Archive for January, 2009


Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I came upon the writings of Theos Bernard while I was living and teaching at Dai Bosatsu Budhist monostery in 1992-93.  I always love the older texts of Yoga and Yogis.  Recently I came across this bio on Theos again.  I was so inspired by what the ancient teachers taught that I have now increased my own practice of headstand by one minute every day.

Unlike today, Yoga was a hidden practice.  It was kept secret within the hidden spaces of India.  Brought to the west by Paramhansa Yogananda and later by other Hatha Yoga teachers, yoga has only emerged into a popular daily workout program in the last 20 years.  As you read about the practice of Theos Bernard, you will understand that this dedication was the demand of  early seekers of yoga.  Awe inspiring and mind blowing, I find it incredibly motivating, hopeful, and exciting.  Read on and see for yourself!

“I had become aware of my discovery of those deep joys that I had never before dreampt existed in this life, and I felt that all my effort gained for me a reward altogether overwhelming” Theos Bernard

Theos Bernard pioneered Indian and Tibetan studies at Columbia University. He was the third American toever set foot in Lhasa, Tibet, and the first American to be initiated into the rites of Tibetan Buddhism. He published several accounts of the theory and practice of the religions of India and Tibet, including his PhD dissertation on Hatha Yoga. He was the founder of the first Tibetan Buddhist research institute in United States, he compiled a Tibetan grammar and planned for the systematic translation of Indian and Tibetan literature into English

This is what Theos Bernard writes about his initial instructions for physical practice given to him (in person and subsequently under the mail) by his first Guru:

Then, one day, out of a clear sky, I was summoned by one who had just arrived from India. He proved to be my first spiritual teacher or Guru.

There was one posture, said my Guru, which I should try to develop at this time. This was Padmasana, or the Lotus pose. This is considered to be the foremost of all Asanas, and it had to be learned if I expected to make any progress in the practice of Yoga.  The Guru further advised me not to hurry, but to develop this Asana by slow degrees, until I could maintain it with comfort. It was of the greatest importance for future work that I should not attempt to maintain the position for more than an hour’s duration without expert advice. At the time I could not see how I ever could do it for an hour, let along longer. My first exercise was to learn how to do the practice known as Uddiyana, or Inter-abdominal control.  I was advised to practice it every morning and every evening, and that the minimum number of times to do the exercise so as to derive benefit was 750, and the maximum 1500. My ultimate goals were to do this 1500 times daily for a continuous period of six months. This was to bring me to the ultimate development of Uddiyana, and then Nauli, which consists of gaining complete control over all abdominal muscles, so that it will be possible to isolate the recti and roll them in any direction.  My Guru would not go into the benefits to be gained by this exercise other than the purely physical ones. He insisted, however, that I should develop it to the same point of efficiency as Uddiyana. I was to supplement these exercises with the posture known as Sirshasana, otherwise known as the head stand. Indeed, it would be necessary, at some future time during my preparatory training, to develop it to the point of being able to remain on my head for three hours, and that I should maintain this practice for a period of at least a month, and preferably three months. I immediately made a note of the time-consuming aspect of Yoga practice, but an inner determination told me that I would find the way.”

This is how Theos Bernard describes his advanced practice under the Maharishi:

The Maharishi said that many of my letters had been read to him and that he was certain I was prepared and that he would choose an auspicious day for my initiation. In the meantime I was to prepare myself for this day. He said no more, but I could see what he meant. This was going to be his way of discovering what I really did know.

I had scarcely sunk into sleep when four o’clock came and I had to be up. I set to work on Dhauti . I followed this with Neti. I devoted some fifteen minutes to [stretching the tongue for Khecari]. I had been keeping up the practice of Uddiyana for some years; so I found no difficulty in doing the excercise 1500 times. This would usually occupy me for about half an hour. Then I would devote fifteen minutes to Nauli. A quarter for six I set as the time to begin standing on my head for half an hour. On finishing the head stand, I began my Pranayama practice. Eventually, I would devote most of the time to this practice  at six-thirty sharp, after practising a few of the simple cleansing breaths to prepare me for it, and after having assumed Padmasana  I began the practice with Bhastrika this exercise at the rate of sixty strokes a minute was easy. I found I could do it at the top speed of 120 but limited myself to the lower speed and did it for one minute only. I inhaled slowly and as deeply and fully as possible, then suspended for one minute, then exhaled as slowly as possible. This in the beginning consumed two and one half minutes. My second round began at three minutes, so I did ten rounds in thirty minutes. After one week I lifted the suspension to two minutes. It was my plan to increase my Kumbhaka at the rate of one minute a week until I reached the first degree of perfection. All practices were aimed at that goal.”

Bernard  together with his third wife, Helen, returned to India in 1947, this time seeking “rare manuscripts” in the hills of Spiti near Ladakh. Entering the Punjab en route to his destination, his party of Muslim porters was rumored to have been attacked by Lahouli tribesman. Conflicting reports about his whereabouts circulated for several months, and though his wife waited for him in Calcutta, he never returned.