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X A O I S T   H A T H A   Y O G A

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Illustration by Michelle Witchipoo

In this regimen, the exercises are meant to develop the large, active muscles primarily, to tone the nervous system and to stimulate the glands of the body.

It also develops certain psychic faculties, such as will, balance, stamina, and the psychological effects of flexing the large muscles, such as social confidence, temper control, stress relief, anxiety control, as well as the ability to enter gnosis at will.

Once I have explained the postural exercises and breath exercises, I will then describe the meditative regimen that accompanies this series.

The exercises are to be gradually intensified over time, in two-week intervals until a satisfactory level of fitness is acquired.

In the beginning, the exercises should be 4 breaths in duration, in the next interval they should move up to 8 breaths in duration, then 16 breaths, then finally 24.

The structure of this series is by muscular group.

The first set is the upper body: chest, arms, upper back. The second set is that of the trunk: the abdominals and the lower back. The third and final set is the lower body: buttocks, legs, and thighs.

There are a few in each set that develop other faculties as well, such as the "Cat" pose, which strengthens, massages and stretches the spine and it・s nerve openings.

I hope this method is as rewarding for you as it is for me.


Pranayama, Art of Breathing

The complete breath is a staple of yogic practice. The benefits of simply doing the breath exercises alone are staggering.

For instance, a body takes in far more fuel in the form of oxygen, which in turn strengthens the brain. The movements of the diaphragm also stimulate digestion and boost metabolism.

All of these yogic movements have corresponding glandular and mental effects. Pranayama, for instance, in its purest form of the complete breath, releases chemicals and secretions into the body that cause deep relaxation and calm.

The exercise is extremely simple. Sit down or stand comfortably, and keep straight posture. The reason for posture is the CNS, which has it・s basis in the spine, which must be in correct posture to work at top efficiency, which is a must for anyone who wants to maintain health and develop the mind and body. Breathe in through the nostrils, deeply and silently, filling the chest cavity, expanding the ribcage up and out, and relaxing the abdominal muscles. The breath is held for approximately the amount of time taken to breathe it in. A trick to this is to listen to the faint sound of the breath and replay it mentally while holding the breath in. Let the air out completely, dropping the ribcage and contracting it along with the abdominal muscles. Hold the air out the same way you held it in earlier. This .inhalation, hold, exhalation, hold・, considered one unit in yoga, is called the complete breath. Repeat, usually about 6 to 12 times as a singular exercise and twice a day, preferably before you do your daily yoga session.

To train your diaphragm and work the abdominal muscles, do this exercise three times each morning: 1. Stand up with the palms on the legs above the knees 2. Let out all air from the lungs. 3. Holding the breath out, suck the stomach into the spine, so that an internal vacuum is formed. 4. Flap the diaphragm, as if taking in breath, while still holding the breath. 5. Flap about 3 times, then let the air back in, in one quick blast. 6. Repeat 2 or 3 times. 7. Once flapping has been mastered, create the vacuum and tense the abdominals to form columns in the abdominal cavity instead of flapping.

This exercise is for purification. It is called the Bellows, and it rapidly oxygenates the blood. To do it, sit comfortably and through the nostrils, take in deep breaths and immediately force the air back out, until slightly oxygen drunk. When breathing in, visualize the air coming in as brilliant white and clean. While breathing out, imagine the air as gray and dim, gradually getting whiter with each in breath until the out breaths are brilliant and pure as well. The Piston Breath is an exercise for expanding the lung capacity and expanding the size of the ribcage, also tightening and firming the midsection. To do it, stand relaxed and breathe in very deeply, filling your lungs completely. Holding the breath in very tightly, abruptly contract the abdominals hard, pushing the held air up into the upper chest and throat. This is held shortly and the breath is expelled, contracting and lowering the ribcage. This is to be repeated 6 to 12 times each day.

If you are lazy like me, and don't mind being a bit softer in the belly, (which I hold to be the truest natural healthy state of man, as almost any healthy animal has a belly, though not the pot belly) you might modify the usual daily practice to 3 or 4 days per week, save for pranayama exercises.

I find that 3 or 4 days a week keeps my muscles strong and developed, and my health in good order.


Diet

Some yogis insist on strict dietary restrictions, which do have a solid basis, if they are a bit drastic. I am of the opinion that man is naturally designed to eat meat, but I think that the primary dietary concern is in sugar, caffeine, and high fructose corn syrup.

These three are the most insidious creations of man. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup destroy the teeth and lend to obesity. Caffeine is extremely addictive, effects the metabolism, the growth, concentration, and causes mood swings.

