APRIL 2005 / SHARON GANNON
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a medieval scripture written in 1350. The Nath Yogi Swatmarama is the author. The meaning of the title is interesting to consider if one wishes to begin to understand the book’s content.
Pradipika means “light” or “to illuminate”, ha means “sun”, tha means “moon” and yoga or yug means to “join”. So the title suggests: light on how to join the sun and the moon, or another way we could say this would be: The low-down on how to go beyond all limitations posed by living in a mundane reality where Nature and Spirit are kept separate. When viewed from this perspective, hatha yoga is a tantric practice as it attempts to bring about a harmony between the two energies of life: the pranic and the mental. This pair can also be described as the shakti, or female, cool current which travels through the ida nadi, and the mind, or male, hot current which travels through the pingala nadi. When their union takes place in the central channel (sushumna nadi) it is the union of body and mind, and this is the awakening of higher consciousness.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, along with the Gheranda-Samhita (1650), is one of the most detailed manuals describing the techniques of Hatha Yoga. Contrary to the popular belief in our present era that defines Hatha Yoga as “easy yoga”, Hatha Yoga is anything but easy. It is certainly not for the faint of heart or those lacking will power. Hatha Yoga is the yoga that is attained through forceful means with difficult physical kriyas and cleansing, purifying actions as a beginning practice. In past eras it has been defined as the yoga system, which ties the practitioner to a stake until he/she is well cooked. Its practice demands complete mastery of the physical and mental body, rendering the body and mind capable of withstanding prolonged ecstatic states of union with the infinite. Samadhi, or the enlightened state, is not just a mental experience; it is a psychokinetic or whole-body/mind event, involving every fiber, cell and tissue.
All of the methods of practice described in the text are means to attain Self-realization and so be freed of ego identification and the limitations of avidya(mistaken identity). The intention underlying the strenuous Hatha Yoga practices must be enlightenment for the sake of the Cosmic Self. If this elevated intention is not present, the practices could be binding as they bring about the attainment of supernatural powers, which in the body of one who has not developed humility and compassion, can result in arrogance, narcissism and egocentricity.
The text is composed of four chapters. The first chapter deals with Asana; Chapter Two with Shatkarma and Pranayama; Chapter Three: mudra and bandha, and Chapter Four: Samadhi. In Chapter One there are guidelines for sadhana as well as how to perform various asanas and suggestions for food restrictions that may aid in the practice of meditation. Chapter Two deals mainly with techniques (the shat (six) karmas) for cleansing the physical body, breathing exercises which purify the pranic body through breath retention (kumbak), and various practices to balance the doshas and release blocked energy. Chapter Three concentrates on the use of mudras (gestures) and bandhas (locks), contrivances for awakening kundalini and directing energy toward enlightenment. Chapter Four describes and gives further techniques for the attainment of perfection in the form of hearing. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Samadhi comes when there is development of a sound body and a sound mind; the yogi’s attainment of perfection is in the form of the unstruck sound-the nadam. Practically speaking, yoga is attained when one is able to hear God; the absolute as the pranava, the nadam.
To truly hear is to truly know.
Excerpts from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
(verse translations by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga, Mungar, India 1998 ed.):
Chapter 1: Asana
“Overeating, exertion, talkativeness, adhering to rules, being in the company of common people and unsteadiness (wavering mind) are the six causes which destroy yoga.” I:15
“Enthusiasm, perseverance, discrimination, unshakable faith, courage, avoiding the company of common people, are the six causes which bring success in yoga.” I:16
“Paschimottanasana is the best among asanas. By this asana the pranic currents rise through sushmna, the digestive fire increases, the abdomen becomes flat, and the practitioner becomes free from dis-eases.” I:29
Chapter 2: Shatkarma and Pranayama
“When the nadis are purified there are external symptoms. Success is definite when the body becomes thin and glows.” II:19
“Closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration through ida and pingala, so that the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound.” II:51
“Perfection of hatha yoga is achieved when there is leanness of the body, tranquil countenance, manifestation of the inner sound, clear eyes, diseaselessness, control of bindu (semen/ova), active digestive fire and purification of nadis.” II:78
Chapter 3: Mudra and Bandha
“Therefore the knower of yoga conquers death by preserving the bindu (semen). Release of the semen means death; conservation of seman is life.” III:88 “She is verily a yogini who conserves her rajas by contracting and raising it. She knows past, present and future and becomes fixed in khechari.” (ie consciousness moves into the higher realm) III:102
“The bindu and that rajas in one’s own body unite through the union by practice of vajroli, thus bestowing all perfections or siddhis.” III:101
“The yogi who moves the shakti regularly, enjoys perfection or siddhi. He easily conquers time and death. What more is there to say?” III:120
Chapter 4: Samadhi
“When the mind ceases to be fickle and is united by fixing it in nada, it becomes immobile like a wingless bird.” IV:92
“One who desires complete dominion of yoga should thus explore the nada with an attentive mind and abandon all thoughts.” IV:93
Commentary: LIGHT ON YOGA by Yogeswari
Written in 1350 by Nath Yogi Swatmarama, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) is one of the four most important classical texts on Yoga philosophy, and the most recent one. The HYP follows as a continuum of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, clarifying and expounding on various points that are addressed in the Sutras. However, the HYP emphasizes that the mind cannot be controlled through the mind, but that absolute balance of body, mind and energy is attained through the purification of the physical body and finding access to the energy body.
