We do not deny but on the contrary fully accept the ingenuity and effectiveness of hatha yoga methods. They are cleverly designed to achieve their particular aims and are capable of doing so. But what we do deny is first, their suitability for modern Western man and second, their safety for modern Western man. And we make these denials both on the ground of theory and on the ground of practice. These methods are extremely ancient; they are indeed remnants of Atlantean systems. The mentality and physique of the races for whom they were originally prescribed are not the same as the mentality and physique of the white Euramerican races. Evolution has been actively at work during the thousands of years between the appearance of the ancients and the appearance of the moderns. Important changes have developed in the nerve-structure and brain-formations of the human species. According to the old texts which have come down to us from a dateless antiquity, the trance state constitutes the pinnacle of hatha yoga attainment. But it is an entirely unconscious kind of trance. This we have learnt from the lips of hatha yogis who had perfected themselves in the system. It is indeed nothing more mentally than an extremely deep sleep brought on deliberately and at will, although physically it bestows extraordinary properties for the time being on the body itself. Even where the trance is so prolonged that the yogi may be buried alive under earth without food or drink for several days or weeks, he is throughout that period quite inactive mentally and quite unaware of his own self. His heartbeat and respiration are then extremely low, in fact imperceptible to human senses although perceptible to delicate electric instruments like the cardiogram.
In what way does this condition differ from the animal hibernation? In northern climates certain types of reptiles, rodents, bears, lizards, marmots, and bats retire to secluded places, mountain caves or sheltered holes under the ground, when the cold weather arrives and when food becomes scarce, and pass the whole winter in a state of deep-sleeping suspended animation. In tropical climates certain kinds of snakes and crocodiles do exactly the same when the hottest months arrive. It is particularly interesting to note that birds like the tinamou fall into a rigid cataleptic trance under the shock of terror and then become as immune to pain as the hatha yogis do in the same state. In both cases there is only a hypnotic and not a spiritual condition. Its value for mental enlightenment, let alone moral improvement, is nil.
Twentieth-century man has better things to do with his time and energy than to spend several years and arduous efforts merely to imitate these animals and birds. Such a trance benefits the animals who cannot get food and it is therefore sensible procedure for them to enter it. But how does man demonstrate his spiritual superiority over them if he follows the bat to its cave in the hills, lets the same torpor creep over him as creeps over it, and permits every conscious faculty to pass into a coma? In terms of consciousness, of spiritual advance, the hatha yoga hibernation has nothing to offer man in any way comparable with what the higher systems of yoga have to offer--unless of course he disdains the fruits of mental evolution and takes pleasure in atavistic reversion to the state of these wide-winged yogis, the bats, and those four-footed mystics, the rodents! We should therefore remember that there are different types of trance state and should seek only the higher ones, if we wish to make a real rather than illusory progress.
-- Notebooks Category 5: The Body > Chapter 5: Exercise > # 72
-- Perspectives > Chapter 5: The Body > # 23