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A Glimpse at Western Yoga in the 60s

Yoga has only recently become big thing here in the west, mostly over the past 20 or so years. I have been practicing since the 90s, but was surprised to learn that some of my very conservative and religious relatives were apparently practicing yoga as early as the mid-60s. While at a memorial last summer, I was walking through the library of a long-deceased relative’s home and noticed a well-worn book called Psycho-Yoga by physician Dr. B. Edwin. You can see if pictured below, and even purchase it here if you like. Practice-Mind- Control/dp/0722505434.

The well-worn little book had clearly been picked over many times, a fact that surprised me given that its owners were quite conventional people. Written in 1967, this little book must have been radical at its time, written well before most westerners had heard of Patanjali, Paramahansa Yoginanda, B.K.Iyengar, or any other famous yogi.

This short book seeks to combine modern psychological principles with ancient yoga practices. Its premise is that we all suffer from neurosis in varying degrees and that there are accessible ways to tamp down neuroses by achieving what the author calls “mind control.”

These mind control techniques include self-reflection to recognize our own unproductive thoughts and emotions, reconditioning the subconscious mind, yoga asana, breathing exercises, meditation, concentration, self-hypnosis, and ultimately, the trance-like state of Samadhi. The author recognizes that traditional religion and psychic powers can also help us, when combined with yoga. In a nod to universalism, Edwin refers to both Christianity and Hinduism as sects and insists that all yogis serve the divine. He claims that even an atheist, who adopts the uplifting precepts of yoga, will automatically fulfill the wishes of God.

Edwin describes yoga as a physical and mental system for self-improvement that can help us achieve control over the mind and body, with the ultimate goal of attaining the trance-like state during which the consciousness (or false self) is laid aside and the practicing yogi is united with the universal consciousness of the divine. While asana is not the emphasis, Edwin does suggest some specific poses, which include twists, side stretches, forward bends, back bends, neck rolls, cobra, lotus, bow, shoulder stand, head stand, plow, and Savasana.

The book, while lofty in theory, is ultimately practical. The basic idea is that neuroses can arise any time but especially in tough times, and that we can eradicate negative thoughts and emotions and replace these with healthy thoughts and emotions before the negatives bring us down. He convinced me with his uber-modern mid-60’s descriptions that we all can become familiar with our own subconscious and prompt the mind to create positive subconscious habits, which can run in the background and heal us from all that ails us. Who knew such a source existed way back in the 60s?

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