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Through passages from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother the compiler reveals the importance of discovering the higher knowledge concealed in our Self for establishing harmony and good health in both mind and body. Selections also deal with pranic energy and the practice of pranayama, the five elemental states of matter – ether, air, fire, water, and earth –, and the education and training of the senses for a change of consciousness. The final section includes colour photographs illustrating respiratory exercises, important acupressure points for relief of pain, and therapeutic asanas for increasing flexibility and strengthening parts of the body.
The Knowledge Within, as a title, may be somewhat daunting for the common man. But it is an excellent, practical handbook for good health; and even, for the more inquisitive, it provides guidance on the basics of spiritual force and an understanding that “pranic energy supports not only the operations of our physical life, but also those of the mind in the living body.” It lucidly explains the benefits of the control of breath as a vital force for nadi shuddhi (purification of the nadis—the subtle channels that carry prana, the life energy), so very essential for our continued good health.
The editor, a veteran sadhak of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, has a vast storehouse of personal and practical experience in physiotherapeutic exercises practised over decades, including his many sessions of stress management in France. His book, an offering blossoming out of his faith in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, addresses a simple theme: stress. Modern man, enjoying the fruits of the progress of science and technology, is now beset with an “increased mental and emotional anxiety, [a] lack of ability to control thoughts”, familiar symptoms of the condition known commonly as stress.
Stress is not just a mental or psychological condition, avers the editor in his introduction, nor is it only physical. It is a psycho-physical condition which has its genesis beyond the mind and the body; hence, to cure it one must delve deep and understand the spiritual element of man’s physiology. The compiler’s long association with the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, especially its practical aspects, has helped him cull relevant and meaningful excerpts from their writings, and these have been arranged in a sequence that can enable a serious reader to study and practise methods of spiritual improvement and those breathing exercises that contribute to keeping the body fit as well. Most importantly, here we learn about Matter, Mind, Spirit, and Consciousness, not just as abstract concepts but as elemental components for the existence of a complete individual.
The selections from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have many layers of meaning. But it is to the credit of the compiler that he has chosen the passages so that, even for a layman, the words convey practical guidance. Explaining the meaning of yoga, Annie Besant wrote, “Yoga is literally union and it means harmony with the divine Law, the becoming one with the divine Life, by the subdual of all outward-going energies.” If we bear in mind this meaning of yoga, we can discern even greater meanings in all these excerpts, which together form the bedrock of this book.
The sources of the extracts, all meticulously listed at the end, provide a ready guide to further readings for those who are so inclined. Equally valuable are the notes on respiratory exercises along with the sixty colour plates illustrating therapeutic postures and important acupressure points. All together, these provide simple yet effective guidance for those who are willing to try the prescription laid out in this book.
This is an unusual book but very readable, and repeated readings can only widen one’s understanding and help one to walk on the path to good health, all by oneself.
— Swapan C. Dutta
Swapan Dutta retired in 2003 from his position in the Central Government as Secretary, Department of Posts, Ministry of Communications and IT. His association with the Ashram dates back to 1969, when he met the Mother. He lives in Bangalore and visits the Ashram regularly.
Some observations on The Knowledge Within from a hatha yoga instructor:
At the end of this book, the author has highlighted some physical practices that can contribute to improved health. These practices are divided into three sections and each section is illustrated with colour photographs that demonstrate the proper way to do the exercises.
Respiratory Practices: Nadi Shuddhi
As is commonly seen around the world today, yoga and its various practices are being modified to suit the needs of different people. There are practitioners and teachers of hatha yoga, therapists, physical culturists, physiotherapists and seekers who bring their own interpretations and experiences to the modifications. To begin with, pranayama (breathing techniques) is to be done only in the sitting position. The author has modified this to include a prone position for those who are very weak. It does seem to be a more comfortable alternative. However, this may tire the arms quickly and also keep the thorax and chest in a more expanded position throughout, which may demand more effort in the chest and lungs. A word of caution should be added: the practitioner should limit the number of times each exercise is done and should not feel tired at any time during the practice of pranayama.
The other breathing practices that are shown are simple, doable and are clearly described. Every individual should practise these simple exercises as they promote healthy abdominal breathing.
The pressure points suggested seem to cover a host of general discomforts or ailments that people face at some time or the other. There are points for more severe conditions such as asthma and vertigo, which have also been thoughtfully included. Although I have no background in the use of murma points, it seems to me that these key pressure points, when pressed or massaged as part of a daily routine, would help to promote a healthy flow of prana and arrest an energy toxicity build-up in different organs and joints.
This section is conveniently divided to cover different regions of the body: the upper back-neck region, the hip-groin-thigh-hamstring-knee areas, and the lower back. The practices are simple, highly focused locally and extremely helpful.
I have personally benefited from the exercises given here for the knee/sciatic pain and for the hip too. These therapeutic postures are a precious gift to those people who tend to rely on medications or balms, believing they are the only way to relieve pain.
The descriptions are sufficient for the average person. More detailed, step-by-step instructions and a better quality of illustrations would make this section more appealing and clearer to the reader.
The author has a very rich and expansive breadth of knowledge and its practical application in these areas. Accompanying comments that explain how the nexus of mind and emotion influences each area of the human body would have been of special interest. Hopefully, the next edition will bring that to fruition!
To sum up, the author has provided us with some simple respiratory techniques, important murma points to maintain a healthy flow of prana and help in the prevention of any toxic build-up, and a range of stretching exercises that cover important regions of the body. When practised daily, this is an easy-to-use maintenance program for robust health.
— Vibha Shah