Raja Yoga is a system which has been found to be most applicable to the mental and physical conditions in which we live. Raja Yoga has eight principles. These are:
- Yama—non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-receiving of any gifts
- Niyama—cleanliness, contentment, mortification, study, and self-surrender to good
- Pranayama—control of vital body forces
Yama and Niyama
constitute the moral training without which no practice of Yoga will succeed. As this moral code becomes established, the practice of Yoga will begin to be fruitful. The Yogi must not think of injuring either man or animal through thought, word or deed. However, this should not be extended to the limits to which the Jains of India carry it. Their creed forbids them to kill even an insect, and many never bathe lest by placing their bodies in water they may drown some creature living upon them.
Yoga is logical. Its principles are not rules of magic that must be followed without deviation, but general principles that expand to cover the exigencies of any situation.
Before continuing with our discussion of Raja Yoga, we should make a distinction between that school of thought and another, called Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga deals entirely with the body. The sole aim of that school of Yoga is to make the body physically strong. For a strong body, however, you can achieve almost the same effects as those given by Hatha Yoga by enrolling in a gymnasium course at any muscle-building establishment. The exercises of Hatha Yoga are difficult and demand years of steady endeavor. Through this system, it is claimed that a Yogi can establish perfect control over every part of his body. The heart can be made to stop or go at his bidding and can control the flow of blood and the sensations of his nervous system.
The result of this part of Yoga is to make men stronger and to prolong their lives; good health is its one goal. From the point of view of the Raja Yogi, the person who perfects himself in Hatha Yoga is merely a healthy animal. This system does not lead to spiritual growth or give the man help to meet his need for relaxation which is found in Raja Yoga. However, certain aspects of Hatha Yoga have become part of the regime of Raja Yoga. These include some of its exercises, dietary aspects, and disease preventives, which provide the physical state of well-being which enables the proper pursuit of Yoga.
The exercises, or postures, are called asanas. These are a series of exercises which should be practiced daily until certain higher states are reached. They constitute the next stage in Yoga. At first, a posture should be adopted which can be held comfortably for a fairly long time. It has become necessary to adapt the traditional Yoga postures to meet the needs of Western man. While there is no evidence of any physical or physiological difference between the people of the East and West, there are certain acquired differences.
Ours is a civilization in which much time, both at leisure and at work, is spent in a sitting position. In the East, the great mass of people is unfamiliar with the chair in its different forms. Theirs is what might be called a “squatting” culture. Hence muscular development from childhood on is along different lines. Postures in which the Indian naturally relaxes would be torture for the Westerner. The position which is easiest is the proper one to use.
You will discover later that in the carrying out of these physiological matters there will be a good deal of action going on in the body. Nerve currents will have to be displaced and given new channels. New vibrations will begin and the constitution will in effect be remodeled. The main part of the action will lie along the spinal column so that it is necessary to hold the spinal column free by sitting erect and holding the chest, head, and neck in a straight line. Let the whole weight of the body be supported by the ribs and in an easy natural posture with the spine straight. You will find that you cannot think high thoughts with the chest in. Such is the effect on the body of what we call the mind.
Purification of the Nerves
After you have learned to have a firm, erect seat, you should perform a practice called the purification of the nerves. In the words of one of the ancient scriptures, or Upanishads,
The mind whose dross has been cleared away by pranayama becomes fixed in the path of Yoga. first, the nerves are to be purified, then comes the power to practice pranayama.
The technique for this is as follows: stopping the right nostril with the thumb, with the left nostril inhale according to your capacity. Without pausing, exhale through the right nostril, while closing the left one. Now, inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Practice this three or five times at four intervals of the day—on awakening, at midday, in the evening and before going to sleep. Within fifteen days to a month, purity is attained; then begins pranayama.
Practice is absolutely necessary. You may read about Yoga by the hour, but without practice, you will not make progress. We never understand without experience. You will have to see and feel this yourself, as explanations and theories will not do. There are several obstructions to practice. The first is an unhealthy body. You must keep your body in good health. Be careful of what you eat and drink and what you do. Always use a mental effort to keep the body strong. Keep in mind that health is but a means to an end.
