HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA
by Swami Muktibodhananda (She)
500 RYT book report © 2014
Text by: Alexey Baykov
1. Most compelling topics of "Hatha Yoga Pradipika"
1.1. The Six Causes of Success in Yoga
In the description of the causes the author presents a parable about a sadhaka and his sadhana showing that when faith in guru and God is powerful it doesn’t matter if the practice is 100% correct or not. Thus, the practice should be done with unshakeable faith, no matter what happens externally, no matter other people’s types of practices and their achievements, as for everybody evolves at different rate.
The metaphor about the relationship between sadhaka and sadhana – as between “newlywed couple”, being invigorating and exciting which “spontaneously generate perseverance”. As some guru says that being enlightened feels like to be in love. It makes clear how perseverance, great positive attitude (enthusiasm), unshakeable faith and courage are connected with each other and go together – being in love is the state needed – the state of high alertness, positive attitude and great devotion makes everything possible.
Another important prerequisite for success in yoga is discrimination, which takes into account all aspects of life including material necessities and clothing, which really questioned my attitude towards many things in my life, which seems important, however objectively thinking I should be able to get rid of them but something inside stops me, as if they mean something to me. So I need to dig deeply and understand what it is – what is it that keeps attachment and makes me be dependent on external things?
Also the company of people and conversations should be conducive to one’s sadhana, which creates a big challenge in life, because the farther one goes the less people are around, so this may lead to complete loneliness and one day there would be no one to share thoughts and experience with – thus who is to be the mirror of one’s practice, how not to be lost in one’s own illusions and keep awareness towards oneself and one’s practice? The external world is the reflection of one’s own inner state, isn’t it?
1.2. Guru and Sadhak
As Swami Muktibodhananda comments on the Verse 11 Chapter 1, he reveals that Swatmarama gives the system of hatha yoga without too much details and he doesn’t advocate any particular sadhana, thus it is “left for the practitioner to find out from his guru what is actually involved”, because the specific sadhana is between the adept and his guru. But the next passage says that Hatha Yoga is about bringing balance between duality of negative/positive, lower/higher mind and between individual/universal spirit, so “why bring anyone else into picture?” And then the author continues to speak about “keeping personal practice in secret”, thus it is not clear who is the “guru” in the context of the topic – is it a real person(?), or is it an inner guide who should be kept in secret(?), and all the specific details of the Hatha Yoga system should be revealed on one’s own without involvement of anybody.
It is said that “Sadhana involves the growth of your own spirit and it is like the process of giving birth”, so one should wait till birth happens naturally, that’s why it’s harmful to dig the ground to see the plant or open the womb to check the stage of the process. Also checking the results or showing them to the public involves Ahamkara (ego = the sense of ‘i’), making a person live “to meet the expectations of others”, creating the greatest barrier to the experience cosmic consciousness – the aim of Hatha Yoga.
However it is important to understand whether a physical teacher is important, who can observe the process of the “spiritual pregnancy” as a doctor and look after the adept to be sure the “baby” is developing in the best way possible and prescribe some techniques or give a wise advice, or a yogi should be fully on his own with total surrender to the voice of the Inner Guru.
It is interesting that Swami Muktibodhananda figures out that sadhakas devoted to a particular devata or spiritual path will have a guru of a different lineage. It is stated that there are 3 lines of gurus in tradition: human guru (mahavaugha), siddha guru (siddhaugha), divine guru (divyaugha), and Shiva as the first source of everything (adiguru), being beyond the lineage, as it has descended from Him.
It’s amazing how detailed is the description of Samadhi stages by Swami Muktibodhananda. She states that Samadhi is the state of consciousness without any fluctuation, thus all forms of fluctuations including Knowledge of “I”, Spiritual vision, Unconsciousness in deep meditation, thought and counter-thought, awareness and counter-awareness, which are called as sankalpa / vikalpa – they all are non-final states.
It is revealed that in the process of Samadhi one moves from Savikalpa (supra-consciousness with vikalpa – slight modifications of passion, fear, etc.) to Nirvikalpa (samadhi without any vikalpa) – the final Samadhi (Moksha).
Savikalpa consisits of sabeeja and nirbeeja – states that deal with sabeeja (the “seed” of ego or samskara – “the trace of ego, which manifests as vikalpa”).
Each state in sabeeja samadhi still have positive (samprajnata – consciousness of the object) and negative (asamprajnata – unconscious awareness of the object) aspects, which create vikalpa.
Swami Muktibodhananda highlights that “the concluding point of samprajnata samadhi always unfolds through asamprajnata”, which I understand in the following way: the stages of samadhi are like slices of different levels of consciousness, which are impermanent, each stage begins with unconscious awareness, while persistent dwelling in it moves one into conscious awareness.
The question is What exactly moves one into higher (deeper) state and not moves into descent (grosser) state. I may suppose it is the intention and/or surrender to God. The state of Ananda and then Asmita still do have the seed of ego, however awareness is absolute (“the highest sattwic state of consciousness”).
