program of yoga postures. No, that book teaches yoga philosophy.
There are many good reasons for taking up yoga and meditation
Stress does much harm in modern times. It is a sad and much supported fact. Yoga and meditation may amount to reduce stress and bulwark against future accumulations of it. There is statistically had evidence that some forms of meditation help against stress, among other things. You may study the evidence, as evidence or clear facts rise above motivational talk. [◦ TM, Main page] - [◦ TM research at David Orme Johnson's pages] - [◦TM research presented at the David Lynch Foundation, with educational perspectives in front]
One of the benefits of good yoga is greater poise. The books I have gathered at bottom, are meant to assist practical yoga work, also for the beginner, and little more than that. One is to consider the rewards of the disciplines that go into it. Some come quickly and others come fast . . . and some accrue over some time, almost unnoticed first.
There is a need for sound moral living to go along with one's yoga methods, gurus teach. Regardless of that, it may be sensible to go for good meditation anyhow, for it can be a paramount means to change on'es life. For example, maybe you get inspired from within to adjust your steps a little or stand tall, all for the benefit of future living. Who knows?
The reasons for doing yoga vary. Some resort to yoga asanas to deal with stress. Others take up more comprehensive yoga to improve the quality of life, and still others meditate for spiritual growth.
Yoga may be easily divided into:
There is more to the term 'yoga' though: The Yoga system in Indian philosophy is a traditional philosophical school, among five other orthodox Hindu philosophies. However, from antiquity there have been many and different schools of yoga.
And yoga has changed over the centuries. Some things have been added to it, and other things pushed more or less aside. Thus, all the features of Vedic Yoga may not be taught nowadays, as indicated by the books Yoga Yajnavalkya and Gherand Samhita. And some features that are taught now - including love yoga, or the bhakti way of yoga, were not even mentioned in Vedic times. Yes, there have been additions and in part a drift of focus in some respects. But sex yoga within tantric yoga, on the other hand, existed in ancient times, and delight some still. (WP, sv. "Tantra")
The best things are practical and very simple: Sound meditation and gentle yoga asanas (postures) pair well. Among the practical ways, none has helped me better than those of TM, ◦Transcendental Meditation, and the well selected yoga asanas that come with it as an auxiliary in Maharishi's program.
Good meditation and yoga need a sensible you to work well - for your benefit and nothing worse than that. And that is what the rest of this article is about.
◎ Yoga postures and meditation are fit for many, and are key elements in different schools of yoga.
Yoga is getting popular in the industrialised society. More than 10 million Americans practice yoga, and some doctors are prescribing it to combat medical conditions. You can find yoga classes and yoga schools and much else in very many large cities, and students take classes on yoga.
Thus, millions have learnt yoga postures, yoga breathing and yogic meditation, in part due to documented effects in certain ways. For example, yoga has been shown to bring on good relaxation, and to alleviate several chronic health conditions: stress, anxiety, arthritis, diabetes, pain, hypertension, and asthma.
Yoga exercises (poses, postures, asanas) comprise a series of slow, gentle and sloven-looking stretches that gradually may increase in complexity as the student becomes firmer and more flexible. Experts advise people to go easy to avoid injury. Most yoga classes may consist of 9-12 gentle poses, follow up with a little gentle breathing practice, and end with meditation. A Sanskrit word for meditation, dhyana, is meditation (see glossary).
◎ Many take up yoga postures, and some go on with added meditation practises.
Look to a simple-looking cat. It sleeps fairly easily in many sorts of settings; it masters how to streeetch measuredly and well in between, many times. It listens very well and is not afraid to use its claws when that matters.
Much yoga can be learnt from studying a friendly cat.
Yoga and Its Benefits
Scores of worthwhile research studies on yoga have shown that practice of yoga can bring many benefits. In the West, yoga programmes have been used most often to enhance health and well-being, regardless of the origins of postures, breathing exercises and meditation methods.
A typical yoga session in the United States may last twenty minutes to an hour. To practice daily at home will be fit for many, although beginners normally do well to attend classes and get favourable instructions through them. There are things that are more easily accomplished that way. One should have an effective yoga program and stick to it for ten months, for example.
Easy, gentle postures may pave the way for more difficult ones. Movements are to be slow, calm and well contained. One is not to stretch beyond what is comfortable. Along with the poses, it is very good to learn to breathe deep in the abdomen. There are very simple, beneficent methods.
