Traditional Yoga

Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga, inherited over thousands of years, from generation to generation, teacher to disciple, yogi to yogi was developed and preserved by the lineage of Nath Gurus in Northern India. Swatmarama, a descendent of that lineage, introduced the standard curriculum for hatha yoga practice, Hatha Yoga Pradeepika inthe ninth century. Hatha Yoga Pradeepika was later followed by texts such as: Hatha Ratnavali, Siva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita, Kurantaka Yoga, Kapala Kurantaka Yoga, Yoga Ratnavali, and Shiva Yoga Deepika.


Today the techniques taught in these texts are not found in any single school of contemporary yoga. The traditional schools, in which these techniques are preserved, are unfamiliar to many yoga practitioners. Today’s yoga generally consists of practices originating from traditions less than a hundred years old. Traditional methodologies are often changed and adapted. Traditional Yoga is an attempt to present the knowledge contained within the traditional texts in its original, whole and undiluted practical form for the benefit of all practitioners and teachers.


Swatmarama in Hatha Yoga Pradipika states the purpose of hatha yoga:

Verse 1: Salutations to the highest primal guru, Sri Adinath, who instructed the knowledge of hatha yoga which shines forth as a stairway for those who wish to ascend to the highest stage of yoga, raja yoga.

Verse 2: Prostrating first to the guru, Yogi Swatmarama instructs the knowledge of hatha yoga only for (raja yoga) the highest state of yoga.


The purpose of hatha yoga is to keep the yoga aspirant healthy and free from disease in order to facilitate the practice of raja yoga as given by Patanjali for the purification of the mind. We have 360 joints, 206 bones, 380 muscles, 150 trillion cells, and 14 trillion neurons. This deep purification of the body makes the job of purifying the mind much easier. It also develops a very subtle awareness within the body that begins the process of cultivating the meditative faculty of sati, mindfulness/ awareness, one of the essential steps in Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path and an enlightenment factor. It is important to practice hatha yoga with full awareness and concentration within the body. While practicing asanas the breath should be coordinated with the movement of the body. Hatha yoga cleans the physical channels and raja yoga cleans the mental channels.


The health benefits of hatha yoga are well known in the world today. In the West it is mainly used to give the body suppleness, strength and stamina and to exercise and relax the body and mind. Hatha yoga has a healing effect that can be used to treat a whole host of ailments from back problems, to diabetes, to infertility. One of its lesser known branches, kayachikitsa can be used as a therapeutic treatment for those who are unable to practice hatha yoga for themselves.


Originally Kumar’s practice of yoga was for his own self-development and he had not planned to teach. From the age of 11 he studied in over 37 yoga ashrams of the North and South under acclaimed teachers as well as lesser known traditions. Before the age of 25 he had mastered the techniques of the following schools among others: Sivananda, Iyengar, Patabhi Jois, Kaivalyadama-Lonavala, Bihar School of Yoga, all the main traditions of kriya yoga. A turning point came when he met with a road accident in 1992, resulting in multiple fractures in his lower spine, hip bones, pelvic bones and the loss of control over the lower torso. He was about to get married and his wedding invitations had already been printed. His urethra was ruptured due to being pierced by the pelvic bone and doctors had to do urethro-plasty surgery. He was told he would be unable to walk again or have children. Doctors advised him not to practice yoga. After a year of experiencing no progress he began practising yoga. By the following year was fully mobile. In two years he could run and resumed about 300 asanas. In 1994 he also had his first daughter.


I applied the energy flow principles of hatha yoga systematically creating an order of postures by which I could speed up my progress and align all those deviated parts. I owe 100% percent of my success to Hatha yoga.”


From then he decided to devote his time outside of work to promote the correct understanding of the traditional methods of yoga. Kumar avoided being limited to the methodology of only one school. He saw that each school gives importance to only a few limbs of yoga.


Most  of the schools teach their own developed methodology or a methodology learnt from only one teacher from a single school of practice which makes the teaching very limited in its approach and lags behind in covering the broader aspect of entire yoga.”


The entire system of hatha yoga is built around the system of nadis, or neural networks. A nadi is a neuron transmission channel. The word Ha relates to the Ida nadi of the parasympathetic nervous system and the word tha relates to the Pingala nadi of the sympathetic nervous system. (Please note that hatha yoga is a traditional term and does not relate to any contemporary yoga style). Sushumna nadi is the central channel, canalis centralis. Hatha yoga is based on the balancing of these two systems and the channelizing of the energies in the body. There are 14 principle nadis, that are sub-divided into 6000 nadis and further into 84,000 nadis.


