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The following are lectures by the extraordinary Russian Yoga Teacher Vladimir Ivanovich Orlov (188? - 1966). Regrettably, with the exception of the first half of his lecture cycle given at the Volgograd Pedagogical Institute, Russia, in the early nineteen sixties, very little is known about this remarkable man. The three lectures presented here were published in 1991 in Russian in Vestnik magazine (www.vestnik.com).

Vladimir Ivanovich Orlov



This course of lectures is intended for scientific researchers; in particular, physicists, mathematicians, chemists, and biologists. Thus, unlike all previous guides on this subject, my presentation of the material will be strictly deductive, concise, and free of repetition, relying on my audience’s highly developed logical capacities and complete lack of intuition.  In addition to its indirect goal of imparting certain information on the psychophysiology of Yoga, my course has the purpose of developing my audience’s intuitive capacities, capacities that are very important not only to a practitioner of Yoga, but to every enlightened European.

We will virtually refrain from using Sanskrit terms, with the exception of one, Yoga – meaning union or unity.

Nowadays we frequently speak about comfort, about how, with every year; our life is growing richer and more colorful, more interesting and comfortable.  Scientists speak of a comfort zone; housewives seek to create comfort in their homes, and all of us strive to keep our minds and bodies from experiencing discomfort.  When an airplane is equipped with well-padded seats, air conditioning, and the latest newspapers are there on the tray before you – is that comfort?  And if a television has been installed in front of you, and the TV remote is in your hand so that you don’t even have to get up from your seat to turn it on, is that comfort?  Of course it is! We all sense this intuitively.

Comfort is the state in which we satisfy the greatest number of our needs with the least effort.  Is this biologically justified? Yes.  We have always striven for comfort, but for a comfort that is reliable, enduring, and permanent. Sometimes we even refuse high status jobs with all their attendant benefits, such as company cars, comfortable offices, and high salaries, precisely because we are striving for enduring comfort.  Such jobs involve unnecessary anxieties, difficult stressful work and the constant fear that we will not be able to cope and thus destroy our feeling of comfort.  Such negative emotions within us cancel out any external comforts.  It would seem then that we had better define the comfort zone as the conditions under which a person feels complete inner satisfaction. Does this require a high salary, a television remote, or a bright green Cadillac that you drive to Florida every summer?  Thousands of years of human wisdom say no.  Moreover, almost nothing that we currently consider absolute prerequisites for happiness, i.e., for living in comfort, is necessary either.

Sri Yukteshvar

Sri Yukteshvar

My old friend Sri Yukteshvar told me of an ancient belief that at one time conditions on Earth were very different than they are today.  I can’t specify precisely what the source of the difference was: whether there was a different radiation level, different gravitational fields, or a different atmosphere, but the people who lived under these conditions were spiritually advanced and lived in absolute comfort.  Then suddenly everything started to change rapidly.  Some people died. Some, the strongest of the lot, adapted, acclimated themselves to the new conditions, and survived; and some, the wisest ones, retreated into deep caves or climbed to the tops of high peaks, where this process of atmospheric transformation was proceeding more slowly and there they searched for methods that would allow them to survive without changing.  They found these methods and called them Yoga.  All this took place in the region of Tibet.  And the people called their method Yoga, not only because it united them, the possessors of truth, in a tightly unified sect, but also because this name exactly reflected the essence of their method.  In order to survive they had had to focus all their strength on a single task, to unite all their forces to combat the danger that threatened them.  They sought to unify consciousness and unconsciousness, not because these people did not trust the unconscious or did not believe in consciousness but because they feared any disjunction.  And they chose the most beautiful, powerful, and poetic name for their science, calling it “unity.”  I hear laughter in the auditorium but do not be too quick to laugh. I know, as well as you do, that a long time ago Otto Yulevich Schmidt proved once and for all that nothing that I have just described took place or could have taken place.  Think of what I have just told you as merely a pretty parable told to me long ago by a dear friend.

