3:59 PMPosted by gopalakrishna
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika of Svatmarama
THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES
(1) Reverence to Siva the Lord of Yoga, who taught [his wife] Parvati hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of raja yoga.
It is a good practice to evoke a divine power before beginning serious work. We may call it Siva (the Benevolent) or God or Ganesa (gana == legions; isa = master), to whom in fact the yogi author has dedicated his work.
(2) Having thus solemnly saluted his master. Yogi Svatmarama now presents hatha vidya [vidya = wisdom] solely and exclusively for the attainment of raja yoga.
Now it can begin–and it begins with an admonition. The classical commentary, at times so tediously wordy, here has an important message: “solely for the attainment of raja yoga” indicates two delimitations. The lower level indicates that hatha yoga is not being taught for its own sake, for the achievement of physical fitness and worldly power, but is a method to prepare the student for the rigors of raja yoga.
The upper delimitation needs a little more elucidation. As we will soon and often hear, the real goal of a yogi is to become a siddha. A siddha, a person in possession of siddhis, has developed powers that can readily be called supernatural. There are eight siddhis, the highest of which is nirvana, the great liberation.
If in India, even with great masters, one so seldom has a chance to witness the miracles that these siddhas have the powers to perform, it is simply because a siddha who does not want to get the reputation of a black magician will keep his powers carefully concealed and refuse to use them for worldly purposes. If he does misuse a siddhi, the misused siddhi strikes back at him and causes him some kind of unpleasantness, usually of a physical nature.
One does not necessarily have to believe such things. You may put this down to the fabulous imagination of the East, and say so. The yogi does not resent your doubts, and they will not in any way impede the objective study of the wisdom of yoga. In fact, the text gives warning against striving primarily for powers: “solely for the attainment of raja yoga.”
The deeper purpose of the siddhis is something else. Through the developing forces the student recognizes what stage of evolution he has reached. Certain phenomena will tell him that he should change his way of practice, and if after due practice these phenomena do not occur, he surely has made a mistake. The siddhis are signposts on his way to the final goal, liberation. To be a siddha means to be in possession of all the characteristics of the final yoga goal.
“Siddhis,” my guru told me, “are not the aim of our work. We want to become siddhas in order to enjoy the realization and perfection of a siddha, not to gain worldly position or evade responsibilities.” And since he himself is a siddha, this sentence clearly indicates what is defined as the upper delimitation. Yoga is not for braggarts or egocentrics, nor is it for those who merely want to add method to their physical training.
(3) For those who wander in the darkness of conflicting creeds [and philosophies], unable to reach to the heights of raja yoga [self-knowledge and cosmic consciousness] the merciful Yogi Svatmarama has lit the torch of hatha wisdom.
Raja yoga, the royal yoga1 is a goal that many strive to reach without even being aware of it, without having the slightest inkling of yoga. What else is Faust aspiring to but perfect self-knowledge and cosmic consciousness, to “know that force which holds the universe together, to see creative power and the seed”?
For the student of Indian wisdom this reference to Faust presents an especially interesting parallel. Goethe speaks here of creative power and of seed, in Sanskrit shakti and bindu, two of the most important terms in tantra yoga, as we will see later on. At the time of Goethe these teachings had not yet reached the West, and it speaks for his universal genius that he recognized their supreme importance.
(4-9) Gorafksha and Matsyendra were masters of hatha vidya, and by their grace Yogi Svatmarama learned it. Siva, Matsyendra, Shabara, Anandabhairava, Chaurangi, and many other great siddhas who have conquered time are still roaming through this world.
A daring statement: after the enumeration of 33 masters of hatha vidya who have illuminated the ages, to claim that they are still roaming through the world, for “they have conquered time.”
We have already spoken of the siddhis, and here it is specifically stated that these masters were siddhas. They reached what so many covet, “eternal youth.” Many are the tales of yogis who are said to be several hundred years old and look like youths, but it is useless to discuss this kind of doubtful rumor. A wandering
1. The translation of the term “raja yoga” as “royal yoga” is exoteric. Esoterically it is “the yoga of radiating light,” for “raja” can also mean “to shine.” Thus we have an allusion to the “inner light,” which is dealt with in the fourth part of this work.
yogi has no birth certificate, and it seems strange that one can state that he is exactly 250 years old, while his younger colleagues do not know whether they are 10, 20,30, or 40 years old. Besides, a hundred years more or less is important only to us. To a yogi who lives alone in the woods time is of no concern. True, I did meet some yoga masters who looked younger than their grown sons, and this alone seems quite a desirable goal. And it is also true what is stated above: that these yoga roasters had conquered time. That is, they were no longer subject to the laws of time; they were roasters of this strange unfathomable mystery, “time.”
For us time is inseparable from the clock, but no one has ever succeeded in really defining time. It is impossible–because time does not exist outside of our own minds. As our consciousness, so our time: long as eternity the hour of danger; short and fleeting the hour of happiness. So when we say that a yogi has conquered time it means that he has conquered his (relative) consciousness.
(10) [Therefore] hatha yoga is a refuge for all those who are scorched by the three fires. To those who practice yoga, hatha yoga is like the tortoise that supports the world.
These three fires are well known to us; they are the fire of self-created suffering; the fire of suffering through higher powers; and the fire of suffering that is caused by other beings.
Nobody can eliminate from this world the influences that create such sufferings. What we can and should do is to prepare the physical-mental-spiritual soil in such a way that the seed of impressions cannot sprout into suffering.
Sufferings are unfulfilled desires. The realization of these desires depends not only on ourselves, but is subject primarily to external influences. If I want something, I have to try to reach it.
For this I am dependent on my own power as against the opposing forces. And we always desire something, even if it is the desire for the happiness of a desireless state.
Now we are on the track of our idea: to be desirelessly happy means to want nothing, to have no needs, to be happy with oneself and the given conditions. But yoga does not mean to learn self-satisfaction. Rather, it means to strive for such a state of perfection that some day it will be our nature to be desirelessly happy–and to have good reason for it.
This is by no means a state of apathy, devoid of the dynamics of natural activities. On the contrary, our endeavors will no longer be whipped by passions toward a goal where, with open eyes, we uselessly invest our most precious forces in senseless intoxication. We will learn to evaluate our wishes, to know our own forces as well as the opposing powers. And if we have to renounce, we will then do so with clear understanding, not with a painful sensation of loss.
As to the symbolism of the tortoise, this is a meaningful legend which we will encounter later and which will accompany us throughout the whole book.
(11) A yogi who is desirous of developing siddhis should keep the hatha yoga strictly secret, for only then will he have success. All his efforts will be in vain if he reveals everything without discrimination.
Physical exercises are nothing shameful, and they are fun; but practiced on a highway they become insanity. “When you pray, go into a room by yourself.” Or, more drastically: “Do not cast pearls before swine.”
(12) The student of hatha yoga should practice in a solitary place, in a temple or a hermitage, an arrow shot away from rocks, water, and fire. The land should be fertile and well governed.
Here we have the first great problem, larger perhaps than that of the siddhis: to find a quiet spot, undisturbed and safe. Predatory animals, earthquakes, and floods: those were the problems at that time. Today’s problems are professional, financial, political, which constantly drag the practitioner back into the stream of social life.
However, it is not entirely impossible to create a hermitage under modern conditions. Perhaps there is a quiet attic, away from the attractions of movies, radio, television, where we can meet our neglected and ignored own selves.
(13) The hermitage should have a small door and no windows. It should be level with the ground and have no holes in the wall. [It should be] neither too high nor too long, and clean and free from insects. It should be laid daily with cow dung. Outside there should be a raised platform with an elevated seat and a water tank. The whole should be surrounded by a wall. These are the characteristics of a yoga hermitage as described by the siddhas, the masters of hatha yoga.
Do not despair! I have seen many hemitages that conformed in only a few points to the ideal. Some had holes in the walls and most of them were lacking the cow dung. But all of them were clean. We should not be too dependent on external conditions, helpful though they may be. If I so will, my hermitage has neither doors or windows. And when I am distracted, my restless mind will penetrate the thickest walls. If the hermitage is not ideal, a little extra effort must be made. The goal of yoga is by no means dependent on cow dung.
(14) Seated in such a place, the yogi should free his mind from all distracting thoughts and practice yoga as instructed by his guru.
Our keenest weapon, and often our only salvation, is our thought power. If your thought is open, so is the chance of success; if it is slow and limited, you will be left behind in the great race for success. Not only is right thought essential, but also the capacity to think of several things simultaneously. Many Western men with executive ulcers could write reams about this.
Must men be like this? Evidently, if they wish to succeed. But what is success? Nothing against success–which, after all, is the foundation of a “happy life.” Success is wealth, wealth is happiness; therefore, success is happiness. A logical conclusion, but somehow it leaves us uneasy. Is the man who has bought success with his health, with the sacrifice of his most precious attribute, really happy ?
There is a different way. One of the most remarkable men of our time, and by no means a pious man, swears by yoga. Every morning Pandit Nehru, the coolest thinker of his country and a maker of world history, stood on his head, and with him 63 members of Congress. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist, makes no secret about his yoga. And like him many of the most successful men of our day, including medical men who are world famous, find in yoga the purest source of human harmony.
Harmony: the key word, the all-important. There is no objection to the search for success as long as the harmony of life is not disturbed. No need to relinquish any of our plans and principles as long as there is harmony.
