TONY QUINN’S POPULAR YOGA [Louis Hughes op, lecture 5, 24/3/1999]

[Louis Hughes op, lecture 5, 24/3/1999]

1. TONY QUINN’S POPULAR YOGA

Most people in Western countries first encounter yoga as a system of physical exercises or as a way to relax. Typical aims include coping with stress and high blood pressure, health, strength and a good-looking body. Richard Hittleman, through his many books and TV programmes which reached hundreds of thousands particularly in the U.S., pioneered the ‘yoga for health’ movement from the fifties onwards. In the decades that followed many schools of popular yoga have sprung up in every part of the Western world. This chapter looks at a representative and highly successful movement in Ireland.

Dubliner Tony Quinn claims that he introduced yoga to Ireland in 1971. Although a small number of people had been practising yoga exercises in the preceding decades, Quinn’s claim is valid if one is talking about the systematic organizing and publicising of courses in yoga on a nation-wide basis. Currently he presides over a high-profile corporation that handles not only courses and teacher training in yoga, but similar programmes for Ki (or Chi) massage, holistic medicine and other varied self-help therapies including one called “body sculpting”. Since 1983 he has been publishing a quarterly newspaper Blueprint for Living which is delivered free on a door-to-door basis to over 500.000 homes. Tony Quinn yoga classes are run at any one time in no less than thirty different centres throughout the country. He also owns a chain of stores marketing products ranging from health-foods to nature-based cosmetics and vitamin tablets.

By any standard Tony Quinn’s has to be among the great “success stories” in terms of bringing yogic methods to the attention and into the lives of ordinary people. He attributes this success to his own personal philosophy which he occasionally calls “The Tony Quinn System”. His approach and philosophy are typical of a vast number  of yoga groups throughout Europe, North America and other Western countries. As such it will now be looked at in some detail.

THE TONY QUINN SYSTEM OF PHILOSOPHY

From the pages of Blueprint for Living the essentials of Tony Quinn’s system can be put into place. According to him there is one ultimate principle underlying every human being and the entire universe. This reality he refers to variously as the “Self”, “Life” or “Energy”: “…inside each of us is a life source from which emanates life in the form of energy….We refer to it as the Self. Equally then, we can say that the purpose of my system is self-expression or self-realisation.”  And he sees this “Self” or “Life” as being “our true nature”. Moreover, this “Life” is not some abstract or remote philosophical entity, but is alive and active and can be experienced directly by each individual person within himself or herself: “Yes, you can actually feel what is sometimes referred to as life-force. With this comes a delightful discovery – the happiness, even to euphoria, that comes when life is being  freely expressed within you”. “Life” or the “Self” is seen as a benign force that always tends to act in our best interests: “The Self takes care of us and keeps us in perfect health.” [1]

According to Quinn, the “very purpose of human life” is “to give birth to the Self.”[2] And the way this can happen is simplicity itself: “all we have to do is be still. Anybody who has the courage to put what is being said to the test can become aware for themselves of their true nature, Life/Self”. It is not a question of anything that people have to do in order that they can have life  – rather it is simply a matter of “almost relaxing into life and allowing it to flow through them unhindered”.[3]

Allowing Life to flow or the Self to be born is believed to open the door to all kinds of improvements in a person’s life. The most spectacular benefits are likely to be in the area of health. Most illnesses are – Quinn believes – caused by people not allowing the life energies of nature to flow through them: “It seemed that the struggles and strivings of the patient somehow impeded or blocked the flow of curative power.”  However, on the other hand, “when we stop struggling, what we want is done for us….”[4] Relaxing and letting go is Quinn’s key to health. In working with those who come to him for healing, the first thing he does is “relax all effort on the part of the patient – mainly mental (stress, tension, worries, problems, complexes etc.). This allows their self-healing force, life force, self-normalising energy to work unhindered and allows the real person to emerge.” And this process is not simply about eliminating disease. It also involves a comprehensive improvement in the person’s quality of life. He continues: “Not only can that bring about a cure but to me what is the most important aspect of all is that it can lift the person up to new levels of self and life-improvement, health, healing and success never before experienced.”[5]

