Hatha Yoga Files | Noah McKenna

The word “Hatha” comes from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika attributed to the mysterious figure Swatmarama. Hatha has an explicit meaning of force. Then, Hatha Yoga has come to be described as the forceful method. Personally, I think “dynamic” could better describe the Hatha Yoga process that requires the right kind of intelligently directed force to refine the experiential state and create changes in the psychosomatic energy of the follower.

Hatha Yoga uses contraction and relaxation to accumulate and move energy in the body. Muscle activation and body position changes modulate internal pressures within the body. This can be done especially with the respiratory muscles to modulate the pressure in the pelvic, abdominal and thoracic regions.

The word energy is often used in vague ways, so let’s be specific here. Hatha Yoga begins with asana to induce physical sensation. It then passes to the Pranayama which generates the sensation of physiological stress. The interaction of action and relaxation with the body and breathing culminates in a warm feeling of happiness. Through the use of Mudras and Bandhas, positive feelings of happiness move upward toward the heart and in the reverse direction from head to heart. Sensation becomes feeling becomes mood becomes emotion.

Only once the yogi has generated a reliable positive emotional state does the practice become meditation. There is no mention of the calm of the mind or the calm of the thoughts in Pradipika, as meditation is not introduced as a formal practice until after the previous practices a happy state of tranquility can be created.

The use of Nothing in meditation is described in great detail and offers Hatha Yoga a unique approach. Nothing means sound, starting with the audible sound but then going back to the inner sounds and finally finding the vibratory quality of the heart space.

Another defining feature that differentiates Hatha from other forms of Yoga is the emphasis on Prana. While Bhakti Yoga studies devotion and relationships and Raja Yoga of Patanjali examines mental formations or Chitta. Hatha aims to purify and harmonize Prana within the Yogi. Its ultimate goal is to reveal 8 Siddhis or special abilities, one of which is liberation. The description of liberation in Pradipika is of immortality in a divinely transcendental state.

Hatha also has an implicit meaning of Ha-Sun and Tha-Moon united. This fits very well with the description of two energy channels called nadis, the solar nadis Ida and lunar Pingala. The two branches of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, give a modern confirmation of the relevance of the Hatha Yoga approach. Hatha’s goal is to purify instinctive feelings into the pure energy of consciousness. This pure energy accumulates and is moved upwards through a special Sushumna Nadi channel. We find in the Pradipika a technical reference to the Chakras.

How old is Hatha Yoga then? As a coded system of about 1000 years, although many hatha yoga techniques are referred to in both Hindu and Buddhist texts over 2000 years. The mixture of different systems known as syncretism is common in Indian spiritual schools. We see in Hatha Yoga Pradipika a mixture of many older yoga classes such as Raja Yoga and Laya Yoga and also tantric practices.

Hatha Yoga is believed to belong to the Nath tradition dedicated to Shiva as the source of his teachings. The Pradipika begins with the greeting of Shiva as the chief Guru who taught his wife Parvathi and the teachings then went through a long line of sages. It contains what are considered secret teachings intended to be passed on only to worthy candidates and recommended for learning from a guru. There are other complementary texts such as the Gheranda Samhita and Shiva Samhita that expand the list of prescribed practices and give a more detailed description of the process.

The Pradipika consists of four sections that cover essential practices:
1. Yogi Lifestyle, Yama, Niyama and Asana
2. Pranayama and Shatkarmas (purification techniques)
3. Mudra, Bandha, Prana and Kundalini
4. Pratyahara, Dharuna, Dhyana and Samadhi

Hatha Yoga Pradipika is generous with practical applications of the yoga process. The first three sections aim to establish the yogi in the yogic lifestyle to minimize the negative external influence. Then with dedicated practice to purify the psychoemotional elements in a state of positive balance. The accumulation of Kundalini energy and the purification of the blockages of its flow give rise to a spontaneous meditative state. The last section offers an approach applied to meditation using the inner sound to dissolve any remnants of Karma and transcend the happiness of the mind to see the soul in its essence.

So what does this have to do with what is expected of a modern-day Hatha Yoga class? I will talk about this in the next article.

In the meantime, you may find this recent historical work on Kundalini interesting.


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