Within these ancient texts, we find not only the seeds of yoga but also the wisdom that has shaped human consciousness for millennia.
OVERVIEW : HATHA TEXTS 9th/10th Century CE onwards AGE : The Hatha Yoga Pradipika was composed 15th century CE. NATURE : Text on Hatha Yoga, focusing on physical and energetic practices. CONTENT: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika delves into physical postures, breath control, symbolic gestures, and energy locks for spiritual awakening. PURPOSE : Intended to guide practitioners in purifying the body and mind through Hatha Yoga practices for spiritual awakening. FOCUS : The Hatha Yoga Pradipika focuses on the physical and energetic aspects of yoga, introducing complex postures and techniques to awaken and balance the life force (prana) and kundalini energy. YOGA : Outlines detailed techniques for cleansing the body, activating energy channels, and utilising physical practices to facilitate spiritual growth. TEACHINGS : Focuses on cultivating inner awareness through physical practices and harnessing Hatha Yoga as a means for spiritual awakening and self-realisation. LANGUAGE : Written in classical Sanskrit.
It is not until the composition of Sanskrit texts on Hatha yoga where we find the earliest teachings of complex and nonseated asana with systematic descriptions. The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. Hatha literally means ‘by force’. The Hatha Pradipika begins with some general ins and outs then goes straight in to asana. The yogis knew that although the body wears out, it serves as a vehicle for self realisation and as such it has to be kept in good condition. Asanas purifies the body and mind and has preventative and curative effects. They cause changes at all levels from the physical to the spiritual. Health is a delicate balance of body, mind and spirit. The yogi masters the body and makes the body a fit vehicle for the spirit. Through the body we can put a brake on the mind. If the body is still, it is easy to make the mind still. The body is controlled by the mind: if the body is to be disciplined or mastered, then the mind must be disciplined or mastered. If one aspect of life can be disciplined, then there is no limit to anything in one’s life that can’t be mastered. The hatha yoga Pradipika describes 15 asana in total, of which 8 are not seated. The verses describing complex asanas are taken from earlier texts : The VIMANARCANAKALPA 10th Century CE (the earliest known text identified to include non seated asana) & VASISTHASAMHITA 13th Century CE include Mayurasana (Peacock Pose) & Kukkutasana (Cock Pose) – both arm balancing postures. The full list of postures from the Hatha Pradipika : The first 11 are Svastikasana (Auspicious Pose), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) Virasana (Hero Pose), Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose), Kukkutasana (Cock Pose), Uttana Karmasana (Intense Tortoise Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Paschimottanasana (Intense West Side Stretch Pose), Mayurasana (Peacock Pose), and Savasana (Corpse Pose). After listing these 11 postures, the text goes on to say; “Shiva taught 84 asanas. Of these the first four being essential ones.” It then describes 4 seated postures: Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose), Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Simhasana (Lion Pose), and Bhadrasana (Fortunate Posture). One pose going by several names appears to be common. After describing siddhasana, which the masters viewed as the most important and only really necessary posture, the text goes on to say; “Some call this siddhasana, some vajrasana. Others call it muktasana or guptasana.”
Life Force (prana vayus)
Prana refers to the life force energy that animates all living beings and is responsible for various bodily functions, including breathing, circulation, digestion, and more. The Vayus are specific energetic pathways or currents through which prana flows within the body. They play a crucial role in regulating the distribution, circulation, and utilisation of prana. Prana Vayu: Prana is the life force energy that exists within and around us. Prana vayu is responsible for the intake and distribution of oxygen, as well as the overall movement of energy. It flows from the head down to the heart, and it governs inhalation, inspiration, and the movement of energy upward. Apana Vayu: Apana vayu governs the downward and outward flow of energy. It is associated with elimination, both in terms of bodily waste and mental and emotional release. Apana vayu flows from the heart down to the base of the spine and is responsible for exhalation and grounding. Samana Vayu: Samana vayu is responsible for the digestion and assimilation of both physical and mental experiences. It is located in the area of the navel and governs the balancing and equalising of energy. Samana vayu helps with the transformation of energy and is related to the process of exhalation. Udana Vayu: Udana vayu is associated with the throat and is responsible for upward movement. It governs the expression of energy, including speech, thoughts, and emotions. Udana vayu supports the flow of energy from the lower to the higher centers of the body. Vyana Vayu: Vyana vayu is responsible for the circulation of energy throughout the body. It permeates all cells and tissues and governs the expansion and contraction of the body. Vyana vayu ensures that energy reaches every part of the body, providing vitality and coordination. Each vayu has its own specific functions and areas of influence, but they are interconnected and work together to maintain the balance and harmony of energy within the body. Practicing yoga helps balance and harmonise these vayus, promoting physical health, mental clarity, and overall well-being.