Now, let us get back to business.  It turns out that comfort, in many respects, depends but little on external conditions in the sense of enjoyment of the fruits of civilization. It depends on these things only a little, but it still depends on them.  And of course we should not flee from comfort, as long as we do not have to pay too dearly for it – by poisoning plants and animals. And since we eat the meat of these animals, aren’t we poisoned too?  Our brains are also poisoned by trivia and anxieties; by idiotic fears, fear of ourselves, our neighbors, our friends.  Can this be considered a state of comfort?  Of course not.  And when we are offered a way to continue to live in society and yet remain healthy, young, and life loving, do we have the right to refuse it? Of course not.  And yet we refuse, we scornfully turn up our noses at all methods for avoiding spiritual malaise.  Do many of you calisthenics in the morning?  There are 100 people here and only two raised their hands?  Morning calisthenics, of course, is a very weak method and cannot impart normal vitality to the body, but I am not at all sure that an effective method, such as the Yoga system, would find many followers either.

What is Yoga?  I will be asking this question many times in each lecture but I will never give a complete answer because it is extremely difficult to exhaustively deconstruct and describe a true work of art and one that, furthermore, was created by a master of genius.  Yet this is precisely what I am trying to do.  This is why there are so many good teachers and not one decent book on Yoga.  No there is not, and I venture to say that there never will be a book that can teach Yoga. Yoga has to be demonstrated and it cannot be demonstrated to a hundred people at once.  It can only be shown to one or two of the most capable. And yet I want, want very much, to kindle a spark of love for Yoga in everyone.  And for this reason I have undertaken this task, although I know ahead of time it is hopeless.

How can we concentrate the forces of a human being in a single direction?  Well in psychophysiology, there is a law of transfer amounting to the following.

If we exercise our right hand, after a period of time, we will notice, to our surprise, that the left one has also gained in strength.

If we train our gaze, focusing on a single point for a long period of time, then we will notice, with even greater surprise, that we are beginning to demonstrate more endurance and efficiency not merely in mental, but also in physical work.  Or if we train ourselves to overcome our natural inclinations and hold our breath or maintain a very uncomfortable position, we will then find that it is becoming easier and easier to induce ourselves to rise at dawn or to apply ourselves to the utmost in competition.

It is just this type of transfer of what are basically local effects that forms the basis of the whole Yoga methodology.  In particular, the role of Pranayama (breathing exercises) extends far beyond the limits of traditional endurance training.

Physiological functions are linked together to a varying extent.  For example, the propulsive strength of the left leg is only very weakly associated with the strength of the gaze or the development of the intellect.  But there are functions that are linked extremely closely.  They are so closely linked that when, more than half a century ago, I discovered this linkage, and tried it for myself, and experienced it in all its fullness and sweetness, I was so stunned that I began to believe unconditionally in other things in which it is impossible, unthinkable to believe, things from which even an observant Christian would disdainfully turn away, deeming them absurdities and lies – I, who was a materialist, an atheist, a physician, and an athlete.

What I am talking about is the linkage between state of mind, between the psyche, intensity of attention, and other such characteristics of our inner selves, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an ordinary physiological function – breathing.  I repeat: this is an extremely powerful and unequivocal association.  It is much more stable and unequivocal than the association between heart rate or motor activity and the state of the brain.  There is a school of Yoga where the students are taught to do yogic exercises while they are walking.  And the adherents of this school sometimes do achieve certain results.  But no one has ever attained any success whatever, even if he sat properly in the correct position, ate the appropriate diet, and all his actions were guided only by goodness and love, if he, nevertheless, breathed improperly.  What is proper breathing?  I will cover this issue in detail, in great detail, later.  Now I will merely warn you away from the most common errors.  Proper breathing never involves holding the breath by force of will.  Not does it ever involve using this same force of will to alter the rhythm of respiration that is natural at the given moment in order to make it faster or slower, nor by compelling your breathing to become shallower or deeper.  In other words you never allow the will to directly interfere in the act of breathing, not under any circumstances.  Here I have confined myself to what you must not do, but we will leave what you may and should do for the chapter entitled Pranayama and talk about it later.

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