How does harmony come about? The very question proves that this fundamental law of life is becoming more and more a myth as we are turned more and more into machines. So let us try to find the yoga way to harmony.
(15) The yoga forces are dissipated by too much eating, heavy physical labor, too much talk, the observances of [ascetic] vows, [promiscuous] company, and a growling stomach [too much fasting].
Here we have the disharmonies of everyday life, and not even the great ones. Not distrust, not rudeness, not lack of consideration, not anger and despair. Just immoderation. And that is bad enough.
The yogi never quite fills his stomach; the executive always does. The yogi is healthy; the executive has ailments. Harmony versus disharmony.
(16) Success depends on a cheerful disposition, perseverance, courage, self-knowledge, unshakable faith in the word of the guru, and the avoidance of all [superfluous] company.
Again the magic word of our time: success. And with it even a formula. Nothing about overtime, or night work, and “you must . . .” Not even a word about thinking.
A cheerful disposition is incompatible with executive ulcers. Perseverance! That sounds promising. But the keynote is harmony, and the perseverance referred to here is not that of the executive’s marathon conference.
But don’t forget that yoga has not yet begun. We are slating here only the minimal prerequisites without which any attempt at practice would be senseless. These preliminary requirements can be fulfilled by anyone, and they will bestow more happiness upon you than you would expect–without exercise, without risk. (Once we really embark upon yoga, however, the evasion of a single requirement can turn nectar into poison.)
Yoga practice, regardless of the system we follow, has a psychological depth effect. One exercise goes in this direction, another in that. Often they have a perplexing similarity; here and there we find a minimal difference which seems inconsequential. The guru, however, watches not so much the exercises in general, but just those little details. The student does not know why and is liable to ridicule such pettiness; but the guru knows our needs better than we do. He knows that each physical action has its psychic-spiritual reflex, just as every psychic-spiritual attitude is manifest in the body.
Western science too is aware of the inseparable interrelation between body, soul, and mind. A bit of iodine, adrenaline, or cortisone will change our whole world view. Our whole life is chemically conditioned. Every thought activates one or the other nerve center which in turn influences some endocrine gland. The gland sends its hormones into the bloodstream, we react, new thoughts arise which in turn again influence a nerve center and create new reactions, combining with other nerve centers. There are many centers, many glands, and countless combinations. And this cycle is only one of the inner processes affected by yoga.
If a certain practice hits something unhealthy (an asana can touch on an organic illness, a deep meditation on some mental suffering), then the result is not as desired; it can even lead to disaster. Quite often nature helps itself. But in very deep meditation (which is hardly ever allowed without initiation) some very powerful phenomena can appear which will frighten the weak into refraining from further investigation. That is why the passage above calls for courage.
One thing is certain: these preliminary chapters are the most important part of the book. He who disregards them should certainly consider yoga dangerous.
(17a) Not to cause suffering to any living being; to speak the truth; not to take what belongs to others; to practice continence; to develop compassion and fortitude; to be merciful to all and honest; to be moderate in eating and pure in heart. These are the first prerequisites of yoga [the yamas]. Self-limitation [tapas, austerities], cheerfulness, religious faith, charity, contemplation, listening to sacred scriptures, modesty, a clean mind, recitation of mantras [japa], and observance of rules, these are the second requirements of yoga [the niyamas].
Thus equipped one can venture to take the first step into the wonderland of one’s own self. You do not have to take all the rules literally, but you have to look at them seriously. Not the word “yoga,” but the power behind it, is decisive. And this power? “Tat tvam asil–Thou art Thati”
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika of Svatmarama
YOGA AND THE ART OF HEALING
in Japan there are physicians who kick the patient in the back, twist his neck, or simply give him a heavy slap on the shoulder, and the patient feels like a new man. In China there are physicians who practice acupuncture (the insertion of needles). They prick a place quite apart from the ailing organ and pain disappears–quite suddenly. In Ceylon there are doctors who touch the patient’s skin with a red hot iron–and they aim with the precision of a fraction of a millimeter. A quick pain. The patient is cured.
These are not medicine men at work. Here we have full-fledged physicians who master an art–that nobody in the West can understand? These times have passed. The example of the Japanese doctors has proven itself a hundred times. In America chiropractice has become an academic discipline.
Thus too it is with acupuncture. We now have theses on the subject, as well as practicing Western physicians. The third example (Ceylon) too will no doubt some day be accepted, perhaps along with some practices of medicine men that we ridiculed some 50 years ago. Primitive people are really not as primitive as we in our arrogant prejudice are apt to imagine. Are not the methods of modern politicians more primitive than those of a medicine man in the jungle?
We want to study the following chapters on asanas and their psycho-physical background with this in mind.
“Why so many words?” some will ask. “Asanas are physical exercises.” And in a sense he is right.
“Nonsense,” another will say, “all these senseless contortions.” And in a sense he too is right.
A third will consider asanas a practice that nobody can quite understand. Right too.
A fourth one stands thoughtfully in a corner. “I will learn to understand the inner connections. I have studied medicine and will soon find out what bodily functions are involved. I cannot imagine that the yogis have taken all this out of thin air. There must be a corresponding scientific terminology.” Beware of this man.
Each of the first three critics acknowledged a certain positive aspect of the practice. The first speaks of gymnastics and expects no more than the success of gymnastics. Very good. One should approach these practices not with vague expectations but with clear purposefulness. After all, only the literature of the West presents these preliminary exercises with such great mystification, whereas in comparison with what follows after them they are really little more than gymnastics.
Nor should he who speaks of meaningless contortions be condemned. Perhaps he is right. For who is capable of explaining the internal relationships? Why give the contortions a meaning for which we have not the slightest proof–except for a few books whose value the average Western reader is unable to ascertain? This skeptic is not likely to start practice, but he is justified in his statement if by “sense” he understands that which can be clearly defined by our intellect. These are practices that “nobody can really understand” because they reach too deeply into our inner world, touch on areas that have not yet been named. From this angle no sense can be discovered, just as it cannot be convincingly denied. It is only the Westerner who seeks “sense” in everything. The Asiatic accepts mystery as a fact, and thus the “senseless,” in an intellectual sense, becomes for him sense (in relation to his experience). He experiences the value of that which we cannot understand.
The fourth is the dangerous one, for he swears by his intellectual knowledge alone. He has studied, he is perfect, he cannot err. (And imagine him as a student of a medicine man.) Science has canonized our intellect, and acknowledges nothing as superior, or even equal to it. Fortunately, we have the really great like C. G. Jung, Erwin Roussdie, and others who have gone to the “primitive” to expand their knowledge.
Nobody will claim that our knowledge acquired through the centuries is wrong. No, it is completely right, but utterly incomplete because it is so one-sided. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in academia, things that we know exist and that we cannot fathom with our scientifically trained intellect.
“Well,” he will say if he is judicious, “I admit this, but we must have a certain frame of reference. It is quite clear that chakras are nerve centers and nadis represent nerve strands. Why should we deny this? Knowing this does make it easier.” However convincing these words may sound, they contain the seed of the greatest error in yoga: foundering through thought. In other words, the dangerous supposition that the essential can be fathomed by thought, that it is “nothing but,” that with a little effort of our conceptual intellect we can descend to the very depths of our soul, to the foundation of the universe. Certainly this trend of thought is logical, but what good is logic when yoga wisdom is beyond logic?
This phrase has discredited yoga with the intellectuals. But let us look at our lives. Is life always logical? Where is the logic of the scientist who analyzes natural laws six days a week and on the seventh goes to church to pray to a God who has no place in his logical system of science? Where is the logic of the drug addict who knows he is digging his grave and still does not desist ? Where is the logic of the greedy old man who, with one foot in the grave still craves millions, though he cannot take a penny with him? Is the cosmic mathematics of Einstein which created our atomic age limited to logic ? And how about the fate of the evil rich man and the virtuous poor? Is chance logical? No, the decisive factors of our existence have nothing to do with logic, and therefore we can readily postulate that the essential interrelations in yoga cannot be penetrated by logical deductions, which, however, does not mean that there is no law.
When we seem to detect an analogy between a certain concept in yoga and a Western scientific term we must at once deny ourselves all further investigations of an analogy. Why? When one mistakes the part for the whole, as often happens in Western science, one underestimates the whole because one applies to it the lesser value of the part. And how can we possibly judge anything if we know only one of its many facets, and not even the most essential one at that? Take the example of the chakras, the centers of power, which are often identified with chief nerve centers (ganglia), or with main glands, simply because there is a topographical similarity. With this we confuse cause and effect.
Although we know very little about the central nervous system and the glands, we do know enough to gauge their effects. But what we can learn about chakras in yoga is immense. If the system of chakras were identical with the central nervous system (CNS), then either all our academic knowledge would be wrong, or the yoga teachings would be empty fantasies. But neither is the case. Our knowledge about the CNS applies to the material aspect only, while chakra theory goes to the deepest sources of all dynamic processes in man, down to the deepest cosmic functions, to which we are undeniably bound. There are many effects resulting from the activity of the CNS and the glands which will forever remain a mystery if we ignore the much subtler aspects of these chakras.
It is characteristic that the tantric Buddhism of Tibet teaches that the yogi has to create the chakras at the relevant places in his body. They are so to speak “psychic centers” that cannot be practically recognized unless I will it. They are vibration centers which are developed in the course of yoga practice. This alone proves how elusive they are to the surgeon’s knife.