The second obstruction is doubt. We always are skeptical about things we cannot see. You will naturally have doubts as to whether there is any truth in this philosophy. With practice, however, even within a few days, the first glimpse will come, giving encouragement and hope. A widely-quoted commentator on Yoga has written:
When one proof is realized, however little that may be, that will give us faith in the whole teachings of Yoga.
If you should concentrate on the tip of your nose, in a few days you will begin to smell the most beautiful fragrance. That will be enough to show that there are certain mental perceptions that can be made without contact with physical objects. Remember, too, that these are only the means. The aim, the goal, the end of this training is the liberation of the soul and freedom from tension and fear. You must be master of your surroundings. Nature or the world about you must not rule you. Never forget that the body is yours, you do not belong to the body.
Pranayama or Breath control
Now, we may consider pranayama, or breath control. What has this to do with concentrating the powers of the mind? Breath is like the flywheel of your living machine. In a big engine, you will find that the flywheel moves first and that motion is conveyed to finer and finer machinery until the most delicate and finest mechanism in the machine is set in motion. Breath is like that flywheel, supplying and regulating the motive power to everything in the body.
Consider that we know very little about our own bodies. We cannot know. Our attention is not discriminating enough to catch the very fine movements that are going on within. We can know them only as our minds enter our bodies and become more subtle. To get that subtle perception, we must begin with the grosser perceptions, thus reaching the mysterious something which is setting the whole engine in motion. That is prana, the most obvious manifestation of which is the breath. Along with the breath, we slowly enter the body, which enables us to discover the subtle forces and how the nerve currents are moving throughout the body. When we perceive and learn to feel these forces, we begin to get control over them and the body.
Pranayama restraining the Prana
The mind is also set in motion by the different nerve currents, bringing us to a state in which we have perfect control over body and mind, making both our servants. Knowledge is power, and to get this power we must begin at the beginning, the pranayama restraining the prana. As you follow this text, you will see the reasons for each exercise and learn which forces in the body are set in motion.
You must practice at least twice a day, preferably in the early morning and toward evening. When night passes into day and day passes into night, there is a state of relative calmness. At those times, your body will also have a tendency to become calm.
Take advantage of these natural conditions and practice then. Make it a rule not to smoke or eat until you have practiced. If you do this, the sheer force of hunger will prevent any tendency to laziness.
If possible, it is best to have a room devoted to your practice of Yoga and to no other purpose. Do not sleep in that room; you must keep it holy. You must not enter the room until you have bathed and are perfectly clean in body and mind. Place flowers and pleasing pictures in the room. Have no quarreling, or anger or unholy thought there.
Allow only those persons to enter who are of the same thought as you are. Eventually, an aura of holiness will pervade that space, and when you are sorrowful, doubtful or disturbed, entrance into that room will make you calm. If you cannot afford a room, set aside a corner; if you cannot do that, then find a place inside your house or out where you can be alone and where the prospect is pleasing.
Sit in a straight posture. The first thing to do is to send a current of holy thought to all creation. Mentally repeat,
Let all things be happy; let all things be peaceful; let all things be blissful.
Do so to the East, South, North and West. The more you do, the better you will feel. You will find that the easiest way to make yourself healthy is to see that others are healthy, and the easiest way to make yourself happy is to see that others are happy. Afterwards, if you believe in God, pray. Do not pray for money, or health, or heaven, but for knowledge and light; every other prayer is selfish.
The next thing to do is to think of your own body and see that it is strong and healthy. Your body is the best instrument you have. Think of it as being adamant. Like a strong ship, it will help you to cross this ocean of life. Freedom is never reached by the weak. Throw away all weakness. Tell your body it is strong; tell your mind so. Have unbounded faith and hope in yourself. By following the instructions above, you will open your mind to the Yogic forces. Another important aspect of Yoga, the postures, will be discussed in a later section.
The Secret of Prana
Pranayama may seem at first to be totally involved with breathing. However, breathing is only one of the many exercises through which we get to the real pranayama or control of the prana. According to old Indian philosophers, the universe is composed of two materials, one of which is called akasa, the omnipresent, all-penetrating existence. Everything that has a form or that is made up of compounds, evolves from the akasa. The akasa becomes air, liquids, solids, the sun, moon, stars, and comets.