Tony Quinn’s therapy can take more active forms that can be used by anybody to bring about an improvement in another person’s life: “hold thoughts of healing or life improvement or job improvement for the person and just allow life to flow through you to them, unhindered.”[6] This method can be employed even to gain something as mundane as money: “It’s merely enough to hold the successful outcome in your mind. For example, say you wanted a sum of money – you would merely then in that non-resistant state hold the idea of the sum of money and it would come about”.[7] The benefits of this method can be extended to a person who is not present at the time: “I maintain that it is possible to sit on your own in a room and if you take a picture or letter from a person that you have never met and then let life flow from you unhindered to that person then you will obtain benefit”.[8] In dealing with a therapist a person need simply “write down clearly what he or she wants out of life, hand the request to the therapist to work on for them, and relax”.[9] The above philosophy has been developed on a large scale within the Tony Quinn organisation. Each issue of Blueprint for Living carries a section entitled “Postal Requests” in which remedies for illnesses ranging from panic attacks and anxiety to strokes and cancer, as well as examination results, lottery winnings and improved relationships are reported by grateful readers. These – the paper tells us – were the results of “the Tony Quinn system of prayer and positive thinking for a successful outcome.”[10]

UNCONSCIOUS ATTENTION

In recent years Quinn has begun interviewing well-known sports people in Blueprint for Living, so that his readers can be inspired and learn from them. Niall Quinn, Irish international soccer striker, learnt the advantages of positive thinking while recovering from a knee injury that had kept him out of the game for six months. He believes that this has helped him not just to recover fully, but to become 20% fitter than he had been before being injured: “if you can believe that things are happening in your body, believe in your strength, then you can be 20% or 25% better….”[11] Boxer Steve Collins engaged Tony Quinn as a “mental coach” in the build-up to his successful world title fight with Chris Eubank in 1995. As he puts it: “Tony worked with me to get this certainty into the very deepest part of my mind.”[12] This didn’t only help him to win a world title. He claims that during the fight it also enabled him to control pain, fatigue and even bleeding. As a result he believes that his body had fully recovered from the effects of the fight within forty-five minutes instead of the usual two to three weeks.

At the core of Quinn’s approach to situations like the above is what he calls “unconscious attention”. This differs from the more usual conscious attention that people have of an object in that it requires no effort of will, no decision to hold one’s awareness to the object. Unconscious attention is “where you are focused, so absorbed with what is taking place that your entire attention is taken up by it and no part of you is left over to be consciously aware that you are paying attention.”[13] In this way, Quinn holds, a sportsperson or anyone else can effortlessly keep images of a positive outcome before their mind and so emerge with greater success.

In his most dramatic demonstration of the technique of unconscious attention, Tony Quinn has helped four patients undergo surgery without anaesthetic. The results as reported seem extraordinary. Not only were the patients free from pain – they seemed to have enjoyed their operations! Typical comments were: “From the moment it began an amazing feeling of well-being and relaxation came over me.”; “It was just a beautiful feeling, because you really felt so complete.”; “It was a bit disappointing when the operation was over. At that point I was in a state of very deep relaxation and I just didn’t want to come out of it.” These views were endorsed by the four doctors involved.[14]

POSITIVE THINKING AND CHRISTIAN PRAYER

The combination of “prayer” with positive thinking is a

feature of Tony Quinn’s system, which Blueprint for Living frequently alludes to. In fact he seems to identify positive thinking with prayer: “If this (healing, life improvement, job improvement) seems strange to you, maybe it won’t if we sum it up in one word – Prayer”.[15] He speaks about how he arrived at this insight: “I came to a part in the Gospels where Jesus said: ‘If you want something, believe that you have it, without any inner doubt, and I give you my word that it will come about.’…. I felt here was a formula for living given to us by Jesus Himself….A formula for successful living, that is the only formula known beyond doubt to have worked miracles and to be guaranteed by Jesus. I was fascinated and decided there and then that that would be my formula for living.”[16] He uses the word ‘FAITH’  (and in capital letters) to describe this attitude of mind and heart. This invocation of Gospel authority to support his system needs to be looked at closely.

