- Paperback: 104 pages
- Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser; United States edition (January 1, 1968)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0877280592
- ISBN-13: 978-0877280590
- Package Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,924,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hatha Yoga Paperback – January 1, 1968
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Dr. Bernhard deals at length with the many postures, purification and breathing exercises used in the Orient by those yogis who have attained enlightenment. The extent to which he has succeeded in mastering these practices is partly shown by thirty-seven photographs. He shows their effectiveness by describing his own experiences when he underwent the severe discipline of a yogic retreat while studying under the guidance of a well-trained yogi in India. In this way he bridged the gap between theory and practice, demonstrating that yoga is a scientific way to achieve well-being which can b used by a Westerner in the midst of everyday life. By quoting from the ancient yoga texts, great authenticity is given to this science and shows the extent that the yogis went to, in developing it.
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I first read this extraordinary book in 1974, having obtained a copy from the UCLA library. Upon re-reading the text (this time using a copy from the UC Davis library) I was struck with just how arduous and focused was Bernard's quest.
His intention was "to test by personal experience the techniques of Hatha Yoga." (p. 11) In doing so he traveled to India and ultimately to Tibet when he was 27-years old. Along the way he visited many Indian cities and learned yoga first hand from several teachers. He took notes and used those notes as the basis for a dissertation to obtain a PhD from Columbia University in 1943. This book is based on that dissertation originally published by Columbia University Press in 1944.
At the time Bernard went to India in 1936 little was known in the West about the actual practice of hatha yoga. It was considered a mysterious and secret discipline, characterized by extreme physical practices leading to occult and supernatural powers. Bernard sought to test the truth of such claims. He concluded "...during my studies of the science of Yoga I found that it holds no magic, performs no miracles, and reveals nothing supernatural." He adds, cryptically: "...'by thoroughly practising first the (physical) training, one acquires the Knowledge of the True.' The training I have here communicated faithfully; but the 'Knowledge of the True,' because of its very nature, must remain a mystery." (p. 96)
Bernard was no dilettante or weekend warrior when it came to hatha yoga. He practiced all the regular asanas, mudras, bandhas, and kriyas including many extreme and demanding forms. There are 36 black and white plates in the book showing Bernard demonstrating various poses. Those photos were perhaps the most famous ones seen in the West until B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga came into print in the 1960s. Bernard once stood on his head for three hours; he learned to swallow a surgeon's gauze, four inches wide by twenty-two and a half feet long, to soak up the contents of his stomach (a kriya--a cleansing practice--called dhauti karma); he actually cut the lower tendons of his tongue (khecari mudra) as well as taught himself to draw up water into his colon and expel it (basti kriya).
Throughout the book Bernard has reference to the three classic yoga texts from the Middle Ages: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Geranda Samhita, and Siva Samhita. He quotes from the texts and compares them with each other and with the instructions from his gurus. By the way, relatively new translations of these works are available from YogaVidya. Additionally Bernard has reference to the famous Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which were written some 2,000 years ago (or thereabouts). See my reviews of these four essential texts at Amazon.
In addition to having read and reviewed these books I too have practiced yoga beginning in 1974. Consequently Bernard's personal experiences expressed in such a candid and straight-forward manner have been of enormous interest.
The beginning question for the yogin is what is the purpose of yoga? The answer found as early as the Vedas is liberation from the delusions of this world (moksha). The practice of hatha yoga has long been considered the basis for that liberation. In Bernard's understanding it is through asana (postures), kriya (purifications), pranayama (breathing exercises), and various mudras (seals or restraints) that the practitioner is lead to samadhi (sometimes called trance or simply meditation, but actually samadhi is a state of mind characterized by an alert, fearless blissfulness). Well, that is my description and my experience. Bernard writes that he passes by "the theory of samadhi" to maintain his focus on "the more practical aspects of Yoga." (p. 76) This is no doubt wise since samadhi, like the less esoteric experience of meditation, is preeminently a personal experience that differs with the practitioners.
It is worth noting that Bernard does not report on his personal meditative experiences. He does near the end of the book give a report of a trance experience under the guidance of one of his gurus. In this connection I am reminded of this verse from Fitzgerard's "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam":
"Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went."
This is not to disparage Bernard's experience nor mine; it is only to suggest that one should take the ancient texts and their promises of superpowers and everlasting life with that grain of salt that might be delivered into the great ocean of Brahman while understanding that yoga is--as Bernard emphasizes--first and foremost a practice, a physical and mental skill that comes only after a lot of hard and steady work, and that one should have no expectations beyond health and vigor--which indeed are reward enough.
Nonetheless I have learned from yoga not that I might through some esoteric and strange practice achieve eternal life, but instead that I have no reason to fear death. Again that is more than reward enough.
The last printing of this book that I know of is the American Edition of 1968. The copy I have from Davis is the Fourth Impression from 1975. Amazon apparently has only used copies of various editions. It is a shame that no publisher has seen fit to bring this modern classic back into print.
(Since writing the above I have learned that a new edition of this book is available on Amazon's UK site.)
His approach is like a breath of fresh air in a subject rampant with unnecessary mystical excursions. He provides an excellent roadmap of how to progress (you can adapt his regimen according to your needs). Reading the book, you are struck by a fresh viewpoint: Yoga is not just about flexibility, but more importantly, of strength and power.
If you are tired of books by bearded holy men with potbellies, who don't look like they are capable of picking up a winning lottery ticket off the street, then do try this book.