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Observations placeholder

Crowley, Aleister - from Yoga for Yahoos



Type of Spiritual Experience


He must have had such fun writing this.

Japanese tea ceremonies, the plough symbolism, yoke, beating sounds ........... loads of references that have nothing to do with yoga, but everything to do with how to get a experience

A description of the experience


There is more nonsense talked and written about Yoga than about anything else in the world. Most of this nonsense, which is fostered by charlatans, is based upon the idea that there is something mysterious and Oriental about it. There isn't. Do not look to me for obelisks and odalisques, Rahat Loucoum, bul-buls, or any other tinsel imagery of the Yoga-mongers. I am neat but not gaudy. There is nothing mysterious or Oriental about anything, as everybody knows who has spent a little time intelligently in the continents of Asia and Africa. I propose to invoke the most remote and elusive of all Gods to throw clear light upon the subject-the light of common sense.

All phenomena of which we are aware take place in our own minds, and therefore the only thing we have to look at is the mind; which is a more constant quantity over all the species of humanity than is generally supposed. What appear to be radical differences, irreconcilable by argument, are usually found to be due to the obstinacy of habit produced by generations of systematic sectarian training.

We must then begin the study of Yoga by looking at the meaning of the word. It means Union, from the same Sanskrit root as the Greek word Zeugma, the Latin word Jugum, and the English word yoke. (Yeug-to join.)

When a dancing girl is dedicated to the service of a temple there is a Yoga of her relations to celebrate. Yoga, in short, may be translated 'tea fight,' which doubtless accounts for the fact that all the students of Yoga in England do nothing but gossip over endless libations of Lyons' 1s. 2d.

Yoga means Union.

The great classic of Sanskrit literature is the Aphorisms of Patanjali. He is at least mercifully brief, and not more than ninety or ninety-five percent of what he writes can be dismissed as the ravings of a disordered mind. What remains is twenty-four carat gold. I now proceed to bestow it.

It is said that Yoga has eight limbs. Why limbs I do not know. But I have found it convenient to accept this classification, and we can cover the ground very satisfactorily by classing our remarks under these eight headings.  These headings are: --

  • Yama.
  • Niyama.
  • Asana.
  • Pranayama.
  • Pratyahara.
  • Dharana.
  • Dhyana.
  • Samadhi.

The real object of Asana is control of the muscular system, conscious and unconscious, so that no messages from the body can reach the mind. Asana is concerned with the static aspect of the body. ……. What we have to do with the existing functions of the body is to make them so regular, with gradually increasing slowness, that we become unconscious of their operation. ….The point is that by sitting still, in the plain literal sense of the words, the body does ultimately respond to the adjuration of that great Mahatma, Harry Lauder, 'Stop your ticklin', Jock!' ……

The various postures recommended by the teachers of Yoga depend for the most part upon the Hindu anatomy for their value, and upon mystic theories concerning the therapeutic and thaumaturgic properties ascribed to various parts of the body……… When you start tying yourself into a knot, you will find that some positions are much more difficult and inconvenient than others;… Why then should we bother to choose a specially sacred position? Firstly, we want to be steady and easy. We want, in particular, to be able to do Pranayama in that position, if ever we reach the stage of attempting that practice. …

Now, if you will keep these points in mind, and do not get side-tracked by totally irrelevant ideas, such as to imagine that you are getting holier by adopting some attitude traditionally appropriate to a deity or holy man; and if you will refrain from the Puritan abomination that anything is good for you if it hurts you enough, you ought to be able to find out for yourself, after a few experiments, some posture which meets these conditions. …..

It is, however, perfectly right that you should have some idea of what happens when you sit down to practise.

If you retain 'any' posture long enough, you get cramp………. 

Let me digress for a moment and refer to what I said in my text-book on Magick with regard to the formula IAO. This formula covers all learning. You begin with a delightful feeling as of a child with a new toy; you get bored, and you attempt to smash it. But if you are a wise child, you have had a scientific attitude towards it, and you do not smash it. You pass through the stage of boredom, and arise from the inferno of torture towards the stage of resurrection, when the toy has become a god, declared to you its inmost secrets, and become a living part of your life. There are no longer these crude, savage reactions of pleasure and pain. The new knowledge is assimilated.

So it is with Asana. The chosen posture attracts you; you purr with self-satisfaction. How clever you have been! How nicely the posture suits all conditions! You absolutely melt with maudlin good feeling. I have known pupils who have actually been betrayed into sparing a kindly thought for the Teacher! It is quite clear that there is something wrong about this. Fortunately, Time, the great healer, is on the job as usual; Time takes no week-ends off;  Time does not stop to admire himself; Time keeps right on. Before very long, you forget all about the pleasantness of things, and it would not be at all polite to give you any idea of what you are going to think of the Teacher.

