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THE BIG BOOK OF YOGA: CAVEAT MEDITOR

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CAVEAT MEDITOR - YOGI BEWARE

When learning a new skill that can really take you places, there are usually a few bits of cautionary advice that go with it. First you learn to walk, then you hear "look both ways before crossing the street!" Drivers are cautioned to "buckle up", scuba divers are warned about "the bends", and hey, even Peter Parker (on turning into Spider-Man) was warned by his wise old uncle that "with great power comes great responsibility." That's right - it doesn't matter who you are - super-heroes and mere mortals alike have to be careful with newfound abilities! This is a rule that definitely applies with the practice of Hatha Yoga, as well.

As a matter of fact, many of the early texts explicitly state that Hatha Yoga, specifically, (as opposed to other branches of Yoga) really does have the potential to change us from normal, everyday folk, to Yogis capable of astonishing feats of mental, physical, and spiritual prowess. (More about that in the next and final chapter.) It's all the more important, then, to keep in mind a few basic rules of "Yoga safety" when setting out on this path. In this section, we'll review the three main stumbling points for Yoga practitioners (and ways to avoid them).

Caveat #1: Adopt a congruent lifestyle

If we were to boil all of Yoga - every path, every practice, every technique - down to a single word, that word might be

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"purification". This philosophy is particularly easy to see in the Hatha Yoga system - the goal is to purify the mind of agitation, and in order to do that first we purify the body, then the body's energy, and then finally the mind itself.

The point here is that the whole process is a heck of a lot easier if all the other details of your life are more-or-less in line with this process of purification. Just about anyone, regardless of what they're doing with the rest of their lives, will get some benefit from Yoga - but with so much to gain, why not make it easy for Yoga to work its magic? The more you conduct your daily goings-on with sense of clarity and integrity, the farther and faster you'll progress in your Yoga practice.

Well, that's all well and good, but what exactly are we talking about when we say "purity"? In some circles, purity is actually something of a dirty word! Especially in the Western world, where Judeo-Christian values have instilled deep-seated notions of sin and virtue in many people and cultures, the word is often associated with a kind of religious puritanism. It's important to be clear that that's not what the teachings of Yoga mean when they refer to this concept.

Purity, in Yogic terms, is more a sense of living according to certain principles that make sense to both the mind and the heart. True, there are some religions associated with Yoga - Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, to name a few - and they do have their own fairly strict notions of what's pure and what's impure. But Yoga itself is more a set of instructions on common sense, and it transcends any one culture, sect, or religion. When the Yogis advise that you live a certain way - that you should avoid theft, for instance, or that you should be honest and caring with others - they are really just offering a set of shortcuts that make life easier in the long-run. It's kind of like they're saying, "Look, we've tried out all these different ways of being already, and we keep on finding that there are a few ways that work the best, if your goal is to find inner peace."

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