After the possible breathing program comes the relaxation or meditation drill. There are many ways of meditation. We suggest you learn the most efficient of the beneficent ones, if you can find them. Let sound research help you.
Two Aims so far
Yoga can be used for general relaxation and/or for combating some sorts of chronic diseases. The first benefit from good beginner's yoga could be reduction of the level of stress through calming down a bit. After that there could come an improvement in concentration, perhaps.
There are several further levels of yoga instruction and so-called deeper aims (higher aims) too. We leave such aims and postulated levels aside for now, in order to furnish a survey.
◎ Deep meditation is fit for many.
'Yoga' is a Sanskrit word. It means literally 'yoking' and is akin to Latin jungere, to join, and denotes 'union'. Today the word represents:
◎ Able yoga teachers teach a series of essential methods.
Yoga consists of (1) methods, (2) lore and teachings, and (3) givers (dispensers) of methods and likely interpreters of traditional teachings.
Enculturation and Good Yoga Practices
If you get ill after you take up meditating, it is easy to blame the method, the teachings, or the teacher - or yourself. But the loom of the large society could be the biggest culprit at the bottom. Few think of that. Kahlil Gibran says these memorable words in ◦The Prophet:
When the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.
Often the yoga teachers hold views and interpret lore to confirm their own prestige or power over followers in the end. In some circles there is a demand for a different enculturation (enculturation: the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values). When the enculturation that goes on, deviates considerably from the enculturation of the large society the dissonance may cause problems or bring into the open the suppressed problems of some members of the large society.
One should take into account more than one possible cause of problems. The individual's state, his or her general adaptations, and the stances taken by the group that teaches yoga - all three tend to work together. In any case severe troubles may be due to one or more of these three. It is too superficial to blame it all on the techniques, the teachings, the effects of one's niche in the large society (country and culture), and on oneself wholly. Discernment is a boon against being fooled by troublesome and superficial reports too. One should not jump to conclusions.
It stands to reason that it is good to take advantage of one's opportunities and long-range possibilities, getting a decent education, acquire skills and methods that help good living, to bulwark and prevent and go against stress and results of stress. Neat meditation and yoga do fit in - they are mainstream in the United States by now. The art of living consists in finding out how to fit them in to greatest benefit.
If a meditator experiences great trouble from doing his or her methods, we suggest a medical or psychological examination, dropping the meditation for some time - or meditating less - till the problems are solved. There are many mentally unhealthy guys in Norway: One fifth of the population could need to be hospitalized, and a brief stay in a mental hospital might do good to another another twenty percent, and many of the others are not completely well eithers, is a current estimate by professor Nils Retterstøl. Abaham Maslow has studied what marks healthy persons, unique guys. They differ from the average, but not all that differ from the average do it in a healthy, normal way. To the contrary. To sum it up: Mad guys - undiagnosed or otherwise - are to refrain from meditation to be on the safe side and avoid that latent diseases break out and so on. Safety first is a neat slogan. And there are not as few mentally troubled guys as formerly thought. It should pay to study Maslow's research findings.
It may NOT pay to give up independence and valuable assets if the guru you have put your trust or faith in, talks of power, adheres to power and goes for power. It might mean power over you too, and lessening your worth.
Along with methods and teachings, you should deal with what surrounds or comes along with the beneficent teachings and methods. Getting involved with a guru dynasty, guru followers and an enforced enculturation of outlooks and regulations that bring on difficulties later, may not be all right. You have to learn to inspect, thus. Don't find out too late, like the women who got married to a werewolf husband [madman] in a recurrent folk tale.
◎ It is a fool who forgets himself. (Ein rechter Narr, der sich selbst vergißt) (German proverb, in Beyer and Beyer 1996:417)
A - Exercises and Methods
Many yogis advocate a systemic build-up of practices. The most known system is found in an old work, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. We bring it on-line, allied with a practical commentary: [Link]. We also give detailed instructions on how to meditate.
B - Yoga Philosophy
In ancient India there were many schools of philosophy. Six of them are called orthodox, and the yoga philosophy is one of them. It closely resembles the Sankhya philosophy, with one difference: The Yoga philosophy has room for a God, in the form of Iswara, (Light-Lord), whereas Samkhya does not include anything about a God. These two systems may be handled together for practical purposes.
These two philosophies purport to delineate how the universe is made from inside out. In so doing they use constructs (concepts) that are beyond methodical investigations, and call for faith: gunas, deep abstract qualities, are three of them, ether, akash may be another. Hence these philosophies postulate things that may not be proved or falsified. One should be made aware of that.