The six chakras (wheels) are principle centres of neuron transmission channels or nadi centres, also called plexus. All these centres are supported by the muscular skeletal system and are located at various points along the spine. Each chakra is connected to a particular system of the body and it’s related element. For example, the swadishtana is located at the sacral plexus. It is the centre for the reproductive and urinary system which is dominated by the liquid element.


The principle chakras are as follows:

  • Sanskrit name/ English name/ system/ element
  • Muladhara/ Coccygeal plexus/ excretory system/ solid element
  • Swadisthana /Sacral plexus/ urinary and reproductive system/ liquid element
  • Manipura/ Solar plexus/ digestive system/ fire element
  • Anahata/ Cardiac plexus/ circulatory and respiratory system/ air element
  • Visuddhi/ Pharyngeal plexus/ autonomous nervous system, lymphatic, thyroid, parathyroid/ space element
  • Ajna/ forehead centre/ pineal and pituitary gland/ consciousness element
  • Sahasrara/ Hypothalamus centre/ central nervous system/ superconsciousness.

 

Hatha yoga has 5 main parts to be practiced in this sequence:

  1. Shat kriyas- Six cleansing techniques
  2. Asana-postures
  3. Pranayama-breathing techniques
  4. Mudra and Bandana- energy locking techniques
  5. Kundalini- movement of energy


Shat kriyas

When fat or mucus is excessive, shatkarma: the six cleansing techniques, should be practiced before. Others, in whom the doshas, i.e. phlegm, wind, bile, are balanced should not do them.- Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Chapter 2 Verse 21

The shat kriyas cleanse the six gross impurities of the body. They are the first step in hatha yoga as they prepare the body to practice the subsequent steps for which a minimum level of health is required. For example, it is very difficult to practice pranayama with a blocked nose so the first step is to clear the sinus and nasal passages.

  1. Nethi- to cleanse the nasal passages, respiratory channels, eyes and ears.
  2. Dauthi-to cleanse the digestive system and treat acidity, gastritis, nausea.
  3. Vasthi-to cleanse the colon and intestinal food pipe.
  4. Kapalbathi-to remove the fat from the belly.
  5. Nauli-to cleanse the urinary and reproductive systems.
  6. Trataka-to develop concentration and treat mental disorders such as ADHD

For the full description of the shat kriyas please click here


Asanas-postures

Prior to everything, asana is spoken of as the first part of hatha yoga. Having done asana one gets steadiness of the body and mind; diseaselessness and lightness of the limbs.- Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Chapter 1 Verse 17

Asanas work from the bone level to the exterior cell level. There are 84,000 asanas, just as there are 84,000 nadis.

In asana practice the sequence is very important as it creates a flow of energy upwards from one plexus to the next, from muladara chakra at the base of the spine, to sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. This direction moves energy systematically from the gross to subtle centres.

Modern yoga often fragments the asanas so that the sequence is somewhat arbitrary and the practitioner does not gain the full benefits of the postures.  Although the stretch has been achieved, the flow of energy has not been channeled properly and the result is much less effective. By following the correct sequence, people notice make much swifter progress and notice that they are able to gain enormous flexibility in the short span of a few months.

Asanas are divided into five main categories; standing, sitting, prone, supine and inverted. Traditionally, each of these categories is sub divided into a series of vargas, group of postures. Each varga works on a particular system of the body and one varga leads to the next. Within each varga, there is a specified sequence of asanas that also works in a flow. In Western yoga studios, standing postures are often emphasized and some vargas are largely neglected. It is important to balance all the vargas in order to work on all the systems equally, therefore creating balance within the overall functioning of the body.

In the traditional sequence, we begin with standing postures and finish with inverted postures:

  1. Standing postures work at the level of the muscular skeletal system. Within the body bone is the highest density, i.e. the grossest matter.
  2. Second come sitting postures that move energy upwards from the coccygeal to the sacral plexus and they work on the excretory, urinary and reproductive system purifying the solid and liquid elements.
  3. Third we practice prone postures, lying on the stomach. These work on the solar plexus and cardiac plexus, moving energy upwards through the digestive and then circulatory/ respiratory system, the fire and air elements.
  4. Fourth are the supine postures, practiced lying down on the back. Supine postures work on the cardiac plexus, followed by the pharyngeal and forehead plexus, so the circulatory/ respiratory system, autonomous nervous system and pineal and pituatary gland. These purify the air, space and consciousness elements.
  5. Fifth we practice inverted postures, working on the hypothalamus centre and the central nervous system.


