No one, I think, would disagree with me when I say that the pace of modern life, especially in the big cities, is destructive.
Why, but why is everyone intent on doing something all the time ? Do they imagine they are missing something if they go to bed with a book, or sit and think, or just sit? Some people cannot tolerate being alone. Their own company is inexpressibly boring and depressing. But why? If only these unfortunates could catch even a solitary glimpse of the rich inner life of the spirit, and the awesome power of clear thought.
People who rush about in a frenzy are often not the ones who get the best results. What about the man who has had the time to think ? Who has made the time to think ? While others rushed dizzily past him he has been evolving ideas, building and planning in his slow but constructive mind. It has been said that much of the good work of the world has been done by the dull man who has done his best.
Yoga will not teach you to be dull, rather the contrary it will teach you to be more magnetic, but it will show you the importance of knowing when to slow down. The ancient Chinese believed in the theory of ‘masterly inactivity’ and this served to lay down the foundation of a unique civilization. By ‘inactivity’ I do not mean idleness, laziness or mental inertia. Yoga is not for the lazy. No, Yoga’s inactivity serves as a breathing space among the bustle of everyday life so that one can recharge the batteries of one’s physical and mental processes to pursue life with renewed energy and clearer thought.
Yogis realized, centuries ago, that the mind always functions better in a state of relaxation. Force yourself to work and the result is a headache, weariness, and a lack of spontaneity. In those fields of work where creative ability is constantly called into play this spontaneity is of vital importance. No one wants to read, hear, or look at something dragged from a fogged and tired brain. Yoga’s first lesson, then, is how to relax. I do not wish to be an alarmist but the sheer inability to relax sends many millions of people to their graves ten, twenty, sometimes forty years before their time. So let us first consider how you are, here and now, going to cheat the undertaker of those precious years of your valuable time.
First of all do not confuse relaxation with inertia. Relaxation has been defined as ‘a conscious transfer of energy from one department of nature to another after an extreme tension of body and brain’. A mere change of occupation is a form of relaxation. This is why many office workers play football or tennis at weekends, why many manual workers sit and watch television, why many ‘brain’ workers have hobbies that involve working with the hands.
For your first lesson in relaxation let us consider that mid-morning cup of tea that most people look forward to. What do you do when it arrives? Stand and gulp it down and maybe throw another one down your throat after it? Try again. No matter who you are, a busy housewife and mother, a secretary, a company director, a cabinet minister, or a ballet dancer, stop when that cup of tea arrives. Stop, whatever you are doing, sit down quietly even if all hell is let loose around you, and enjoy that cup of tea. Drink it slowly. Try to forget, even if you have only five minutes to do so, all your immediate cares— the shopping, the laundry, that lost letter, that copy your editor is screaming for, that order you forgot to push out. Let it wait. What is the very worst thing that can happen if you drink a cup of tea in peace and quiet? Why nothing. And how much better you will feel for it, how much easier things will seem after your few moments’ respite. Relax periodically and you double your efficiency. If you doubt me then try it and see.
But this is a book about Hatha Yoga so you will want to know the Yoga way to relax. Lie down on the floor and let go. That is all. And that is Yoga? It is indeed. It is called SAVASANA or the CORPSE POSTURE. Not a very pleasant name I agree but all the same it is one of Yoga’s most valuable and powerful weapons against ill health and stress. It is pictured in figure 1.
Try it. Lie down on the floor, no pillows, just a rug or the carpet. Leave off your shoes and wear as little clothing as possible. Whatever you wear must be light and loose fitting. Now stretch your arms above your head and stretch out your legs and feet. Go on, have a good stretch like your cat does before it settles down to sleep. Close your eyes and let your head roll to one side. Let your hands flop where they will and imagine that your body has no bones and that you are giving your whole weight to the floor. Imagine you are on a cloud and that your body is slowly sinking through it. Keep your eyes closed and think of something peaceful, a lovely piece of music perhaps or the sound of the sea. Put on a soothing record if you like or open the window and listen to the birds. Tell yourself that you are drowsy and comfortable over and over again.
Now then, what about those knots of tense muscles around your mouth, your eyes, your stomach and your legs? Go over al! areas of your body and locate any knots of tension there might be. Be stern with them. Make them loosen up. Very likely they will tighten up again as soon as your back is turned so to speak but keep your mind’s eye open and consciously and repeatedly relax any clenched muscles. The worst offenders by far are the muscles of the face. You are clenching your teeth and your jaws right now are you not? You would be surprised at the number of people who do that, even in their sleep. The counter measure is yawning. Do it as often as you can but do please choose appropriate times as yawning is not socially acceptable in many circles and your commendable efforts to teach your facial muscles to relax might be misinterpreted! Open your mouth as wide as you can, stretch your jaws, tense your facial muscles and then suddenly relax them. Keep practicing that movement and you will soon rid yourself of teeth clenching. That in itself is a good start.