The statement attributed to Jesus in the above passage is not found in any one of the four Gospels. At best it is a very rough paraphrase of the words of Jesus and seems to be derived either from  Matthew 21.22 (“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”) or particularly Mark 11.24 (“When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for”).

In a more recent issue of Blueprint Quinn specifically referred to the above text from Mark and to other Gospel texts in support of his philosophy. Here too he speaks of how as a boy “he developed a passionate interest in reading the Gospels”. To his young mind Jesus was “the greatest real live Magician of all”. He goes on to speak of how certain passages revealed the philosophy upon which he was to base his life. He quotes Matthew 9.29, Mark 9.23, Mark 11.23 and again Mark 11.24.[17] All speak of the powerful efficacy of ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ (depending how the particular English translation renders the Greek pistis or pisteuein). However, it is Mark 11.24 that most closely resembles Quinn’s oft-quoted ‘formula’ for living. As such its meaning will now be examined, but in the context of the entire passage in which it occurs, Mark 11.22 – 25:

“Have faith in God. I assure you that whoever tells this hill to get up and throw itself in the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. For this reason I tell you: When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for. And when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done”.[18]

Can this passage be used to support Tony Quinn’s philosophy of positive thinking? In particular, is Quinn’s understanding and use of the word ‘belief’ the same as the Gospel meaning of ‘belief’? A typical Christian commentary on this part of the Gospel of Mark states: “We cannot expect to receive literally ‘whatever’ we ask, however selfish and contrary to God’s will. Perhaps verse 25 was added to guard against such a notion”.[19] This is the verse that speaks about forgiveness of others as a requisite for prayer. More significant is that, unlike Tony Quinn, the Gospels always use the terms ‘faith’ and ‘asking’ in the context of prayer to a personal God in whom one believes – hence the exhortation of Jesus – “Have faith in God” with which the passage quoted begins. Christian prayer is always in relation to God who is Other than oneself. And one might add that it is only when there are distinct persons, that inter-personal love and any form of relating become possible. When one asks for something in prayer, one is calling on God as Creator or Redeemer, and always with a sense of dependence and trust. Prayer in general is fundamentally about surrender to rather than control of another. One seeks to ‘let go’ to a Higher Being because in faith one trusts that He/She has the wisdom and power to know and do what is best for each person. Thus when one ‘asks in prayer’ one speaks in a spirit of humility and vulnerability – in the belief that God knows best and cares most for each person and ultimately has the last word.

The Tony Quinn System operates from a contrary perspective. The highest principle that it recognizes – “Life”, “Energy” or “Self” – is there simply to be used by each person to advance his or her own agenda. This principle is quite appropriately referred to in Blueprint for Living as “it”, since it is quite impersonal. It is not any kind of Supreme Being that we have to serve. Instead, it serves us and is even part of us, “our true nature”.[20] Thus, in the Quinn philosophy, the centre of the universe is the individual person himself/herself and not God or even any form of Higher Power. This is a very different world-view from that of Jesus, who frequently “spent the entire night in prayer to God”. Consequently, to quote Jesus as supporting the Tony Quinn System is to misunderstand the Gospel.

THE INDIAN CONNECTION

Tony Quinn’s “unconscious attention” is not a recent discovery. Ernest Wood (1883 – 1965) belonged to the earlier generation of Western scholars who studied yoga and helped open up the practice to non-Indians. He wrote extensively about the last three stages of Patanjali’s yoga – concentration, meditation and ecstasy (though Wood preferred the term ‘contemplation’ instead of ‘ecstasy’ as the English equivalent of *samadhi). In explaining the relationship between the three, he states that they form a connected series. At the earlier part of the series “there is an act of will in which you tell your mind to keep to that subject and not to wander away from it.” After a certain amount of practice, focusing one’s attention can become easier and even habitual: “the act of concentration is still there while the meditation is going on, though it has been forgotten – ‘subconscious’ or ‘unconscious’ is the new word for this….”; “…one forgets oneself, is taken out of oneself, yet is intensely conscious.” What is implied here is that one is both conscious and unconscious at the same time – conscious of the object upon which attention is focused, and unconscious of this same consciousness.  And this, Wood tells us, is “the chief characteristic of ecstasy or rapture”, which he associates with *samadhi as understood by Patanjali. It will be evident from the above that the psychological state which Quinn terms “unconscious attention” has for centuries been part of the classical yoga tradition.[21]

