What is Hatha Yoga?
It is a path of Yoga. In the classical texts is described as a staircase for Raja Yoga (see Yoga Foundations page), and only for that purpose (Kevalam Rajyogaya). The Sanskrit word Hatha in this context refers to power, strength, energy and force. It is more physical compaired to other Yoga practices and it is based in the arousal of energy through Susumna, the main nadi in the body.
Mmm...What is a nadi?
In Hatha Yoga the word nadi refers to energy channels or prana channels. There are more than 72000 nadis in the human body and their positions are similar to the nerves.
Ok, which are the main nadis, then?
Hatha yogis spoke of three main channels: Ida, Pingala and Susumna.
Normally, Susumna is resting and Ida and Pingala altern their functioning (when one is active, the other is idle).
Located at the left side of the vertebral column.
Associated to the word Tha in Hatha.
Called also Chandra Nadi or Moon Nadi.
It is connected to the left nostril.
It governs the right part of the brain, associated with creativity and artistic tasks.
Located at the right side of the vertebral column.
Associated to the word Ha in Hatha.
Called also Surya Nadi or Sun Nadi.
It is connected to the right nostril.
It governs the left part of the brain, associated with logic and decissions take.
Located in the center of the spine or meru danda.
It only gets active when Ida and Pingala are simultaneously functioning.
The free flow of prana through this channel is associated to higher states of concentration and conciousness.
And, who were the Hatha Yogis?
Although is very difficult to trace the originators of Hatha Yoga, there are solid evidences that the Nath Sect of yogis considered themselves as Hatha yogis. The Nath Sect was founded around the 6th Century C.E by Matsyendranath. In his linage are found the authors of relevant treatises on Hatha Yoga.
I see... and what are the most important books on Hatha Yoga?
There are three main reference texts:
Dated around the 15th Century.
Its author was Swami Swatmarama, who can be positioned somewhere after the 33rd Nath Yogi.
It is written in slokhas or verses, structured in 4 chapters:
1st Chapter: Asanas and Mitahara (yogic diet)
2nd Chapter: Pranayamas and Shatkarmas (cleansing actions)
3rd Chapter: Mudra (gestures) and Bhanda (locks)
4th Chapter: Samadhi
In the first chapter Swatmarama also describes the main causes of failure and success in the practice of Hatha Yoga.
Pradipika means “small lamp”, that in this context is intended to guide us on the path to Raja Yoga.
Dated around the 17th Century.
Its author was the Nath yogi Rishi Gheranda.
It is written in form of dialogues (Samhitas) between him and his disciple Chanda Kapali.
Its slokhas or verses, are structured in 7 chapters:
1st Chapter: Shodanam (Purification) by Shatkarma
2nd Chapter: Dhradata (Strength) by Asana
3rd Chapter: Sthairya (Steadiness) by Mudra and Bhanda
4th Chapter: Dhairyam (Perseverance/Patience) by Pratyahara
5th Chapter: Laghavam (Lightness) by Pranayama
6th Chapter: Pratyaksancha (Direct Perception) by Dhyana
7th Chapter: Nirliptancha (Isolation) by Samadhi
The Hatha Yoga as explained in Gheranda Samhita is called Saptanga Yoga (The 7 Parts Yoga).
It is also called Ghatasya Yoga. Ghata means “pot”. Gheranda wrote that human body is like a earthen pot that must be baked through yogic fire.
It is the most mystical text of the three.
Its author is unknown.
It could be older than HathaYoga Pradipika but it has not been confirmed the date.
It is written as a collection of dialogues between Lord Shiva as the first guru and his wife Parvati as the first student.
Other relevant texts are Goraksha Samhita, Yoga Bija and Hatha Ratnavali.
Tell me the main causes of failure in the practice of Hatha Yoga then...
According to HathaYoga Pradipika, those are the Six Badhak Tattva:
Atyahara or overeating
Prayasa or over-exertion, both physical and mental
Prajalpa or gossiping and excesive talking
Niyamagraha or rigidness in the rituals and routines
Janasanga or socializing. In modern life it should be traslated as wrong companies
Laulyam or volatility of mind
And what are the causes of success?
HathaYogaPradipika enumerates Six Sadhak Tattva, those are:
Utsaha or enthusiasm
Sahas or courage
Dhairya or perseverance and constant effort
TattvaJana or knowledge of the purpose and philosophy behind the practice
Nischaya or firm determination and faith
Janasanga Parityaga or total prohibition of socializaing. That should be translated in the modern life as “choosing the right companies”
Both, HathaYoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita speak about asanas... Are there differences with what is written in the Yoga Sutras?
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states which must be the qualities of an asana: steady and comfortable (sthiram, sukham); but he doesn't describe any of them in particular.
HathaYoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita explain the technique to perform several asanas.
Speaking of asanas, what are the benefits of its practice, according to Hatha yogis?
The HathaYoga Pradipika mentions 3 benefits:
Sthairyam or steadiness (physical and mental)
Aroghyam or good health
Angalaghavam or lightness of the body
Ok, What about Mitahara, what's the meaning?