In ancient India there were other lines of thinking too. Non-orthodox philosophies include the Carvaca school of materialism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The six orthodox Hindu philosophies that recognised the authority of the Vedas [Deussen, 1966; Chatterjee and Datta, 1968]
In our days, many yoga practices and outlooks of the ancient days have been "brushed aside" to the preference of Vedanta teachings. Vedanta, which means "the end of the Vedas", is another orthodox Hindu philosophy, with very many forms and facets.
C - Yoga Modes or Yoga Ways
In whatever yoga practice, there is an element of training. One may profit much by keeping it up in culinary ways, minding the ways of athletic training, where progress may be a "fruit" of methodical and good enough traning over some time. Focus and accuracy is thought to work well. A little practice may help too.
There are still other yoga modes, but many favoured methods could be incorporated in the ones listed above. Leaving out the dross, which seems to include battering-dreamy love yoga attempts aside, insistent gulping of great-looking phrases as in base jnana yoga, or working for no benefit to yourself or your home, as in misguided karma yoga, you may be freed to go for methods that make a difference, after all.
◎ Little yoga theory is needed for calm and essential practice.
There are good adaptations and not good adaptations. In between them are many adaptations without much value. Adaptations are also of many degrees. It is too easy for a newcomer to respond in not good enough ways, once he has conformed to the organization that presents the ways of yoga and promises results -
Relevant yoga practice may be more of a both-and and an either-or, and there is nothing wrong with that, per se (in itself): But still try to adapt yoga teachings and methods to yourself, your predominant conditions and so on. If not, you may be in for troubles. Many are "washed up" thereby; they are told and exhorted to conform and adapt to the urges and wishes of guru bosses and their vicars, and as a result of what is set up and its pressures, many may lose favourable, personal assertiveness. One should guard against losing it and refrain from dropping main human rights in order to please others much too much.
◎ Elementary and sanity-helping yoga knowledge is not barred from a beginner.
Yoga is found in other religions than Hinduism. Zen comprises yoga too. One does not have to be a believer to practice beneficent methods of yoga and Zen. Old Taoism had methods of meditation too, but they were largely destroyed during the reign of a certain emperor of China. Some think they are confluent with the better Zen teachings.
It is possible to blend good methods from different cultures. For example, one does not have to be a Buddhist to profit from Buddhist meditation methods [cf. Ns, Sim, etc.]. Much depends on what sorts of yoga you come across to begin with, and what yoga teachers and teachings.
◎ Be careful a long way: Inspect much before committing yourself, so as to avoid future distress: Advances are different from hindsights -
Yoga has a historical background, and is from a culture that in some respects are different from ours. Different values are often advocated, including renouncing this and that. Society today is not very helpful for those who turn themselves into beggars or monks through old yoga injunctions. Many of the injunctions are not helpful in general, either. Thus, if you love onions, keep up having them for dinner, no matter what one old yoga book, the Hatha-Yoga Pradhipika says in the matter.
There is another side to yoga that may be good to consider. Let us say someone, or Jeder, is stressed and lonely in a big city. He learns that yoga helps against stress and promotes well-being, so he attends the nearest yoga class and finds that it benefits him. He is now able to endure more. Yes, in the long run, maybe.
Could there be any possible negative side to that?
Modern life is tough, and if practice of yoga leads to neglect of training and benefitting oneself better (above), something could go wrong. That is a main point. Therefore we get suspicious when old and honoured yoga scriptures hail abandoning oneself wholly and leave things to Krishna and others. And in Indian scriptures there are other ways to proceed, favourable ways, that is.
So we say,
Let becoming self-esteem aided by sensible enough self-help yoga go on against all too many possible abuses; they are not just cognitive ones.
Cults find their ways into the lives of persons who are not on guard against losing control. Some leader abuse can grow by strong-looking but self-help maiming decrees from the onset. There is that nasty risk.
◎ Some ways of living may rise above isolated yoga practice, but why not let it become a both-and matter? Incorporate sensible yoga ways in your life if you feel for it. Then some things could become different.
Cordell Hull was an extremely cautious speaker, striving always for scientific accuracy. One day on a train, a friend pointed to a fine flock of sheep grazing in a field.
"Look, those sheep have just been sheared," he said.
Hull studied the flock. "Sheared on this side, anyway," he admitted.