A more significant connection between Quinn’s philosophy and Indian religion is to be found in the fundamental principle upon which his system is based – Self, Life or Energy. Quinn acknowledges that this principle is very ancient: “In fact that life-essence, that energy, was written about thousands of years ago….”[22] The identification of the Self (with a capital ‘S’) as being the true nature of the human person links Quinn’s philosophy to the Vedantic school within Hinduism. There too the true nature of the person is ‘self’ (*atman), and this self is identified completely with *brahman, the Creator God. But Quinn’s concept of the “the Self” seems less subtle than the Vedantic *atman, in that the *atman cannot be directly perceived, or even imagined: “it is an abstraction, an essence tied to the thought – or more properly, the mystical vision – that there is a base or ground or substratum to the universe that is beyond words to describe….”[23] In contrast to this, Quinn states simply that “the inner self, the real person, is manifested without effort when body and mind are fully relaxed.”[24]

Quinn says that “…the purpose of my system is self-expression or self-realization.”[25]. Here it is worth noting that the term ‘self-realization’ has a specific meaning in the contexts of Eastern religions, expressed for example in the name “Self-Realization Fellowship” of the neo-Vedantic yoga movement established by Paramahamsa Yogananda (1893 – 1952). The ‘self’ in question here is very much more than one’s self in the everyday meaning of the term. Within the Vedantic tradition Self-Realization means mystically experiencing one’s true identity as being not different from *atman, the Self and *brahma, the Supreme Being.[26] The term used to describe this mystical state is *advaita (‘non-duality’).

CONCLUSION

The front page of many editions of Blueprint for Living carries a small frame entitled “For First Time Readers”. A statement in the frame says that the paper is “unique among newspapers because it brings people only good news”. In the media generally the dark side of existence is high-lighted and at times exaggerated in the extreme. It is therefore, hardly surprising that so many people have taken to Tony Quinn’s version of good news in which only that which is positive, pleasant, gentle and life-giving finds a place. His programme of yoga is designed to enlarge this positive picture. Since 1994 Quinn has renamed his paper Blueprint for Successful Living.

This glowing picture of modern living stands in sharp contrast to the viewpoint of traditional Hindu yoga where the emphasis is on escaping from this earthly life which it sees only as a form of bondage. If traditional Indian yoga can in general be described as ‘other-worldly’, then Tony Quinn’s yoga is most definitely ‘this worldly’. Objectives such as business success, weight loss and having thicker hair would sound very strange in a traditional Indian yoga centre. A second point of contrast is that whereas Quinn will report “only good news” in his paper, for the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this world is a vale of sorrow – “bad news” in fact.

Tony Quinn has adapted a variety of techniques from the Indian yogic tradition, for example: postures, breathing and a rather simplified version of Vedantic philosophy – together with other practices of vaguely Eastern origin such as massage and methods of alternative healing. However, the Tony Quinn philosophy is essentially a belief in the power of Positive Thinking. As such it is more a product of the West than of the East and can take its place alongside so many other movements within the contemporary New Age culture.


[1] The quotations in the paragraph are from Blueprint for Living,  No. 19 [August 1989], pp. 1 & 5.

[2] Blueprint, No. 24 [Spring, 1991], 2 & 4

[3] ibid., No. 19, 5 for the last two quotations.

[4] Both of these quotes from Blueprint, No. 18 [April 1989], 1

[5] ibid., No. 24 , 4

[6] ibid., No. 19, 5

[7] ibid., No. 18, 1

[8] ibid., No. 19, 5

[9]  ibid., No. 16 [September, 1988], 3

[10] ibid., No. 28 [Autumn, 1992], 14

[11]  ibid., No. 34 [Autumn, 1994], 7

[12]  ibid, No. 36 [Summer, 1995], 4

[13]  ibid., 5

[14]  All quotations in this paragraph are from Blueprint, No. 35 [New Year, 1995], 11

[15] ibid., No. 19, 5. The bracketed phrase in italics is mine.

