Hatha Yoga

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes, Students

[Posted by Allexandra Beatty for AMST 838/438, “America Collects Itself”]

Hatha Yoga: The Yogi Philosophy of Physical Well-Being with Numerous Exercises by Yogi Ramacharaka (Chicago, Ill.: Yogi Publication Society, 1904)

imageMost medical treatises written in 1904 would rarely seem relevant in any contemporary discussion of health and wellness.  After all, is it not the case that the most popular explorations into the secret to wellbeing and happiness depend precariously on some sort of scientific discovery?  Surprisingly, and out of the pages of history, Hatha Yoga by Yogi Ramacharaka offers a scientific and spiritual answer to many current health and wellness questions.  Within the pages of this 110-year-old text are explorations of the correlation between the mind and body—analyses of the synchronic relationship between energies, thoughts, and mental attitudes and their physical manifestations.

Rather than delving into a list of common ailments and their scientific root cause, this book reshapes the perception of health and wellness from a focus on disease, to a focus on maintaining balance and order in the natural state of existence.  Here, the body serves as a vehicle, as a Temple of the Spirit, to be used as an instrument of soul growth.  Yogi Ramacharaka points to two Principles of the Vital Force that guide one’s state of health.  The first is Self-Preservation, which “moves us along in the direction of health, as surely as does the influence within the magnetic needle make it point due north.” (26).  The second is Accommodation, meaning our constant navigation through the ever-increasing technological and industrial complications that distract the body and mind from its natural state.  We are living in a time where natural living becomes disturbed.  Sleep, stress, eating, and health are all out of balance and prioritized improperly.  Instead, we must allow the Vital Force to flow freely through the body, in the most natural of ways, returning to the most basic, simple, and undisturbed way of nature, in order to decrease the gap between the mind and body.  Eliminating the dichotomy between mind and body, or spirit and form, will allow for a more synchronous life.  As the mind and body become one—adopting the natural order of things whereby the body acts as a conduit for the spirit—the Vital Force igniting one’s existence will blossom.

The chapter titled, “The Laboratory of the Body” deals with the most fundamental physical elements of the human form—teeth, salivary glands, tongue, stomach, blood, skeletal system, and so on.  Yogi Ramacharaka points to the importance of understanding the functionality of the body, as one needs to maintain the machine in order to attain a higher spiritual state of mind.  As such, several chapters are dedicated to the structure and functions of the body, paying particular attention to the intended functions of the digestive, circulatory, and breathing systems.  All three are explained pseudo-scientifically, bearing both diagrammatic and spiritual descriptions.  As such, these sections connote the proper and improper uses of the body, highlighting the negative effects of improper digestion, circulation, and breathing.  Most poignantly, Yogi Ramacharaka describes the fermentation and putrefaction of unmasticated food particles left to rot in the stomach—the consequence of hasty eating and gluttonous consumption habits.  Furthermore, this submission to appetite rather than true hunger leads to the transmission of said rotten particles into the circulatory system—permeating negative energy throughout the body.  In order to combat the circulation of putrefied elements and negative energy, Yogi Ramacharaka points to an essential principle of Hatha Yoga used to harness positivity and channel the abundant Life Forces—Prana.

“Prana is the name by which we designate a universal principle, which principle is the essence of all motion, force or energy, whether manifested in gravitation, electricity, the revolution of the planets, and all forms of life, from the highest to the lowest.  It may be called the soul of Force and Energy in all their forms, and that principle which, operating in a certain way, causes that form of activity which accompanies Life” (158).

Chapter X is entirely devoted to the absorption of Prana, specifically through food.  The body is a storehouse of energy, drawn from the environment—plants, animals, sun energy, and air.  The consumption of food, therefore, is a primary means of absorbing Prana, as it touches most all of these areas.  The most moving phrase throughout the entire treatise on physical nourishment and care of the body deals with that intangible sense of vitality one may witness in oneself, or others, who seem to be vibrating with positive energy, or Prana.  Yogi Ramacharaka writes:

“You know the sensation which one sometimes feels when in the presence of a highly ‘magnetic’ person—that indescribable feeling of the absorption of strength or ‘vitality.’  Some people have so much Prana in their system that they are continually ‘running over’ and giving it out to others, the result being that other persons like to be in their company, and dislike to leave it, being almost unable to tear themselves away” (68).

This sensation of abundance in both body and spirit is the goal of Hatha Yoga.  Moreover, is it not the goal of every human being to feel fulfilled?  To be abundant in one’s own sense of calm, strength, vitality, and life—so much so that we may share this gift of wholeness with others?

The next portion of this treatise deals with the physical exercises involved in maintaining the physical body, not just for nourishment.  Yogi Ramacharaka first describes the nature of correct and incorrect breathing—the former: using the entirety of one’s lungs (high, middle, and low), the latter: breathing against the chest and collar causing tension and straining the delicate lungs.  After the correct method is established, relaxation breathing is described as a form of generating, maintaining, and recharging pranic energy.  Once one has mastered breathing exercises, one must turn to the physical poses most commonly associated with yoga practices.  Not only do they involve stretching, but they also deal with strength and muscular stimulation—though, as Yogi Ramacharaka wisely points out, strength is not an attribute of the vain and narcissistic, but an essential quality of every healthy, centered being.

The last portion of this book deals with rest, rejuvenation, as well as mental and spiritual freedoms.  It moves beyond the descriptions of the body’s natural state and step-by-step instructions on how to maintain it.  Rather, it moves into the realm of the spiritual, whereby one’s energy manifests itself positively or negatively in the body.  “The material body is but temporary, and the body itself nothing more than a suit of clothes to be put on, worn, and then discarded, yet it is always the intent of the Spirit to provide and maintain as perfect an instrument as possible.” (250).

Ultimately this book will leave you with a sense of wholeness, realizing how easy it is to “return to Nature”, as Hatha Yoga commands.  Beyond the many physical benefits to this practice, the emotional and spiritual growth that accompanies this simplistic return to stasis and inner peace seems like a retreat in a fast-paced, competitive contemporary world.  Yogi Ramacharaka concludes with the plea:

“Let us return to nature, dear students, and allow this great life to flow through us freely, and all will be well with us.  Let us stop trying to do the whole thing ourselves—let us just LET the thing do its own work for us.  It only asks confidence and non-resistance—let us give it a chance.” (255).

I invite you to experience this book on your own, as an exploration into your unique inner-self.  See what a few mere adjustments to your diet, breath, exercise, or even emotional elasticity will do for your health and wellbeing.  Give it a chance.

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