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YOGA FOR MAGICK
Build Physical and Mental Strength for Your Practice
By Nancy Wasserman, James Wasserman
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2007 Nancy Wasserman
All rights reserved.
The Origins of Yoga
Every form in this world is taken out of surrounding atoms and goes back to these atoms. Law is uniform; nothing is more certain than that. If this is the law of nature, it also applies to the mind. The mind will dissolve and go back to its origin.
The practice of Yoga is as ancient as Hindu culture. Although it is an ever-evolving practice, Yoga's origin is the Indus Valley civilization of South Asia, which flourished around 2500 B.C. Spanning what is now Pakistan and western India, the Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations (in addition to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China). It was an area rich with culture and sophisticated religious practice.
The first written records of the doctrines of Yoga are in the Vedic literature of the Aryans (ca. 3000–1200 B.C.). These philosophies were first referenced in the classical text, the Upanisads. The Upanisads (literally meaning "sit down near") are also known as the Vedantas, or the last of the Vedas, the ancient hymns of knowledge. They are considered the core treatises of orthodox Hindu philosophy and wisdom teachings.
The Bhagavad-Gita was written in approximately 600 B.C. Part of the extraordinary Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and the warrior prince Arjuna expounding the philosophies of Yoga. Gautauma Buddha was living and teaching at about the same time. Yogic practices were assimilated into Buddhism and the wisdom teachings spread throughout Asia.
Some four hundred to six hundred years later, at the dawn of the common era (somewhere between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.), The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was written. Yoga Sutras is considered to be the classic Yoga text. Patanjali described in detail the eight parts of Ashtanga Yoga on which most modern Yoga practices are based. These eight "limbs" are:
1. Yama: Guidelines for interactions with others.
2. Niyama: Guidelines for managing and purifying oneself.
3. Asana: A practice of using physical postures to gain self-discipline and physical health.
4. Pranayama: Breathing techniques focused on control and awareness of the connection between breath, mind, and the emotions.
5. Pratyhara: Techniques aimed at withdrawal or detachment from the senses.
6. Dharana: A concentration technique in which the attention is focused on a single point.
7. Dhyana: Contemplation; A keen awareness without focus on any thought or object; the single point of Dharana has been brought down to zero and one glimpses the truth behind the veil of matter.
8. Samadhi: Transcendence of self and union with the Divine.
Around the time of the European Middle Ages, the classic Hatha Yoga Pradipka was written. Hatha Yoga was originally designed to prepare the mind for meditation. The ancient sages taught that only through the physical discipline of Hatha could the mind and nervous system be prepared for the challenging task of mental stillness.
In Europe there is little evidence of the knowledge of yogic practices until the Theosophical Society started publishing some of the works of Patanjali in the 1800s. In 1897, Swami Vivekananda published his classic Raja-Yoga. Also in 1895, Karl Kellner established the Ordo Templi Orientis, which provides a synthesis of Eastern and Western wisdom teaching. However, we suspect that Yoga practices were taught long before on a one-to-one basis, and that methods to improve single-pointed concentration have always been circulated among occultists.
At the turn of the twentieth century, several factors lent themselves to the wider dissemination of Yoga in the West. The Golden Dawn was attracting some notable members, including the exceptionally talented Alan Bennett. Bennett was well versed in both Western and Eastern techniques and was especially drawn to yogic practices. He met Aleister Crowley when Crowley joined the Golden Dawn in 1898; the two men became friends and Bennett took Crowley under his wing, teaching him basic meditation and magic techniques. Bennett suffered from chronic asthma and, with Crowley's help, relocated to Ceylon for his health.
In Sri Lanka, Bennett was able to take advantage of formal Yoga training. Upon his arrival, he was hired as a tutor to the son of the solicitor general of Ceylon, P. Ramathan. Ramathan was profoundly knowledgeable in Eastern religious practices. Bennett studied Yoga with him and learned a great deal about its theory and practice. In 1901, Crowley joined Bennett for a magical retreat in Kandy where Bennett instructed him in yogic philosophy and technique. Eventually, Bennett was ordained a Buddhist priest and later became one of the founders of the Buddhist movement in the West. Crowley published two notable works on Yoga and they remain some of the most concise, practical instruction available to the Western esoteric student. Part 1 of Crowley's Magick: Liber ABA, Book Four (referred to later in this text as Magick: Book Four) was first published in 1912 and his Eight Lectures on Yoga was published in 1939.
