The Elements of Yoga

AutorDevereux, Godfrey
PealkiriThe elements of yoga / Godfrey Devereux
IlmunudShaftesbury : Element, 1994
ViideDevereux, Godfrey 1994. The Elements of Yoga. Shaftesbury: Element.

The methods of yoga are many and encompass a number of systems, or paths, each with a different emphasis. What makes them yoga is their common purpose, similar effects and shared result. Their purpose is to liberate the individual from unnecessary confusion and pain. Their effect is to generate a quietening and refining of the mind. Their result is peace, joy and happiness in a rich, fulfilling life. In effect yoga is a science of skilful living rather than a religion, it is practical rather than hypothetical. (Devereux 1994: vi)
I have noticed that when I exercise and/or jog, I spend my surplus energy on the body and have less to spend on worrying about minute stuff (but also, less energy to read books, for example). I've noticed all these alleged effects of yoga while doing basically anything physical. I'm getting into yoga now because I think this might be a way to exercise without spending too much energy; to train my body without losing the ability to concentrate on my readings. Stretching and breathing exercises seem to be ideal for my current purposes.
Whoever begins yoga and continues regularly and consistently will soon benefit from its fruit. These include suppleness, strenght, energy, good posture, improved respiration, circulation and digestion, bright and clear eyes, smooth and shining skin, even muscle tone, normalized body weight, perceptual and verbal clarity, concentration, tranquility, self-confidence, openness, honesty, temperance, enthusiasm, appreciation and gratitude. It gives one the means and the desire to live life fully, to engage directly with the flavours and textures of life with enthusiasm and joy. However, yoga has a very different curve of progress for each individual. Some people progress physically faster than they progress psychologically, and vice versa. Yoga is more truly about the mind than the body and one should avoid establishing unrealistic goals and mileposts based on what one would like or has seen in others. If it makes you happy about yourself it is working, no matter how much or little flexibility, strenght or stamina you develop. These will come with time and practice. (Devereux 1994: vii-viii)
All's well and good. Perceptual and verbal clarity sound doubtful, but whatever. I'll still give it a whirl.
Yoga means union. As the goal and fruit of yoga it means union of the individual with the universal, the self with other, inner with outer, finite with infinite.
Samadhi refers to the state of consciousness in which liberation is experienced, through extinguishing the movements of the mind caused by desire, confusion and attachment. It is the ultimate state of consciousness, the final fruit of yoga. In it there is neither suffering, nor attachment, nor illusion. There is only the bliss of freedom from limitation and identification of the finite self with the infinite reality.
Moksha means liberation. Often it is thought that yoga is a flight from the world. This is not so. Yoga is a journey into the heart of the world. It is not the world that we leave behind in yoga, but our illusions, our preconceptions about it, especially our deluded sense of our self as separate from God, as apart from all other elements of existence. Free from illusions we become one with the entire universe.
Kaivalya means aloneness. This refers to the fact that when one has become one with God, one with the whole of existence, there is no other, and so one is all alone. This does not imply solitude or loneliness. In it the singular interconnectedness of all is realized. (Devereux 1994: X)
I know from other sources that "union" is a very one-sided interpretation, etymologically it is more close to yoke or rope (hey! these even sound alike!). Reaching the state of consciousness without movements of mind... a negative interpretation would be that yoga makes you stop thinking. And I don't agree at all that our sense of self as separate from God is deluded. Rather, the sense of being one with the whole of existence is deluded: either we are one with the whole universe to begin with or it is impossible; no amount of stretches, breathing exercises and feeling or belief is going to change that. This religious side of yoga is starting to annoy me so I'm gonna see what google:define has to say about these terms:
  • define:yoga - A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, etc.
  • define:samadhi - A state of intense concentration achieved through meditation, at which union with the divine is reached.
  • define:moksha - In Indian religions, Moksha (Sanskrit: मोक्ष ') or Mukti (Sanskrit: मुक्ति), literally "release"...
  • define:kaivalya - Kaivalya, which is the ultimate goal of yoga, means solitariness or detachment..
Welp, now I'm doubting if I can get into yoga because the spiritual stuff repulses me.
Patanjali is often regarded as the father of yoga. However, the Hindu god Siva is traditionally regarded as the source of esoteric yogic knowledge. Many of the tantras, agamas and other works begin by stating that the information contained within was given by Siva to his consort Parvati. In one instance he was overhear by the king of fishes, Matsyendra, who subsequently took on human form and bevame the founder of Hatha Yoga. The popular Hindu god Krishna is the source of yogic teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, referring especially to the paths of devotion and action. (Devereux 1994: 9)
Neat: the variety that on the surface seems most sensible, has the most absurd origins story.