The transition of one’s consciousness from Sabeeja to Nirbeeja samadhi is going through two more stages – Nirbeeja and Dharmamegha samadhi when karma and all kleshas (ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, clinging to life) are cleaned out and the virtues pour down upon the one. There’s no more desire to be liberated.
Then a jump from Savikalpa (with lots of stages) to Nirvikalpa (the final state) happens, but before it – one gets into a gap: the state of void and no experience, called dynamic samadhi (shoonya): The self becomes a dynamic potential, after which Nirvikalpa Samadhi dawns.
2. Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga
2.1. Kukkutasana & Uttankoormasana
These two poses seemed as never-possible for me, however after several trials, when I decided to play with entering the poses, I found two ways that are not described in Hatha Yoga Pradipika. For Kukkutasana, good entering is same to the pose Uttankoormyogasana: an adept is lying on the spine (savasana), makes Padmasana, puts his hands between the legs, and then stands up with the hands on the floor - into the final pose. Another entering is the following: an adept puts one hand between a thigh and an ankle right in the process of creating Padmasana, so then only one hand is left to finish the pose.
It’s important to mention that these yogasanas tone the nervous system and induce relaxation at the same time. Also they regulate adrenal glands and digestion which is super-important for people with Vata-type (as me).
Taking into account the position of Kukkutasana, it’s said that it stimulates Kundalini and reverse the flow of energy, as for the weight is on the hands instead of legs.
My understanding of Kukkutasana and Uttankoormasana is the following: as the main idea of the poses is to let hands come freely through the space between the crossed legs, these yogasanas work with limbs very well - much better than any massage or so-called rolling, because the muscles of hands and the muscles of ankles and thighs connect so tight that all the tissues are squeezed hard and after release of the yogasanas, blood flows into the limbs removing all blockages. I believe the same happens on energetic level too.
Also it is essential to do Kukkutasana and Uttankoormasana both sides, to work on all aspects of the body, as for Padmasana with the left leg up, make the left side filled with blood, and vice versa. The same happens in Kukkutasana and Uttankoormasana – the right leg up makes the right side of the body red including the right hand.
Thus, these postures “wash” left and right sides of the body (alternately) with blood the same way as inverted yogasanas do with the upper part of the body.
As the comments explain brahmacharya consists of two words: “Brahman” – pure consciousness and “Charya” – one who moves, which makes the meaning of the word as “one lives in constant awareness of Brahman” – so that duality is erased and everyone and everything is seen as atman.
Thus, passions do not arise in the mind when one “comes in contact with the opposite sex” – which is explained in yoga and Tantra as “maintaining the Bindu” – not losing Bindu or semen. That is why sexual techniques should be practiced which “restructure the reproductive organs” and whole endocrine system by regulating pineal and pituitary glands.
Thus, not the suppression makes one a brahmachari, but regulation of one’s urges and conscious control of the hormones “induce true brachmacharya” – when Bindu is retained in the center of the brain, one is absorbed with the Supreme.
However it seems that interpretation of Brachmacharya as “constant awareness of Brahman” sounds like nirvana – isn’t it the goal of all practices? isn't it the full realization that each sadhaka is striving to reach? So it is a real paradox – to reach full realization one should be fully realized already.
Some sources say that Brachmacharya means an ability of a sadhaka to dwell in such a state of mind (or at least to strive) when all natural urges, passions and desires are directed to the Supreme and any life experience becomes an act of devotion to God. I suppose this is possible only after reaching a certain level of consciousness and self-control.
For now I interpret Brachmacharya in terms of discrimination – to strive to direct the urges to the Supreme in any situation and if the urges don’t work in favor of the sadhana, some specific practices should be done to correct that part of me. In theory it sounds simple, but in reality it takes a lot of time and effort.
Brahmacharya is still the biggest challenge for me, I must admit. Where is the Golden Mean between suppression and real control of urges? Where is the Golden Mean between awareness of urges and real surrender of all actions to God?
2.3. Khechari mudra
When reading about the Hatha Yoga form of Khechari mudra, when an adept should gradually cut the frenulum and elongate the tongue till it is capable of moving into the nasal cavity with the help of special instruments, it really sounds extreme and could be compared with piercing of a tongue or other organs, which people do on their own just for fun or to perform teenager’s riot against society.
For me personally this is beyond the limits of reason. I really thought about practicing this. Of course there were no teacher around to give an advice or anybody else. However I met one guy yoga practitioner, who has a birth-given flexible cavity that he can move his tongue and reach his ‘eyebrow center’ without any complexities. He practices it from time to time – and what I can say: from my point of view he is not really wise or spiritually profound. It’s just a capability same to an ability to perform complicated yogasanas.
It is necessary to get to know that in Raja yoga there’s another form of Khechari mudra, which has no cutting or any other instruments are involved. The tongue is just simply placed back, if possible, into the nasal orifice.
However the author comments on the benefits of Khechari mudra specifically about Hatha Yoga variant, when the tongue touches the eyebrow center when pineal gland and ajna chakra are stimulated, including the whole “orchestra of glands”: thyroid, mammary, thymus, adrenal and reproductive glands, also influencing hypothalamus and thalamus, which influence reticular activating system vital in sleep/awake mechanism and “all degrees of nervous system activities, including the ability to concentrate”.