But we have not yet come to these strange things. First now to the “gymnastics” of hatha yoga. Even here we should deny ourselves any profound speculations. Certainly one could–and even with a fair measure of success–draw psychosomatic conclusions from asana such-and-such. But again, logic deserts us after a certain point and what remains cannot be investigated by science, however fine its intentions. And this would mean: beyond the borderline of logic there “really” is nothing. But actually a great deal is there; not only is it there now, but it has been there since the very beginning. The logician does not have to Mother about all this, of course, since he has a wealth of concrete, factual material at his disposal.2
In any event, whether or not certain pranayamas (breathing exercises) regulate the oxygen content of our blood is none of our concern. What is important for us is that forces (currents) arebeing activated that no Western scientist is able fully to evaluate, but which are the very foundation of the whole yoga structure.
Therefore, Western science, despite its undisputed merits, will be neglected in the following chapters, in favor of that ancient science which is the foundation of yoga therapy. This, I think, is much more vital for the understanding of “Eastern exotics.” We should try to think Indian while studying this book–Indian not
2. “At the borderline of logic science stops, but not nature, which blossoms there where no theory has as yet penetrated” (C. G. Jung, The Psychology of Transference).
only in relation to yoga, but also in relation to the presuppositions of yoga.
The art of healing, like all else truly Indian, is based on the Vedas, the oldest book of humanity. Everything that concerns medical theory in the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Atharva-Veda, and the Yajur-Veda, was later systematized into Ayurvedic medicine.
Although it is not possible to summarize this gigantic work, which is still in practical use in India today, much less give a survey of the wealth of its principles, we can at least consider the three main concepts of human physiology upon which this system is based. This is important because prejudiced Westerners who cast a superficial eye upon the standard work of Ayurvedic medicine, the Charaka Samhita, have misinterpreted thoroughly these three concepts.
The teaching states that there are three dominant forces in man. and accordingly three main sources of illness: vata, pitta, and kapha. The usual translations as wind, gall, and phlegm are misleading, incomplete, senseless, and simply wrong–as wrong as the false analogies discussed earlier. All three terms are infinitely more complex and become meaningful only in their completeness. To understand the terms vata, pitta, and kapha we need the help of the classical definitions. Comprehension of these terms is all the more important because hatha yoga is closely bound to ayurvedic principles, as we soon shall see.
The three terms encompass all physiological functions of the human body, and their imbalance causes not only illness but also susceptibility to contagious diseases.
It is true that this word means “wind” literally. But more important is the root va, movement. To quote the Charaka Samhita: “Vata is the source of both structure and function [of the body]. It is that which is represented by the five forms [of the bodily currents]: prana, udana, samana, vyana, and apana. It is the initiator of the upward and downward flow [of all internal processes such as circulation, metabolism, etc.]; the controller and guiding force of consciousness; the stimulant of the senses; the companion of sensations; the organizer of the elements of the body; the principle of synthesis; the storage battery of speech; the cause of feelings and perception; the origin of excitement and stimulation; it fans the gastric fire, dries out harmful phlegm; expels excrements; is purifier of the coarse and the fine channels of the body; the creator of the fetal form; the principle of life preservation. All these are the normal functions of vata in our body” (Char. Sam. 1. 12:8). Disturbance of any one of these functions leads to illness and susceptibility to infection.
Some of the illnesses due to the influence of vata are: rheumatism, dislocations, lameness, cramps, stitfness of limbs, peristaltic irregularities, trembling, emotional and depressive states, everything related to tension, relaxation, expansion and contraction, circulation and metabolism, crookedness and distortion of limbs, abdominal diseases, menstrual irregularities, sterility, hallucinations, and convulsions.
This can be translated as “gall,” but here it implies rather that which is also expressed by the word gall: temperament. But this again only in a limited sense. The Charaka Samhita derives this word from the root tap, “to heat,” and this brings us closer to the meaning. We quote: “It is only the fire which in pitta brings on good and bad results, according to the normal or abnormal condition [of the organs]. The results are digestion and indigestion, power of perception and its loss, normal and abnormal body temperatures, healthy and unhealthy look, temerity, fear [nerves], anger and joy [moods], confusion and clarity, and other such contrasting pairs” (Char. Sam. 1. 12:11). “The normal function of pitta causes: power of cognition, fire of digestion, fresh complexion, clarity of thought, body temperature, hunger and thirst, and nimbleness of mind” (Char. Sam. 1. 18:50). Diseases from this source are: inflammation, fever, pus, perspiration, softening of bodily substance, itching, metabolic irregularities, redness, bad odor and taste, as well as discoloration.
This word is composed of two roots: ka== “water,” and pha, which refers to the process of biological evolution. And since we know that the body is largely composed of liquid we could translate kapha as “life-fluid.”
“Kapha is the nectar [soma]. It is the fertile water for the play of life; it is living fluid, the protoplasm that sustains all life processes; it is indeed the scaffold of life. It binds the limbs together and produces all the connecting, nourishing, developing, and fortifying functions. It promotes the well-being of the body by its lubricating action. Thus it supplies the water for the roots of life. In its physiological aspect [!] kapha is the power and perseverance of man, which, however, immediately becomes a disturbing impurity when his balance is disturbed” (Char. Sam. 1. 12:12). Kapha ailments are: pallidness, cold, edema, constipation, diabetes, secretions, cold sweat, languidness, and swellings (tumors).
“No pain without vata (the stream of life), no inflammation without pitta (the fire of life), no swellings without kapha (the fluid of life)” This dearly shows the coordination of the three forces, but it also demonstrates–and more clearly than Western medicine does–the interdependence of body and mind.
Naturally the ancient Indian art of healing is not exhausted by these three main terms. On the contrary, this is only the beginning. For us, however, this short survey will suffice. It will elucidate much that is to follow; in fact, much would be unintelligible without it.
We must not forget that these three “doshas” have a material-bodily, as well as an ethereal and an abstract-spiritual aspect. Thus when later on we deal extensively with the prana, the life stream that here is “vata,” then with “soma,” the nectar, the “fertile water for the play of life” that here is “kapha,” and finally with the inner fire that is “pitta,” we should not forget this survey. Soon we will learn that all the wisdom of physiological healing also has its place in higher spiritual spheres.
For the Indian there is one straight path through the universe and situated on this path are all the cities of the world: medicine, philosophy, mathematics, astrology and astronomy, physics, logic, sports, magic, etc., and to him who is fully conversant with any one of them, the others are no secret.
So let us start by looking at yoga with a new physiological understanding. Not so much to relearn, but to understand that there is wisdom in things that seem quite odd to us.
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika of Svatmarama
(l7b) Asanas are spoken of first, being the first stage of hatha yoga. So one should practice the asanas, which give [the yogi] strength, keep him in good health, and make his limbs supple.
Our concern is not yet with raja yoga and its mysteries. Let us first concentrate on strength, health, and lithencss of body. Much of this will be of direct help in raja yoga.
(18) I shall now proceed to impart some of the asanas that were adopted by such wise men as Vasishtha, and practiced by yogis like Matsyendra.
(19) Sitting straight on level ground, squeeze both feet between calves and thighs [of the opposite legs]. This is svastikasana.
(20) Place the right foot next to the left buttock and the left foot next to the right buttock. This is gomukhasana, and looks like the mouth of a cow.
(21) Place one foot upon the other thigh and the other foot below the opposite thigh. This is virasana.
In the last three phrases we simply have variations of sitting crosslegged as has been customary in India for thousands of years. These asanas in themselves are not practice; rather, they are fundamental conditions upon which the real practice is based. The following sentence is a continuation of the instructions of No.20.
(22) Press the anus firmly with crossed feet and sit thus. But do it with care. This is kurmasana.
Here we might look for a deeper meaning, since the posture does not really bear any characteristics of gymnastics. We cannot yet understand the significance of the pressure on the anus, and the special emphasis on care. But at this point, of course, the student knows nothing yet about the essentials.
(23) Assuming the lotus posture, insert the hands between the thighs and calves. Put the hands firmly on the ground and raise the body up. This is kukutasana.
The lotus posture has not yet been mentioned: the feet are placed crosswise on the opposite thighs, as close to the body as possible. Push the hands through this “network” of legs and place them firmly on the ground.
Here we have what clearly seems a gymnastic exercise. Yet what is involved is something quite different. Much later we will learn that to “raise the kundalini” a little help is needed, and this asana provides it. It may seem a difficult asana. But things get even more complicated in the following:
(24) Assuming the [above-mentioned] kukkutasana posture, put both arms around your neck and remain raised like a tortoise [with the back touching the ground]. This is uttana kurmasana.
Here the gymnastic character is evident; in fact it seems so exaggeratedly acrobatic that we wonder whether this is less than gymnastics–or more? What is behind it? Kurma asana means “tortoise posture.” With a little imagination we can think of the body in this position as a tortoise. But strangely enough reference here is to something quite different.
So far we have encountered the tortoise three times. First in No. 10: “To those who practice yoga, hatha yoga is like the tortoise that carries the world.” In the second place (No. 22) the asana in which the anus is pressed is called “tortoise posture” (kurmasana). And now here in No. 24 we have “the raised tortoise” (uttana kurmasana). Let us look at the ancient texts. In the Bhagavat Purana, one of the richest of the ancient texts of Indian mythology and symbolism, we find a legend which is more than merely a legend. In a battle with the demons the gods were losing: they had considered themselves divinely superior to the forces of the world (the demoniac), but these forces stood more safely and firmly upon their ground. Brahma, whom the gods implored for help, ascended with the threatened ones to the Lord of the World, Vishnu, to ask his advice.