Today, there are many different schools of Yoga. Hatha Yoga is widely accepted and is taught all over the world. Besides finding instruction in dedicated Yoga schools and ashrams, one can find Hatha Yoga taught in hospitals, community centers, gyms, and churches. The health benefits of meditation are also recognized; one can find instruction almost anywhere. Offshoots of classical meditation, such as visualization, are gaining wide popularity as millions of people with widely divergent interests discover the benefits of regular practice of these time-honored physical and mental techniques.
Where does this leave the modern occultist? We have never been better positioned to take advantage of Yoga. Even though the most valuable experiences will be those initiated and practiced in the privacy of our temples, beginners have access to a wide variety of excellent resources for instruction. More experienced Magicians can find new ways of deepening their practice.
Yoga as a Physical Discipline
... a well-trained body helps a great deal to train the mind, which is the main purpose of all Yoga, in order to attain complete freedom and immortality, which is the aim of all religions of the world.
What? This is a book for Magicians! Why should Magicians be concerned about cultivating a physical discipline? Many people on the magical path believe the work of magical ritual is not necessarily carried out on a physical plane but on the inner planes. Why should they worry about health? If Magicians need to spend time cultivating the "body of light," why bother with the body of flesh?
In fact, many people involved in spiritual pursuits tend to neglect their physical condition. Yet there are numerous distinguished voices that echo a different sentiment. Take for example Dion Fortune, who wrote this in the 1930s:
The occultist aims at making his physical body a vehicle that shall impede him as little as possible in his psychic activities. That is to say, it must be as refined as possible, using the word in the metallurgist's sense, not the social sense. Secondly, it must be of a strength and toughness to be able to endure the exceptional forces he requires it to transmit. The adept therefore is not an etherealized person, like the conventional saint in a stained glass window. A trained occultist is, by virtue of his training, capable of great physical endurance and exceedingly tenacious of life, as is witnessed by the extraordinary happenings in connection with the murder of the infamous Rasputin, who resisted cyanide of potassium and bullets through the heart and brain, and had finally to be literally hacked to pieces before life was extinct.
While most Western adepts would agree that a person does not need to go to the lengths of some of the Yogis in India, in the discipline of Magick it is very important to possess general good health and a strong and flexible body.
In today's world, it is quite easy to ignore the body. Hungry? Stick something in the microwave or hit the "drivethru" or fast-food restaurant on the way home from work and pick up some dinner. Little creative thought or energy goes into preparing it, and people tend to just as carelessly choke it down. Such food, which usually has an abundance of sugar, salt, and preservatives, adds unhealthy weight and diminishes vitality: a lethal combination in the practice of Magick. A generation of American children remain enthroned upon their couches watching television while munching potato chips. Let us instead be about the work of establishing temples and honing magical skills.
Students of the occult, like all students, are inclined to do a lot of reading and thinking, intellectually exploring the universe. While this may be an admirable trait, it is very important not to neglect other aspects of life. Taking the time to cook a good meal, clean the house, or weed the garden is as important to magical development as sketching that Enochian tablet. Sometimes the subconscious mind needs a break to process the information one is so painstakingly gathering.
Diet and the Spiritual Path
Concerning food, there are no hard and fast rules about diet among Western occultists. Unlike traditional yogic proscriptions, it is not considered taboo to eat red meat, drink alcohol, or even to imbibe other mind-altering substances. Indeed, if you are devoting a magical operation to a particular deity, you may actually feel it necessary to consume certain things foreign to your upbringing or your basic nature. In my experiences though, I have found the Gods are kind and generally allow compromise: Let your intuition guide you in your choices. In all matters concerning diet, let it be known that moderation is the key. While tobacco is considered the primary perfume of Horus, a smoker with lung cancer would be of little benefit to Him. Addiction, weakness, and disease form no part of His vigorous nature. Nor would one be serving Jupiter by feasting to the point of obesity, heart disease, or diabetes mellitus. Any excessive action one may feel required to explore or endure for the purpose of invocation should be performed on a short-term basis only. Remember the words delicacy, subtlety, and discrimination. In contrast, Yoga has clear dietary guidelines. And Magicians should be conscious of the dietary choices they are making. These guidelines from the yogic path may be used as a springboard to thinking about one's personal choices. It is as important to discover what is the best fuel for the body as it is to discover the specifics of one's practical moral code.
The body has often been referred to as "the temple of the soul." Food is one of the body's sacraments. As such, regardless of whether the student is a strict vegetarian, an omnivore, or anything in between, it is of absolute importance to give the body good food. Observe how the body reacts to different types of foods. Decide what your approach to alcohol should be. Be brutally honest. Reevaluate your needs from time to time. For example, although I had been a vegetarian for several years, I found it necessary to add fish back into my diet while I was expecting my daughter. The demands of pregnancy were such that I required the type of energy produced by consuming fish.