Hatha Yoga is described as union between pranic and mental forces. -Ha–sun–prana, vital force–Pingala Nadi -tha–moon, mental energy–Ida Nadi
When that union occurs, there is a great event in human evolution; the awakening of consciousness, the awakening of Sushumna Nadi (“ray of light”, central energy channel), which is the most important process for the Yogi.
The techniques described in the HYP are to reveal greater planes of existence and areas of consciousness. These techniques can reverse disease, old age and death, and can actually transform the dense physical body into particles of light. That is congruent with scientific findings that matter is energy and vice versa. Importance is given to lineage and Guru: The important factor is your faith in Guru’s words and your obedience; then it does not matter whether his/her instructions seem right or wrong. They will be fruitful to you (HYP I.14). 10 Yamas (ethical guidelines) and 10 Niyamas (observances in lifestyle), a secluded life, and several dietary restrictions are prescribed. The HYP is the first elaboration on concrete Asanas (body postures, “seats”) and their benefits. There are only 15, including Paschimottanasana, Mayurasana, Savasana and several sitting postures. Siddhasana is advocated as the most potent Asana, as it purifies all 72,000 Nadis (energy channels). Detailed instruction is given on Shat Karma Kriyas (internal cleansing techniques), which are a pre-requisite to any other practices: Unless the physical molecules are transformed it is no use discussing compassion or unity (Foreword, HYP, Bihar School).
The main source of subsistence is not food, but energy. Therefore, detailed attention is given to the Nadis and Chakras (psychic centers) and the deliberate influence of Pranayama (breathing techniques), Bandhas (psychomuscular energy locks) and Mudras (gestures that direct energy in specific ways). Pranayama is practiced, in order to spread the dimensions of Prana within us. Practising Pranayama after Shat Karma Kriyas takes care of the mind, as the breath and mind are intimately connected. The last chapter is dedicated to Samadhi (supramental consciousness), whose different stages are described by qualifying the various experience of Nada (cosmic sound), as a result of the piercing of the Granthis (psychic knots).
IV.114 While the prana does not flow in the middle passage (of sushumna), while the bindu is not steadied by restraining the prana, while mind does not reflect spontaneous meditation, then those who speak of spiritual knowledge are only indulging in boastful and false tales.
Commentary Teacher Bio: Estelle (Yogeswari) was born and raised in Switzerland, and also spent extensive and highly influential periods of her life around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Her interest in yoga, Hinduism, and Buddhism was sparked during her teens.
Before discovering Jivamukti in 1996, Estelle studied Integral, Kundalini, Sivananda, and Kripalu Yoga. A graduate of the 1999/2000 Jivamukti Teacher Training Program, she is now devoting her efforts to the practices of Ashtanga and Jivamukti Yoga.
The conscious development of her spiritual path began while studying the dances and rhythms of Haitian Voodoo and West African traditions. She then committed herself to a four-year apprenticeship under two sun-dancers in the Lakota tradition, which included participation in Native American ceremonies, as well as study of Hermetic philosophy.
A dancer and choreographer for over 20 years, Estelle was the co-founder and co-artistic director of K00 Dance from 1985-1992, and founded AZAHAR Danse Musique du Monde, a multimedia, international performing company, in 1995. She has worked with Mabou Mines’ Lee Breuer and Bob Telson, Pat Hall, Elizabeth Streb, Ann Carlso, Anita Gonzalez, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, and Fred Holland. She is a founding member of the Tanzfabrik Berlin, and performed in Meredith Monk’s production of “Vessel” at the Schaubuehne, Berlin. Estelle’s work has been presented in Europe, the Caribbean, and in the United States, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Spoleto Festival, Yale Repertory, the Swiss Embassy, the Swiss Institute, and many downtown New York venues. She was the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship, as well as grants and awards from the Swiss Center Foundation, the Canton and City of Berne, and NYSCA.
She holds an M.A. in dance, choreography and international feminist sports psychology from the Gallatin School at New York University, and a B.F.A. (magna cum laude) in dance from Temple University. In addition, she spent 10 years studying African and Caribbean dance and percussion, as well as Capoeira and hip-hop, and spent four years in Merce Cunningham’s Professional Training Program. She has earned a Diploma of Spanish Cultural Studies from the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, and studied cultural anthropology, theater, and Islamic culture at the Freie Universitaet, Berlin.
While honoring her commitment to teach at Jivamukti, Estelle plans to resume her activities as a choreographer, using yoga and the performing arts as a foundation for international peace projects, with a special dedication to the voices of women and young girls. Estelle offers her efforts in yoga to the lotus feet of her teachers, Tripura Sundari and Deva Das. For their teachings, love, and generosity, she is eternally grateful.