[16] ibid., No 17, 2

[17] See Blueprint, No. 36 (Summer 1995), 6.

[18] Mark 11.22 – 25, The quotation is from the Good News Bible [London, 1976].

[19] Henry Wansbrough, OSB in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, [Fuller, Johnston, Kearns eds., London, 1969], 973

[20] Cf. Blueprint, No. 19, 5

[21]  Quotes in this paragraph are from Ernest Wood, Yoga [Harmondsworth, England, 1959], 59 & 61.

[22] Blueprint, No. 16, 3

[23]  Tom McArthur, Understanding Yoga – A Thematic Companion to Yoga and Indian Philosophy [Wellingborough, 1986], 44

[24] Blueprint, No. 16, 3

[25]  ibid., 1

[26]  See for example, Georg Feuerstein, Yoga – The Technology of Ecstasy,  118, 150, 250

4 Responses

  1. The cult member who befriends you is also gathering personal information for Quinn.

    Like

  2. Quinn says: “Unconscious attention is “where you are focused, so absorbed with what is taking place that your entire attention is taken up by it and no part of you is left over to be consciously aware that you are paying attention.”

    When the cult operators know you have access to money they will target you. At the time I was attending it was Aideen Cowman’s job to prepare people to attend seminars, putting them into a state of “unconscious attention” and, directing the process, she focused their minds on borrowing money to attend a seminar. According to herself, she was very successful at it. The hypnotic suggestions explain why people are so intent on acquiring money for seminars. Nothing else, at this point, exists in their minds. They believe they are making a decision that did not involve hypnotic interference. It explains why family members and friends are totally baffled by the determination of the cult victim to disregard all logic, even when the argument of him/her being already in debt is presented as a valid reason for not borrowing. One has to become conscious of the programme and reject it in order to put a stop to the need for the ‘high’ that this type of seminar provides. Apart from the being a very expensive addiction they are highly detrimental in the long run to mental health.

    The article informs us that: “Relaxing and letting go is Quinn’s key to health. In working with those who come to him for healing, the first thing he does is “relax all effort on the part of the patient – mainly mental (stress, tension, worries, problems, complexes etc.). This allows their self-healing force, life force, self-normalising energy to work unhindered and allows the real person to emerge.” And this process is not simply about eliminating disease. It also involves a comprehensive improvement in the person’s quality of life. He continues: “Not only can that bring about a cure but to me what is the most important aspect of all is that it can lift the person up to new levels of self and life-improvement, health, healing and success never before experienced.”

    Truthfully, any hypnotist can do the above when it comes to convincing you that you feel better “than you have ever felt before”, as Quinn puts it. We know from the operations of Quinn using hypnosis, that took place with cult members, there are medical conditions that have no ‘cure’, that do not heal without medical intervention. Having ‘preached’ otherwise for decades he decided to take advantage of his members and aimed to make a name for himself by making a video of what he does that, supposedly, no-one else had been successful at in the past.

    Being in a state of “unconscious attention”, the cult hypnotists are breaking down all barriers. Everything and anything that is said will have an effect on you. To “bypass the conscious mind”, Quinn interrupts the function of the conscious part of the mind to install the programme. There is no filter to process what is being said nor will you have any control of what is happening in the cult environment! He may have asked you “what do you want” however, while you are in an altered state of mind he is known to add unasked for suggestions to your programme and also known to create a totally different scenario that involves serving his own purposes.

    A word of warning to anyone who is involved with this cult; they will use hypnosis to get further information from you and will use it to manipulate the outcome they want!

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  3. This ‘way of life’ attracted people to Quinn’s classes and courses. Some are still under the illusion that this is what he is about. All of his plargarised Hindu ‘philosophy’ and christian ‘belief systems’ was nothing more than a front to lure them in. The abuse that took place during this time is now coming out into the open. While Quinn plagarised and ‘preached the good news’ he dabbled and now faces court case/s of alleged rape and assault. Your ‘guru’ is a sociopath.

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  4. Paul, maybe you could take some time out to educate yourself!

    Like

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