“Make peace with the demons,” he urged them, “and churn with their help the nectar of immortality. The divine alone is as powerless as the earthly alone. Together you should churn the ocean of milk until it turns into the nectar of immortality.”
So together the sworn enemies took the mountain Mandara, the backbone of the universe, wound around it the serpent Vasuki in three and one-half turns, and alternately pulling on the head (the demons) and the tail (the gods), they began to churn the terrestrial ocean of milk.
But soon the mountain became too heavy for the diligent ones, and slowly it sank lower and lower. Then Vishnu transformed himself into a tortoise, dove to the bottom of the ocean, and raised the mountain so that the work could be completed.
Practically every word in this legend is the expression of a deep symbolism, much of which will be clarified in the course of our study and practice. For now let us consider only the most important points. Not only in modern medicine, but in ancient yoga as well, the spinal column is the most important and most subtle part of the body. In fact we shall soon see that it is actually the spinal column that has the most important task.
Upon this “axis of the [human] universe” we exert pressure in kurmasana, so that the combined forces of the divine (subconscious) and the earthly (conscious) can accomplish their task. Most asanas involve the spinal column, as does the following:
(25) Grasp both toes with the hands [left with left, right with right], keep one leg straight and draw the other to the ear as you would the string of a bow. This is dhanurasana.
The spinal cord has two ends: the earth (below) and heaven (above), as is fitting for a “holy mountain in the center of the world.” And–as it should be–the worldly problems are mostly situated in the lower part and the more ideal ones in the upper one. We cannot be expected to comprehend this. That the earthly problems are centered in the lower half of the body only he who knows something about the chakras can realize. The yogi develops understanding only in the third stage.
We could compare ourselves with a tree that has its roots in the earth and the crown with its fruit in the sky. Just as we have to satisfy the needs of the roots in order to supply nourishment to the fruit in the crown, so most asanas are designed to cultivate the root of our tree of life, the spinal column. As is this asana:
(26) Place your right foot on the outside of the left hip joint and the left foot outside the right knee [which is flat on the floor]. Grasp the left foot with the right hand [passing the arm to the left side of the knee] and the right one with the left hand. Turn the head all the way over to the left. This is matsyendrasana.
In the more current variations of this asana the right foot is not grasped by the left hand; instead, the hand is placed on the back as far over as possible. This is seen in our illustration. Slight variations in asanas or occasional variations in name have arisen because several teachers developed the same asanas. The variations occur only in minor points. This becomes quite evident by a comparison of our Hatha Yoga Pradipika with the more common and much later work, the Gheranda Samhita.
(27) This matsyendrasana increases the appetite by fanning the gastric fire [pitta], and destroys physical ailments. Kundalini is awakened and the moon made steady.
For the first time the text mentions kundalini, a latent force of highest potential, said to lie in three and one-half coils, like the snake in the churning of the ocean of milk, sleeping at the lowest center (muladhara chakra) at the foot of the “tree of life,” the spinal column. This serpent power, kundalini, cannot be described fully, even by one who has succeeded in awakening it. When it awakens, it shoots through the body like an electric shock, and, trembling and amazed, the person realizes that a powerful event has taken place within him. This is only the beginning.
The whole body trembles. A door seems to have been pushed open through which a flood of light flows from some unknown world, a light of incomparable radiance. After a long time the trembling body becomes calm, but the flash of light shooting through the spinal column to the crown of the head is unforgettable.
This flash of light is not really the kundalini, however. It is merely a sign of its awakening. The kundalini itself does not shoot up, but will later rise slowly, passing through the stations (the chakras), each of which creates another new and powerful experience.
Whether the kundalini can really be awakened through this particular asana alone is questionable. But the asana will surely be helpful in the process. And the “moon”?
As mentioned above, the “mountain in the center of the world” has the earth at its foot and the sky at its peak. Between earth and sky are the sun (the center of the planetary system) and the moon.
In the center of the triangle formed by the navel and the two nipples is the “sun” [solar plexus]; at the upper end of the spinal column, at the medulla oblongata, sits the “moon.” “Sun” and “moon” are not chakras but arespheres that stand directly under the influence of two chakras, lying respectively just above and below.
Through this asana the “moon” sphere is “massaged,” which is all the more important as it is presumably here that we find the source of the fluid of life (kapha). But also the opposite pole, the “sun,” is affected by this process of twisting the spinal column. And since it is here that the “fire of life” (pitta) originates, there arises from the combined work of these two well-springs a powerful stimulating influence upon the physiology of the body.
(28) Stretch out both legs and, taxing hold of the toes, lay your head upon the knees. This is paccimasana [pashimottanasana].
(29) This most excellent of all asanas causes the breath to flow through the sushumna, fans the fire of appetite [pitta], makes the loins supple [vata] and removes all ailments [caused by pitta and vata].
The most essential phrase of this sloka needs elucidation. Sushumna is the name for the hair-thin channel that traverses the spinal column lengthwise. It is the pathway of kundalini. Is the breath really to flow through this channel? It seems physiologically impossible. “Breath” in Sanskrit is prana; but what we call breath is only an insignificent fraction of what the Indian understands by prana. Breath is more than inhaled and exhaled air,
more than oxygen and nitrogen, even more than any chemist could analyze. Breath is the carrier of an especially efficacious life force, of a stream which nourishes the organism. There is actually little difference between this “life current” and an elec-cal current.
Enough about prana for now. (There will be a great deal more about it in later chapters.) Here again in this asana we see what seems to be a purely physical exercise, but it is one with a very specific meaning and aim.
(30) Press your hands firmly upon the ground and balance your body by pressing the elbows against your loins. Raise your legs straight in the air till your feet are level with your head. This if mayurasana.
(31) This asana heals various diseases of the spleen and dropsy, and removes all illnesses caused by excess of vata, pitta, or kapha. It digests an overabundance of food, and even destroys the poison halahala.
The asana looks like our well-known gymnastic exercise on the parallel bars. And gymnastics it is. At this point of training the plan is to perfect the body and especially to train the abdominal muscles so important in Parts Two and Three of this work.
As the gods and the demons were diligently churning the ocean of milk and the ocean gradually began to change, the demons sampled the liquid and doubled over in great pain because the first product was sheer poison (halahala). In order to prevent further trouble, Siva swallowed the remaining poison. It remained in his throat and turned it blue.
At this stage of development the student does not understand the deeper meaning of the story, and does not yet know that it is a romantic allegory of his own development. He is glad to hear that Siva drank the poison, and believes that he is therefore out of danger, until he later learns that danger will still threaten if he does not carefully follow his guru’s instructions. And he does not know that the poison is not a chemical but a spiritual poison, a psychic danger which arises from wrong practice.
Here again the question arises how this single asana can have such far-reaching consequences that it renders the poison harmless. In order to judge we must know two things: first, what kind of danger is referred to; second, what effects are produced by this asana.
We shall discuss this question to give the Western student a deeper insight, although it does not really belong here.
As mentioned before, the whole Indian mythology has a direct relation to yoga. When the universe (macrocosm) is mentioned, it is also a reference to man (microcosm). And under “gods and demons” we must understand the forces that are manifest in man on the psychic, mental, and physical levels.
Thus the churning of the ocean is, generally speaking, a process in yoga. This milk ocean symbolizes the brain. In the course of yoga training there occurs a transformation of consciousness from the “milk of devotional thinking” through the “poison of imperfect development” to the “nectar of enlightenment.” In the state
of incomplete evolution lies the greatest danger, i.c„ premature action resulting from erroneous, ill-informed judgment. The student assumes he possesses certain powers, and may even have seen some indication of these, but he is not yet capable of recognizing and governing them. And this is poison, especially for further development. It is now imperative to mobilize counter-forces.
In mayurasana the pressure of both elbows seals off the “prana channels” of the two nadis and thus forces an increased blood supply into those parts of the brain that are in most urgent need of it.
It seems clear that the blood suffusion of the brain must have an influence on our consciousness, but blood itself is less important than the stream of prana which imparts itself to the bloodstream. It is, so to speak, an electrification of the brain, a change of gear in the psychic mechanism. And it has been proven a thousand times that a clear head is the result of yoga practice.
(32) Lying full length on the back like a corpse is called sava-sana. With this asana tiredness caused by other asanas is eliminated; it also promotes calmness of mind.
How nice that relaxation is part of the scheme. And it is pleasant to find that no mystery is involved. Simply stretch out on the floor.
But this relaxation is also necessary, as that which follows is more thorough, has greater depth. We are about to take an important step in the direction of raja yoga.
(33-34) The asanas taught by Siva are 84 in number. Of these I will describe four of the most important ones. They are siddha-sana, padmasana, simhasana, and bhadrasana. Of these, siddha-sana is the best and most comfortable posture.
(35) Press one heel into the place below the sex organs [the perineum] and put the other heel just above this region [close to the abdomen]. Press the chin upon the chest, sit up straight, with controlled organs, and fasten the eyes between the eyebrows. This is siddhasana, whereby all obstacles on the path to perfection are removed.
