PURPOSE OF HATHA YOGA

A summary of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

By Adriana Maldonado, May 2017

Swami Satyananda Saraswati describes the main objective of hatha yoga in the Introduction of The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) (Muktibodhananda 1998) as:  “to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy.” He continues describing that if this balance is achieved, the central force, sushumna nadi, can be awakened and that supposes to allow human consciousness to evolve.

B.K.S. Iyengar (Ulrich Rieker 1992) mentions that Hatha Yoga, in the context of the HYP, is an ‘integrated science leading towards spiritual evolution.’

13086696_1782324728668019_8203698570161547763_oIn hatha yoga, ha means prana or the sun and tha, the mind or the moon; hatha meaning the union of the pranic and mental forces, a duality that exists in everything (Muktibodhananda 1998). In the context of the HYP, and as explained by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Hatha Yoga is the collection of practises that prepares oneself for meditation. Meditation has the purpose of purifying the mind, but before being able to do this, according to the HYP, the first action is to work the body, calm the mind and balance the flow of energy or prana through asana and pranayama, and purify the whole body with the shatkarmas: the stomach, intestines, nervous system and other systems.

 

Chapter 1 – Asana

Chapter one, before introducing Asana, Swatmarama describes the principles, restraints on behaviour, yamas, and observances, niyamas, as well as dietary rules for yoga practitioners. The very first verse has been translated in different ways by different translators and commentators, sometimes very differently, as is the case for other verses later in the text, and probably for many other Sanskrit texts. However, there is something in common: Shiva or Sri Adinath, as in Muktibodhananda’s case, is evoked and the affirmation of hatha yoga as the path to raja yoga, the highest state of yoga. The following verses introduce the idea of hatha yoga as being learnt from gurus or ‘siddhas’ to students. Later it is said that the hatha yogi over time would develop siddhis, or powers, and that she or he will have to keep these secret in order to succeed in his/her path to raja yoga, it is also said that they would have to practise alone, secluded from society. The student was able to learn the practises; then remove him or herself from society to work towards achieving liberation, and in the way he/she may have developed these siddhis, but it is not clear when he or she will become a guru to other students. Then, the yamas are presented as rules of conduct: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence, forgiveness, endurance, compassion, humility, moderate diet and cleanliness. It is worth noticing that there are ten and not only five as Patanjali describes them. There are also ten niyamas, as the observances: penance (austerity), contentment, belief (faith) in the Supreme, charity, worship of God, listening to the recitations of sacred scriptures, modesty, a discerning intellect, japa (mantra repetition) and sacrifice. Muktibodhananda mentions that both the yamas and niyamas are not much mentioned in the HYP because these are prerequisites before commencing hatha yoga, and that one can practise them after, “when the mind has become stable”, although she also writes that Swatmarama does not stress their importance.

Then, asana is presented as the first part of Hatha Yoga. The purpose of asana, according to the HYP, is to control the body and by doing this, the mind is controlled too. When an individual practises asana, her or his prana flows freely, develops steadiness and has less chances of developing illnesses (Muktibodhananda 1998). Muktibodhananda mentions that by prana flowing freely, the body will become supple; the person will be able to remove toxins from his or her system and will be able to feel relaxed.

It is said that there are about 840,000 asanas, “as many as forms of life”, as said by B.K.S. Iyengar in the foreword of the HYP (Ulrich Rieker 1992) and Muktibodhananda (Muktibodhananda 1998); although there are no ancient texts that talk about more than thirty-two asanas, in the case of the Gheranda Samhita and eleven in the Yoga Sutras, commented by Vyasa. Iyengar argues that asanas are not just physical exercises but “they have biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual effects” (Ulrich Rieker 1992), he continues presenting the idea of asanas as diffusers of the pranic energy to bring the whole body in harmony, as they improve blood circulation, balance the hormone system, stimulate the nervous system and eliminate toxins, as some examples of their benefits: “physical, mental, and spiritual health and harmony are attained” (Idem). Swatmarama presents fifteen, as the most essential ones in the HYP, and these are: swastikasana, gomukhasana, veerasana, koormasana, kukkutasana, uttankoormasana, dhanurasana, matsyendrasana, paschimottanasana, mayurasana, shavasana, siddhasana, padmasana, simhasana, and bhadrasana.