The typical yogic diet is lacto-vegetarian. It consists of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and dairy products. It bans eggs or flesh of any kind. This diet is very important to Yogis for both moral and health reasons. While externally it is very wholesome and simple, it takes into account the subtle effects foods have on both Prana (energy) and the mind. Dietary choices are intertwined with spiritual choices. Many Yogis believe that the mind is formed from the minute, ethereal essence of food. So optimally, any food the Yogi consumes is as pure as possible.
Yoga divides food into one of the three basic classifications, or gunas. The three gunas represent the different vibratory essences of the energies of creation. They are sattvic, pure; rajasic, active; and tamasic, dark. The gunas correspond to the Western alchemical principles of Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt. The gunas characterize the intrinsic nature of all things existing on earth including people. Yogis believe that a person's mental makeup will be influenced by the types of food he eats.
Sattvic foods are the choice of most Yoga practitioners. They are considered to enhance prana and to increase strength, cheerfulness, and joy. Sattvic foods maximize vitality, energy, vigor, health and happiness. They are both delicious and nutritious. They are believed to grant calmness, supply maximum energy, and boost stamina. They are conducive to the practice of meditation and magical studies. The traditional categorizations of the foods are listed below; again, let your intuition guide you in dietary choices.
Legumes, seeds, and nuts are essential to the yogic diet. They contain high amounts of protein needed to build muscle and strength.
Whole grains such as steel cut oats, corn, millet, quinoa, unpolished rice, and barley are considered a mainstay. These types of grain are beneficial for the entire digestive system, from the jaws to the elimination processes. Grains supply carbohydrates that lend energy to the body as well as providing amino acids that help form the building blocks of protein.
Fresh vegetables contain necessary minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Yogis consume a variety of vegetables, including leafy greens, root vegetables, and vegetables with seeds (like squash or cucumbers). All products should be as fresh as possible and cooked as lightly as possible.
Fruits are considered one of the most important parts of the yogic diet. All types of fruit are included: whether fresh, dried, or juiced. They have a high vitamin and mineral content and are considered vitalizing. They are also thought to be blood purifiers, which is the reason it is common for Yoga adherents to fast for periods of time, drinking only fruit juices. It is acceptable to dilute juices with pure spring or natural, bubbling mineral water. I would especially recommend this modification for those sensitive to sugar or wishing to drop excess weight.
Herbs are used both as seasoning and as tisanes.
All sweeteners should be as natural as possible: honey, molasses, maple syrup, and apple juice concentrate are preferred. Do not eliminate sweets, but enjoy them in moderation. Jaggery, which is raw unprocessed sugar obtained directly from sugar cane, is a traditional sweetener in India. It is becoming more commonly available today in both the United States and Europe.
Traditionally, dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt were considered an important part of the sattvic diet. Today, however, due to modern farming practices, many feel more comfortable using alternatives such as soy or rice products. Another drawback to dairy products is that they are believed to increase the production of mucus in the body, which could have an impact on breathing exercises.
Rajasic foods are salty, bitter, overly hot, pungent, burning, sour and/or dry. They tend to excite passions and produce a rather ineffective, overly active disposition. The yogic diet avoids them because they are overly stimulating and can cause both physical and mental stress. Rajasic foods incite lust, anger, greed, violence, and other vices thought to hinder the practitioner in his studies. On a mundane level, rajasic foods can cause insomnia and irritation of the GI tract. It has been my observation that many occultists (including myself!) are attracted to rajasic comestibles. Foods classified as rajasic include:
Onions, garlic, radishes, coffee, tea, tobacco, or any type of stimulant
Excessively spicy food
"Convenience" food laden with chemicals and preservatives
Pungent spices (such as asafetida)
White sugar (considered overly processed)
Sattvic food eaten too quickly ("on the go")
Tamasic foods are tasteless, putrid, rotten, and stale. This type of food makes a person listless, sluggish, and indolent. Tamasic food brings on feelings of anger and depression; the mind becomes inappropriately dark and filled with the residue of disappointments. Abandoning this type of food can bring dramatic changes in the psyche. Tamasic foods include:
Meats, fish, eggs, alcohol, and all other intoxicants
Stale, rotten, or decomposed foods
Overripe or underripe fruit
Deep-fried food, overly barbecued food ("charred"), or food that has been reheated many times
Mushrooms and other fungi
Sattvic food taken in excessive quantity
Excerpted from YOGA FOR MAGICK by Nancy Wasserman, James Wasserman. Copyright © 2007 Nancy Wasserman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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