Our specific goal in this essay is to cover Yoga, particularly in a manner that is most beneficial to the Practicing Magician. As Crowley was wont to point out: Yoga means Union, Union is the cause of all phenomena. Yoga is the Union of Self-Consciousness with the Universe.
Thus we see that Yoga mirrors the goals of the Ceremonial Magician, who is also seeking a similar type of Union. In fact the blend of Yoga and Magick—is what is unique about Crowleian Magick.
The word “Yoga” derives from the same Indo-European root as the English “Yoke.” Thus if Yoga may be taken as meaning both “Union” and “Yoke,” then it can be assumed to mean “Union under Control,” or more divinely stated “Love under Will.” It is the science of exercising control over the self so as to achieve unity with the innate divinity that awaits within us all.
The first two disciplines we will cover have to do with ordering our lives so that we may start the actual work of Yoga; some refer to these as moral disciplines, but the term doesn’t work if we want to view Yoga in a Thelemic fashion. (We will deal with redefining these later.)
Yamas are taken as being moral disciplines and restraints that regulate our relationships with others. The word “Yama” simply means “Control,” They are:
1. Ahimsa—non-violence with mind, action, and speech; non-hurting, non-injuring, non-harming and non-killing. Crowley refers to this simply as non-killing.
2. Satya—truthfulness. This refers to the avoidance of all falsehood, exaggeration, and pretense; and is necessary for the unfoldment of our intuitive, discriminating faculties. Crowley refers to this simply as truthfulness.
3. Asteya—non-stealing. This refers not only to stealing physical objects but also to taking credit for anything that is rightly not ours. Crowley refers to this simply as non-stealing (of course).
4. Brahmacharya—literally, “Walking in Brahman.” The control of sensual desires, allowing us to use the energy for higher purposes. Brahmacharya is frequently translated as celibacy; however, it more properly refers to continence in either celibate or married life. Crowley refers to this simply as continence (why not?). He also said of continence, that the whole topic would be muddled until people regarded sex as just a form of exercise or athletics—put away the noose, ladies.
5. Aparigraha—non-possessiveness. This refers to using the things of this world for their intended purposes, without a feeling that we own them. Crowley refers to this simply as non-receiving of any gift.
“Niyama” is commonly translated as “Observances.” Crowley felt that “Virtue” was a better word, and by that he meant virtue is the quality of man-hood, and therefore the quality of god-head. As more commonly understood, these are constructive observances designed to organize our personal daily lives. They are:
1. Shaucha—purity. We purify the body by eating pure, healthy foods and by practicing cleansing exercises. We purify the mind by ridding ourselves of undesirable thoughts and emotions. Crowley was able to relate this to the Qabalistic/Astrological idea of Saturn.
2. Santosha—contentment. We should not allow outside influences to disturb our inner tranquility. Crowley was able to relate this to the Qabalistic/Astrological idea of Jupiter.
3. Tapas—literally “that which generates heat.” This refers to those actions, disciplines, and austerities that purify the mind and the body and increase our desire for enlightenment. Crowley was able to relate this to the Qabalistic/Astrological idea of Mars.
4. Svadhyaya—self study. This refers to the study of the scriptures and of the internal states of consciousness. Crowley was able to relate this to the Qabalistic/Astrological idea of the Sun.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana—literally “Surrender to the Ultimate.” When we unite our individual with that of a higher principle, all egotism, pettiness, and selfishness are removed. In Eight Lectures on Yoga Crowley equates his understanding of the Planets to the Niyamas, without mentioning the Niyamas by name. We are able to match up the first four with relative ease (the fifth may even relate to Venus), but we’ve run out of Niyamas and Crowley is still speeding happily through the Solar System—HELP!!
Crowley wrote that the whole object of the Yamas and Niyamas is to live so that no emotion excites the mind, he went on to say that laying down rules is impractical—we need to arrange things so that we are free to work. So basically, we see that these first two areas are concerned with “getting things right” so that we can practice Yoga.
As Thelemites we can interpret Yamas as doing our True Will in regard to the world we live in; and Niyamas as doing our True Will in regard to ourselves.
The most practical level we can bring these down to is this: If there is something you need in order to do Yoga—get it! If there is something preveting you from doing Yoga—get rid of it!
“Asana” means “Posture;” and it is here that we get into the actual work of Yoga. These are the poses on sees a Yogi in. Asanas fit within our program of attainment by offering the following:
1. Asanas prepare the body for meditation, making it calm, steady and firm.
2. Asanas allow the body to be at ease. They develop superb health so that the mind is not distracted by aches and pains after the body has been made steady for meditation.