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The chapter continues with recommendations of foods that are to be eaten by yogis, these include: whole grains, wheat, rice, barley, milk, ghee, brown sugar, sugar candy, honey, dry ginger, patola fruit, five vegetables, mung and pulses, and pure water.

There is then emphasis on practice and the chapter ends mentioning that asanas, and other practices of hatha yoga must be kept until raja yoga is attained.

 

Chapter 2 – Shatkarma and Pranayama

Pranayama is practised once that the body has been regulated by asana and a moderate diet has been introduced. Muktibodhananda defines pranayama as “the process by which the internal pranic store is increased. Pranayama is comprised of the words prana and ayama, which mean ‘pranic capacity or length, it is not merely breath control, but a technique through which the quantity of prana in the body is activated to a higher frequency.”

Verse 6 is chapter 2 says that “…pranayama should be done daily with a sattwic state of mind so that the impurities are driven out of sushuma nadi and purification occurs.” A sattwic mind refers to a steady mind. The practices are to be carefully practised and “all diseases will be eradicated”; these practices include: Nadi Shodhana, Ujjayi, Surya Bhedana, Sitali, Sitkari, Bhastrika, and Bhramari (see  Pranayama in the context of the HYP for a more detailed presentation on Pranayama).

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When pranayama becomes difficult and there are impurities in the body, there are processes of purification that can be done. The practices for these purifications are called shatkarmas, described in chapter two of the HYP. They include:

  • There are fours neti practices: jala neti, passing warm saline water through the nose, sutra neti, passing a soft thread through the nose, ghrita neti, passing clarified butter though the nose and dugdha neti, passing milk through the nose.
  • dhauti (cleansing of the eyes, ears, tongue, forehead, oesophagus, stomach, rectum and anus). Dhauti is a series of practices divided in four parts: Antar dhauti (internal), danta dhauti (teeth), hrid dhauti (cardiac) and moola shodhana (rectal cleaning).
    • Antar dhauti is divided into four practices: vatsara dhauti, expelling air through the anus, varisara dhauti, evacuating a large quantity of water through the bowels, vahnisara dhauti, rapid expansion and contraction of the abdomen, bahiskrita dhauti, washing the rectum in the hands.
    • Hrid dhauti is divided into three practices: danda dhauti, inserting a soft banana stem into the stomach, vastra dhauti, swallowing a long thin strip of cloth, vaman dhauti, vomiting the contents of the stomach.
    • Moola shodhana could be performed by inserting a turmeric root or the middle finger into the anus
  • Basti: there are two practices; jala basti and sthala basti. The first one consists of sucking water into the intestine through the anus and then expelling it, and sthala basti sucking air into the large intestine.
  • kapalbhati, that has three practices: vatkrama kapalbhati, similar to bhastrika pranayama, vytkrama kaplbhati, sucking water in through the nose and expelling it through the mouth, sheetkrama kapalnhati, sucking water in through the nose.
  • trataka is gazing steadily at a point of concentration. It has two practices: antar, meaning internal, concentrating on an object or symbol with the eyes closed, and bahir trataka, concentration on the object with the eyes opened.
  • and nauli. It is the practice of isolating and contracting the muscles of the rectus abdominis. When the contractions are to the right it is called dakshina nauli and to the left it is vama nauli, in the middle madhyama nauli.