All three are very hard to escape, as almost all our food has them in the ingredients, and also because they have serious withdrawal effects, such as headaches, sleep difficulties, nausea, irritability, and depression.

But happy is he who defeats these foes and drinks water and milk instead of soda and beer, who eats natural and homegrown foods as opposed to packaged and processed junk. He will have fewer illnesses, better digestion, far better mental acuity and generally better relationships with others.

Cool spring water, or distilled water (which can easily be processed at home- I am writing up something on that as you read this) is the best drink for a man. It is a source of nutritional essentials, it cleans the system, and does not feed the bacteria that decay the mouth.

At any rate, chicken and fish are preferable to beef and pork; milk and butter, however fattening, are very good for you and supply the animal fats essential to human health so that less meat is necessary; and one should always remember that it is not only unnecessary to stuff oneself to discomfort, but also disastrous to the digestive system.


Asana: postural exercises

At long last, we arrive at the part about the asanas The session begins with the complete breath.

One session per day is satisfactory, twice a day preferable.

Yogic exercises are to be done in a quiet setting, on a solid floor with a mat or blanket, in bare feet, and in comfortable, unrestrictive clothes (if any clothes at all).

The room should be warm, somewhat private (you can look kind of silly to others at times), and if at all possible, it should have fresh well circulated air.


Asana 1: the Eagle

1. Relax, stand with big toes touching and 2. Breathe in, stretching up on the toes, reaching up with the hands, fingers to the sky, and eyes to the sky 3. hold the breath for a few seconds 4. slowly exhale, come down off toes and 5. bring the hands slowly down to the hips, so that the arms are limp and relaxed, look down also, and roll the shoulders up and then down so that there is a slight slouch, 6. hold the breath out. 7. Repeat two to three more times.

Note- Remember to synchronize breath with movement, and the magic key here is to move up and out with the inhalations, and down and in with the exhalations.


Asana 2: the Cat

1. In fluid motion from asana 1, come into an .all fours・ position knees hip distance apart, hands in line with shoulders, back straight, looking down. 2. Breathe in, look up, slide shoulder blades down and back, lifting the buttocks up and expanding the abdominals and the chest. 3. Hold for a few seconds. 4. Breathe out. Roll the shoulders upward, and tuck chin into chest, contracting abdominals, buttocks to arch the back. 5. Hold the breath out for a few seconds. 6. Repeat four or more times according to advancement.


Asana 3: the Stick

1. Breathe in from asana 2, assuming the all fours position, and breathe out. 2. Breathe in again, and straighten the legs so that you are bearing weight on the palms of the hands and on the pads of the toes, as in the first part of a push up. 3. Hold this position, arms and trunk straight, for four or more complete breaths.

Note- this may also be called the .Pan-physical・ asana, as it works virtually the entire body.


Asana 4: the Twig

1. From asana 3, bend the arms to a 90a angle, with the upper arms and elbows close the trunk, holding your body a few inches from the ground. 2. Hold this position for four or more complete breaths.


Asana 5: the Serpent

1. Relax from asana 4, and lay face down on floor. 2. Place the palms under the shoulders, hold the legs together, and 3. Breathe in, tightening the buttocks and lifting the body with the arms only, until looking straight ahead, with a curved back, shoulders away from the neck. 4. Hold the breath for a few seconds. 5. Exhale, tense the abdominals and slowly lower your upper body back to the face down position. 6. Hold the breath out for a few seconds. 7. Repeat for two breaths at the beginning, then four and finally 6, this being a superb worker of the shoulders, chest, and arms.


Asana 6: the Dead Bug

1. From asana 5, turn over onto the back and relax. 2. Breathe in, lifting the arms over the head to rest on the floor, palms up. 3. Breathe out, raise the arms so that the shoulders lift a little, and the fingers point to the sky, simultaneously, lift the legs straight and slow to parallel the arms. 4. Hold the breath out for a few seconds. 5. Breathe in, and slowly return the straight limbs to their previous locations on the floor. 6. Hold the breath in for bit. 7. Repeat 4+ breaths.