For a full sequence of vargas and asanas please see click here

All limbs of hatha yoga including asanas can be used therapeutically to treat particular health conditions. Each varga works on a particular system of the body, so for instance if one is suffering from a problem related to the digestive system then it is beneficial to practice prone postures. In addition to that, Hatha Ratnavali, Yoga Rahasya and Hatha Yoga Rahasya suggest particular asanas and pranayama for specific health problems.

For a full index please click here


Surya Namaskaras-sun salutations

Sun salutations were originally part of Hindu religious practices performed by priests, not part of hatha yoga. They were absorbed into hatha yoga practice because of their powerful ability to lubricate the entire spine and maintain the healthy functioning of the endochrine system.

Nowadays sun salutations are mostly practiced in yoga as only postures without mantras and by hindu priests as only mantras without accompanying postures. When the two aspects are integrated they become more effective.

Sun salutations are to be practiced with Sanskrit syllables, i.e. seed mantras for the healing effect of the sound vibrations on the various plexus and corresponding systems of the body.  When practiced with contemplative mantras their purpose is to give a positive motivation to the mind.

There are a range of traditional sun salutations variants, each working on a particular plexus. They can be used as an effective warm up before asana practice.

Sun salutations energize the system and are best practiced at dawn. Moon salutations cool down the system and are best practiced at dusk. Moon salutations are also most effective when practiced with mantras.

Please see page.. for instructions for practicing sun and moon salutations with mantras.


Pranayama-breathing techniques

Thus being established in asana and having control (of the body), taking a balanced diet; pranayama should be practiced according to the instructions of the guru.-Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Chapter 2 Verse 1

The pranamayakosha is sometimes called the life-force body or the body of aura (why-explain). It is the microscopic level of our physiology containing cells and chromosomes. We have 150 trillion cells in our bodies, a complex system that has evolved over 14.5 billion years from our origins as single cell organisms.

The pranamayakosha is made of of five principle elements:

  1. Prana-oxygen
  2. Apana-enzymes, catalysts and hormones
  3. Samana-cells in the digestive system
  4. Udana-cells in the respiratory system
  5. Vyana-inside the cells, the krebs cycle.

There are two kinds of breathing techniques: Aerobic (external) and Anaerobic (internal).

Aerobic breathing techniques involve slow inhalation and slow exhalation. They pump oxygen into the lungs and blood stream, opening up the bronchioles and providing oxygen to the outer layer of the cellular body. They increase the lung capacity and are for  those suffering from respiratory problems such as asthma or for smokers. They are a preparation for anaerobic techniques which require a healthy lung capacity. Smokers or those with weak lungs should practice aerobic techniques for 2 to 3 months until their lung capacity increases, before moving into anaerobic techniques.

Anaerobic breathing techniques such as bastrika and kapalbathi  pump oxygen into the internal cellular structure, opening cell receptor blockages and multiplying the number of active mitochondria in the cells. The number of mitochondria varies according to which organ the cells belong to. An ordinary cell contains between 200-300 mitochondria whereas the each cell of our heart and brain contains over 1000. Mitochondria are cellular power houses because they generate most of the cell’s energy supply. Oxygen and glucose are carried into the cell and the mitochondria convert it into Co2 and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), i.e. energy. If the cell receptors have blockages they are unable to receive the oxygen and glucose into the cell, so rather then being converted into energy it gets stored as fat in the body. Many people who suffer from obesity do so not because they over eat but because their cells are functioning efficiently due to dormant mitochondria. Low oxygen supply to the cell increases the risk of developing cancer. Anaerobic breathing techniques remove blockages in the cell and increase the number if active mitochondria. For this reason they are highly energizing, a powerful tool for losing excess fat and a way of maintaining healthy cells. They are highly beneficial for the digestive and reproductive systems.


Anaerobic techniques take the oxygen from the blood and pump it into the cell by creating a pressure gradient. Therefore it is important to refuel the blood with oxygen by practicing aerobic techniques in between and after anaerobic breathing.


