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Introduction to Yogasanas

by Swami Sivananda

I bow with folded hands, crores of times, to Brahman, the destroyer of all fears, miseries and tribulations of those who betake themselves to Him, which though absolutely unborn (Aja) appears by the power of His greatness to pass into birth, which appears as if in motion, though always at rest (Achala), and which, though one, (Ekam-eva-advitiyam Brahma) appears as many to those whose inner vision is dimmed by the perception of an endless variety of illusory appearances.

I salute Thee, first Lord Siva (Adinatha), who taught to Parvati the Hatha-Vidya that is a step to the attainment of the most excellent Raja Yoga.

Goraksha and Matsyendra knew well the Hatha-Vidya. Yogi Swatmarama learnt it from them by their favour. To those who wander about in the darkness of this science or branch of Yoga unable to obtain any knowledge of Hatha Yoga, the most merciful Swatmarama Yogi offers the light of Hatha-Vidya.

The goal of life is Self-realisation. All systems of Indian philosophy have one goal in view, the liberation of the soul through perfection.

Every man wants happiness. He shuns pain. No one teaches anyone to seek happiness. It is the innate, inherent Svabhava (nature) of everyone to seek happiness. Ananda is embodiment of one's own nature.

Gratification of desires cannot bring in real peace of mind though the nerves are tickled for a second. Just as ghee when poured over the fire aggravates the fire, so also enjoyment intensifies a desire and makes the mind all the more restless. How can you expect real, lasting happiness from objects that are conditioned in time, space and causation and so are Vinasi (perishable) and Anitya (impermanent)?

The happiness that you get from sensual objects is fleeting and transitory. For a philosopher it is no happiness at all. It is like scratching the skin when you get itching. Sensual happiness is attended with severe exertion, sin, fear, pain, worry and several evils.

Amidst the din and boisterous bustle of worldly activities there come moments of tranquillity and peace when the mind, for the time being, however short it may be, soars above the filthy worldly things and reflects on the higher problems of life-viz., "Who am I? Whence? Where? Whither? Why of Universe?" etc. The sincere enquirer becomes serious and extends his reflections. He begins to search and understand the truth. Discrimination dawns on him. He takes to the study of Atma-Jnana books, reflects, meditates, purifies his mind and eventually attains the highest knowledge of the Self. But the man whose mind is saturated with worldly Vasanas and cravings is quite heedless and is irresistibly carried away by the two currents of Raga-Dvesha and tossed about helplessly in the tumultous Samsaric stream of birth and death with its concomitant evils.

The spiritual path is thorny, precipitous and nevertheless has been trodden by man of strong determination, undaunted spirit and indomitable energy. When once you make up your mind to tread the path, everything will become smooth and easy. You will have descent of Grace from the Lord. The whole spiritual world will back you up. The path will directly take you to realms of Infinite Bliss, Supreme Peace, Eternal Sunshine-realms where three kinds of Tapa, cares, worries, anxieties and fear, which torment the soul here dare not enter, where all distinctions of caste, creed and colour vanish altogether in the one embrace of Divine Love and where desires and cravings find their full satiety.

Just as one and the same coat will not suit Mr. John, Mr. Das or Mr. Pantulu, so also one path will not suit all people. There are four paths to suit people of four kinds of temperament. They all lead to the same goal, the attainment of ultimate Reality. Roads are different but the destination is the same. The four paths that are inculcated for the achievement of this ultimate Truth from the different stand-points of the man of action, the man of devotion, the mystic man and the philosopher or the man of reason, are respectively termed Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

The four paths are not antagonistic to one another, but, on the other hand, they are complementary. They only indicate that the different methods of the Hindu religion are in harmony with each other. Religion must educate and develop the whole man, his heart, intellect (head) and hand. Then only will he reach perfection. One-sided development is not commendable. Karma Yoga removes Mala, purifies the mind and develops the hand. Bhakti Yoga destroys Vikshepa and develops the heart. Raja Yoga steadies the mind and makes it one-pointed. Jnana Yoga removes the veil of ignorance (Avarana), develops will and reason and brings in knowledge of the Self. Therefore one should practise the four Yogas. You can have Jnana Yoga as the centre and the other Yogas as auxiliaries to get rapid progress in the spiritual path.

The word `Yoga' means union between Jivatma and Paramatma (individual soul and Supreme Soul). The science that teaches the way of acquiring this occult knowledge is called Yoga Sastra. Hatha Yoga concerns with the physical body and control of breath. Raja Yoga deals with the mind. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are necessary counterparts of each other. No one can become a perfect Yogi without a knowledge of the practices of both. Raja Yoga begins where properly practised Hatha Yoga ends.

Hatha is considered to be a compound word formed of two syllables `Ha' and `tha'; `Ha' means the moon (Ida Nadi) and `tha' means the sun (Pingala). These correspond to the breaths, which flow through the left and right nostrils. Hatha Yoga teaches the way to unite the sun and the moon, the Prana and Apana through the regulation of breath.

Hatha Yoga is conducive to health and longevity. Its practice regulates the action of heart, lungs and brain. It promotes digestion and circulation of blood. Kidneys, liver and all other internal viscera work efficiently. It removes all sorts of diseases.

This book `YOGA ASANAS' deals with 90 poses of the body with important Bandhas and Mudras and system of Pranayamas, prescribed by the Yoga Sastras. Pranayama goes hand in hand with Asanas. The first two accessories of Yoga are Yama and Niyama. Asana is the third Anga of Ashtanga Yoga, while Pranayama is the fourth Anga. The wise Rishis of yore had formulated these as aids to spiritual culture and preservation of a high standard of health, vigour and vitality.