It comes from the sanskrit word ahara (food and things that are intaken). It can be translated as moderated or balanced diet. According to HathaYoga Pradipika, the food must be:
Susnighdam: Very pulpy, easy to digest, fresh and not stale
Madhuram: Pleasant, agreeable, naturally sweet
Shiv Samprityam: As good as it could be offered to Lord Shiva. Also means eaten with this attitude.
Chaturth Varjitam: Eaten to fill only half stomach with food, a quarter of stomach with liquids and leaving a quarter (chaturth) of stomach empty
Gheranda Samhita gives similar advice to HathaYoga Pradipika on what to eat. Both texts also recommend to avoid unnatural foods, stale, reheated food, too acidic or too salty. Nirahara (fasting) is not considered a good practice for Hatha Yoga. Gheranda Samhita adds the recommendation to avoid eating only once a day (ekahara).
Well, what about the Shatkarmas?
The Shatkarmas or Kriyas are the six actions or types of purifications. These actions are related with the observation or niyama of cleanliness (sauch). They are designed to clean the body at a deeper level that normal hygiene. Those are:
Dhauti or washing, cleansing
Basti or cleaning of the large intestine
Neti or cleaning of the nasal pasage
Trataka or cleaning of the vision
Nauli or cleaning of the small intestine
Kapalbhati or cleaning of the sinuses (it literally means “shining skull”)
When are the Shatkarmas supposed to be performed?
There are some differences on the approach depending on the text. According to Gheranda Samhita the process of “baking the body through yogic fire” starts with the purification of the body so the shatkarmas are to be performed in any case. On the other hand, the HathaYoga Pradipika recommends to do the shatkarmas prior to Pranayama only if there is an unbalance in the tridoshas.
Mmm...and what are the Tridoshas?
Hatha Yoga takes this concept from Ajurveda, the Indian traditional medicine.
According to Ajurveda, our health depends on the balance of three energies or doshas:
Vata or “air”. This one is related also with the nervous system
Pitta or “fire”. Asociated to the bile, the digestion and the metabolism
Kapha or “water”. Found as phlegm or mucus. Related also to the absorption of nutrients in the arterial system and lubrication processes
So shatkarmas help to balance the tridoshas...Any other general benefit?
According to Hatha Yoga, shatkarmas also nourish the Sapta Dhatu or 7 basics constituents of our body:
Ok, tell me more about shatkarmas, what are the types of Dhauti?
HathaYoga Pradipika only mentions Vastra Dhauti or cleansing of the stomach by using a strip of cloth.
Gheranda Samhita describes several actions:
Antar or Internal:
Vatasara, ingesting air and forcing it to the low pasage.
Varisara, ingesting water and performing sequence of movements.
Agnisara, by moving the navel knot in and out.
Bahiskritam, by washing the large intestine with the hands.
Danta or teeth purification:
Dantamula or cleansing of the teeth.
Jivha Shodana or purification of the tonge.
Karna-Randhra or cleaning of the ears.
Kapala-Randhra or cleansing of the skull.
Hrda or purification of the chest, referred to the esophagus:
Danta, by using a stick.
Vamana, by vomiting.
Vastra by using a strip of cloth.
Mula-Shodanam or purification of the anus.
What about the Basti?
HathaYoga Pradipika mentions the cleansing of the rectum by using water (Jala Basti). Gheranda Samhita distinguish between Jala and Sukshma (performed dry). Sukshma Basti is also known as Sthala (static) because the yogi didn't have to move to the nearest river or source of water like when performing the Jala Basti.
Ok, what can you tell me about the Neti?
Both classic texts speaks of Sutra Neti, which is cleansing of the nose by using a string.
Nowadays however, Neti is also performed by using luckwarm salted water (with a salt concentration similar to our tears or sweat). This technique is called Jalneti.
And about Tratak?
HathaYoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita explain the cleansing of the vision by staring at a small fixed point until the tears begin to flow.
Tratak can be also performed in many different ways like shoulder-gazing, tumb-gazing, moon-gazing, candle-gazing, etc.
Any words on Nauli?
Nauli, also called Laukiki in the Gheranda Samhita is a performed by forcibly moving the stomach and the intestine from on side to the other.
Cool, tell me about Kapal-Bhati...
The "shining skull" technique described in HathaYoga Pradipika is performed by fast and forceful exhalation of air.
While Gheranda Samhita mentions three kinds:
Vama Krama, performed with air.
Vyut Krama, taking water through the nostrils and expelling it trough the mouth.
Sit Krama, taking water through the mouth and expelling it trough the nostrils.
Ok, I know the importance of Asanas and Shatkarmas in Hatha Yoga... What is the role of Pranayamas?
As written in the HathaYoga Pradipika, “Chale vate, chalam chittam”: As the breath, so the mind.
One of the main objectives of Pranayama is to get steadiness of mind.
The state when the mind becomes completely calm is only possible when the prana flows freely through Susumna nadi. By the practice of Pranayama the yogi is able to control the bioenergy (prana) and chanalize it through the main channel (Susumna).
According to the classic texts, Pranayama not only helps to calm the mind but to have a healthier body.