The oldest text on Hatha Yoga is probably the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatmarama in the 15th (some assign 13th or 14th) century. The text belongs to the post-classical period in development of Yoga. The techniques described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are based on the ancient knowledge about man and his spirit, as well as on the own experiences of the writer.
Hatha Yoga system has several techniques, some equal with the Patanjali Yoga system.
– Yamas and Niyamas Unlike Patanjali, Swatmarama states ten yamas (reatraints): ahimsa, truth, non-stealing, continence, forgiveness, endurance, compassion, meekness, moderate diet and cleanliness, and ten niyamas (observances): austerity, contentment, belief in God, charity, adoration of God, hearing discourses on the principles of religion, shame, intellect, tapa and yajna. (from The Forceful Yoga, translation by Pancham Singh, Rai Bahadur Srisa Chandra Vasu)
– Asanas or body postures
– Pranayama, or expansion of prana, a conscious control of breath, also known as breathing techniques
– Mudras (mud means pleasure, dru means to draw forth), or hand, or body gestures, also the mental attitudes
– Bandhas, (bandha means to lock or to hold), or conscious physical locks in certain areas in the body and redirecting the energy to the higher centers
– Shatkarmas or kriyas (shat means six and karma means action, kriya means purification), or yogic techniques for body cleansing
– Concentration, meditation and deep relaxation.
As we see, nether Yoga nor Hatha Yoga are just physical postures (or in the worst case called exercise) marked with one label or another, nor only breathing exercises, nor a combination of both.
ASANA, THE BODY POSTURES
Asana is a body posture. The body postures should be performed deliberately and with awareness. The benefits of such practice of body postures are numerous. To mention some: therapeutically, gentle movements and expansions can reduce swelling in the joints increasing joint mobility, expand strength of the muscles and bones. Keeping a body position for certain time, the muscles are relaxed and the deepest muscle layers are opened. This will then influence the bones, joints and spine making them more open, stronger and more flexible. The mobility of spine is extremely important.
One of the most valued benefit of the practice of asanas is that it brings a balance between the nervous systems.
The autonomic nervous system includes three parts: the sympathetic, parasympathetic and the enteric nervous system.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system regulate the working of almost all organs in the body, muscles and glands. They work in opposition to each other: the sympathetic nervous system is the one which controls the „fight or flight“ responses of the body and the parasympathetic nervous system the „rest and digest“ functions of the body.
The functions of both nervous systems are involuntary but with practice of Hatha Yoga, those functions can be brought under control.
Unlike Raja Yoga, or Yoga of Patanjali, which mentions mostly meditational postures, the texts on Hatha Yoga describe numerous.
To mention only one asana and the benefits of its practice:
the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system (and the second largest in the whole body) is a vagus nerve. This nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms down the whole system. Performing forward bend in combination with slow breathing, the vagus nerve will be stimulated, therewith the parasympathetic nervous system. This stimulation will reduce the heart rate. Low heart rate will calm the mind and it will reduce stress, which is the cause of many diseases. A tranquil mind will be able to act and react, to see and solve the problems of every day life much easier than an exaggerated mind, as the power definitely lies in the tranquility not in a hectic.
The forward bend, Pashchimottanasana, also balances the enteric nervous system, a “second brain”, the system of nerve cells which begins in the esophagus and is ingrained into complete digestive system. The balanced enteric nervous system brings the physical, emotional and mental digestion into balance and removes blocks teaching you to let go and to go with the flow.
Practice of asanas will rise the level of the endorphin, a chemical in the brain and spinal cord which is involved in the positive feelings in the body and it also reduces fears, anxiety, it is a natural pain killer. The endorphin is a endogenous opioid, the term opioid refers to any opium or similar drug, endo means inside and genis coming from. Unlike exogenous opioids, which are pharmaceutical or street drugs that must be taken from outside, endorphin exist naturally in the body and due practice of asanas provides sense of pleasure, happiness and calm the mind in the natural way without harming the body-mind system.
Practice of asanas normalizes the blood pressure (this is the result of research done in the classes with the seniors I was teaching) and cholesterol, improves respiration, blood circulation and the absorption of oxygen, changes the secretion of endocrine glands such as the pancreas, thyroid, adrenaline glands, which affects the behavior of the people.
My recommendation is, once you start practicing yoga postures, practice regularly and do not stop. It has lot of benefits. Your practice will bring you exactly there where you should be.
THE MAIN AIM OF HATHA YOGA
The main aim of Hatha Yoga is much beyond to have a good body. The main aim of Hatha Yoga is the awakening of the Kundalini Shakti. It is the latent cosmic prana or vital energy, a big potential and the most powerful force of a living being (and I would say a big barrier which has to be overcome as well) which is situated at the base of the spine.