Similar to the Yoga panishads are a collection of manuals describing the beliefs, rituals and practices of Tantric Yoga. Howevery they focus more closely on the techniques of awakening the shakti power of the kundalini. This involves physical and psychic concentration inside the spinal column. They also include detailed descriptions of the subtle energy body, the chakras (energy centers) and andis (channels of energy throughout the body). They also claim that in this age of materialistic delusions Tantric Yoga is the only yoga powerful enough to awaken us from the thrall of our delusions. (Devereux 1994: 11-12)
Dammit, book, you're not making very much sense. This sentence could very well mean "the sperm-producing powers of the groin". Help me, Google, let me be one with you:
  • define:shakti - The female principle of divine energy, esp. when personified as the supreme deity.
  • define:kundalini - (in yoga) Latent female energy believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine.
I wasn't even that far off.
It [Svatmarama, the most respected Hatha Yogo text) outlines seven limbs of yoga practice: purification, posture, gesture, internalization, breath control, contemplation, ecstasy. (Devereux 1994: 12)
Thus, for all intensive purpose, yoga is a tentative hindu etiquette.
Many people think that yoga is a withdrawal from the world in which a detachment is cultivated which leads to isolation. Although this may be the effect of faulty practice it is not the intention of yoga. Yoga means union, not separation. The underlying psychology of yoga is sophisticated but simple. A key concept is illusion, or maya. Maya is a sanskrit term which refers to the unreal world in which we life. Many have taken this to mean that the world in which we live - of material bodies, birth and death - is not real.
In fact maya refers to the tendency of our minds to develop and hold on to conceptual images. These images result from past experience held in our memories. Every experience tends to be stored as a tapestry of images which feed off and into those remaining from other experiences. Long before childhood is over we have built up a complex, sophisticated web of images in our mind. This web is so powerful that we begin to impose it between ourselves and our experiences. When we do this we are no longer experiencing reality. Instead we are projecting an image, based on our past experience, and are living in a world of abstract images rather than concrete reality. This is the illusion of maya. (Devereux 1994: 28)
This also sounds very familiar to the semiotic modelling a la Sebeok and Danesi.
Yoga allows us to cut through the frozen web of images that suggests a separation of subejct and object, of self and other, and access the experience of life directly. We learn to live without the filter of the mind's projections, in and as the electrifying energy of each moment. (Devereux 1994: 30)
Oh, so yoga teaches you to live in and as energy that attracts small particles. Hmm, that's interesting, says the critical reader sarcastically.
Asana, the third limb of yoga, is a term describing the series of physical postures which are an integral part of the practice of yoga. However, there is a subtle but profound difference between yoga asana and a stretch exercise: the former is characterized by a combination of physical alignment and mental awareness, whereas the latter is merely a gymnastic exercise. By establishing the correct alignment of each part of the body, only achieved by directing the attention inwardly throughout the whole body, posture becomes asana. (See pp. 78-103, where the asana postures are described and illustrated.) (Devereux 1994: 43)
I fail to see this subtle difference as something important. Rather I see an ideological practice of denying "merely gymnastic exercises" the quality of mental awareness. As if gymnastic exercises don't require conscious effort to pull off correctly. Personally, I consider this extra "mental awareness" - in the "profound" sense meant here - to be unnecessarily spiritualistic. These very same (stretching and breathing) exercises are available on the internet without any notion of "union with God". What differentiates ordinary exercises from yoga is that the latter has a prestigious qality of being exotic, spiritual, mystic, "different"; yet unnecessarily so. These "asanas" can help my health and I'm not going to be drawn into something I don't believe in just because these exercises were so thoroughly recorded in foreign and/or religious language. I am all for secular yoga.
The actual experience of meditation is to cultivate a profound, living awareness of the mechanisms of our mind. Thereby we begin to lose our attachment to habitual thought patterns, mind states, emotions and ides, which we cling to as a means of identifying ourselves in external noises. We simply observe the pattern and tendency of our mind. We notive our response to external stimuli. But we do so openly, generously, without evaluation, judgement or analysis. We just observe and allow. In effect the process of meditation is one in which we make friends with ourselves in a very deep way. This we do by refraining from any tendency to criticize, judge, deny or repress the activity of our minds. (Devereux 1994: 48-49)
A note on how to meditate and achieve "unity" with oneself.
Many people assume that because yoga is not always a form of moving exercise it does not develop stamina. In fact it requires much more strenght and muscular stamina to execute a posture slowly than fast. By holding the postures when they have become more comfortable muscular stamina is developed very quickly. Stamina is especially developed by the standing and inverted postures - the latter often being held for half an hour at a stretch. When postures are connected together into a flowing sequence, as in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the development of cardiovascular stamina is rapid and impressive. (Devereux 1994: 63)
Well, this is comforting/encouraging.


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