◎ Hull shows the realistic spirit that tends to make sane enough attainments possible in yoga and otherwise.
◎ The clever realist could have to show his good sides in daily life as well.
If you learn mind-yoga, that is, methods of calm focus and holding the attention riveted in beneficial ways, you may discover after some months that your interests widen. That could be good for you. It often shows up. There is a need to take care as well, for some exploit people.
Aurobindo, Sri, and the Mother. 1959. A Practical Guide to Integral Yoga. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Aurobindo, Sri. 1997. Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, 1997.
Aurobindo, Sri. 1999. The Synthesis of Yoga. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press.
Beyer, Horst, und Annelies Beyer. Sprichwörter Lexikon. Weyarn: Seehamer, 1996.
Brown, Christina. The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Postures. London: Godsfield, 2003.
Chatterjee, Satischandra, and Dhirendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. 7th ed. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1968.
de Michelis, Elizabeth. 2005. A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism. Paperback ed. London: Continuum.
Deussen, Paul: The Philosophy of the Upanishads (Reprint of Clark's 1906-ed). New York: Dover, 1966.
Evans, Mark, John Hudson, Paul Tucker. The Peaceful Arts: Meditation. Yoga. Tai Chi. Stretching. Lorenz ed. London: Lorenz Books, 1999.
Goleman, David. The Varieties of the Meditative Experience. London: Rider, 1975. ⍽▢⍽ Goleman attempts to provide and overview or synthesis of many forms of meditation, at a time when there was less research into the various outcomes of different forms of meditation.
Hewitt, James. 1991. The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Meditation and Posture. London: Rider, 1991. ⍽▢⍽ A comprehensive encyclopedia of yoga, illustrated with pen drawings, and very fit for practical outcomes. It comes with programmes and the encouraging "the quality of our sex life, as well as its vitality, is enhanced by Yogic exercises and controls (etc.)." (p. 151).
Madsen, Børge. 2013. Why Yoga? A Cultural History of Yoga. London: MadZen Press.
Mallinson, James, tr. 2004. The Gheranda Samhita: The Original Sanskrit and an English Translation. Woodstock, NY: YogaVidya.com.
Mallinson, James, and Mark Singleton, trs, eds. 2017. Roots of Yoga. Paperback ed. London: Penguin Classics. ⍽▢⍽ Core teachings of yoga in the words of their authors, with passages from the Upanishads, the Buddhist and Jaina traditions, the yoga sections of the Indian Tantras, and many more texts. Texts of the Indian traditions of yoga are dealt with.
Mohan, A. G., tr. 2013. Yoga Yajnavalkya. 2nd ed. Svastha Yoga. ⍽▢⍽ The very welcome work shows a wider range of accommodation options than the Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
Niranjanananda, Swami. 2009. Prana and Pranayama. Munger, Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust.
Nolini, Kanta Gupta. 1955. The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Sands, William F. 2013. Maharishi's Yoga: The Royal Path to Enlightenment. Fairfield IA: Maharishi University of Management Press. ⍽▢⍽ One of the most rewarding books on yoga ever.
Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. 2008. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. 4th ed. Munger, Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust.
Shrand, Joseph A., with Leigh M. Devine. 2012. Manage Your Stress: Overcoming Stress in the Modern World. New York: St. Martin's Press. ⍽▢⍽ Stress is a common lot in a industral society, and a cause of millions of diseases, even deaths, if much stress goes on too long and is not handled well. ◦Transcendental Meditation goes against stress. There is research on it.
Sinha, Phulgenda. 1980. Yogic Cure for Common Diseases. Rev. and enlarged ed. Delhi: Orient Paperbacks.
Sivananda, Swami. 2004. Yoga Asanas. 13th ed. Rishikesh: The Divine Life Trust Society.
Svatmarama. 1972. Hathayogapradipika. Madras: Adyar.
Svatmarama. 1992. Hatha Yoga Pradipika. London: Aquarian Press.
Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh. 1965. Yoga Asanas. Los Angeles: Spiritual Regeneration Movement. ⍽▢⍽ The most rewarding program of yoga asanas (poses) I've been into.
Whicher, Ian, and David Carpenter, eds. 2003. Yoga: The Indian Tradition. London: RoutledgeCurzon.
Wile, Douglas. 1992. Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics Including Women's Solo Meditation Texts. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ⍽▢⍽ A source book in Chinese sexual yoga and sexual practices.
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