Spine is a curved column made of 24 movable bones interconnected with the rest 9 clumsy vertebrae all wrapped with more than 30 strong muscles. It has two openings of each side where the nerves are passing.
The spine is hollow, and deep inside of the tunnel lives a mass called a spinal cord. It is the most important communication system between the brain and the rest part of the body because it carries nerves, and nerves carry informations. The spinal cord is surrounded by different layers of fibers and by the fluid which circulates and pulsates permanently since we are three weeks about young little embryos and it stops to circulate several hours after death of our physical body.
This is what the scalpel-tweezers science and its astonishing, super powerful man-made computers can tell us about the spine, viewed in three or four dimensions. But everything will be much easier if our body was just a pile of bones and flesh.
In ancient time a man did not have powerful precise machines and did not investigate the gross body but its subtle nature. Through his experience he gained knowledge about his subtle body only by his own, super human powers. His knowledge about the multidimensional structure of existence he then put down in the books which still represent the highest human wisdom.
The two holes on each side of the spine, the physical nerve passages, carries the two channels of prana, or nadis.
Prana is vital energy, or life force. Prana is also called Qi, Chi or Mana. The term „energy“ is here used in a lack for a better word. The word nadi means river or channel. Nadis are not nerves, they are subtle channels which carry prana.
According to ancient yogic texts, there are 72 000 nadis, the Siva Samhita, another texts on Hatha Yoga talks about 350 000 nadis. About fifty years ago this pranic channels and their vibrations were photographed by Killian photography, and since than many researchers in the fields of psychology, parapsychology, religion, kinesiology and other sciences have proved the existence and pulsation of prana.
The left channel is called Ida Nadi and the right Pingala Nadi. They correspond to two physical nerve passages.
The cavity of spine is a pranic channel called the Sushumna Nadi, or the central space and correspond to spinal cord (some parts of the cavity of the spine is in the language of medicine also called space) and it is made up of three levels (exactly like the modern, super powerful computers are showing). These are three more subtle channels.
The main aim and the higher goal of Hatha Yoga is the awakening of Kundalini and unification between the individual self and the cosmic consciousness. This illuminated state is called Samadhi.
The awakening of Kundalini is possible when the flow of prana in Ida and Pingala, or in physical level, the parasympathetic and sympathetic system, is balanced. This is how practice of breathing techniques and asanas correspond to higher state of being.
NADIS, KUNDALINI AND THE SYMBOL OF SNAKE
A snake has been associated with supernatural, mystical, higher powers and healing since the very old age of mythology and religion. It was a symbol of mysticism, luck, rejuvenation, therapy, the earth’s fertility, death.
The earliest known symbol of coiled snake around the stuff is Ningišzida, a Mesopotamian deity of the underworld, in the 21st century BC, in the Sumerian civilization which believed that the universe consisted of a flat disk enclosed by a spheric roof.
In the Egyptian tradition the goddess Isis was the embodiment of love, healing, the moon, fertility and she is represented with the snake.
In Greek mythology, the image of a single-snake coiled around the stuff represents the Asklepios, the Greek god of healing.
In Greek mythology, again, a double-snake image, a Caduceus, was a sign of Hermes (Roman: Mercury), a massager of the gods, protector of travelers, trade and thieves, the immortal conductor of the dead.
Through the middle age religions and traditions and early modern time, today the both symbols, of a single- and a double-snake symbol are used by different medical and physician associations, it is a emblem for pharmacy, it is also used by the army medical corps and some politicians.
In the yogic science, the three main nadis, Pingala (the right channel), Ida (the left channel) and Sushumna (the central channel) are symbolically represented by two entwined snakes. All three nadis are moving through the subtle body. They all originate in the base of the spine. Ida and Pingala travel along the spine in a spiral crossing the psychic centers (chakras) from the base of spine up to the space between the eyebrows. Sushumna Nadi flows directly through the spine. The real unity of all three nadis happens in the crown chakra, the thousand petaled lotus but experienced in the heart.
A single coiled-up snake in three and the half circles is a symbol of Kundalini.
The old indian sages and seers did not see the universe as a flat disc covered by a spheric roof but through their practices and experiences they acknowledged that the human body together with their spheric roof, the brain, are not separated from the universe and that the universe is manifestation of pure consciousness. Kundalini is divine cosmic energy in the body. Kundala means coiled, kunda means cave, and this is why a single coiled-up snake is a symbol of the divine but sleeping power in each and every human.