Chapter two finishes mentioning that perfection of hatha yoga is achieved when the energy channels or nadis are purified, when the body and the mind are in harmony. Muktibodhananda presents here the idea of kundalini shakti passing through the central nadi, sushumna, passing through the different chakras, having mastered the practises, the person acquires the siddhis. When kundalini passes sahasrara chakra, perfection is attained, “and when it is redirected down to mooladhara, every virtue descends upon the yogi. That is dharma megha samadhi.”

Chapter 3 – Mudra and Bandha

Mudra means seal and bandha lock. B.K.S. Iyengar argues that by locking and sealing the many ‘apertures or outlets’ of the human system, “the divine energy known as kundalini is awakened and finds its union with purusa in the sahasrara chakra.” (Ulrich Rieker 1992). According to Mr. Iyengar, this is the essence of part three of the HYP, “the union of the divine force with the divine Self”.

Ulrich (1992) also affirms that mudra awakens kundalini, but this would only happen after considering all the former practices previously described in chapter one and two. Mudras are body positions that have the goal of channelling the energy produced by asana and pranayama “into the various systems and arouse particular states of mind.” (Muktibodhananda 1998). According to Muktibodhananda, they help awaken the chackras and arouse kundalini shakti. You can also “invoke specific qualities of Shakti or Devi and can become overwhelmed by that power.”

Ten mudras are mentioned by Swatmarama in the HYP: maha mudra, the great attitude, maha bandha, the great lock, maha vedha mudra, the great piercing attitude, khecari mudra, the attitude odd willing in supreme consciousness, uddiyana bandha, the abdominal retraction lock, moola bandha, perineum or cervix retraction lock, jalandhara bandha, throat lock, viparita karani, the attitude of reversing, vajroli, contraction of the urogenital muscles and shakti chalana mudra, the attitude of moving or circulating the energy. It is worth noticing that the three bandhas are included here. Muktibodhananda explains that originally in the ancient texts bandhas were considered mudras; but later when the system of Hatha Yoga was defined from the Tantric texts and practices, mudras and bandhas were separated. She also points out that now the combination of the three bandhas performed together, maha bandha, becomes a mudra.

Wikipedia defines Bandha’ as a bond or arrest, a term for the “body locks” in Hatha Yoga, treated under the heading of mudra. Specific bandhas are: Mula Bandha, contraction of the perineum, Uddiyana bandha, contraction of the abdomen into the rib cage, Jalandhara Bandha, tucking the chin close to the chest, and Maha Bandha, combining all three of the above bandhas (Wikipedia 2017).

The website Eclectic Energies (2017) gives a simple definition to mudras as “positions of the body that have some kind of influence on the energies of the body, or your mood.” Nowadays, in an occidental context and yoga centres around the world, mudras are mostly performed with the hands and fingers are held in some position, but the whole body may be part of the mudra as well, like in Veeparita Karani. During meditation mudras are widely used. While sitting in a crossed leg position, the hands can be performing a mudra, such as chin mudra, joining the index finger and the thumb.

However, the HYP mentions different and more complex mudras, a not necessarily widely performed by western yoga contexts, among them there is Khechari mudra, turning the tongue backwards into the cavity of the cranium and turning the eyes inwards towards the eyebrow centre. This mudra implies “the gradual cutting of the frenum and elongation of the tongue” (Muktibodhananda 1998). Swatmarama mentions that this mudra will free the person from disease, death, old age, etc. Muktibodhananda explains that by touching the eyebrow centre internally, the ajna chakra would be stimulated, as well as the pineal gland. The gland stimulation, according to Muktibodhananda will have a positive effect of the general wellbeing of the person.

Another mudra mentioned by the HYP, but quite widely practised in yoga in the west, is Veeparita Karani, the reversing process where the navel region is above the palate. It implies raising the legs and supporting the back with the hands. Some people practise it against the wall, bringing the legs up and relaxing the body.

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I haven’t included chapter four in this article: Samadhi. I will leave this for a future blog post.

Thanks for reading me!

Adriana

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