The Yoga Tutor

The Hatha Yoga Books

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 326 ]

Around about 500 A.D. the emphasis of spirituality and yoga started to shift more and more to physical practices and techniques. Certain yogic practices were developed which, it was taught, would enhance one's ability to reach mystical states. As with the ancient spiritual teachings, these techniques were written down in a coded language, which necessitated the initiation and the guidance of a guru in order to understand them.

In the period from about 500 A.D. to about 1500 A.D, several scriptures were recorded which are commonly known as the 'hatha yoga scriptures'. The three most prominent of these are the GORAKSASATAKAM, the GHERANDA SAMHITA and the HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA.

The GORAKSASATAKAM

This scripture was composed in 100 verses by the Rishi Goraksanatha who perhaps lived about 1500 years ago. He is considered as the second living guru of the natha school, the first being Matsyendranath, and could be largely seen as the originator of what eventually became known as the hatha yoga system.

Rishi Goraksa was a widely travelled yogi with a strong personality who greatly influenced the masses of his day. In this work are many practical techniques of yoga written down for the benefit of the aspiring student. In an abridged version of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga system, he defines the subject matter of yoga as the six limbs of asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyanam and samadhi, while the entire text describes how these limbs may be achieved.

The GHERANDA SAMHITA

This scripture is in the form of a dialogue between Gheranda and his disciple Chandakapali.

This text refers to the yoga discussed as ghatthaayoga, a term not found in any other yogic texts. It is apparent, however, that the system being expounded in this exposition is hatha yoga, though it does not use the word hatha at all. The literal meaning of ghataha in Sanskrit is "a pot," in this context referring to the body.

Whereas Yogamaharishi Patanjali terms yoga as ashtanga (eight limbs) and Rishi Goraksha as shatanga (six limbs), Rishi Gheranda enunciates saptayoga or "seven limbs" of yoga.

According to Gheranda, the seven exercises for making the body fit for 'Divine Wisdom' include purification, strengthening, steadying, calming, and those leading to lightness, perception and isolation.

Rishi Gheranda classifies the yoga practices as 1. Kriyas: dhautis, bastis, neti, trataka, nauli, kapalbhatis 2. Asanas 3. Mudras 4. Pratyahara 5. Pranayama 6. Dhyana 7. Samadhi. Great emphasis is given to the purification practices which are quite elaborate. Asanas are also described in great detail in this work, as are 25 mudras.

Gheranda also discusses pratyahara and pranayama techniques, laying emphasis first on the purification of the nadis, and then proceeds to discuss dhyana and samadhi in detail as well.

The HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA

The term pradipika means "self-illuminating" or "that which illuminates." This text, authored by Yogi Swatmarama Suri, was written between 500-700 years ago, and it illuminates a multitude of physical, mental and spiritual challenges for the yoga aspirant -- expounding techniques such as shat karma, asana and pranayama.

The emphasis here is placed less on the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali's ashtanga system, with the notion that in order to purify the mind it is necessary for the whole body to undergo a process of absolute purification. Therefore, purification begins with shat karma, and is then followed by the practice of asana and pranayama before moving onto deeper meditative practices.

Many in today's physical culture of yoga profess the HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA to be the definitive source of knowledge in hatha yoga. The HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA, unlike the previous texts on the subject, does provide much instruction in asanas, pranayamas, mudras and various other techniques, yet even within this comprehensive exposition, very little is given in the way of detailed description of the practices.

Instead, the instruction is covered in obscure and deliberately vague language. Hence, it seems that this text was not intended as a manual of practical instruction, but more as an organization guide for the system of hatha yoga itself. Certainly, the practices of hatha yoga could never properly be taken up under the guidance of this work alone.

"The Guru himself (Swatmarama Suri) makes many references throughout the work for the need for the practices to be kept secret. If he knew that his work would be used as a practical guide to practices, he would never have written them down, violating his own cautions. Like all ancient Gurus, the written aspect of the teaching was only the tip of the iceberg, a 'jolt' to the memory of the student, a reminder of the whole and not containing the whole within itself."
~ Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani

Swatmarama Suri himself states many times, as in Chapter Four, Verse 8:
"Who really knows the greatness of Raja Yoga? Jnana, Mukti, Sthiti and Siddhi are obtained through the teaching of the Guru."

Time and time again he stresses the theme of secrecy:

"The Yogi desirous of obtaining Siddhi [psychic power] should keep the Hatha Yoga very secret. For it is potent when kept secret and ineffective when injudiciously revealed."
~ Chapter 1, Verse 11

"This should be kept secret like a casket of precious gems. It should not be spoken of to anybody as in the case of intercourse with a well born woman."
~ Chapter 3, Verse 9

Swatmarama Suri generally describes various pranayama techniques, mudras, asanas and means for attaining samadhi. However, in the entire treatise, he illustrates only 15 asanas, few of which resemble those commonly used by today's hatha yoga practitioners.

He elaborates on the shat karma, list eight kinds of pranayamas and gives instruction on the arousal of the kundalini force; and further direction in nada yoga and the attainment of samadhi. In chapter two he notably states that:

"One cannot obtain perfection in Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga, nor perfection in Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga, so both should be practised till perfection (in Raja Yoga) is obtained."
~ Chapter 2, Verse 76

Note: Other notable texts in hatha yoga also include the later works of the SIVA SAMHITA and the HATHA RATNAAVALI...

[Continued...]


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NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.


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