Asana 7: the 90a half-bug

1. From asana 6, step 1., breathe in, pressing on the floor with your palms, which should be near the hips, and lift the legs up straight, toes up, into a ninety degree angle with the trunk. 2. Hold the breath momentarily, and 3. Release the breath, very slowly lowering the straight limbs to the floor. 4. Hold the breath out for a few, 5. And repeat 4+ times


Asana 8: the Armadillo

1. From asana 7, come to sit Indian style, or into the lotus position, and breathe in. 2. After holding the breath in, release, and slowly bow the head and bring the forehead to the floor near the crotch, holding the hands interlocked below the waist and behind the back. 3. Hold the breath out. 4. Breathe in, and lift the head slowly back to the original seated position. 5. Repeat 2-4 times.


Asana 9: Yota-Yoga

1. Still in the Indian seat, put the palms together at the center of the chest, pointing up. 2. Breathe in, hold the breath, then 3. Push as hard as possible, with equal pressure, the palms together. 4. Hold them together and continue through 4 breaths. 5. Gradually introduce lengthened sessions up to 16 breaths, about a weekly interval, four breaths added at each interval, until the arms are strong enough to switch to pressing the forearms against the other. 6. When it seems impossible to push any harder, push still harder. Pour all energy and focus into pushing without any further regard to pressure.


Asana 10: the Horse Stance

1. From asana 9, stand up and relax. 2. Breathe in, then exhale, 3. Lower into a squat, feet about 18" to 2 feet apart, attempting a 90a at the waist. 4. Hold for 4+ breaths. 5. Return to standing position.


Asana 11: the Balancing Horse

1. Breathe in from asana 10, step 5. 2. Exhale; bring left leg to cross the right knee at the ankle. 3. Continue exhaling, and lower into an ideal 90 angle, raising the arms into a reaching spread, fingers pointing up, and eyes straight ahead. 4. Hold for 4+ breaths. 5. Return to step 1.


Asana 12: the Corpse

1. From asana 11, fluidly enter a supine position, lying on the floor, palms up, feet slightly apart. Breathe in. 2. With eyes closed, tense all the muscles of the body in sequence from toe to head. 3. Exhale, release the muscles, and let the awareness rest on each muscle group in turn, from head to toe, assuring the complete relaxation of each area. 4. Breathe deeply and slowly, and maintain complete relaxation, softening the muscles with the flow of awareness. 5. Hold this position in total relaxation for 15 minutes, or until you feel adequately rested. 6. Tense the muscles again in turn, and slowly open the eyes. 7. Roll over on the side, and very slowly get up.


Meditation

Now that we have examined the Asanas and Pranayama, we shall conclude with the Meditative regimen, the third aspect of this system.

The purpose of meditation is to focus the attention to a single point. This trains the mind to cultivate higher consciousness, peaking in the state of Samadhi, complete absorption of subject and object, a truly indefinable experience that must be experienced personally to be understood.

Meditation has amazing benefits beyond mere enlightenment as well. It is proven to relieve stress, to lower blood pressure, to enhance creativity, and to heighten the functions of the brain and the metabolism. The list goes on and on.

There are a great many forms of meditation, which mayhap I shall write of somewhere else.

For this very simple and powerful Hatha yoga, we shall use a very simple and powerful Mantra meditation. First pick a simple, two-syllable word that has no associative meaning, a word that is not 'loaded'. I suggest 'ahnam' or 'hari' or some other Sanskrit words that have abstract or no meaning to you.

Next, sit in Indian fashion, lie down, or sit in a chair, preferably somewhere quiet and relatively private.

Breathe in, then begin to repeat the mantra vocally, about six times, growing quieter until whisper, then, take the mantra within, close the eyes, and repeat it to the breath, in- 'ahhhh' Hold, then out- 'naaam' hold, repeating indefinitely.

Keep the attention on the repetition of the mantra. Let other thoughts merely slide by, do not seize them and begin thought chains, just let them spring up, then fade out, and always return the attention to the mantra. Eventually, the thoughts will no longer arise, and attention becomes firmly fixed on the mantra.

Meditation should be practiced optimally 2 times a day, 20-30 minutes per session; upon waking and before retiring.


In Conclusion

Hatha Yoga as a lifestyle is in my opinion an important practice for anyone, excepting those whose health excuses them, though the ill benefit best because these exercises can be adapted to almost any condition.

The health benefits are outstanding, and I believe it is the only truly integrated system of exercise, developing both the mind and body, and treating them as they are, not separate components of man, but a complete flowing whole that breathes as one.

This simple system can be adopted by even the busiest of people, as it requires no machinery, gym memberships, fees, or seminars. It only requires you and a few minutes out of your day. I think an hour or two of my time is well worth it to avoid costly and vastly time-consuming injury, illness, and stress; as well as developing my self and gaining new experiences, abilities and strength.

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