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Yoga Part 1

To bring our mind to the level of requisite fitness for realization of higher consciousness, the system of Yoga is advocated from time immemorial in Indian religious system. We shall take a look at these various system of Yoga in this article and the subsequent article.

Physiological Basis of Yoga

In their article on 'The Physiology of Meditation' some Western psychologists have discussed the physiological adjustments to psychological changes in the life of a human being. They maintain that one of the ways to control physiological reactions to psychological events is meditation: Yoga, Zen Buddhism. They have found that:

1) Yogis could slow both heart rate and rate of respiration,

2) Yogis could slow the rate of metabolism as confirmed by decreased oxygen consumption and carbon-di-oxide output.

3) A few Yogis showed peculiar changes of calmness on EEG --brain electrical wave pattern-- (like electrocardiogram) during both eyes closed and open recording.

4) Their skin resistance to electric stimulation was increased (indicating increased tolerance to external stimuli).

These scientists had based their observations on the study of the subjects engaged in one form of meditation. In summing up the results they confirmed that the effect of meditation was a 'wakeful, hypo-metabolic state'. They concluded that the pattern of changes generated was mediated through the control of autonomic nervous system in the brain and spinal cord.

In the early history of mankind the 'defense-alarm' reaction to psychological and physical stress was in the form of 'fright, flight, and fight' mediated through the over secretion of adrenaline. We reflexively become panicky, our blood pressure increases, and stress and anxiety are the end results if we allow our natural age-old sympathetic reactions come to surface. We try to run away or fight the situation. But today these 'defense-alarm' reactions have no place in our lives. Rather, they should be replaced by more calm and serene reactions of equanimity and peace. The need is to just 'face the brute', and it will go away. Yoga and meditation generate such desirable reactions of contemplation and peaceful attitude. Here the usually dominant action mode is suppressed in favour of receptive mode that brings peace and bliss even in the disturbing circumstances.

Altered State of Consciousness as a source of generating values:

The present day influence of 'scientific' culture virtually makes us regard all states of altered consciousness as pathological or unreal. About the spiritual visions or the experiences there is widespread ignorance and confusion in the minds of almost all educated people of the day. For such people Swami Ashokananda says:

'The proof of the objective reality of Divine visions is not that certain forms are seen, but that the visions are accompanied by an exaltation of feeling and an uplifting and widening of consciousness, which would not be the case if they were self created illusion. We feel that we have suddenly reached a higher plane of consciousness. The sense of reality is an inner feeling. It is purely subjective; it is a state of consciousness. In fact, every grade of reality has a corresponding state of consciousness. Those who have the visions can alone know whether they are real or illusory. How can others judge by mere ratiocination?'

By necessity the person of vedantic realization is more selfless, loving, and compassionate. He is universal in his appeal and outlook. There are other signs also. A genuine vision or experience fills the subject with profound joy and leaves an indelible impression on his mind forever. The life undergoes qualitative change for the better. One becomes altogether different person. These qualities are desirable for a healthy society and dignity of human race.

Yoga tries to make the person fit to gain these qualities.

Necessity of Preparation:

To study the mystic experience, one must turn initially to material that appears unscientific, is couched in religious terms, and seems completely subjective. Actually such intuitive experiences may be beyond the scope of language to convey. Just as any scientific experiment is not possible without necessary prior preparations, similarly the person interested in seeking altered state of consciousness (samadhi) requires fulfilling certain criteria as mentioned below.

'One who has not desisted from bad conduct, whose senses are not under control, whose mind is not concentrated, whose mind is not free from anxiety, cannot attain this Self (super-conscious state) through knowledge.'

If we follow these basics, which are self-explanatory there develops in us capacity to sustain rational thought and behavior based on the scientific approach. We begin to understand true import of the meaning of the words like renunciation, discrimination, and contemplation. The following statement makes this point more clear:

'One object of this is a moral preparation no doubt, but that is only a secondary consideration. The main object of preparation is the perfection and purification of the faculty of reason and perception. None could deny that a perfect reason is an indispensable requisite of a student of philosophy. Without excellent reasoning powers, the study of philosophy, especially a philosophy so subtle as the Vedanta, is a fool's errand. The teachers of Vedanta, therefore, being true philosophers, insisted on the fulfillment of these conditions and prescribed moral disciplines as a means to that end.' (Swami Ashokananda.)

The Four Yogas

Depending upon their mental inclination, persons are divided in four major types.

1) Some persons are of philosophical bent. They are capable of or strive for discrimination between real and unreal, and are ready to renounce what they think as unreal -- 'Jnana Yoga'.

2) Some others are interested in working hard to excel in their skills or field of activity, or inclined towards 'doing good' to the society through social reforms and work --'Karma Yoga',

3) Still others are bent towards devotional activities-like rituals and worship, singing glory of the god and goddesses, etc. -- 'Bhakti Yoga',

4) Some try to control their minds by psychic conventions through the practice of meditation and contemplation -- 'Raja Yoga'.

Whatever may be the inclination, the basic idea is the same: To remove the restrictive stranglehold of the senses over the mind. The greatest obstacle to achieve our natural state of Divinity is our false identification with mind and body. Yoga teaches us to remove this false illusion and perceive the reality as it is.

In his deep impressive style Swami Vivekananda says:

'You must remember that freedom of the soul is the goal of all Yogas, and each one equally leads to the same result. By work alone man may get to where Buddha got largely by meditation or Christ by prayer. Buddha was a Jnani, Christ was a Bhakta, but the same goal was reached by both of them... The difficulty is here. Liberation means entire freedom -freedom from the bondage of good, as well as from the bondage of evil. A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one.'... Continued Yoga part 2...
C S Shah
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