The text below was written by violinist Yehudi Menuhin and forms the foreward to 'Light On Yoga' by Yoga guru B.K.S Iyengar.
The first patriarch of Shaolin Kung Fu, and indeed the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism, was an Indian prince named Boddhidharma. He renounced his royality, became a monk and travelled the silk road to China arriving in the fifth century AD. Therefore it should not be so surprising that what we read about Yoga below can be applied word for word to our own Shaolin arts.
"The practice of Yoga induces a primary sense of measure and proportion. Reduced to our own body, our first instrument, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony. With unflagging patience we refine and animate every cell as we return daily to the attack, unlocking and liberating capacities otherwise condemned to frustration and death.
Each unfulfilled area of tissue and nerve, of brain or lung, is a challenge to our will and integrity, or otherwise a source of frustration and death. Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr Iyengar's attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created-unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation-in the Garden of Eden. The tree of knowledge has indeed yielded much fruit of great variety, sweet, poisonious, bitter, wholesome according to our use of it. But is it not more imperative then ever that we cultivate the tree, that we nourish it's roots? And furthermore how dangerous is that knowledge to those who, ill at ease with themselves, would rather apply it to the manipulation of other people and things than to the improvement of their own persons.
The practice of Yoga over the past fifteen years has convinced me that most of our fundamental attitudes to life have their physical counter part in the body. Thus comparison and criticism must begin with the alignment of our own left and right sides to a degree at which even further adjustments are feasible: or strength of will will cause us to start stretching the body from the toes to the top of the headin defiance of gravity. Impetus and ambition might begin with the sense of weight and speed that comes with free-swinging limbs, instead of the control of prolonged balance on one foot, feet or hands, which give poise. Tenacity is gained by stretching in various Yoga postures for minutes at a time, while calmness comes with quiet, consistent breathing and the expansion of the lungs. Continuity and a sense of the universe come with the knowledge of the inevitable alternation of tension and relaxation in external rhythms of which each inhalation an exhalation constitutes one cycle, wave or vibration among the countless myriads which are the universe.
Yoga, as practised by Mr. Iyengar, is the dedicated votive offering of a man who brings himself to the alter, alone and clean in body and mind, focused in attention and in will, offering in simplicity and innocence not a burnt sacrifice, but simply himself raised to his own highest potential.
It is a technique ideally suited to prevent physical and mental illness and to protect the body generally, developing an inevitable sense of self-reliance and assurance. By it's very nature it is inextricably associated with universal laws: for respect for life, truth, and patience are all indispensable factors in the drawing of a quiet breath, in calmness of mind and firmness of will.
In this lies the moral virues inherent in Yoga. For those it demands a complete and total effort, involving and forming the whole human being. No mechanical repetition is involved and no lip service as in the case of good resolutions or formal prayers. By its very nature it is each time and every moment a living act."