So it looks like this mudra is a real divine mudra, which controls the whole spectrum of physical activity, thus Khechari is so powerful that an adept “can reach the state beyond karma”, which is the state of Samadhi.
Thus, there’s a question, is it worth cutting?
3. Concepts that changed the way I share yoga
The first yogasana, described in Hatha Yoga Pradipika is Swastikasana, which is also called as «auspicious» pose giving significance and precise information, filling up the name with sense. Swastika represents “fertility, creativity and auspiciousness”.
In Russian it would be translated as the pose "of the Goodness” or “blessing pose", and for me personally, Swastikasana is filled up with this meanings. I've discovered its benefits at Yoga Teacher course, when we were searching for the most suitable pose for meditation so that one would be capable of sitting longer than 30 min.
After trying several sitting yogasanas, Swastikasana was the last because it looked as the most simple for me – and it turned out to be the most effective.
Sitting in Swastikasana I felt that sensitivity arises in me, my whole body becomes awake and alert.
A powerful energy flow through the spine cord became so obvious as if an electricity cable was switched on inside by simple placing a foot between the thighs of the opposite leg. In the text it said that nadis at the back of the legs are stimulated and the pressure of the foot on the sensitive points of the thighs works as acupressure, activating certain meridians which bring all the energy to the spinal cords. This really is sensed this way. This yogasana is a great foundation for the conscious state of mind.
In the text also the importance of straight spine is highlighted as for release of main nadis (ida, pingala and sushumna) should be provided. That is why several physical adjustments should be added to the description of Swastikasana: slight mula, uddijana and jalandhara bandhas will create tonus and alertness of the body; shoulders should be relaxed and pushed down a bit to provide blood and energy flow to the head; additionally khechari and shamhavi mudras will enfroce the energy flow though the spine to the head.
Frankly speaking, when I was a child I played with stomach performing so-called nala (navel string) or madyana nauli, and I liked doing it, although I didn’t realize that it’s very healthy for me, so I didn't do it regularly. Untill almost 24 I had lots of digestive problems, and nothing (from classical modern medicine) helped me. Since I began practicing yoga I have no more problems – special thanks to regular nauli and also drastical diet change.
And for now I share this technique almost in every class, after learning uddiyana bandha, because Nauli is really effective and it is a good substitude for massage, which most of people don’t get, but need as contemprorary good is no good. Nauli removes a lot of stuff that is stuck in the stomach.
In Hatha Yoga Pradipika a lot of sanskrit terms are revealed in the chapter about Nauli: dakshina nauli, vama nauli, madhyama nauli… of course, all these terms are complecated for beginners, but these terms figure out the important stages in perfomance of Nauli technique.
I use Hatha Yoga Pradipika to guide the class. And most adepts like this practice: it’s unusual for them, because most of yoga-instructors don’t teach it, however, from my point of view, this is real yoga practice which every adept should know and practice – maybe this is more important even then repeating the same yogasana sequences, as most modern yoga-classes are about.
For me personally Nauli became not so important for now. So I do it only when I feel uncomfortable in stomach, and I can cure myself in 5 min. But after reading Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I began practicing it every day, because “stage 5” really challenged me, I couldn’t perform Nauli sitting in Siddhasana, and now I learn how to do it in a new way.
3.3. Hatha Yoga Pradipika - Verse 114
The last verse is touching upon a very important subject: the principle of Hatha Yoga and Tantra is “practice and realize”, while in modern culture it’s common to speak aloud about self-realization, Samadhi and other sophisticated topics. The louder they “speak” through tv, video, books and other means of media – the more weight in the community and world they have, dominating the mainstream and following the course of lies.
In our world of hypocrisy, when most politician create wars instead of peace, most bankers rob instead of financing, most doctors create drug-addicts instead of healing, most artists create customer-souls instead of inspiring free spirit, most teachers create template-thinkers instead of free-thinkers – it is really hard to find the right course of living and acting.
Swami Muktibodhananda states that “actions speak louder than words, and practice makes perfect”, so she means that a yogi lives the teaching and his life becomes a teaching for those who can see. While those who see only mind-concepts will listen to teachers and preachers who only talk about spirituality.
In Russia and Ukraine there’re lots of yoga instructors who created (taking westerners as living examples) their story of spiritual awakening, as if they were born with it, or it happened spontaneously and the more years this person is “shouting” about it - the more people is following, and moreover, the more this person believes in his own story. There’s a Russian saying: you don't know whether to laugh or cry, which could be translated as “it is both amusing and sad” or “ it is ridiculous and pathetic at the same time”.
Such criticism is maybe a kind of snobbery, but for real I think it is a hard question: should one come together in one row with other yoga-teachers to teach as a profession, proving that his understanding of yoga is more truthful, so that he becomes the same part of the mainstream, or should one work at some job for living (trying to match yama-niyama principles) and practice for his own benefit until Samadhi (and of course no one guarantees that the way of practice will bring it at this life-span), and then… the True Self will decide what to do, or more precisely, and then… nothing else matters.