Friday, November 19, 2010

Yoga for Magick: Build Physical and Mental Strength for Your Practice

Book review: (The Weiser Concise Guide to) Yoga for Magick: Build Physical and Mental Strength for Your Practice  by Nancy Wasserman (Weiser Books 2007)

This is a nice introductory yoga book specifically geared toward those who practice the Western forms of esotericism. It is more particularly suited for Qabalists, occultists, Thelemites, and magicians, as well as for Wiccans and Pagans.

There are sections on the origins of yoga, physical discipline, diet, and the Ashtanga – or eight-limbed yoga extolled by Patanjali. The section on the chakras has some nice simple tattwas (picto-glyphs) for visualization that can be painted. Each has the Sanskrit letter representing the seed syllable (bija mantra) for each respective chakra. The author suggests that these can be drawn and painted for added power of visualization.

In the section on Asana they give four asanas recommended by Aleister Crowley in Liber E vel Exercitiorum. Crowley was a practitioner of yoga and wrote a couple of books regarding yoga: Book Four and Eight Lectures on Yoga. Anyway these asanas refer to four postures- the god, the ibis, the thunderbolt, and the dragon. Pictures of them are given. I am not sure the origin of these postures but I suspect Crowley may have developed them himself or adapted them perhaps from the Golden Dawn or some other hermetic order. Throughout this book there are comparisons of the yoga of the east to the western esoteric traditions. It is not always easy to make these comparisons. Sometimes one can merely note similarities and differences.

The section on pranayama gives quick instructions for nadi shodhana and kapalabhati although it is more ideal to get those instructions in person preferably from an accomplished yogi.

The section on mantra yoga gives a selection of mantras from several traditions including the Egyptian form of a mantra from Crowley’s channeled Book of the Law (Liber Al vel Legis):

A ka dua. Tuf ur biu. Bi aa chefu. Dudu ner af an nuteru.

(Unity uttermost showed!
       I adore the might of Thy breath,
Supreme and terrible God,
       Who makest the gods and death
To tremble before Thee: -
I, I adore Thee!)

Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, is traditionally said to take many years to perfect. It is prerequisite to the Samyana practices of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. The author states that, “Pratyahara helps to minimize and eliminate unwilled thoughts.” The author also recommends another of Crowley’s works: Liber III vel Jugorum. Therein are experimental methods for monitoring and controlling one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. Some of these include altering one’s use of language by avoiding the use of certain letters, pronouns, adjectives, or conjunctions – for Speech. Suggestions for Action include such things as avoiding crossing the legs or lifting the left arm above the shoulder for a prescribed amount of time. For Thought he suggested that one attempt to avoid thinking of  a subject that one frequently encounters in conversations and interactions and another is to experiment with creating dual personalities in oneself that may develop differing habits. The reason for these exercises is to strengthen one’s will and to become less controlled by the common and frequent distractions of the senses. In traditional yoga one method to practice Pratyahara is to cover the sense receptors with one’s hands and fingers – the thumbs block the ears and the other fingers block the eyes nose and mouth. She notes this as the Sanmukhi mudra. This is often referred to as the mudra of closing the seven gates, or apertures.

Next are the more advanced meditation practices referred to as Samyama - the act or flow of meditation. These are the last three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga:  Dharana – holding the focus single-pointedly on an object; Dhyana – “the ability to see the underlying truth of the object of meditation”; Samadhi – the total merging of the ego version of self with the meditation object. There are many methods of dharana. Some involve looking at pictures, letters, syllables, points or dots, or deities. Others may involve focusing on a sound or other sensory object. One may look down the end of the nose or focus on a specific part of the body. One may focus on the breath as Buddha recommended. After one has a little experience with external objects one may focus on visualized objects and sensations. Crowley recommended in Liber 5 to focus on the five tattwas: black oval, blue disk, silver crescent, yellow square, and red triangle - then to combine the tattwas such one inside another - then to proceed to simple moving objects such as a pendulum swinging – then to combinations of objects such as pistons moving up and down while a pendulum is swinging – then to imagine living objects such as a friend – and also to imagine sounds, smells, and tastes as meditation focus. One classic yogic method is to sound the AUM mantra while visually focusing on its symbol.

Again according to Crowley, “The normal mind is a candle in a darkened room. Throw open the shutters, and the sunlight makes the flame invisible. That is a fair image of Dhyana.”

Dhyana is said to happen or occur rather than to be practiced. It is said to be perfect contemplation and discerning the truth of the object and the contrast between observer and observed. Dhyana is like a breakthrough or crossing over that occurs after much long regular meditation practice and familiarization with object through repeatedly applying the method.

Samadhi means – to bring together, to merge. Subject and object merge to a situation of inseparability. According to Swami Sivananda, “the meditator and the meditated, thinker and though become one in perfect absorption of the mind.”  Here is a quote from the author: “Patanjali stated that Samadhi was an experience that anyone that anyone is capable of at any time in their lives. Acceptance of Patanjali’s belief is an affirmation of the inherent divinity in each of us. We all have the potential to become fully conscious beings.” She seems to equate attaining the experience of Samadhi with the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in the Western Esoteric Traditions. I don’t think I agree with that since as it is associated with the heart and Tiphareth on the Tree of Life I think is more synonymous with the Anahata Chakra and perhaps with the experience of Dhyana but it is difficult to make such assertions without true and deep experience of such states.

There are two appendixes in the book. The first is a description of the Qabalistic Middle Pillar exercise given by Isreal Regardie in his book, The Golden Dawn. This involves visualizing energy rising up and down mainly through the central spheres of the Qabalistic Tree of Life – Malkuth – Yesod- Tiphareth- Kether. These may be equated with the root, solar, heart, and crown chakras. Hebrew magickal words are intoned during this practice. There is more detail than this but this is the gist of it.

The last appendix is a way to integrate Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) with Liber Resh vel Helios – adorations to the four daily stations of the Sun according to ancient Egyptian notions.

Overall, this is a good introductory book and as the title says it is concise. It would probably be most applicable to Thelemites and others who practice Crowley’s magickal systems. In any case, I would recommend it to magickal practitioners of any system.

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