It is quite clear that more is at play here than mere gymnastic exercise, especially since there is no longer any mention of healing or nimble limbs.
But what do these unusual details mean? Each heel presses a certain point, the lower one the muladhara chakra, the upper one the svadhistana chakra. The neck is bent so as to press the vishuddha chakra in the throat, and the eyes areturned toward the ajna chakra.
The manipura chakra in the diaphragm region and the anahata chakra in the heart region seem to remain unnoticed. In reality
it is just the contrary. The heart chakra has a unique position in many ways; it would not respond to physical pressure in any event. In this position it can be influenced by a meditative process, as we will see later on.
The manipura chakra is also dealt with in an unusual manner here, for instructions arestatic in nature. A later sloka (41) will add a dynamic element that will affect the manipura chakra, among other things.
(36) Place the right heel above the sex organ and the left heel over the right. This too is siddhasana.
(37) Some call this siddhasana; others say it is vajrasana, or muk-tasana, or guptasana.
Why? Is there a difference of opinion? No, there are good reasons. This asana can serve several purposes, and each name indicates a different emphasis. But we do not want to get lost in details.
(38) The siddhas say: Just as among the yamas the most important is to do no harm to anyone, and that among the niyamas moderation, so is siddhasana the chief of all asanas.
We should not take this as a qualitative characteristic. Rather one should say: just as nonviolence is the leitmotiv of all other principles, and moderation the guideline to all other qualities, so also is siddhasana the foundation of all other requirements for the inner vision of raja yoga (without making them superfluous, however).
(39) Of the 84 asanas one should always practice siddhasana [above all], it purifies the 72,000 nadis.
Nadis are those paths through which the body receives its supply of prana. We should not think of these as nerve strands, and whether or not there are72,000 would be hard to ascertain, nor is it of any consequence. Only three nadis are important for us: first, the previously mentioned sushumna path in the center of the spinal column, and then the two major nadis which run parallel to the spinal column, ida (left) and pingala (right).
They begin in the nostril of their respective sides, wind once around the ajna chakra like thread around a spindle, and end all the way down where the main channel, the sushumna, also ends, in the muladhara chakra. Since it is the task of these nadis to circulate the life stream of prana, they must be kept clean, which is not a simple matter. Under special circumstances this asana serves the purpose. But there areother methods which are indicated under other conditions. The second part of this work utilizes them.
(40) The yogi who meditates on the atman and eats moderately achieves the yoga siddhis after he has practiced siddhasana for 12 years.
Atman meditation is reflection upon our own mysterious self; its the way to self-knowledge. God (Brahman) and atman have from time immemorial been the great Oneness: “I am” is the name of God that Moses heard and which is proclaimed as the first name of God in the Jewish Kabbala. It was the same in ancient Egypt and is still so with the Parsis. “I am Brahma” (brahmasmi)’. this is the meditation even of Hindus who arenot yogis. Only the meditator, who can experience it, will understand the atman. The intellectual tackles the problem with logic and philosophical deduction which result only in more complications, but will never lead to a solution. Atman meditation is perfect mysticism. As to the 12 years, this is only applicable to the average aspirant. One of my gurus reached his goal in 23 days, but with 16 hours of daily meditation. Had he meditated only eight hours he would perhaps have needed two years, and with four hours probably no less than ten.
(41) If siddhasana is perfected and the breath is carefully restrained in kevala kumbhaka, what need for all the other asanas?
Again a new term, kumbhaka. This is a simple matter: kum-bhaka is the moment between inhalation and exhalation, or vice versa, when the breath is retained for some time.
Anyone can observe the development of prana: after a few deep and fast inhalations and exhalations concentrate on the fingertips. What you feel then is the direct effect of prana.
The varieties of kumbhaka, of which kevala kumbhaka is only one, will be discussed later on.
(42) When siddhasana is accomplished, we can enjoy the ecstasy of the meditative state (unmani avastha), the moon and the three bandhas follow without effort naturally.
This sloka is not for the student but for the teacher. The three bandhas arestill unknown, the unmani avastha state is a fond hope, and how the moon can “follow” is still a mystery. Have patience; all shall be explained in due course.
(43) There is no asana like siddhasana, no kumbhaka like kevala, no mudra like khecari, and no laya equals nada [anahat nada].
A sloka that the teacher at this point can only underline, while the student hopefully awaits the day when he can convince himself of its efficacy. Whether or not it is valid we can judge only at the end of this book.
(44) Place the right heel upon the base of the left thigh and the left upon the right thigh. Cross the arms behind the back and grasp the toes, the right ones with the right hand and the left with the left. Press the chin on the breast and look at the tip of your nose. This is called padmasana and cures all diseases
First of all, it appears that we have here without a doubt a gymnastic exercise of enormous value, but one that demands a high degree of skill. The rib cage is expanded and the lungs and shoulders strengthened, the spinal column is straightened out, and the abdominal muscles stretched: an exemplary posture from a sheer physical point of view.
To this are added deeper results which are immediately manifest when we meditate in this posture. First of all there is completely new awareness of the body; then the spinal column is
* “The secret teaching is that there should be a space of four inches between the chin and the breast”
reshaped: it becomes straight, whereas usually it is slightly S-shaped; the “kundalini path” is relieved of its curves and thus becomes more readily traversible. But there is also an influence on the chakras, and last but not least, the prana “circuit” is re-channeled. Yet as contradictory as it seems, the value of this asana as a physical exercise is greater than its meditative assets.
Important in this connection is the next asana with the same name, which contains all the benefits that are referred to as secondary in the above asana. The two combined in systematic practice give the results that aredesired at this stage of evolution.
(45-47) Place your feet firmly on the opposite thighs and place your hands firmly in the middle, one upon the other [in your lap], fasten your eyes on the tip of the nose and touch the back of the upper teeth with your tongue. Press the chin on the chest and raise the air [apana vayu] slowly up while contracting the anus muscle. This is padmasana that destroys all diseases. [But] this can be achieved by only a few very intelligent persons.
This is the first step to raja yoga. In the previous padmasana we created the essential physical conditions. The spinal column was straightened and the “bow of the nadis” was drawn (as my guru termed it), so that the real yoga could now begin. But even when we have achieved this posture it is like an empty pot, for what is essential here, the prana, will be developed only in the second stage.
This section introduces a part of the anatomy that has not yet been mentioned, as indeed it is not often mentioned: the sphincter muscle of the anus. We should also know that in addition to the prana circuit there arefour other similar currents that course through our body, one of which, called apana, flows through the “lower regions,” just as prana flows through the respiratory system. We can influence the prana through the process of breathing and the apana through the above-mentioned movement of the sphincter muscle. What for? Again we must look back. It was stated that prana should enter the hairline channel of sushumna; but prana cannot move any lower than the diaphragm, while apana finds its upper boundary below the diaphragm.
If we can “tic” these two streams together, one continuous flow reaches from the nostrils to the end of the spinal cord, thus constituting a single unit able to fulfill its task.
Here the condition has been created that will be utilized practically in the next step.
(48) Having assumed the padmasana posture, with the hands one upon the other, and the chin firmly pressed upon the chest, meditate on Brahma, frequently contracting the anus muscle to raise apana. Similarly, by contracting the throat, force prana down. Thus with the aid of kundalini [which is aroused by this process] we achieve highest Knowledge.
(49) When the yogi remains in padmasana and thus retains the breath drawn in through the nadi gates [nostrils] he reaches liberation. There is no doubt about it.
If everything has been understood thus far, one has an inkling of what is at stake. Only one point is not quite as clear as it may sound: that the yogi reaches liberation. Liberation from what? What is this liberation like ?
He is liberated who sees this world for what it really is, a figment of our own imagination. The nonliberated believed that he is a part of this tangible world; he has to submit to the demands of circumstance, and his fortune or misfortune is apparently tied to this tangible world. His desires are for possession of things or people. He lives only by the consciousness of what his senses convey to him. And beyond the world of senses there exists for him only the darkness of dubious fantasies. An uncertain faith in a higher power is about the extent of his other-worldlincss, and more often than not even this is nothing but a primitive fear of punishment that he expects from someplace where his carthbound understanding cannot reach. His obedience to divine laws is based on weakness, not on the recognition that he himself is a part of that law, a part of the eternal light– and darkness. These “two souls, alas! in his own breast” chafe under the material illusion of the cosmos: the insensitive matter as master of which he entered the world and whose slave he soon became. He stumbles over the least little stone, curses the stone, and with his curse strikes only his own weakness. His condition is hopeless servitude. He who searches for the source of his sorrow elsewhere, who tries to demolish the stumbling block without realizing his own unmindfulness, is always a slave.
The liberated one knows and sees all problems within himself. It is not that he has persuaded himself of this by philosophical
logic. No, he experiences in meditation the forces and the content of his own personality and can objectively oppose them to sense impressions. Once he realizes his true position he is a$ free from sense impressions as the adult is free from attachment to the toys of his childhood. He views those oh-so-vital things of this world as the grandfather sees the dolls of his grandchildren: not senseless by any means, but not worthy of being idolized at the cost of inner power. To be sure, he cannot persuade the “unfree” child of the “objective uselessness” of the doll with wise words, but under his guidance the child can grow to maturity so that one day she will realize by herself the worthlessness of the doll. Here, similarly, it is useless to try to persuade the average human being of the objective uselessness of his toys as long as he is not ready for it. “Do not show men the real value of their world, but teach them to fathom it for themselves.” This is perhaps the aptest tenet in all yoga.
