Monthly Message 
Message November 2003:

YogaBetsy Yoga Center Discourse 6:
The Theory of Yoga
Brian Afton

  The Following discourse was presented during a formal meditation at the YogaCenter on November 1, 2003 at 5 PM.  A number of our regular students were in attendance. 

  Religion is not infrequently a source of friction between individuals.  It is also a real challenge for those of us teaching yoga because so many people believe that yoga is a religion.

  Now it is true that many Hindus and Buddhists do yoga as an integral part of their religions.  They do this to prepare their minds and bodies for the lessons and insights which will follow, but it should be clear that there is a great deal of difference between the preparation for a religious service and the service itself.

  If you are going to count the preparation for religious services as part of the religion then Christians would have to accept the idea that putting on their Sunday clothes was an important part of their religion.   Upon reflection, I don't think very many of them would agree to that proposition, I believe they would insist that the way you were dressed had very little to do with your relationship to Christ.

  Yoga is actually a very sophisticated energy management system.  In the western world it tends to be treated as just a collection of clever exercises.  In truth people can derive a great deal of benefit from this but at the same time they also miss a lot.

  In a place like the Yoga Betsy yoga center where traditional yoga is taught we deal with the deeper aspects of yoga that are glossed over in gym, or pop yoga.  This is far more than exercise, it is an art, a science and a philosopy but that does not make it a religion.

  We get several kinds of individuals here at the yoga center.  Some have been sent to us by their doctors to treat injuries they have sustained.  Others come trying to maintain their health and vitality but probably the largest group of individuals is here to deal with stress. Yoga has developed a well deserved reputation for being a highly effective method of dealing with stress.

  Stress itself,  is a demand on your system.   These demands may be physical, mental or emotional and their effects are not easy for most people to regulate.  There are several reasons for this but probably the most important one is the failure to understand the complexity of the problem.

  People in our society have always been taught to power their way through everything which stands in their path.  Unfortunately, fighting stress is like trying to battle a wave in the ocean; the more you claw at a wave and attempt to resist it, the more likely it will be to pull you down.  Stress is a multifaceted problem which acts like a tar pit to everyone who approaches it unprepared.

  At the most basic level, your breathing is an attempt to control the gas balance in your blood stream.  In other words, the metabolic process of converting food into energy is placing a demand on your system.  This process requires an intake of oxygen to proceed and it is up to you to provide it.  That is a stress.  Without this stress and any number of others like it you would die almost immediately.

  At a somewhat higher level your bones and muscles must be used and exercised or they will atrophy.  Without some loading or external demands both your muscles and skeletal system would simply fall apart.  Your bones respond to stress by becoming bigger and stronger just like your muscles do.  If there is no loading on them they just slowly wither away.

  At a still higher level than this your brain needs to be used and exercised or it too will simply turn to mush.  For some reason, people do not think of their brains as being part of their bodies but the brain needs fuel and exercise too.  Your brain does a lot more than just thinking in the usual meaning of that term.  It and the systems connected to it regulate practically everything in your body.  Without proper diet and focus it will not be able to do that properly for very long and your overall health and well being will suffer accordingly.

   Dealing with stress effectively requires a deep understanding of many things.  The first of these is the realization that you cannot just indiscriminately eliminate stress from your life.  Stress is a very necessary part of your existence.  If you did somehow succeed in removing all stress and demands on your system you would turn into a pile of mush and die within a few minutes.

  Stress then, is something of a double edged sword.  It can be very good for you if it is part of a constructive program

  The strange looking yoga postures and the special method of breathing do far more than simply stretch muscles. They stress the body in a special way that specifically targets the bodies energy system; what we in the western world would call the autonomic and sympathetic nervous system.

  As your body is being stressed by the yoga exercises, as it grapples and strains with the postures, it learns to deal with that stress and this response ultimately becomes automatic and manifests itself in your daily living outside the class.

  Therefore, yoga not only burns off toxic chemicals and many of the other effects of stress during the process of the exercises,  it alters the way your body works so that it can deal more effectively with the stresses and strains of life in the first place. In fact it solves problems people don't even know they have.

  Important as all of that may be, it is but scratching the surface of yoga.  Yoga is an energy management system.  To use it exclusively as a method of fighting stress is to employ it negatively and to fail to appreciate its real importance.

  The key to yoga is applying stress and breath in the proper amounts and at the proper times to control the flow of energy thru your chakras.  The chakras or psychic centers correspond to the endocrine glands and the major nerve plexes of western science.  Unfortunately, most westerners believe that controlling the flow of energy through these centers is some kind of primitive nonsense.

  The existence of these energy channels and medians is no longer in doubt in much of the western scientific and medical community.  The science of acupuncture which deals exclusively with the energy medians is now a licensed profession and a recognized medical system by the State of New York and many other states.

  But to return to the point, to use this system merely to fight disease, to fight old age, to fight stress is to fail to appreciate its most important application.

  Now as it happens the very most important part of yoga is one which always gets the least amount of attention.  It is not what you are doing with your body which is the most important factor in your life.  The postures of yoga are not the ultimate objective of yoga at all.

  As we had mentioned earlier, many Hindus and Buddhists do yoga as a preparation for their religious services.  In other words they are opening up a channel, they are essentially going through the process of something not unlike placing a phone call.

  As it turns out that process is definitely benifical to our health and well being, but it is not the central purpose of yoga.  The central issue is,  where is that phone call going to!

  Now one of the most peculiar facts about our bodies is that we have practically no conscious control over more than 99% of what goes on in them.  In fact we are not even conscious at all for 7 or 8 hours of each day.  We can control certain voluntary muscles and we have some control over our breathing, but the fact is that virtually everything which is going on inside of us, our metablism, the flow of our blood, the digestion of our food proceeds without any attention or control on our part.

  Without getting embroiled in the terminology of modern psychology or any other unnecessary complexity we will simply say for our purposes here that all of this involuntary activity is controlled by your subconscious mind because that is the expression in our language and usage which comes the closest to describing what we are talking about.

  The subconscious mind is by definition usually below the level of your awareness.  You are ordinarily not aware of it.  The term subconscious is misleading in one sense because it is a form of consciousness which is as much above your ordinary level of awareness as it is below it.

  This subconscious mind is closely associated with your energy system.  It is also closely related to a higher intelligence which can be contacted in meditation.

  It was for the purpose of raising our level of consciousness and meditating that yoga was developed in the first place almost 5000 years ago.

  Most people spend their entire lives chasing one rainbow after another seeking riches and fulfillment in the external world, but all of our myths and religions warn us that fulfillment isn't to be found there.   In the movie Space Balls  Yogurt warns LoneStar that the swartz is in you.  In the Wizard of OZ Dorothy wanders all over the magic kingdom only to learn that it was always within her own power to return home.   In the Christian scriptures it is stated that the Kingdom of God Lies within. 

  Well, the doorway is there at any event.  It is called the crown chakra.  The stairs begin at the base of the spine and run through the charkas and up the governor channel.

  (At this point a meditation was conducted using resonant frequency of the seven major chakras.......................Let love and light enter your life....become that light.)

  Now there is nothing in the world from preventing you from doing the same thing the next time you are in your Church or Synagogue.  Try it.  You may have a very different experience than you are used to.

 Copyright 2003  Brian Afton 2822 Grover Rd Olean, NY 14760