‘The highest Self, all endless bliss,
the unconditioned limitless consciousness,
being realized, whether through the great texts,
or through Yoga, in all experience whatever—
let one lose himself in the ecstasy of Realization,
for he has forever lost all touch
with bondage of every description.’ (Svarajyasiddhi)
The origins of Yoga are lost in the mists of time. Indeed, there is still a considerable amount
of debate amongst Hindu Scholars about just exactly where the practice originated. Although many
Anthropologists, Archaeologists and historians are of the opinion that Yoga traces its roots
back to the Ancient Indus-Sarasvati Civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Brahmanical schools
still attribute the source of the first and original Yogic teachings to Lord Shiva.
According to tradition, the earliest Yogic practices as they have come down to us today
originated with what is generally referred to as ‘Vedic Culture‘: the primordial Hindu
Civilization rooted in the series of Ancient Sanskrit texts collectively referred to as ‘The
Vedas’. Over the course of centuries the original Yogic teachings were gradually adapted,
becoming more and more refined, as the written texts associated with them also evolved
considerably. Perhaps the best known Yogic Sutras or Aphorims to present day practitioners are
the ‘Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali’ which date to about four centuries before the current era. These
however are relatively new in terms of Yoga’s general antiquity.
In Ancient Hindu Classical Thought, Yoga is more than just a series of physical exercises aimed
at developing spiritual awareness. It is an entire Way of Being. As well as being subdivided
into the four basic practices of Asana (posture), Mantra (the repetition of sacred words or
phrases), Pranayama (breathing) and Meditation, in a broader and more general sense the
spiritual practice of Yoga is further divided into another five conceptual subdivisions.
Jnana Yoga, or the Yoga of Knowledge, manifests the path to self-realization through
meditation. Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion, develops personal union with a particular deity
as the personification of the Divine Principal. Karma Yoga, the Yoga of Service, involves
ritual purification of the Self through service to the Planet and the Community. Raja Yoga, the
so called ‘Royal Yoga’, involves the development of higher levels of consciousness through the
direct application of mantra and meditation. Whilst Hatha Yoga, essenially the Yoga of Effort
is rooted in the development and practice of specific Asana and Pranayama techniques. And, it
is the fourth and fifth categories of Yoga listed here that we will concern ourselves with primarily today.
According to a recent article in the London ‘Daily Telegraph‘, the latest scientific study of
the health benefits of Hatha Yoga, conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine,
have concluded that a number of specific exercises rooted in these self same techniques play a
mildly significant role in the reduction of lower back pain among a specific category of
patients. Assistant Professor Susan Wieland, who was one of those who conducted the study
before being interviewed by the Telegraph, is just one of a whole host of Western academics,
beginning with Dr. James Fadiman of Stanford University and others back in the late twentieth
century, who have contributed significantly to what we know about the long term beneficial
effects of regular Yogic practice.
In the opening months of last year mainstream media outlets in the United States, most notably
Fox News, published a sensational report based on the findings of a new scientific study
conducted at Harvard University which concluded that the combined practice of both Hatha Yoga
and Raja Yoga contribute significantly to what the report was to refer to as major changes in ‘cellular metabolic functions’. The main effects under scrutiny were those that determine specific improvements in ‘the way your body absorbs nutrients, and uses those nutrients to fuel and sustain your body throughout the day.’
Elsewhere, on the Yoga website yoganonymous.com, Chris Kilham, who the website described as ‘an
advisor to herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and a researcher at University of
Massachusetts Amherst,’ described how the Harvard University study had focused first of all on
group participants that had trained specifically in techniques that one would normally
associate with Raja Yoga, and another group who had done no such training whatsoever.
“After eight weeks, blood samples were taken from both groups. The meditation group showed
changes in 2209 genes, a very far-reaching effect. The genetic changes observed included 1,275
instances in which genes were up-regulated (their activity increased), and 934 cases in which
the genes were down-regulated (their activity decreased). Many of the genetic changes prompted
by the yoga practice involved cellular metabolism. This is the capacity of cells to utilize
nutrients and oxygen, and to generate energy. Those who practiced the yoga method showed
improved cellular metabolism, and better cell function overall.”
The study, which was recently focused on again by the cult on-line publication True Activist,
would therefore tend to suggest that the super human powers that have been attributed to
certain Yoga practitioners down the centuries may have a scientific basis after all. More on
this in a future article.
With thanks and acknowledgement to Geliqua Armini and Brittany Gamez for their help in
producing this article.
Having begun his career as a junior researcher at Thames Television in London, he has written for a wide range of publications including 'The Brighton Reporter', 'Durham Town and Country', 'The Brighton and Hove People' and 'The New Celtic Review'. As an exhibited film maker he has been a regular contributor and award nominee at the Portobello Film Festival in London; and has seen his work shown at the annual London Film Makers' Convention at the prestigious Round House Theatre.
As well as receiving enthusiastic reviews from BBC Radio 4 and others for his book on Sir Walter Scott, his pioneering work as an Underground Film Maker on the fledgeling Goa Trance Scene has set him in a field of his own amongst many of his contemporaries; both in the UK, where he presently resides, and elsewhere. Current projects presently in hand include a book centred on his 'Legendary London' series of documentary films, which have stimulated an enthusiastic response from the likes of Glenda Jackson and others; and a novel set in France and Edinburgh during the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment.
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