Ordinary physical exercises develop the superficial muscles of the body only. One can become a Sandow with a beautiful physique. But Asanas are intended for the thorough exercise of the internal organs, viz., liver, spleen, pancreas, intestines, heart, lungs, brain and the important ductless glands of the body which are called endocrine glands, viz., thyroid and parathyroid at the root of the neck, adrenals in spleen, pituitary and pineal glands in brain which play a very important part in the economy of nature, in maintaining health in metabolism and in structure, growth and nutrition of different kinds of cells and tissues of the body.

Detailed instructions regarding the technique of the poses and their illustrations are given in this book so that anyone can practise them easily even by a perusal of it.

India today is in need of a strong and healthy race of men. Various factors have brought about their degeneration. Regular and judicious practice of these valuable exercises prescribed by our Rishis of yore will doubtless pave a long way in regenerating the race and in the production of such a strong and healthy race.

"Sthira-sukham asanam-Posture is that which is firm and comfortable." It should not cause any painful sensation or trouble. If the Asanas are not firm, the mind will be disturbed quickly. You will not have concentration of mind. The body must be firm as the rock. There must not be the least shaking of the body. If the seat becomes firm, you will have progress in your meditation. You will have no consciousness of the body.

In olden days these Asanas were practised in Gurukulas and so the people were strong and healthy and had long life. In schools and colleges these Asanas should be introduced.

The postures are as many in numbers as there are numbers of species of living creatures in this Universe (84 lacs of bodies). There are 84 lacs of Asanas described by Lord Siva. Among them 84 are the best and among these 84, 32 have been found very useful for mankind.

Man has reached his present state after passing through 84 lacs of Yonis (different wombs). A thorough critical study of the human wombs will reveal traces of all different incarnations of the past.

There are some Asanas which can be practised while standing. They are Tadasana, Trikonasana, Garudasana, etc. There are some which can be practised sitting. They are Paschimottanasana, Janusirshasana, Padmasana, Lolasana, etc. Some are practised while lying down. These are Utthanapadasana, Pavanamuktasana. Weak and delicate persons can do Asanas while lying down. Some Asanas such as Sirshasana, Vrikshasana, Sarvangasana, Viparita Karani Mudra, etc., are done with head downwards and legs upwards.

Generally after the age of ten or twelve these Asanas can be practised. People of twenty or thirty years of age perform all Asanas nicely. Practice for a month or two will render all rigid tendons, muscles and bones very elastic. Even old persons can practise all Asanas. They can give up Sirshasana if they are not physically fit. There are persons of advanced age who practise Sirshasana also.

A Vedantin is afraid to do Asanas and Pranayamas on the ground that the practice will intensify Dehadhyasa and militate against his practice of Vairagya. Though the two paths Hatha Yoga and Vedanta are entirely different yet a Vedantin can harmoniously combine Pranayamas and Asanas to his best advantage. I have seen many Vedantins in a sickly condition with very poor physique and dilapidated constitution. They can hardly do any kind of intense Vedantic Sadhana. They may utter "Om, Om, Om," mechanically through lips only. They have not got the strength inside to raise the proper Brahmakara-Vritti from the pure Sattvic Antahkarana. The body is closely related to the mind. A weak, sickly body means a weak mind also. If the Vedantin does a little practice of Pranayama and Asanas to keep up his body and mind strong and healthy, he can do very good Nididhyasana and turn out efficient spiritual work. Though the body is Jada (insentient) and useless, yet it is an important instrument for Self-realisation. The instrument must be kept clean, strong and healthy. This body is a horse for you to take you to the goal. If the horse tumbles down you cannot reach the destination. If this instrument breaks down, you will not reach the goal of "Atma-Sakshatkara."

The purification is acquired by the regular performance of six practices (Shat Karmas), viz., (1) Dhauti, (2) Basti, (3) Neti, (4) Nauli, (5) Trataka and (6) Kapalabhati.

Asana or posture gives strength. Mudra gives steadiness (Sthirata). Pratyahara gives calmness (Dhairya). Pranayama produces lightness of body. Dhyana gives perception (Pratyakshatva) of Self. Samadhi gives isolation (Nirliptata) or Kaivalyam which is verily the freedom or final beatitude.

Since the dawn of history, various extraordinary phenomena have been regarded as happening amongst human beings. In the West the experiences of many religious persons have been recorded under the heading "Cosmic Consciousness." Expert Occultists demonstrated the phenomenon of separating the astral body from the physical body. Some surface scientists, if unable to explain the various extraordinary Yogic phenomena, try to ignore them. Many sensible scientists are endeavouring to study, investigate and generalise such extraordinary phenomena, which are the outcome of rigid Yogic practices. Man can control his inner and outer nature and transmute himself into Divinity.

Late Trailinga Swami of Varanasi, Jnanadeva of Alandi, Raja Bhartrihari, Chang Dev had all raised themselves to Godhead through Yogic Sadhana. What one has attained can be achieved by every one of us, if we earnestly strive to get at it. It is a question of supply and demand. The supply will come at once, if there will be a keen demand for the same. The question is: "Do you demand God? Are you spiritually thirsty and hungry?"

May Joy, Bliss, Immortality, Peace, Poise, Glory and Splendour abide in you all for ever!

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