So you are lying on the floor in the Corpse Posture and you are finding that it isn’t as easy as it looks to relax. It is easy to lie down on the floor but you think I am unreasonable to ask you to relax every muscle, do you not ? But it can be done. I can do it and so can many other people. It takes constant practice but how worthwhile is time spent towards this end for Savasana is one of the greatest vitalizers known to man. Perform it whenever you are tired, angry, upset, or brain-fagged. Perform it whenever things get on top of you. It is not time wasted. It is Yoga’s ‘masterly inactivity’ working for you.
No one is too madly busy to be quite unable to practice the art of relaxation at least once a day. Give to it a little of your time and it will repay you a thousandfold. What about those few minutes before you get into bed at night? Are you too busy then?
When you have made some progress with Savasana your feet will be set firmly on the Yoga path. Its great influence will begin to work for you. As you grow more and more able to smooth away the tensions in your body you will find that the tensions in your mind will also become less. Problems which seemed mountainous will, if you practice and perfect the art of relaxation, be reduced to a size whereby you can cope with and overcome them.
But to return to you lying on the floor and thinking yourself into relaxing those tense muscles. What about that mind of yours running round in circles? What about that eye of yours on the clock ? What about that nagging worry at the back of your mind that you should be up and about doing things? No, you are not really relaxing at all. Let us try again. Let us approach Savasana from another angle.
I want you to learn to stretch. A simple enough request but, you may ask, is this Yoga too? Just—stretching? It is indeed. As you read this book it will become more and more apparent to you that although Yoga is a Hindu science three thousand years old, a spiritually based way of life, a contemplative philosophy and a profoundly dedicated art, nevertheless it has a real and vital place in modern everyday life, your life. A simple thing like stretching is as much a part of Yoga as any of the more complicated postures which I will describe during the course of this book.
Stretching then. Lie down as before on your back with your legs and feet together and raise your arms above your head with the fingers interlaced. Now turn your hands palms upwards and you will immediately feel the increased stretch along your ribs and back. Stretch your arms as far above your head as you can and at the same time point your toes and push them forward so that you feel the tension in every part of your legs, arms and shoulders.
Concentrate on stretching thus far and when, after practicing a few times, you can fully tense your arms, shoulders and legs simultaneously, try at the same time to pull in your stomach muscles, arch your spine, and to complete the picture open your mouth in a gigantic yawn. You will not make a particularly aesthetic picture at this moment but remember that Yoga should always be practiced alone and in silence, if possible in secrecy. It is not a science for the extrovert. So you can go ahead and pull faces to your heart’s content and if no one is any the wiser you and your health will be all the better for it.
Having stretched every part of your body, suddenly let go. Remember that you must stretch everything you can to the utmost, before you let go, so that the ensuing relaxation will be all the more complete. And when you let go you are once more in Savasana but this time you should feel much more relaxed. But keep a wary eye open for those persistent offenders—eyes, lips, teeth, and tongue. Are you clenching them again? Train your mind to watch these key points throughout the day not only when you are practicing Savasana, and if you discover that you are clenching any of your facial muscles be stern with them. As I have reiterated, they need constant watching but your persistence will soon be rewarded not only in a new feeling of relaxation but also in your appearance. For Yoga is a beauty treatment too. Those little tension lines around your eyes, lips, and between the eyebrows will not be given a chance to develop into deep, ineradicable wrinkles. Yoga, and particularly Savasana is the simple secret of how devotees of Yoga remain miraculously young looking even when well advanced in years, for nothing is so ageing as stress. It puts lines on to the face, sends the eyes back into their sockets, and gives an ageing droop to the figure. Having approached Savasana from two different angles, let us try a third. Yoga, while based on a set of unchanging principles, is not dogmatic and there is much room for personal preference and capabilities. Yoga’s greatness lies in its ability to recognize every individual and not lump humanity together as so many other sciences do. Savasana, then, from a third angle. This one is rather more difficult but you may find it rather fun. It is called the A ngle Balance and you will see an illustration of it in figure 33. It is not as easy as it looks but it is well worth your perseverance.
