Magic and Yoga (i)
Many magicians, in particular followers of the older traditions, feel that an intense and thorough study of yoga should be included in their students’ magical training—at least for a while. Many styles of Indian yoga have been adapted to fit the needs of Westerners and these are so popular nowadays that it hardly seems necessary to discuss them in a book like this. As far as hatha yoga (the type of yoga involving physical exercises) is concerned, we will indeed keep our comments to a minimum. After all, there are plenty of excellent books about it on the market and classes are offered at gyms, community centers and yoga schools in even the most remote areas.
But with the large amount of information available, we often tend to forget what yoga is really about. Patañjali, one of the classic authors of yoga literature, says it best in his book The Yoga Sutras:
“Yoga is restraining [Sanskrit: nirodha] the fluctuations of mind.”
Although the derivative of the word “yoga” as “yoke = harness/self-discipline” is commonly stressed, it doesn’t help much when the true intention of yoga is overlooked, for
example through exaggerated perceptions of asceticism, a sole emphasis on complicated body postures, or purely speculative philosophizing.
Plus, yoga is a complete philosophical and ideological system that cannot be reduced to a mere type of gymnastics. Like no other discipline known to us today, all of the numerous different styles of Indian yoga are extremely effective in applying highly developed, refined techniques for shifting awareness and shaping matter with the mind.
Readers who already have a good knowledge of yoga can just skim over the next section.
the structure of ashtanga or raja yoga
It was Vivekananda who was instrumental in bringing yoga to the Western world and establishing its popularity there. Through him, the term “raja” (= “royal”) came into use to describe a system of yoga that is more commonly known in India as “ashtanga” (= “eightfold path/eight limbs of yoga”). In fact, in Indian culture, a person’s own personal yoga path is generally referred to as the “royal” path, which sometimes causes confusion when it is mentioned in literature. That’s why we’ll stick to the initial designation of “eightfold yoga” in this book. After all, the style of yoga introduced by Vivekananda is the most widely practiced.
As the name already implies, this type of yoga is divided into eight paths or limbs, each one in itself leading to samadhi (= “union with the highest” or “enlightenment by achieving a state of empty mind”), although they are generally viewed and treated as parts of a whole.
We’ll be introducing these paths or limbs in the traditional way, first in their relationship to one another as a whole, and then individually. However, since we’re pursuing a concept that is different than most other authors’ of literature on yoga or magic, we will not be discussing them in order, but rather in the sequence that’s appropriate to the corresponding chapters of this book.
the eight paths
Ahimsa — nonviolence
Satya — truthfulness
Asteya — abstention from theft
Brahmacharya — abstinence from sexual activity
Aparigraha — refrainment from accepting gifts
Shauca — purity
Santosha — contentment
Tapah — austerity
Svadhyaya — spiritual study
Ishvarapranidhana — self-sacrifice to God
Asana body postures
Pranayama control of vital breath (prana)
Pratyahara abstraction of the senses
Samadhi superconscious state or trance
First we will discuss the path of asana.
asana in the practice of magic
The practice of asana often consists of bending the body into bizarre positions in order to experience the unusual flow of energies—and also transcending this experience in itself in order to trigger and experience altered states of consciousness. With this in mind, the rejection of hatha yoga (or “physical yoga”) by the more “spiritual” yoga schools is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. After all, every asana—if properly performed and mastered—will almost automatically lead to the state of meditation (dhyana).
Here’s what Patañjali has to say about asana:
“Asana is steady, comfortable posture.”
Some translations of Vivekananda refer to asana as a “sitting” posture when in fact the “body” postures of yoga are being referred to. (After all, it would be absurd to refer to recognized asanas such as headstands or the peacock in hatha yoga as sitting postures!)
The purpose of asanas is to calm the body and spirit. In addition, they promote good health, keep the body in good shape, regulate the glandular system, and strengthen muscles, tissue, tendons, all organs, and especially the immune system.
This harmonization has one disadvantage, however, especially for people who have a lot of contact with the general public. It makes your body extremely sensitive to everything that’s good for it—and bad as well. This is especially noticeable in a person’s diet. Although yoga will strengthen a person’s resistance, the yogi who doesn’t heed his or her inner voice and eats something that his or her body doesn’t need will certainly pay the price! A person doesn’t have to stick to a prescribed diet, although most yogis are indeed vegetarians and refrain for the most part from consuming drugs and other stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine, coffee, and theine. Instead, the body will develop its own individual diet based on a keen sense of exactly what it needs. This may strongly deviate from the norm and must be strictly adhered to in order to avoid serious health problems, especially with the stomach or digestive tract.
In magic, we use asanas for a similar reason as in yoga —to induce gnosis and turn off all bodily perception in order to allow the spirit to focus on its work without hindrance, but also to maintain the physical condition of our body, which is our most important vehicle since it’s a reflection of our spirit. With the help of our body, we practice things such as letting go, self-discipline, devotion, vision, and action. Once our bodily perception is that well trained, it will work as an unerring seismograph for all magical things that happen around us. It will become both a source of joy and an alarm system, as well as our wholeness and the home of our gods (the Egyptian Book of the Dead says: “In every limb of our body lives a god”).