3. Asanas improve the flexibility of the joints.
The standard Asanas one would find taught in a Yoga class, or in a standard book on Yoga, would probably include the following:
Relaxation Postures: Corpse (Shavasana), Crocodile (Makarasana), Child’s Posture (Balasana), Knees-to-Chest Posture, Simple Standing Posture.
Stretching and Limbering Exercises: Symmetrical Stretch, Cat Stretch, Horizontal Stretch, Overhead Stretch, Side Stretch, Simple Back Stretch, Torso Twist, Swimming Stretch, Churning (Chalan).
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara).
Standing Postures: Abdominal Lift (Uddiyana Bandha), Angle Posture (Konasana), Triangle (Trikonasana), Revolving Triangle (Parivritta Trikonasana), Tree (Vrikshasasana), Hand-To-Foot Posture (Padahastasana).
Sitting Postures: Easy Posture (Sukhasana), Kneeling Posture (Vajrasana), Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana), Leg Cradles, Butterfly, Lion (Simha-sana), Symbol of Yoga (Yoga Mudra), Squatting Posture, Cow’s Face (Gomuk-hasana).
Backward-Bending Postures: Cobra (Bhijangasana), Horse Mudra (Ashvini, Mudra), Half Boat (Ardha Naukasana), Boat (Naukasana), Half Locust (Ardha Shalabhasana), Locust (Shalabhasana), Half Bow (Ardha Dhanurasana), Bow (Dhanurasana).
Forward-Bending Postures: Head-To-Knee Posture (Janushirshasana). Posterior Stretch (Paschimottansana), Inclined Plane (Katikasana).
Twisting Postures: Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana).
Leg Lifts: Wind-Eliminating Posture (Pavanamuktasana). Simple Leg Lifts (Utthita Ekapadasana), Double Leg Lifts (Utthita Dvipadasana), Balance-On-Hips (Utthita Hastapadasana).
Inverted Postures: Rocking Chair, Half Plow (Ardha Halasana), Plow (Halasana), Inverted Action Posture (Viparitakarani), Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana), Arch Posture, Half Fish (Ardha Matsyasana), Headstand (Shirshasana).
There are, of course, many many more.
Crowley wrote that the real object of Asana is control of the muscular system, conscious and unconscious, so that no messages from the body reach the mind—Asana is concerned with the static aspect of the body. Crowley’s recommended Asanas are more demanding than those taught in the typical Yoga class, they are:
1) First Position (The God): Sit in a chair; head up, back straight, knees together, hands on knees, eyes closed.
2) Second Position (The Dragon): Kneel; buttocks resting on the heels, toes turned back, back and head straight, hands on thighs.
3) Third Position (The Ibis): Stand, hold left ankle with right hand, free forefinger on lips.
4) Fourth Position (The Thunder- bolt): Sit; left heel pressing up anus, right foot poised on its toes, the heel covering the genitals; arms stretched out over the knees; head and back straight.
Of these he wrote that the practitioner must be absolutely still, every muscle tense, for long periods (and, of course, one should not wear hindering garments while doing this). Yes, there will be discomfiture—pain may be a more accurate word. The idea being to master the postures until we no longer feel pain. He went on to say:
"Perhaps the reward is not so far distant: it will happen one day that the pain is suddenly forgotten, the fact of the presence of the body is forgotten, and one will realize that during the whole of one’s previous life the body was always on the borderland of consciousness, and that consciousness was a consciousness of pain; and at this moment one will further realize with an indescribable feeling of relief that not only is this position, which has been so painful, the very ideal of .physical comfort, but that all other conceivable positions of the body are uncomfortable. This feeling represents success.
"There will be no further difficulty in the practice. One will get into one’s Asana with almost the same feeling as that with which a tired man gets into a hot bath; and while he is in that position, the body may be trusted to send him no message that might disturb his mind.
—Aleister Crowley: Book 4, Part 1
The idea here being to reduce bodily rhythm to a minimum. The ideal state is to be steady and easy: we want to be properly balanced; we want our arms free (they are used in some forms of Pranayama); and, we want our breathing apparatus as unrestrained as possible.
He once described the whole practice of, Yoga as “Sit still. Stop thinking, shut up. Get out!” Once we’ve learned to sit still we will proceed on down the list, for we see that Yoga is the whole idea of Uniting with the Infinite.
Oh yes; and, of course, we are recording accurately our daily Yoga practices in our Magical Diary—right??!?