Energy Pathways & Centres (nadis chakras)
Nadis: Nadis are energy channels or pathways through which prana (life force energy) flows. Hatha Yoga texts describe the body as having thousands of nadis, but three main nadis are particularly significant: Ida Nadi: Associated with the left side of the body, Ida is connected to the lunar energy and is considered cooling and calming. It is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and is often associated with qualities such as receptivity and intuitive awareness. Pingala Nadi: Linked to the right side of the body, Pingala is associated with solar energy and is considered heating and energising. It is connected to the sympathetic nervous system and is related to qualities like action, vitality, and logic. Sushumna Nadi: Sushumna runs along the spinal column and is considered the central channel through which spiritual energy rises. Awakening and balancing Sushumna Nadi is often a central goal in practices like Kundalini Yoga, as it is believed to lead to higher states of consciousness and spiritual awakening. Chakras: Chakras are energy centers along the Sushumna Nadi that are believed to influence both physical and spiritual aspects of human experience. There are typically seven main chakras, each associated with specific physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual qualities: Muladhara (Root) Chakra: Located at the base of the spine, this chakra is associated with stability, grounding, and survival instincts. Svadhisthana (Sacral) Chakra: Situated in the lower abdomen, this chakra relates to creativity, relationships, and emotions. Manipura (Solar Plexus) Chakra: Found in the upper abdomen, this chakra is linked to personal power, self-esteem, and transformation. Anahata (Heart) Chakra: Located at the heart center, this chakra represents love, compassion, and emotional balance. Vishuddha (Throat) Chakra: Situated at the throat, this chakra is associated with communication, self-expression, and truth. Ajna (Third Eye) Chakra: Located between the eyebrows, this chakra is related to intuition, insight, and inner wisdom. Sahasrara (Crown) Chakra: Positioned at the top of the head, this chakra represents spiritual connection, consciousness, and enlightenment. Hatha Yoga practices, including specific asanas (postures), pranayama (breath control), and meditation, are designed to purify and balance the nadis and chakras. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the free flow of prana, balance energy, and awaken spiritual potential for greater well-being and self-realisation.
Kriyas: Kriyas are cleansing practices designed to purify the body and mind by removing impurities, toxins, and blockages, thus promoting physical and energetic well-being. Kriyas are often considered essential preparatory steps for advanced yogic practices, including pranayama (breath control) and meditation. In Hatha Yoga, kriyas are a set of specific techniques aimed at cleansing different parts of the body and energy systems. Some common kriyas include: Neti Kriya: This involves the cleansing of the nasal passages using a neti pot or other devices. It helps to clear the nasal passages, improve breathing, and remove excess mucus and pollutants. Dhauti Kriya: Dhauti involves various techniques to cleanse the digestive tract. It may include drinking saltwater, inducing vomiting, or cleansing the stomach through different methods. Basti Kriya: This kriya focuses on cleansing the colon using water or specific herbal preparations to remove accumulated waste material. Trataka Kriya: Trataka involves steady gazing at a specific point or object, such as a candle flame or an image. This practice helps improve concentration, eye health, and inner awareness. Kapalabhati Kriya: Kapalabhati is a forceful breathing technique that involves rapid exhalations followed by passive inhalations. It helps clear the respiratory system, increase energy, and enhance mental clarity. Shankhaprakshalana Kriya: Also known as the "Master Cleansing Technique," this involves drinking a large quantity of saline water and then performing specific yoga poses to cleanse the entire digestive tract. Kriyas are believed to have physical, mental, and energetic benefits. They are intended to remove physical and energetic obstacles that hinder the smooth flow of prana and prepare the practitioner for deeper spiritual practices. Mudras: Mudras are symbolic hand gestures that are used to channel energy, enhance concentration, and stimulate specific qualities or states of mind. Mudras are considered to influence the flow of prana (life force energy) within the body. There are numerous mudras, each with its own significance and benefits. Some mudras involve simple hand positions, while others may incorporate the entire body. Bandhas: Bandhas are energy locks or seals in the body that are an essential part of yogic practices, particularly in Hatha Yoga. These bandhas involve specific muscular contractions and engagements that help regulate the flow of prana within the body. By activating and controlling these energy locks, practitioners can enhance their physical and energetic well-being and facilitate the movement of prana along specific pathways. There are three main bandhas commonly practiced in yoga: Mula Bandha: Also known as the "Root Lock," Mula Bandha involves the contraction of the muscles in the pelvic floor region. This lock is believed to help control the downward flow of energy and stimulate the energy centers in the lower abdomen. It is associated with the first chakra (Muladhara) and is often used in conjunction with pranayama and meditation practices. Uddiyana Bandha: The "Abdominal Lock" involves a deep contraction of the abdominal muscles, drawing the abdominal wall inward and upward. This lock stimulates the digestive organs, enhances circulation, and helps lift the prana along the central energy channel (Sushumna Nadi). Uddiyana Bandha is often used during breath retention (kumbhaka) in pranayama practices. Jalandhara Bandha: The "Throat Lock" is created by lowering the chin to the chest while maintaining a lifted sternum. This lock is practiced to control the flow of prana in the neck and throat region, facilitating the movement of energy upward. Jalandhara Bandha is commonly used during breath retention and is associated with the fifth chakra (Vishuddha). By engaging these bandhas, practitioners aim to direct and control the flow of prana.