That’s why asanas shouldn’t feel like torture. (Aleister Crowley, however, often violated this basic principle. As a result, his yoga practice—in contrast to his other excellent writings on yoga—often resembled an exercise in brutal sadism.) Of course, students with no previous experience will often encounter situations that require a bit of sweat and tears, but since yoga has nothing to do with fakirs, pain should be understood as a signal from the body and be respected as a warning sign. That’s why we mentioned the concise definition given by Patañjali: Asana should be steady and comfortable—nothing more, nothing less!
So there’s absolutely no reason for beginners to force themselves into the lotus posture, perform headstands, or put their feet behind their ears unless they’re interested in the numerous health advantages and improvement of concentration skills that such asanas can offer. It’s important to sit in a steady position and have the proper mental attitude during magical practice so that the energy is able to flow properly and you’re not distracted (we recommend keeping your back straight); you should be able to sit comfortably for a long period of time since shifting your position or body in any way could cause your concentration to be interrupted.
Again, Patañjali gives us some advice:
“Tato dvamdvanabhigha tah.”
“(Once this position is achieved) there is no more obstruction through duality.”
Even just a quick first attempt will show the beginner what this means. When the body starts tingling or itching (especially in the legs) or when certain spots start twitching nervously, the yogi stays focused (despite these distractions) on his or her inner centeredness. This is done by shifting one’s attention away from what affects the body and by subduing the senses (pratyahara). So we see how much the individual paths of eightfold yoga merge into one another. To maintain a proper asana, the body requires concentration (dharana), which in turn requires subduing the senses (pratyahara) which in turn improves the mastery of the asana, thus sharpening concentration, leading to a state of meditation (dhyana) and ultimately to a state of superconsciousness (samadhi). But the dualities of joy and sorrow, good and evil, “important” and “unimportant” are meant here as well, as well as the distinction between spiritual aspiration and everyday attachment (“I actually think it’s more important to take care of my car, there’s something wrong with it, and next week we’re going on vacation …”), and between concentration and distraction (because true concentration only knows itself).
Technically speaking, many of the “god-forms” used in Hermetic magic are asanas as well (and even often fulfill the same physiological function) in the same way that rune positions and hand gestures (e.g., in Freemasonry or letter magic) do, too. However, this is approaching the fuzzy area between asanas and mudras, which will be dealt with later in this book.
Although there are a countless number of asanas, only the following three usually play a significant role in magic during meditation and concentration (with the possible exception of the lotus position, which everyone who is physically able should learn at one time or another if only because of its unique, unmatched health benefits without overdoing it or turning it into torture). These are the god posture, the dragon posture, and the half-lotus posture (described here in simplified form).
The God Posture
Sit on a chair that has a straight backrest, although you shouldn’t actually lean against it. In fact, it would be better to use a chair without any backrest at all. Your feet should touch the floor, and the palms of your hands should be placed flat on your thighs with the fingers together. Your back is erect but not stretched, your head is straight, and your eyes are closed or half-closed (or use the 180° gaze).
This posture is especially good for older people or those who are not able to sit on the floor for some reason or another.
The Dragon Posture
This posture is best done on the floor and a rug or blanket can be placed under your legs, but the surface should be hard (so don’t practice on a mattress, bed, or couch!).
Rest your buttocks on your calves with your feet sticking out straight behind you or touching slightly, whatever is more comfortable. Your upper body is straight and your hands are placed on your thighs, just like in the god position. The position of your head is the same as above, too.
The Half-lotus Posture
(or the “perfect posture”)
Much easier to master than the full lotus posture but, in the opinion of many authors on magic, just as effective. (Personally I prefer the lotus posture to all other asanas because once you’ve properly learned it, it’s the most comfortable of all since it automatically keeps the back straight, not to mention all of the health advantages that it brings as well.)
Rest your buttocks on the floor or on a blanket, or on a pillow placed under the back part of your buttocks, giving the whole posture a more slanted position. One foot rests on the inside upper thigh, the other is tucked underneath (right or left). If possible, both knees should touch the floor (with the pillow placed to support your lower back, this happens automatically). Your head is straight and shoulders relaxed, your hands are resting on your knees or on your lap if they’re not performing any special mudras (hand postures).
In all three postures, your tongue should lightly touch the front roof of the mouth— unless, of course, other exercises require you to do otherwise.
Particular attention should be paid to keeping the jaw and the forehead relaxed since this is often overlooked. “Steady and comfortable” describes a harmonious force field that occurs in the state between being tense and being relaxed; this is the state of body and mind that is optimal for contemplation or concentration on a magical or mystical goal.