"Pranayama is notably useful in quieting the emotions and appetites; and, whether by reason of the mechanical pressure which it asserts, or by the thorough combustion which it assures in the lungs, it seems to be admirable from the standpoint of health. Digestive troubles in particular are very easy to remove in this way. It purifies both the body and the lower functions of the mind, and should be practiced certainly never less than one hour daily by the serious student."
—Aleister Crowley: Book 4, Part 1
Though the word “Pranayama” is most often translated as “Control of Breath.” The name literally means “Control of Energy” or “Control of the Life Force.” Pranayama is really the control of the dynamic aspect of the body.
The perfection of the Asanas has led us into a natural awareness and deeper understanding of breath and its variations. To use the energy channels, the Nadis, that we covered in the previous essay on the Chakras, we feel the incoming air travel along the Ida and Pingala; it is desirable to activate both equally and apply Sushamna to a state of joy in which air enters both nostrils equally, and just as equally flows along the Ida and Pingala.
Effectively mastering Pranayama manifests itself into some of these physical results:
1) Perspiration for no apparent reason.
2) Automatic Rigidity (Shuksima Khumpakham).
3) Peculiar Movements (Buchari-Siddhi)—muscles give very quick, short spasmodic jerks.
4) Actual Levitation.
There are several ways to practice Pranayama, here are some of the most common:
1) From a standing position, inhale; fill the lower lungs, then the middle lungs, and then the upper lungs; simultaneously, raise the arms until they are overhead, palms touching, in a prayer position. Exhaling, empty the upper lungs, then the middle lungs, and then the lower lungs as the arms are lowered back to the sides. Repeat two to five times.
2) Nadi Shodhana (purification of the Nadis)—sit in an easy posture. Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration; gradually lengthen the duration. Bring the right hand up to the face, bending the Index and Middle Finger in so that the Thumb and Ring Finger can be used to close either nostril. Inhale through one nostril and out the other, switching every three breaths.
3) Kapalabhati Pranayama (“kapalabhati” means “Makes the Skull Shine”)—this is a more advanced practice. Quickly and forcefully expel the breath, followed by slow inhalation. Begin with seven cycles, and work up to 21 cycles.
4) Here is one of Crowley’s practices: At rest in one of your positions, close the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand and breathe out slowly and completely through the left nostril, while your watch marks 20 seconds. Breathe in through the same nostril for 10 seconds. Changing hands, repeat with the other nostril. Let this be continuous for one hour. When this is quite easy to you, increase the periods to 30 and 15 seconds. When this is quite easy to you, but not before, breathe out for 15 seconds, in for 15 seconds, and hold the breath for 15 seconds. When you can do this with perfect ease and comfort for a whole hour, practice breathing out for 40 and in for 20 seconds. This being attained, practice breathing out for 20, in for 10, holding the breath for 30 seconds. Strive after depth, fullness, and regularity of breathing. Various remarkable phenomena will very probably occur during these practices. They must be carefully analyzed and recorded.
He also recommends adding the practice of Mantra Yoga to that of Pranayama:
"The best way to time the breathing, once some little skill has been acquired, with a watch to bear witness, is by the use of a mantra. The mantra acts on the thoughts very much as Pranayama does upon the breath. The thought is bound down to a recurring cycle; any intruding thoughts are thrown off by the mantra, just as pieces of putty would be from a fly-wheel; and the swifter the wheel the more difficult would it be for anything to stick.
"This is the proper way to practice a mantra. Utter it as loudly and slowly as possible ten times, then not quite so loudly and a very little faster ten times more. Continue this process until there is nothing but a rapid movement of the lips; this movement should be continued with increased velocity and diminishing intensity until the mental muttering completely absorbs the physical. The student is by this time absolutely still, with the mantra racing in his brain; he should, however, continue to speed it up until he reaches his limit, at which he should continue for as long as possible, and then cease the practice by reversing the process above described."
—Aleister Crowley: Book 4, Part 1
Mantra Yoga is as useful a method as one could find of preparing the current of thought for the assumption of a rhythmmical form, and rhythm is the great cure for imbalance.
Though this is attributed as “Control of the Senses” so that no outside influences disturb the mind, Crowley took this as meaning to control the mind as to let no outside influences in; whatever, the result is the same.
He also wrote that Pratyahara is introspection; the exploration of the sub-strata of the consciousness which are only revealed when we have progressed a certain distance and become aware of conditions which are utterly foreign to normal intellectual conception.
Perhaps we are better off just working on shutting out the physical world which we observe through the five senses, so that we may turn our minds to the more serious task at hand, that of doing proper meditation.
We’ve come a long way as we’ve mastered these practices, but the hardest part of our journey is about to begin.