Introdcution to Hatha Yoga
"Hatha Yoga is a flexible combination of specific techniques that help develop every aspect of the individual: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It is a scientific system that integrates the various branches of yoga and brings about a harmonious development of the individual. Regular practice of yoga helps achieve: a body of optimum health and strength, senses under control, a mind well disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a strong will, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as a crystal, and a life filled with supreme peace and joy."
- Swami Satchidananda
Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, has emphasized the importance of concentration and meditation in order to achieve a calm and peaceful mind. The need to maintain a steady and comfortable seated posture for meditation for long periods of time necessitates a body that is healthy and free of disease and a mind that is free of worry and fear. The art and science of hatha yoga was developed to achieve such a body. Several great yogis, including such names as Yogi Matsyendranath and Yogi Gorakhanath, are considered to be the 'forefathers' of hatha yoga. However, it is Yogi Swatmarama who compiled the wisdom of Hatha Yoga in his Hatha Yoga Pradeepika (HYP) which expounds the techniques such as asana, pranayama and shatkarma (the six-fold cleansing techniques). Through regular practice of these techniques, the body is purified of all the toxins, the nadis (channels of subtle energy) are opened for free flow of prana (vital energy), and kundalini shakti (the dormant serpent power) gets awakened. Through control of prana, the mind is automatically controlled. The HYP is divided into the following four chapters:
- Asana:Several physical postures, including seated postures for meditation are described. Guidelines for diet are also provided in this section. A few general recommendations regarding a yogic diet are given here.
- Shatkarma and Pranayama
- Shatkarma: Six cleansing techniques are described:
- Dhauti: digestive tract and intestinal cleansing with a long, wet cloth. In 'Gherand Samhita' several other dhauti techniques are also given.
- Basti: yogic enema for internal cleansing. Helps cure digestive problems, removes constipation and strengthens the solar plexus.
- Neti: nasal cleansing through 'sutra neti' (cleansing with thread) and 'jala neti' (cleansing with warm, saline water using a neti pot). Highly recommended for allergies, common cold and cough as well as providing resistance to various diseases of ear, nose and throat.
- Trataka (concentrated gazing): usually done with concentrated gazing on the tip of the flame of a candle. It helps remove diseases of the eye as well as develops one-pointedness which helps in meditation.
- Nauli (abdominal massaging): nauli is performed by the practice of contracting and isolating the rectus abdominii muscles. Nauli helps in igniting the digestive fire, removing indigestion and balancing the endocrine system.
- Kapalabhati: rapid, forced exhalations, accompanied by pulling the abdominal muscles in; inhalation is passive and automatic. Kapalabhati helps destroy all mucus disorders. For more information on Kapalabhati, visit my blog.