That’s all on this subject for now. We’ll get back to it again later on in this book.
basic exercise in energy circulation
One of the most important exercises for harmonizing the body’s subtle internal energies is borrowed from Chinese acupuncture and Taoist yoga. It’s a basic exercise in energy circulation that we would like to describe in general here. More details about this practice can be found in the relevant literature available. The simplified form described here has, however, proven to be effective and is sufficiently suitable for our purposes.
Acupuncture is based on the vital life force called chi (or ch’I, ki, qi, xi) that flows along the meridians or energy pathways in the body. For this basic exercise in energy circulation, we need to familiarize ourselves with two of these meridians, namely the Governor Vessel and the Conception Vessel (Dumai and Renmai). The Governor Vessel runs from the perineum to the midline of the back and neck, down the midline of the head, right up to the middle of the upper lip and palate. The Conception Vessel also begins at the perineum and runs from the midline of the stomach, chest, neck, and chin, right up to the middle of the upper lip and lower jaw or tip of the tongue. (Various authors do not always agree on the exact course of the meridians. Even when it comes to the directions in which they flow, there are several variations and differences in opinion.)
With this basic exercise in energy circulation, use your imagination to circulate the energy from the perineum in the Governor Vessel up the back and then back down the front in the Conception Vessel. After we’ve done this, rub your hand several times over the hara region (located roughly the width of three fingers below the navel) in order to store the activated energy there.
Note: In order to avoid a blockage of energy, especially in the head area, it’s important to rest your tongue lightly on the front roof of the mouth.
According to the teachings of acupuncture, chi normally flows in the opposite direction, so it’s possible that the direction of circulation that we recommend feels uncomfortable to you. In this case, try circulating the energy in the opposite direction—from the front, up to the top, and down the back. As far as the rest goes, proceed as above.
We’ve used the word “imagination” and, to the inexperienced beginner, it really will feel like the flow of energy is taking place purely in one’s imagination. But in just a short time this process will become automatic, and there will be no more talk of imagination or even “illusion.”
Apart from the numerous health advantages, I recommend this basic exercise in energy circulation as an excellent way for centering yourself since it creates a suitable shield of magical protection against foreign influence and loss of inner balance. It can also be used to transmutate sexual energy, e.g., during phases of sexual abstinence. In particular, the storing of energy in the hara region has a positive healing effect on illness, and even conditions such as weakness and tiredness (e.g., from being overworked, during menstruation, effects of the weather, exhaustion) can be alleviated or even remedied entirely on a long-term basis.
Lots of misleading information has been written about the function of this basic exercise in energy circulation, and some authors even tend to make a religion out of it. Although this exercise can reveal possible blockages in the subtle body when the energy flow is activated consciously, blockages usually dissolve on their own with regular practice, and only in serious cases does an acupuncturist need to be consulted for therapy. But in no way does it mean that the small circulation of energy is “dead” if you don’t do this exercise; it’s always active, and the chi is constantly flowing along the meridians, although the intensity varies and depends on your current state of health and well-being. In this sense, it would be more accurate to refer to it as the “conscious intensification and steering” of the circulation instead of its “activation.” Since it’s already active, it’s not so difficult to become aware of and be able to work it with as some literature makes it out to be. At seminars, students will often discover that it usually works within just minutes.
However, if you’re having difficulties with consciously intensifying and steering the circulation of energy along the prescribed pathways, just be patient and keep practicing. It might be helpful to have someone help you by shaking a rattle (a simple rumba rattle that you can buy fairly cheaply in music stores will do, although you should choose one with a bright sound instead of a dull one) close to your body in the desired direction of the flow of energy until you can actually feel it. This acoustic aid will help give you a feel for the circulation of energy so that it can be triggered later automatically without any additional help.
After a bit of practice, you’ll be able to feel and intensify the flow of energy at any time in any position—and you should experiment with the various situations as well.
In addition to this basic exercise, there’s also an advanced exercise in energy circulation in which the twelve main meridians are activated or intensified, but there’s no need to go into that here. (Whoever is interested in this can refer to the books by Chia and Zöller in the bibliography at the end of this chapter.)
Illustration 4 shows the exact path of subtle energies during this exercise.
the basic exercise in energy circulation
Practice the basic exercise in energy circulation at least once a day, preferably in the morning, until you feel confident and convinced that you’ve mastered it. Then you can go on to practicing this circulation technique anywhere and any time, e.g., at work, while walking, while driving—and soon you’ll learn to appreciate the tremendous soothing and harmonizing effect that this simple exercise has, especially in stressful situations.
This exercise can also be combined with other centering techniques such as the IAO formula or the OMNIL formula, either before or afterward. With a little bit of practice, it won’t take you more than just two minutes—and after awhile, you’ll need even less time to perform it.
Mantak Chia, Awaken Healing Energy Through Tao: The Taoist Secret of Circulating Internal Power. Josefine Zöller, Das Tao der Selbstheilung
(Both books are recommended for further reading about the basic exercise in energy circulation and the practice of acupuncture.)