(50) Place your angles in the region of the sex organs [between anus and scrotum]: the right ankle to the right and the left to the left side.
This means kneel with knees slightly apart, feet crossed.
(51) Place the palms upon the knees with fingers spread out and eyes upon the tip of the nose [and breathe] with open mouth and concentrated mind,.
(52) This is simhasana, held in great esteem by the highest yogis, This asana facilitates the three bandhas.
If the student does not know something about the bandhas this asana has little meaning. Bandha comes from “to bind.” That there is something to bind we have seen, namely prana (the upper circuit) and apana (the lower circuit).
If we try this asana we realize that the chest expands when we inhale and the abdomen recedes. This is the first step to the bandhas.
(53-55) Place the angles under the buttocks, right below right, left below left, on either side of the perineum. Press the soles of the feet together and hold firmly with both hands. This is bhadrasana and cures all diseases. The siddhas andyogis callit gorakshasana. The yogi should practice this until he feels no more pain or tiredness.
Nothing much is gained for raja yoga through this asana. It does control unwanted desires.
(56) Then he should cleanse the nadis by practicing pranayama, as welt as mudras and kumbhakas of various kinds.
These will be learned at the next level. 63
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika of Svatmarama
THE WAY OF LIFE OF A YOGI
A few useful hints before we attempt the higher goals of the second part. They may not be as dramatic as the slowly clarifying background of asanas, but they are important enough to cause tremendous difficulties if they are ignored.
(57a) Then follows the concentration on the inner sound [nada].
This sloka belongs to the highest form of raja yoga (to be discussed in Part Four), and is rather premature here; it may be an interpolation by an impatient student of Swatmarama.
(57b) The brahmacharin who, observing moderate diet, renouncing the fruits of his actions, practices [hatha] yoga will become a siddha in the span of one year.
A brahmacharin is a yogi who observes complete celibacy. Here the question of celibacy becomes acute. How compulsory is it for a yogi? At this point I cannot give a decisive answer but should say that most of the yoga masters I have known were happy householders, while I have met brahmacharins, on the other hand, who did not distinguish themselves by higher knowledge. It is not as important to withhold potency as it is to know how to manage it and, above all, how to transform it into spiritual
potency. Celibacy without transformation of the preserved potencies only forces them to find their own outlet, mostly where it is least desired, at the weakest point of the whole organism.
“Yoga,” says my guru, “is economy of forces, not repression of nature.” This statement may seem very comforting to some students, but “economy” needs closer definition, for the yogi’s “economy” seems like heavy sacrifice to most. Economy of forces means to be in tune with natural harmony. And this is exclusively the measured rhythm of nature. Stimulation does not originate from the outside, artificially, but from inner sources, the essential wellsprings which are within us. It is therefore not a question of overpowering the body or (most curious of all endeavors) of shutting out all the stimuli of the outer world, but a question of illuminating our own consciousness. After that the body obeys automatically. Celibacy of the mind has to precede celibacy of the body. An evil thought is worse than a bad deed.
The “deed in thought” is often underestimated. One imagines control of action is the chief accomplishment, and forgets that frequently lack of opportunity or fear of external laws are the motivations which make us so virtuous. Sigmund Freud has perhaps painted too dark a picture, but we can hardly deny his principle, especially when at a later stage of meditation we are faced with our fearful animalistic self.
Another interesting problem arises from the phrase, “renouncing the fruits of his actions.” This is pure karma yoga.
A deed is of value only when it is done for its own sake. This is a platitude which has the remarkable distinction of containing one of the deepest wisdoms of the world. The reason for this and its practical value can easily be explained psychologically but the advantages that result from it internally lie beyond the most fertile imagination. It is easily tested: Anyone who succeeds in doing a really “good deed” without the slightest selfish motive– one of the most difficult tasks a man can accomplish–will reap the joy of its sublime fruit. Everything that we mortals do has a motive, for we are “creatures of reason,” and reason always demands the motive (which according to ancient wisdom we are not supposed to have). The psychological explanation for this cannot be discussed here; but whether or not we adopt the path of yoga, we should occasionally analyze one of our “good deeds” to see how much selfishness or self-satisfaction it actually contains. The fruit of every good deed is a certain satisfaction which directly or indirectly results from this deed. And it is this satisfaction that the yogi renounces. He does not create anything in his mind that could be satisfied in this way.
The careful observer will note that the spiritual background of the abstinence of the brahmacharin and the renunciation of the karma yogi have the same source, and that the same psychological disciplines are demanded. There is no doubt that he who can fulfill these conditions can “become a siddha in the span of one year.” Something more has to be said about the “moderate diet”:
(58) Moderate diet means pleasant, sweet food, leaving free one fourth of the stomach. The act of eating is dedicated to Siva.
The classical commentary says: “He [the yogi] should fill two parts of his stomach with food, and the third part with water, leaving the fourth free for air to aid the digestive process.” In short, moderation.
(59-61) The following are considered as not being salutary: sour, pungent, and hot food; mustard, alcohol, fish, meat, curds, butter-milk,* chicle peas, fruit of the jujub, linseed cakes, asafetida, and
garlic. It is also advisable to avoid: reheated food, an excess of salt or acid, foods that are hard to digest or are woody. Goraksha teaches that in the beginning the yogi should avoid bad company, proximity to fire, sexual relations, long trips, cold baths in the early morning, fasting, and heavy physical work.
*This does not refer to the commercially cultured milk we call “buttermilk.” –Train.
These strict disciplines are imposed on the student, but do not necessarily apply to the master.
“Proximity to fire”: the temperature of a yogi changes considerably during specific practices, especially in the meditative state. The term “burning asceticism” (tapas) has its origin here, and is not, as it may seem, sheer rhetoric. If the yogi in training submits to exterior temperature changes through proximity to fire or by a cold bath after the warmth of his couch, he damages through these unnatural changes the “fire of life” (pitta). The temperature of the atmosphere depends on atmospheric pressure, which influences the whole human organism and regulates the pitta. Artificial temperature changes do not agree with the yogi while he is in an altered state. Even the simplest practice of meditation becomes senseless if the yogi is freezing. This is one of the reasons why the coverings of a kundalini yogi consist always of silk or wool, never of cotton [or manmade fibers --Trans.].
(62) The following items can be used without hesitation: wheat products [bread, etc.] rice, milk, fats, rock candy, honey, dried ginger, cucumbers, vegetables, and fresh water.
(63) The yogi should eat nourishing, sweet foods mixed with milk. They should benefit the senses and stimulate the functions.
(64) Anyone who actively practices yoga, be he young, old, or even very old, sickly or weak, can become a siddha.
(65) Anyone who practices can acquire siddhis, but not he who is lazy. Yoga siddhil are not obtained by merely reading textbooks.
(66) Nor are they reached by wearing yoga garments or by conversation about yoga, but only through tireless practice. This is the secret of success. There is no doubt about it.
(67) The various asanas, kumbhakas, and mudras of hatha yoga should be practiced as long as raja yoga has not been attained.
And when will that have been attained? When human existence no longer holds any problems.
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika of Svatmarama
THE RIVER OF LIFE
THE PURIFICATION OF THE NADIS
after the broad outline of the evolution of the whole organism through asanas given in Part One, we come to the vata element in all its aspects. Only he can grasp the deepest sense of pranayama who is open-minded enough to view each concept in three dimensions: gross (physical), subtle (mental), and abstract (spiritual); or dynamic, static, and abstract. When he recognizes the interrelation of these aspects, he may come to that cognition which converts the wisdom of yoga into revelation.
(1 ) When the yogi has perfected his asanas he should practice pranayama according to the instructions of his master. With controlled senses he should nourish himself with moderation.
At a higher level of instruction things begin to change in many ways. The guru is not as lenient as in the beginning. He gives higher initiation and a new mantra (more about this later), speaks less, expects more. Perhaps not yet in achievement, but in terms of understanding. Nor does he like to refer back to the first level of practice. We too will find that recapitulation is seldom needed.
(2) When the breath “wanders” [i.e., is irregular] the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should team to control the breath.
Have you ever noticed how the breath becomes irregular on certain occasions? Certainly, if you try to catch a bus you breathe irregularly afterwards and are fully aware of the fact that you are”out of breath.” But that is not what I mean.
Take for example two other occasions: in the theater, and at an important interview. How was your breathing in the first instance and how in the second? When was it slower, when faster? When was it regular? And how was it when it was irregular? Thus one could ask a thousand questions on a thousand occasions and receive a thousand different replies–if the interviewed person knew anything about his breath. But he knows nothing about his breath and therefore knows nothing about his mind. This conclusion is incontrovertible.
Certainly we may know this or that about our thoughts–for instance, what we have been thinking of–but do we know why we thought just about this and not about anything else? We know that suddenly another thought arose, but do not know the relationship between the two thoughts. We know that we remember certain things easily and forget others quite readily, but why? It is just the thing behind this “why” that is the most important part of our mind. It is the source of our mental existence.
Still the question of the relationship of mind with breath remains unresolved. Here we could marshal many formulas which have physiological foundations, such as oxygen supply, heart rhythm, blood circulation, blood supply to the brain cells. But all these are not decisive factors. What is decisive is what is only imperfectly understood: the significance of the lifestream or prana as power source of our thought creator, “mind.” All these areponderous and complicated problems, but let us
simply mention them here. Later slokas will lead us closer to a solution, at least as close as it is necessary for a yogi at the second stage of training. So let us advance cautiously on this shaky ground.