Perhaps the first thing you notice is that, although you have started in what is apparently the most comfortable position, there is a tendency to change that position without informing you. For example, if you are sitting in the 'god' position with your knees together, you will find in a few minutes that they have moved gently apart, without your noticing it. Freud would doubtless inform you that this is due to an instinctive exacerbation of infantile sexual theories. I hope that no one here is going to bother me with that sort of nauseating nonsense.

Now it is necessary, in order to hold a position, to pay attention to it. That is to say: you are going to become conscious of your body in ways of which you are not conscious if you are engaged in some absorbing mental pursuit, or even in some purely physical activity, such as running. It sounds paradoxical at first sight, but violent exercise, so far from concentrating attention on the body, takes it away. That is because exercise has its own rhythm; and, as I said, rhythm is half-way up the ridge to Silence.

Very good, then; in the comparative stillness of the body, the student becomes aware of minute sounds which did not disturb him in his ordinary life. At least, not when his mind was occupied with matters of interest. You will begin to fidget, to itch, to cough. Possibly your breathing will begin to play tricks upon you. All these symptoms must be repressed. The process of repressing them is extremely difficult; and, like all other forms of repression, it leads to a terrific exaggeration of the phenomena which it is intended to repress.

There are quite a lot of little tricks familiar to most scientific people from their student days. Some of them are very significant in this connection of Yoga. For instance, in the matter of endurance, such as holding out a weight at arm's length, you can usually beat a man stronger than yourself. If you attend to your arm, you will probably tire in a minute; if you fix your mind resolutely on something else, you can go on for five minutes or ten, or even longer. It is a question of active and passive; when Asana begins to annoy you the reply is to annoy it, to match the active thought of controlling the minute muscular movement against the passive thought of easing the irritation and disturbance.

Now I do not believe that there are any rules for doing this that will be any use to you. There are innumerable little tricks that you might try; only it is, as in the case of the posture itself, rather better if you invent your own tricks.

But there are no rules. I said there weren't, and there aren't.

Only the human mind is so lazy and worthless that it is a positive instinct to try to find some dodge to escape hard work.

These tricks may help or they may hinder; it is up to you to find out which are good and which are bad, the why and the what and all the other questions. It all comes to the same thing in the end. There is only one way to still the body in the long run, and that is to keep it still. It's dogged as does it.

The irritations develop into extreme agony. Any attempt to alleviate this simply destroys the value of the practice. I must particularly warn the aspirant against rationalising (I have known people who were so hopelessly bat-witted that they rationalised). They thought: 'Ah, well, this position is not suitable for me, as I thought it was. I have made a mess of the Ibis position; now I'll have a go at the Dragon position.' But the Ibis has kept his job, and attained his divinity, by standing on one leg throughout the centuries. If you go to the Dragon he will devour you.

It is through the perversity of human nature that the most acute agony seems to occur when you are within a finger's breadth of full success. Remember Gallipoli! I am inclined to think that it may be a sort of symptom that one is near the critical point when the anguish becomes intolerable.

You will probably ask what 'intolerable' means. I rudely answer: 'Find out!' But it may give you some idea of what is, after all, not too bad, when I say that in the last months of my own work it often used to take me ten minutes (at the conclusion of the practice) to straighten my left leg. I took the ankle in both hands, and eased it out a fraction of a millimetre at a time.

At this point the band begins to play. Quite suddenly the pain stops. An ineffable sense of relief sweeps over the Yogi-notice that I no longer call him 'student' or 'aspirant'-and he becomes aware of a very strange fact. Not only was that position giving him pain, but all other bodily sensations that he has ever experienced are in the nature of pain, and were only borne by him by the expedient of constant flitting from one to another.

He is at ease; because, for the first time in his life, he has become really unconscious of the body. Life has been one endless suffering; and now, so far as this particular Asana is concerned, the plague is abated.

I feel that I have failed to convey the full meaning of this.

The fact is that words are entirely unsuitable. The complete and joyous awakening from the lifelong and unbroken nightmare of physical discomfort is impossible to describe.

The results and mastery of Asana are of use not only in the course of attainment of Yoga, but in the most ordinary affairs of life. At any time when fatigued, you have only to assume your Asana, and you are completely rested. It is as if the attainment of the mastery has worn down all those possibilities of physical pain which are inherent in that particular position. The teachings of physiology are not contradictory to this hypothesis.

The conquest of Asana makes for endurance. If you keep in constant practice, you ought to find that about ten minutes in the posture will rest you as much as a good night's sleep.

The source of the experience

Crowley, Aleister

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