It is the akasa that forms animal and plant life. It is everything we see, all that can be sensed and everything that exists. It cannot be perceived, as it is so subtle that it is beyond all human perception. It can be seen only when it has become gross and taken from.
At the beginning of creation, there was only this akasa, at the end of the cycle, solids, liquids, and gases melt into the akasa again, and the next creation evolves from the akasa.
The akasa is manufactured into our universe by the power of prana. Just as Akasa is the infinite omnipresent material of our universe, so is prana the infinite, omnipresent power of this universe. At the beginning and at the end of a cycle, everything becomes akasa and all the forces that are in the universe resolve back into the prana. In the next cycle, out of this prana is evolved everything that we call energy or force.
It is the prana that is manifested as motion, the power of gravity and magnetism. The prana is manifested as the actions of the body, nerve currents and thought. All thought and all physical motion are manifestations of prana. The sum total of all force in the universe, mental or physical, when resolved back to its original state, is called prana. The knowledge and control of this prana are really what is meant by pranayama.
This opens the door to almost unlimited power. Suppose, for instance, one understood the prana perfectly and could control it. What power on earth could there be that would not be his? Many believe he would be able to move the sun and stars out of their places, to control everything in the universe from the atoms to the biggest suns because he would control the vital force of the universe, the prana. When the Yogi becomes perfect, there might be nothing in nature not under his control. All the forces of nature might obey him as his slaves. But let us not reach beyond the stars!
The control of the prana is the one goal of pranayama. This is the purpose of the training and exercises. Each man must begin where he stands, must learn how to control the things that are nearest to him. Your body is the nearest thing to you, nearer than anything else in the universe, and your mind is the nearest of all.
The power which controls this mind and body is the nearest to you of all the prana in the universe. Thus, the little wave of prana which represents your own mental and physical energies is the nearest wave of all that infinite ocean of prana. You must first learn to control that little wave of prana within you. If you will analyze the many schools of thought in this country, such as faith-healers, spiritualists, Christian Scientists, hypnotists, therapists and many psychologists and psychiatrists, you may find that each attempts to control the prana. Following different paths, they stumbled on the discovery of a force whose nature they do not know, but they unconsciously use the same powers which the Yogi uses and which come from Prana.
This prana is the vital force in every being and the finest and highest action of prana is thought. There are several planes of thought. The instinctive thought has been called “conditioned reflex” by Western scholars. If a mosquito bites you, your hand will strike it automatically. All reflex actions belong to this plane of thought. There is also a higher plane of thought, the conscious. Your reason, judge, think, see pros and cons of certain situations.
The reason, however, is limited; its sphere is very small. We are constantly confronted with facts which penetrate our consciousness from the outside, facts which are ordinarily beyond the powers of the reason. The Yogi believes the mind can exist on this higher plane, the superconscious. When the mind has attained to that state which is called samadhi—perfect concentration or superconsciousness—it goes beyond the limits of reason and comes face to face with facts which instinct or reason can never know. Manipulation of the subtle forces of the body, which are different manifestations of prana, if trained, stimulates the mind, which progresses to the plane of the superconscious.
Let us repeat that pranayama has little to do with breathing, except insofar as breathing is an exercise which helps you attain control of the vital forces. The most obvious manifestation of prana in the human body, therefore, is the motion of the lungs. If that stops, all the other manifestations of force in the body will also stop. This is considered to be the principal gross motion of the body. To reach the more subtle, we must utilize the grosser and so travel toward the most subtle. Breath does not produce the motion of the lungs. On the contrary, the motion of the lungs produces breath. Prana moves the lungs, and the motion of the lungs draws in air.
From the explanation above, it can be seen that pranayama is not breathing, but controlling that muscular power which moves the lungs. The muscular power which travels through the nerves to the muscles and from those to the lungs, making them move in a certain manner, is the prana. Once this prana is controlled, we find that other actions of the prana in the body slowly come under control. If we have control over certain muscles, why not obtain control over every muscle and nerve? What stands in the way? At present, control is lost, and the motion has become automatic. We cannot move our ears at will, but we know that animals can. We do not have that power because we do not exercise it. This is what is called atavism.
We know that physical agility which has been lost can be brought back to manifestation. It has been shown, moreover, that by sincere work and practice, it is not only possible but even probable that every part of the body can be brought under perfect control.