(3) Man lives only as long as he has breath in his body. If he lacks breath [prana] he dies. Therefore we should practice prana-yama.
We know, of course, that breath is life; we even know the chemical process that proves it. But how is it that we cannot keep a dying man alive by attaching him to an oxygen tank? So it is not just oxygen that matters. Is the decisive element the lifestream, prana?
(4) When the nadis are impure, breath cannot penetrate into the sushumna. Then the yogi achieves nothing, nor can he reach the state of deep concentration [unmani avastha].
We know that 72,000 nadis in our body arethe conveyors of the life current, and that we live our everyday lives by this current. The higher life of a yogi is achieved by creating an additional supply of current to send through the otherwise weakly supplied main channel (sushumna). This causes heightened activities in the chakras and brain centers, resulting in the yogi’s higher state of consciousness. It is well known that a rusty conductor uses more power than a clean one. Similarly, if the nadis are impure, pranayama is a waste of energy.
(5) Only when all the nadis which are still impure are purified can the yogi practice pranayama successfully.
(6) Therefore one should practice pranayama with the mind in sattvic condition until the sushumna is free from impurities.
There are two methods of purification of the nadis. Here we describe the psychological method which is far more pleasant than the other, although the second one leads more speedily to the goal.
One should practice “with the mind in a sattvic state.” We shall try to understand this without burdening the mind with the intricacies of the guna theory.
Sattva is the positive propensity for purity. Good deeds, kind words, noble thoughts, a pleasing personality, interest in lofty pursuits are the distinguishing marks of sattva. And remember, it is not the activity that is decisive. One single impure thought during pranayama and the current is disturbed; not only the current but the whole being, since a human being becomes a human being only by this electromagnetic current.
We can readily imagine how this can happen: we perceive something; it is carried on the life stream to the brain, as a live reflex. So far we can call it “the pure idea.” Once it reaches thinking it is already colored by the personality and has thus become individualized. It is then evaluated; and this again is entirely individual. If in addition it is then stained by an impure mind, our whole personality is contaminated.
These seemingly trivial impurities are still coarse enough to block the psychic pathway of the nadis. This statement would be absurd if the nadis were what they are not, bodily organs. Rather they are magnetic fields, such as are developed by a magnet.
If we now become aware that every breath we take is in a sense pranayama, we can readily realize how frequently we damage our delicate psyche with an impure or bad thought. In the long run we shorten our lives with every negative gesture in deed, word, or thought by overburdening the conductors of the life stream with these impurities.
(7) Assuming the padmasana posture, the yogi shall guide the prana through the left nostril [chandra == moon] to the ida nadi, and, after having retained the breath as long as possible [in kumbhaka], should exhale it through the right nostril [surya = sun].
(8) Then he should inhale through the right nostril, do kum-bhaka according to the rule, and exhale through the left nostril.
(9) Inhalation is [always] through the same nostril as the previous exhalation. After the breath has been retained to the utmost possible limit [until perspiration breaks out or the body begins to trembler, one should exhale slowly--never quickly [since that reduces the energy of the body].
(10) Take in prana through the ida nadi and exhale it through the pingala. Then take in [new prana] through pingala and release it through ida, after having held it [in kumbhaka] as long as possible. The yogi who has perfected himself in the yamas [having thus developed the satfvic mind] will purify his nadis in three months [of practice].
This is the technique of pranayama. Just as all the multitude of asanas aim at the spinal column, so the essence of prana is centered in kumbhaka, the period when there is no breathing. >From this as well as by later indications we can recognize that it is not the breath air that carries the current but that the current is being produced during the breathing process.
Just as the plunging waters in a power plant are only the means of releasing the energy through which the brushes of the stationary turbins are activated, so prana also does not originate in breath but in the “turbins,” the chakra wheels with which the nadis have an inductive relationship.
The current necessary to sustain our life is automatically regulated through the varying strength of our inhalation and exhalation. Sighing and yawning arepranayamas in miniature but with different purposes. Our critical medico will patronizingly tell us that yawning and sighing are functions that regulate the oxygen supply in our blood. True. We do not try to belittle this fact. And we know that physiologically the production of electromagnetic current is so minimal as to be barely measurable: a negligible factor, just as one hundred years ago the microscopic secretions of the endocrine glands were considered negligible. But man is more than a chemical laboratory, and we have no right to designate even the slightest manifestations as unimportant until we have proof.
We should, therefore, not be surprised at the yogis’ contention that the heart is not the most important organ of man. It is the power centers, though they have not yet been seen by anyone, that are roost vital. The heart is a muscle and l)ccomes a regulator of laodily functions only in relation to and in cooperation with other organs, while these invisible centers supervise and guide the organs because they are directly subordinate to the mind.
(II) Four times a day we should practice kumbhaka: early morning, midday, evening, and midnight, until we can do 80 rounds [at a time].
A commentary speaks of three phases; at the beginning the breath should be held for 30 seconds, at the second stage for 60 seconds, and at the third for 90 seconds.
(12) At the first stage perspiration breaks out, at the second stage the body trembles, and at the third stage prana reaches the center of the head by way of sushumna. In this way prana’ yama should be practiced.
This may sound rather violent, but do not forget that the main characteristic of yoga is not violence but perseverance, not compulsion but patience. However, there is a limit beyond which perseverance becomes pigheadedness and patience apathy. The yogi has to recognize and respect these limits. This is one of the most difficult tasks in his whole career. Proof: take one of the more difficult asana and try to hold it longer than your physical forces can naturally allow. The signs of violence and undue constraint, perspiration and trembling, will appear; heavy breathing and tightening of the lips will also testify to a conflict. One fights against one’s own self. One part wants to stop; the other to continue. These manifestations are signs of undue force; it is quite different when perseverance and patience areat play without any compulsion. But for this we need a certain noncompul-sive way of practice that is the leitmotiv of the whole yoga system. It is difficult to learn from books and only the guru can show us the true path: meditative practice.
The half-trained yogi pays attention primarily to the body when doing the asanas, i.c., to the various positions of the limbs that he wants to place into the prescribed pose. And this is a gross mistake. He should concentrate on the “asana as such,” less on its physical manifestation, and far less on the body that moves and gets into postures. The less conscious attention the yogi pays to his body the more perfect will be his asana. If the phrase “asana as such” seems strange to us, this indicates that we have not yet fathomed the deeper essence of asanas, their really great meaning.
In order to show you that asanas are more than consciously created gymnastic exercises, let me describe a mysterious manifestation that is usually witnessed only by the initiated. The process, called kriyavati, manifests in yogis who have awakened kundalini by way of hatha yoga.
The yogi sits in deep meditation. Breath is suspended, the body is cold and stiff. Only the topmost center of his skull is feverishly hot.
Then he starts moving his limbs. An inner mechanism seems to be at work. Slowly, steadily, with unencumbered ease his arms intertwine, the legs go into contortions, the spinal column twists: asanas perfected to the utmost. He includes asanas no textbook has ever described; the guhyasanas, positions that are imparted to the student orally only after certain initiations. They are asanas that can be performed only by the yogi who has learned to govern his body completely with his higher consciousness.
The yogi does not perform these asanas in waking consciousness. “It” performs the asanas in him, while his waking state has yielded completely lo a state beyond the borderline of perception.
In this state the yogi is capable of superhuman physical achievements. Thus we find in Tibet the lunggompas, yogis who in a meditative state cover hundreds of miles with great speed. Dizzying precipices and snowstorms cannot hinder their course, much less stop them. Attempts to follow on a galloping horse have always failed. No horse has ever passed this prodigious test.
In this state there is no trembling, no perspiring. This is one of the higher forms of yoga; we are still working on a considerably lower level. The ideal we are now aspiring to lies halfway between our usual awareness of bodily movement and the kriyavati state. The ebbing of physical strength during practice manifests by trembling and perspiration; consciousness remains calm and relaxed. The mind, not burdened with any feeling of
compulsion to persist) rests in itself, in the “asana as such.” This is the essential difference.
So when here on the first level perspiration breaks out, this ‘s a sign of compulsion only if consciousness occupies itself with this fact. If the mind remains calm, there is no thought of compulsion.
(13) Massage the perspiring body. This imparts lightness and strength to the whole constitution.
(14) At the beginning of practice the yogi should nourish himself with milk and ghee [clarified butter]. When he is advanced such restrictions are no longer needed.
(15) fust as lions, elephants, and tigers are tamed [little by little, with patience and energy], so the prana should be kept under control. Otherwise it can kill the practicer.
(16) By the practice of pranayama we deliver ourselves from all diseases. By faulty practice the yogi invites all kinds of ailments.
(17) Then breath takes a wrong course and practice results in coughs, asthma, headaches, eye and ear pain, as well as other sicknesses.
The classical example of wrong practice is told of Ramakrishna, the famous nineteenth-century saint. In his youth his practice invariably ended in a blackout. Later bloodshot eyes and bleeding of the gums developed, and the end result of this faulty practice was cancer of the throat, of which he died. His saintli-ness was not the result of this type of practice; but self-destructive extremism is an indication of the kind of ruthlessness man is capable of.