Lie flat on your back with your hands at your sides, and legs together. Now raise your head and shoulders off the floor and at the same time raise your legs with your knees bent until you can grasp your toes. Now very carefully straighten your knees still holding your toes until you are in the position illustrated in figure 33. Hold this position for as long as you can and then suddenly flop back on to the floor. Again you are in Savasana and the ensuing relaxation will be more complete after the preceding tension and concentration required by the ANGLE
This first Yoga asana, the Corpse Posture, is one of the most important and although you may be itching to learn something a little more spectacular 1 do want to impress on you that stretching and relaxation is the beginning of all Yoga. It calms the mind and renews the body with energy and the life force which is known as PRANA. SO do practice Savasana wherever and whenever you possibly can.
Many people make their first mistake of the day the moment they open their eyes in the morning, and they start a chain reaction which echoes throughout the day. They open their eyes, look at the clock, and leap out of bed in a frenzy. The poor human body is built to withstand an appalling amount of abuse but to subject it to this kind of punishment, day after day, is simply courting trouble. Think what happens to your nervous system when you wake up and hurl yourself out of bed in the morning. Shock and an unspeakable buffeting. Is it necessary? Give yourself a little time to return to this world from the threshold of another. Set your alarm clock just five minutes earlier than usual, try this Yoga waking up routine, and see the difference to your whole day.
Waking up Routine
The word stretching is reiterated throughout this book and it crops up here too, first thing in the morning. Stretch up your arms with your fingers interlaced and palms upwards, stretch your legs, open your mouth wide and yawn several times. As you lie in bed, still half asleep, keep on yawning and stretching like a cat and then finally relax your body and do the following leg stretching exercise.
Leg stretching exercise
This is very simple. While lying in bed with your feet together push one of your legs down towards the bottom of the bed as though you were trying to lengthen it. Point your toes and you will feel a pull from your hip right down to your heel. Hold this position for one minute only and then relax. If you haven’t a clock with a minute hand then simply count to sixty as you push your leg forward. After a moment’s rest repeat the exercise with the other leg. As this is a very potent exercise for the nerves do not repeat it more than once at a time for each leg. It may be repeated when you go to bed at night if you so wish.
After the Leg Stretching exercise very slowly get out of bed, stretch once more with your arms above your head and I assure you that your usual morning half dead feeling will be conspicuous by its absence.
I will end your first lesson in stretching and relaxation by describing an exercise taken from the ancient system of SOORYA NAMASKAR OR SUN EXERCISE because it is practiced facing the sun as it rises, or at least in the early morning. There are twelve positions which bring flexibility to the spine which is so vital if one is to perform the more strenuous Yoga asanas. Of the twelve, which stretch various ligaments and give different movements to the vertebral column, I have selected a series of five which the average reader will not find beyond his capabilities. In this series a full round constitutes nine movements, that is five forward movements and four retracing ones.
Soorya Namaskar or Sun Exercise
- Stand erect, feet together, hands at your sides. Take a deep
slow breath, raise your arms above your head with the fingers
interlaced and then bend backwards as far as you can
without overbalancing. (See Fig. 8, page 39.)
- Now exhale as completely as you can and at the same time
bend forward and place your palms flat on the floor about four
or five inches in front of your toes. Keep your knees absolutely
straight. The correct position is shown in figure 2.
One important feature of the SUN EXERCISE is the chin lock, which simply means pressing your chin tightly against your chest. The Yogis maintain that this has a beneficial effect on the thyroid glands. Remember while performing the SUN EXERCISE to maintain the chin lock through stages 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8.
- Inhale again, step back with the right foot as in figure 3 so
that the other knee is bent and the chin lock is maintained.
- Exhale once more and move the other leg back as in
figure 4, keeping the knees as rigid as possible and trying to reach
the floor with your heels. This is not possible of course but the
action of trying to reach the floor with the heels will increase the
pull on the calves and thighs. Remember to maintain the chin lock.
- Inhale again, slowly and deeply and at the same time release
the chin lock and, while keeping the upper part of the body as
steady as possible, lower the legs and abdomen slowly. Balance
throughout stage 5 on the toes and palms until you are in the
cobra-like position in figure 5. Arch your back as fully as pos
sible, keep your knees rigid and press back your neck and your
head while keeping your arms straight. Only your palms and
your toes should touch the floor.
- Having performed the five exercises you must now retrace
your steps to the starting position thus: from stage 5 assume the
position in figure 4 with the body making a bridge. (See Below.)
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