As taught by Sri Swami Rama, Exercises for Joints and Glands is
a set of simple, pleasant stretching exercises that can be enjoyed
by everyone. These exercises increase circulation to all parts of
the body and help to improve overall flexibility. By releasing
accumulated tensions in the joints and glands, the exercises help
restore a natural vitality to the body and mind. People with
arthritis and rheumatism have found Exercises for Joints and
Glands to be extremely beneficial. These exercises were also
designed to gently prepare and train the body for the further
practices of hatha yoga. Each exercise is systematically presented
with illustrations and easy to follow step-by-step instructions.
If you watch a cat or a dog when it wakes up, you'll see that it goes through an
elaborate process of stretching. One leg, for example, is put far back and the body
is stretched away from it as much as possible. You may do something similar
when you climb out of bed in the morning. Putting your arms high above your
head and stretching up from the tips of your toes seems like a natural part of
coming out of sleep.
But why do you do this? Mostly because it feels good. You may not think
about it much, but it seems to get the body back into comfortable working order.
It re-coordinates the system and makes you feel more alive.
At first glance it seems like an insignificant thing, this luxurious morning
stretch. But there is a very important underlying principle. Researchers have
begun to discover the importance of what they call the body image. Our mental
picture of ourselves determines to a great extent which parts of our body we use
actively and which parts we tend to forget. A person whose awareness centers
around his face and chest, for instance, may have a pleasant expression and dress
neatly, while he tends to ignore his spine and the back part of his body. His basic
posture suffers as a result. He will, without being particularly conscious of it,
allow his upper spine to slump into a hunchback position. After years of habitually sitting and standing this way, the back becomes "frozen." In a sense it doesn't
get the energy that is necessary to keep it flexible and healthy. Calcifications and
other disorders of the spine are likely to follow.
We might say, then, that when we forget a part of our body, it suffers serious
consequences. When it is not properly positioned, movements around it are not
properly regulated. One set of muscles becomes weak from disuse, another over-
developed from the effort to maintain an off-balance position.
Yoga postures are designed to break up such bad habits by systematically
exercising different parts of the body in a gentle, pleasant way. We can gradually
bring back into our awareness muscles and joints that have been forgotten over
the years. Muscles that had become weak are gradually and gently strengthened
so that the body can once more be held in a comfortable and natural position.
Posture is improved so that energy may begin to flow again in a natural, exhilarating way.
In yoga, the basis for these exercises is outlined in great detail. The physical
body is said to be only one of several bodies that make up the human system.
The way we picture ourselves, our mental image of our shape, is part of what is
called the mental body. Besides this and the physical body that we can see and
touch, there is an intermediate level that has to do with the energy that activates
our muscles, glands, and so forth. We might compare it to the electricity that
makes a motor run. The energy must flow through the right channels and enter
the right circuits if the machine is to function smoothly. The energy, the physical
body, and the mental body image interact in an intricate way. But we do not need
to trouble ourselves with the theory in order to enjoy the benefits of yogic exercises.
In fact, it is not even necessary to struggle with the complex and difficult
poses that are usually described in yoga manuals. Actually, they only become
really useful once the body has begun to move back toward a natural balance.
Meanwhile, the joint and gland exercises are a set of simple, pleasant stretches
that can be used with great benefit by almost anyone, regardless of how badly out
of shape they are. By increasing the circulation to different parts of the body and
by restoring a natural, flowing body image in the mind, a harmonious feeling of
energy throughout the system can be re-established. This means that all the
structures, including the joints and glands, benefit. One beneficial effect of the
exercises accentuates another. The results can be very gratifying. It comes as a
surprise to many people that they can feel better each day instead of worse!
It should be kept in mind that these are stretches. They should be as pleasant
and enjoyable as that first exuberant stretch that comes spontaneously on stepping
out of bed. Done slowly, gently, and with enjoyment, they can be most effective.
Swami Rama, the teacher of the joints and glands exercises found in this book, is
one of the giant figures in the development of yoga in the West. After his arrival
in the United States in 1969, he traveled tirelessly, highlighting the need for an
introspective view of life, inspiring students, and giving special attention to the
various practices of yoga and meditation. In 1970, he visited the Menninger
Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, where he demonstrated self-regulation abilities
that changed the course of Western research and that remain, to this day,
unmatched feats of inner and outer control. Not long after, he founded the
Himalayan International Institute, a vehicle for educational and charitable work
with a global outreach. The Institute's headquarters in Honesdale, Pennsylvania,
continues to act as a center for the development of this work under the guidance
of Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.
As a teacher, Swami Rama minimized the mystical expectations students
projected on him. "Do not try to leap ahead!" he would remind his audiences.
"Tread the path systematically. Practice faithfully and let your life unfold in its
own time." Thus, from the earliest days, he carefully developed instruction that
could be embraced by students at all levels-instruction that often proved deceptively beneficial.
The exercises found here are among the very first techniques he taught. He
recommended that all students practice these exercises for at least four weeks
prior to beginning more demanding asanas. In the process, he said, students
would reconnect with their bodies, develop balance and flexibility, improve their
posture, and learn to coordinate movements with breathing. Since these exercises
are not athletically challenging and require only moderate strength, they are suit-
able for virtually all students.
These exercises can be used for long-term practice as well. They maintain
supple joints and enhance a general sense of well-being, qualities that are particularly important as the body ages. The exercises are also highly recommended for
persons suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, and habitual stiffness. They offer a
safe way to get started toward better health.
The exercises are sequenced to begin in a sitting posture and work down
through the body, from head to toes. In some cases, massage is combined with
the exercises. A central goal is to stimulate blood flow to each area of the body,
flushing out wastes and toxins, and supplying the body with fresh nutrients.
Loss of health and mobility begins with such impediments as stiff ankles,
sore shoulder joints, tension around the eyes and face, a rigid spinal column, and
tightness in the wrists and finger joints. In addition, soreness in the lower back
and rigidity in the hip joints are extraordinarily common ailments. It is surprising
how effectively these problems can be addressed with repetitions of the relatively
simple movements found here.
The exercises also benefit the mind and nervous system. As the body
becomes more calm and relaxed, a natural sense of peacefulness arises.
Concentration improves and there is a lightness to being in one's body that
makes everyday movements easier. Hormone-secreting glands that play an integral role in the process of stress and nervous system arousal are regulated and
pacified. And the sequence concludes with systematic relaxation, a deeply calming experience for body and mind.
Swami Rama was concerned that beginning students of every age and qualification receive well-balanced instruction. Once, many years ago in Nepal, an
elderly couple joined him for lunch, where they spoke animatedly about many
subjects. Afterward the couple asked whether Swami Rama was willing to give
them something to practice in their daily life. He taught them several exercises
from this book, including the abdominal squeeze. After the couple left he won-
dered aloud whether I knew them. I was certain I did not. "He is the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court," Swami Rama said casually.
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