(18) Slowly one should inhale and exhale, and proceed gradu ally also with kumbhaka. Thus one will attain the siddhis.
(19) When the nadis are purified, certain signs quite naturally manifest: the body becomes light and bright.
(20) As soon as the nadis are purified the yogi is able to retain the breath longer, the gastric fire is activated, nada [the inner sound] becomes audible and he enjoys perfect health.
Perfect health alone is reason enough to concern ourselves with nadi purification. About the gastric fire and the nada sound we will learn more later. But it is the art of retention of breath that is so essential in the development of pranayarna.
How is it that the power to hold the breath for a considerable length of time should depend on the purity of the nadis rather than on the capacity of the lungs?
Breath gets short when the air held in the lungs has lost its prana. If the nadis areimpure (as is common), then the flow of prana is impeded and is soon unable to reload the breath. The breath becomes stale like a carbonated drink when it has lost its fizz. If the nadi path is pure, however, the prana flow can keep breath “alive” for a longer time.
A yogi who can subsist on one breath for days–as has been demonstrated–causes the river of prana to circulate in the body and does not allow the prana to escape. He absorbs oxygen through his pores. Now let us look at the technique of nadi purification.
(21) He who is of weak constitution and phlegmatic, subject to kapha disorders, should first practice shatkarma. Those not suffering [constitutionally] from the [main] disorders due to vata, pitta, and kapha do not need it.
The nadis of all students, even the healthiest, need purifying. The man of perfect health, the sportsman, the master of asanas whose physical training is nearer perfection than his mental-spiritual achievement can reach nadi perfection by cultivating the mental-spiritual aspect. For the one who first must think of physical-organic purification because he senses problems and shortcomings, shatkarma (the “sixfold activity”) is indicated.
(22) Shatkarma is dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka. nauli, and kapa-labhati.
(23) These six practices, which cleanse the body, should be carefully kept secret because they induce numerous wonderful results and are therefore held in high esteem with the great yogis.
Why this secretiveness? What are these “wonderful results”?
Imagine a man who uses a low-tension electrical gadget, which is attached by a transformer to high-power current. The current he uses is barely noticeable with the fingertips. With the transformer removed he receives an electric shock.
Exactly so is it here. The unclean nadis act as a transformer to the life stream so that nothing untoward can happen. When the nadis areclean the effectiveness of prana is many times increased, and this can become dangerous.
(24-25) Take a strip of clean cloth, jour fingers broad and 15 spans long and slowly swallow it as instructed by the guru. Then pull it back out. This is dhauti and is effective against asthma, illness of the pancreas, leprosy, and other diseases due to kapha.
(26-28) Sit in a tub of water so as to be submerged up to the navel, in crouching position, heels pressed against the buttocks.
Introduce a thin bamboo pipe into the anus, contract the anus muscle [to draw in the water] and move the water around inside. This is vasli and cures troubles of the spleen, edema, and other ailments that are due to an oversupply of vata, pitta, and kapha. This vasti, when properly practiced, refines the circulation of the body fluids, the function of the senses and the heart. It makes the body bright and increases the gastric fire. All constitutional defects are [thus] removed,
So much ado about a simple encmal If this simple remedy is a golden treasure in the West, how much greater must its value be in the tropics. It is a common procedure. Gandhi always
All this of course without pranayama. When that is added the whole picture changes and greatest caution is indicated.
(29-30) Pull a thread, 12 inches in length, through one of the nostrils and let its end emerge through the mouth. This is neti. It cleanses the skull and makes the eyes sharp. It also removes illnesses that are above the shoulders.
It certainly is not an agreeable feeling to push a wet cord through the nostrils and let it come out in the back of the throat, picking it up with two fingers and pulling it back and forth through the nostril. But actually it is much more disagreeable to watch the procedure than it is to do it. The yogi himself gets used to it, and is happily free from colds and sinus trouble.
(31-32) Gaze without blinking [with concentrated mind] on a small object, until tears come into your eyes. This is called trataka by the gurus. Trataka cures all diseases of the eyes and removes tiredness. Therefore it should be carefully kept secret, like a treasure box.
Here one senses an ulterior motive. The practice must be kept secret, just because it trains the eyes? This can hardly be the real reason. There actually is a much more plausible reason to observe secrecy.
Hypnosis, self-hypnosis, visions, trance states, ecstasies, hallucinations–these arethings that have always seemed very attractive. Everyone would like to experience something like that without endangering himself. And this practice leads exactly in that direction. One could call it false meditation. From the point of view of yoga, all phenomena related to hypnosis are completely useless if not downright dangerous. The premature experimenter invariably draws the wrong conclusions from his experiences. The real meditative states arecognitive, clear consciousness. There are no surprise manifestations. This practice (tratakam) is salutary if done with proper care. It is poison if forced too fast.
(33-34) With head bent forward slowly rotate the innards [intestines and stomach], like a whirlpool in a river, toward the right and toward the left. This the siddhas call nauli. This, the most important of all hat ha yoga practices, removes sluggishness of the gastric fire, stimulates digestion, and leaves a very agreeable feeling, it removes all diseases.
This practice belongs not only to shatkarma but also to regular hatha yoga, although it cannot be called an asana since asana means “position, scat,” a motionless posture, while nauli is a movement of the abdominal muscles. In shatkarma it is rather a subsidiary, as it trains the muscles for dhauti and basti. This practice–which is to be recommended to the obese–begins with deep exhalation. At the same time, lean forward with hands pressed on the thighs and draw in the abdomen while raising the shoulders; then try to tighten the drawn-in abdominal muscics. Once this is accomplished the circular motion is no problem, since the muscles stand out separately on the withdrawn abdomen, as thick as a child’s arm.
(35) Inhale and exhale li[e the bellows of a blacksmith. This is kapalabhati and removes all ailments due to kapha.
(36) One frees oneself from obesity and phlegm by these six practices, and is successful if one adds pranayama after them.
Yet it is more advisable to follow the mental method of nadi purification, because progress and purification then go hand in hand. Besides:
(37) Some teachers say that all impurities can be removed through pranayama alone, with nothing else.
And those teachers who say it must know what they are talking about. Shatkarma is a gross physical method, while pranayama purification, completely founded on the sattvic mind, represents an all-encompassing purification. Shatkarma is the purification of the lower stages of hatha yoga, while pranayama belongs to the higher form of yoga, raja yoga.
The following practice does not belong to shatkarma. True, it has the characteristics of shatkarma, but something else is involved.
(3S) Closing the sphincter muscle at the anus, draw up apana toward the throat and regurgitate what is in the stomach, in this way the nadi chakras are brought under control. This is gajakarani.
If we remember the counter current to prana, apana in the abdomen, we know that this current cannot move beyond the
diaphragm. It is impossible to bring it to the throat. But one can--and should, in this case--cause the apana current to press against the udana current, the current of digestion in the upper part of the abdomen. This is what causes regurgitation.
As previously mentioned we are not really dealing with a purification process here, since dhauti has already done its work. Rather, we stimulate the nervous system directly by the effort of regurgitation.
But just as today's yogis do not advocate this type of practice so we too will leave it alone, as this sutra clearly seems to be a much later interpolation.
After these more or less agreeable purification practices we return to pranayama.
(39) Brahma and the other gods who devoted themselves to the practice of pranayama delivered themselves [by it] from fear of death. This is why we [too] should practice it.
(40) When the breath is controlled, the mind firm and unshakable, the eyes fastened between the eyebrows; why then should we fear death?
Even a man who–like the yogi–has to fear no punishment at the last judgment approaches his last moments with at least some apprehension, for the process of dying is beyond our sphere of control. Here, for better or worse, we aredelivered over to the play of natural forces, and this is for man the most terrifying experience: to be a helpless victim.
For the master of pranayama, things are different. He controls the powers that represent life. He dies consciously. In life as in death he adapts himself with deep insight to the natural processes of which he is always aware. It is not only the life stream of prana upon which preservation and end depend, for if such were the case the yogi would be immortal. Rather, he recognizes the rhythm to which he, like all other living things, is subject, and it is his task to gain the highest possible harmony with this rhythm. Once he has accomplished this and his cycle oi existence is completed, he will not try to influence the law of his sunset. This death for him is only the evening which is followed by a new and purer morning, a new cycle. It is said to be one of the characteristics of the gods that they have no fear of death to which they are subject like all living things, because they consciously enter the eternally new cycle of life and consciously pass through the transitory, purifying state of death. Again and again Vishnu passes through existence: as animal, man, hero, lover, dwarf, or giant. He is born, accomplishes his divine work, dies, and is reborn. His consciousness is the all-preserving Unconscious.
To render this Unconscious conscious is the goal of the yoga master, for this is the only way to become equal to the gods. So let us too pay attention to the physical and spiritual purity of the nadis, whether or not we are yogis. Let us inhale the life stream without weighing it down with impure thoughts. Let us also live more consciously, with our inner vision concentrated on that which elevates us above all other creatures: our spirit. Then every breath is pranayama which makes us more divine.
(41) As soon as the nadis have been purified through systematic pranayama, breath easily finds its way to the sushumna entrance.
(42) When breath flows through the sushumna, mind becomes steady. This steadiness of the mind is catted unmani avastha.
(43) To attain this the sage practices a variety of kumbhakas whereby he acquires siddhis.
(My humble salutations to Swamyjis , Philosophic Scholars, Knowledge seekers for the collection)