For a full sequence of vargas and asanas please see click here


Mudra and Bandhana

Adinath said they are the bestowers of the eight divine powers (sidhis). They are held in high esteem by all the siddhas and are difficult for even the gods to attain.”-Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Chapter 3 Verse 2


Mudra and bandhana bring stability to the mind. They work at a much deeper and subtler level than asanas. They balance the elements and develop awareness at the level of the organs. They bring about a gross level of purification of the cells of the organs and streamline consciousness in that area. They purify the cells at a gross level, cleanse the organs and streamline consciousness in that area.  A mudra is a particular posture that channels energy into particular chakras (plexus) and in turn affects the organs connected to it.  As per Gerandha Samhita there are 26 mudras that can be subdivided into a total of 55. Bandhana means a lock. It involves contraction of the muscles and organs causing energy to accumulate at a particular plexus.


At the moment we have no control over our organs, but an advanced hatha yoga practitioner can control their organ function through these techniques. For example, one of the benefits of kechari mudra is to control and regulate the thyroid gland and the production of T3 and T4 hormones that affect the metabolic rate.


Some mudras and bandhanas are performed with asana and pranayama while others are practiced separately afterwards. For example, Vipareeta karani mudra, is a shoulder stand practiced with the back at a 45% angle to the floor. It should be practiced in the sequence of asanas before sarvangasana, the straight shoulder stand. It stimulates the thyroid and purifies the visuddhu chakra (pharyngeal plexus). Similarly, Uddhiyana bandhana, is practiced in the sequence of pranayamas. It involves sharp exhalation and holding of the exhaled breath, while retracting the abdomen and holding it inside until an inhalation is required. Kechari mudra however is practiced after asana and pranayama.


As is always the case in hatha yoga, the sequence of these techniques is very important to ensure that the flow of energy is upward, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.


Kundalini

Indeed, by guru’s grace this sleeping kundalini is awakened, then all the chakras and knots are opened.”-Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Chapter 3 Verse 2


Kundalini is a very subtle ‘prana’ or life-force energy, considered to be cerebrospinal fluid contained within the central nadi, the sushumna, located at the centre of the spine. At the moment we have no awareness of it due to blockages in the mind. Through the practice of hatha yoga we can gain an awareness of this force. The ‘awakening’ of kundalini refers to our ability to become aware of it starting at the muladhara (coccygeal plexus) and moving upwards through all the chakras situated along the spine, to the sahasrara (hypothalamus centre). The ‘awakening’ of kundalini causes both hemispheres of the brain, including the dormant parts, to become active. This brings about a particular experience at the mental level that occurs when perfect balance is gained between ida and pingala, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. This is achieved when the physical channels of the chakras and nadis are cleaned of all blockages and the channels of the mind are purified.


There are two types of kundalini experience, hot and cold, otherwise called inert and active. A hot kundalini experience can be attained forcibly though meditation on the chakras. It is a Samadhi experinence and does not signal purification of the mind. There has been a lot of interest in kundalini in recent years and unfortunately many people practice without a proper understanding of what they are doing. Forcing kundalini for the sake of an ‘experience’ is dangerous and can lead to serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia.  If kundalini ascends through ida nadi instead of sushumna, people may have fantastic, meaningless experiences but they lose the ability to function in the external world. If it accidentally ascends through pingala nadi, they become lost in a world of hallucination.


Kundalini is a very powerful force that should arise naturally through the process of purifying the body and mind in a systematic way, with proper guidance from an enlightened teacher. If the gross blockages in the chakras and sushumna are removed and the mind has been purified enough through nivritthi yoga (deconditioning), then kundalini is naturally awakened in the sahasrara and the practitioner will have a cold kundalini experience, also known as bhavanga nana. This is one of the important stages of purification on the path to enlightenment but not the ultimate goal.


The practice of kundalini in hatha yoga, cleans the neural network of nadis, our hardware. The mind is the software that can only be cleansed through nivritthi yoga. Hatha yoga kundalini techniques include dharana meditations on the chakras that can take one to a level of Samadhi. They work by using a reflux or simulation mechanism that remove the knots in the subtlest channels of the body. This de-atrophication has a deep cleansing effect on the body and the gross levels of the mind and prepare the practitioner for the practice of raja yoga as given by Patanjali.


There is a common misconception that Patanjali is referring to hatha yoga in his Asthanga Yoga, particularly when he mentions asana and pranayama. In fact Patanjali’s science is purely pertaining to the mind. Asana refers to the sitting posture for meditation and pranyama refers to the practice of observing the natural respiration in meditation. His Ashtanga yoga can be and has been applied to hatha yoga in the same way that any fundamental principles of nature can be applied to any practice or situation because they are a universal science.

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