The practice of Hatha Yoga techniques, lead to awakening of that vast sleeping or repressed power. Pranayama techniques and asana practice both lead to the purification and opening of the right and left psychic channel. Purified and opened channels of Pingala and Ida lead to the purification of the central space in the spine, the Sushumna.
Purified and opened central channel changes the psycho-physiological state within the human. When the sushumna channel is purified and opened, in this emptiness, the individual soul is merging with the cosmic. Those people are rare, however to each and every of us is given the golden opportunity to access the higher state of consciousness.
If you do not start, you do not finish.
The meaning of the word Yoga refers to the union of Yin and Yang, the two halves of the brain, the parasympathetic nervous system to the sympathetic nervous system, the union between the sun (HA, or the right channel, Pingala) and the moon (THA, or the left channel, Ida), time and space, Prakriti (nature, the female creative energy) and Purusha (pure consciousness, the source of consciousness, the male aspect), Shiva (your static, male energy) and Shakti (your dynamic, feminine energy).
This is how the practice of hatha yoga unites two opposites in you, and how the duality is becoming oneness. When you experience the unity between the opposites, you will be enough calm and balanced to experiment all the other dimensions of your being.
As the embryo gradually develops into the first breath, the man unfolds his psychic centers step by step towards its source since his first breath.
I hope that my introduction into Yoga and Hatha Yoga can now help you to see clearly why it is not right to understand hatha yoga as physical exercise or, in the worst case, like a fitness.
PERSONAL NOTE to those who say:
“Yoga is too strenuous for me“ or
„I am too stiff to do yoga.“
Hatha Yoga is not a competitive sport and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of the mental and physical capacity. The first principle in Raja Yoga (and the purpose of Hatha Yoga is Raja Yoga) is AHIMSA what means not to injure, and therefore it is a very wise choice to practice the body postures slowly and with great attention. Eventual strains of the muscles are normal during performing asana but pain is not Yoga.
In The Yoga Tradition, George Feuerstein notes:
“Narcissism, or body-oriented egocentrism, is as great a danger among hatha-yogins as it is among bodybuilders.”
The breath is the most powerful tool and the only thing that we really „have“ in our life. If your breath leaves you, there is no longer you. Therefore, it is very wise choice to take care about breath.
Turtles and elephants live much longer than rabbits or dogs because they breathe much slower.
To keep the lungs healthy is very important. Pranayama and other Tantric and Hatha Yoga techniques make it possible.
The practice of Hatha Yoga gives us the opportunity to restore and preserve the purity and spontaneity of the child in us jet being with both feet firmly on the ground.
A yoga mat is like a flying carpet which can take you to the landscapes that were unknown for you until now. This landscape is your true nature.
However, a progress does not come overnight. You will need much patience and dedication.
One can not learn Yoga by heart, one can not copy Yoga. Pure theory and philosophizing does not bring much to us. Yoga is about pure experience and it is a wonderful companion on the journey to the true self.
Only when the mind is completely quiet, you can see the truth. Power lies in tranquility, not in hectic.
Many people talk a lot but say nothing. Due practice of Hatha Yoga you will develop honesty, patience and persistence. This wonderful human qualities will be part of your everyday life. You will become a patient listener and observer with clear head and peaceful heart. You will be able to make a difference and to get rid of useless things in your life.
In the society, a man is very often exposed to persuasion, the hype, the terror and the constant feeling of guilt.
Practice of Hatha Yoga develops intuition. This is a language without words, which helps a person to be completely independent using own heart and head.
Everything is already there but lost on the way of life. Practice of Hatha Yoga is a great method which can put the lost pieces together and to charge both, heart and mind, with new energy. This will bring about a change.
BENEFITS OF HATHA YOGA PRACTICE IN EVERY DAY LIFE
If practiced with honesty and open heart, Hatha Yoga:
– develops concentration, which will develop more self-confidence in us and capability to listen the inner voice and to react on it, rather than let our thoughts and reactions be controlled by the others
– it teaches us to make a difference and right decisions, to see things in their natural appearances and to act naturally respecting ourselves and all other beings
– will help us to detach ourselves from the bondage of our own emotions, of material things and everything what makes us unhappy (or better unsatisfied)
– will teach us to let go everything what does not make us satisfied and happy, jet we will remain passionate
– will help us to judge less and to be less critical and cynical toward ourselves and others
– will open our heart for our most beautiful qualities which are compassion, tenderness, nonviolence and kindness
– bring us into the unity with ourselves, with others, the circle of nature and life.
Nothing is impossible. Take a challenge.
“So plant your own gardens and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.”
― Jorge Luis Borges