Tag Archives: Hatha Yoga Pradipika

the meaning of asana

What drew me to the practice of asana was an intuitive feeling that these movements were not just “stretching”; they seemed to have some greater connection with my soul. It was only later after years of training that I began to learn the deep symbolism each asana represents. I now believe that each asana represents an aspect of myself and as such offers me a powerful doorway inward. Thus for many people the practice of asana can become more than a physical act; it can be a form of moving meditation.

     The word “asana” is Sanskrit and is actually the plural form; the correct word for one pose is “asan”. However in English we tend to use “asana” as singular and “asanas” as plural even though this word does not exist in Sanskrit. Whichever word we use, asana are virtually as ancient as civilization itself. In fact, there are carvings dated from 3000 BCE which show figures sitting in the lotus pose. It is sometimes reported that each asana was created or “emerged” when a “rishi” or “wise forest dweller” spontaneously moved into an asana during deep meditation. Asana both reflect and are named for animals and objects as well as being named after sages from the Hindu tradition. Instructions for the practice of specific asana can be found in such ancient Indian source books such as the Siva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita as well as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

      Paradoxically, in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, generally considered the most well-known source book on the wider practice of yoga, no specifics of practice are given and asana is only mentioned in three verses, chapter II v. 29, v. 46 and v 47.  Patanjali presents asana as the third step or rung in his ladder of practice after the ethical precepts (yama) and prescribed practices (niyama), and apparently expects the disciple to explore more about asana on his/her own. More interesting to me than specific practice techniques however, are two other ideas about asana. First, that asana is both a spiritual practice all its own and secondly, that the practice of asana can beneficially effect our relationship to living a spiritual life.  

Traditionally many teachers have taught that the main value of asana is to prepare the body for meditation by creating a strong back and supple legs so that the disciple can sit still for long periods of time. From this teaching comes the belief that asanas are “lower” or not as “spiritual” as meditation. But I feel the practice of asana has an even greater potential in the West. We may be captured at first by the lure of flexibility and strength, but we stay for another reason. Scientists are continuing to “discover” the pathways of connection between mind and body; in fact, some even say there is virtually no separation. Yogis were aware, I believe, of this connection thousands of years ago and the asanas honor this connection.in the modern world, far from the protected ashrams and retreats of ancient India.

The expression of this sacredness has to do with the nature of asana practice itself. No matter how many times one has practiced a certain asana, when it is practiced now it is absolutely new. When one practices an asana that particular asana has never been practiced before; each asana is absolutely of this moment. Thus the practice of asana is a living artistic creation that has never existed before and will never exist again, just as this moment is fresh. When we practice asana we have a chance to become present in this very moment.  When we practice asana we have the chance to bring our attention to here and now, to the sensations and awareness we are feeling. We can observe our reaction, both positive and negative, to the pose; we can observe the sensations of ease and difficulty that arise as we stretch and bend. This is what meditation is, the consistent willingness to be in the here and now without being lost in our thoughts about the here and now.

The practice of asana, and especially savasana or corpse pose, is meditative. It can be the doorway to deeper states of meditation and gives the student the most important gift that can be given. This gift is called dis- identification. In Chapter I of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses the false identification of thoughts and Self. He teaches that this false identification is at the root of all misery. He further teaches that the practices of yoga are about dissolving this false identification. The great gift of savasana, for example, is that the student can begin to separate from his/her thoughts. As one moves more deeply through relaxation one begins to enter another state in which thought is experienced a surface phenomenon. Then one can begin to experience a little space between the thought and what is perceived as Self.

Excerpt from Article Embodying the Spirit: Understanding the Meaning of Asana by Judith Hanson Lasater


yoga yajnavalkya

The Yoga Yajnavalkya (Sanskrit: योगयाज्ञवल्क्य, yoga-yājñavalkya) is a classical treatise on yoga traditionally attributed to sage Yajnavalkya. It takes the form of a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, a renowned female philosopher. The extant Sanskrit text consists of 12 chapters and contains 504 verses. Most later yoga texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga Kundalini and Yoga Tattva Upanishads have borrowed verses almost verbatim from or make frequent references to the Yoga Yajnavalkya. In the Yoga Yajnavalkya, yoga is defined as the union between the individual self (jivatma) and the Divine (paramatma). The yogi, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, considered Yoga Yajnavalkya to be one of the most important yoga texts and refers to this text in the introduction to his book, Yoga Makaranda (1934).

The method of yoga described in the Yoga Yajnavalkya is both comprehensive and universally applicable—open to both women and men. Yajnavalkya explains the principles and practice of yoga, the path to freedom, to Gargi, his wife. The Yoga Yajnavalkya demonstrates that Vedic culture provided women with equal opportunities and encouragement for their spiritual pursuits to attain freedom.

Like the Yoga Sutras, the Yoga Yajavalkya describes eight limbs of yoga and describes the path of yoga practice as the development of these eight limbs. The text also dispels much of the aura of mystery surrounding the concept of kundalini by explaining it logically and relating to other terms and concepts in Vedic thought. An important feature of this text is the comprehensive discussion of pranayama, which sets it apart from other texts on yoga. Up to a hundred verses or slokas are devoted to elucidating the various techniques, applications and results of pranayama. The text also discusses the use of pranayama as a therapeutic tool, its role in ayurveda, and methods for incorporating pranayama with pratyahara, dharana and the other limbs of Patanjali yoga.

The Yoga Yajnavalkya provides insight into the various forms of meditation practiced during the Vedic period. It also addresses the issue of how to use form (Saguna Brahman, or God with form) to go beyond form (Nirguna Brahman, or the Godhead).

There are differing opinions as to the dating of Yoga Yajnavalkya. Prahlad Divanji, editor of Yoga-Yajnavalkya: A Treatise on Yoga as Taught by Yogi Yajnavalkya published by the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS), traced its origin to the period between the second century BCE and fourth century CE. According to Divanji, the author of the Yoga Yajnavalkya is also the author of the Yājñavalkya Smṛti. Gerald James Larson, a professor at Indiana University, has dated this text to about the 13th or 14th century CE.

Excerpt From Wikipedia


hatha yoga pradipika

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The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (Sanskrit: haṭhayōgapradīpikā, हठयोगप्रदीपिका) is a classic Sanskrit manual on hatha yoga, written by Svāmi Svātmārāma, a disciple of Swami Gorakhnath. Said to be the oldest surviving text on the hatha yoga, it is one of the three classic texts of hatha yoga, the other two being the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita. A fourth major text, written at a later date by Srinivasabhatta Mahayogaindra, is the Hatharatnavali.

Its titles in the A.C. Woolner collection are described by the Library of the University of Vienna as Haṭhayogapradīpikā, Haṭhapradīpikā, Haṭhapradī, Hath-Pradipika. The text was written in 15th century CE. The work is derived from older Sanskrit texts and Swami Svatmarama’s own yogic experiences. Many modern English translations of the text are available.

The book consists four Upadeśas (chapters) which include information about asanas, pranayama, chakras, kundalini, bandhas, kriyas, shakti, nadis and mudras among other topics. It runs in the line of Hindu yoga (to distinguish from Buddhist and Jain yoga) and is dedicated to Śrī (Lord) ādi nāthā (Adinatha), a name for Lord Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction and renewal), who is believed to have imparted the secret of hatha yoga to his divine consort Parvati.

Excerpt from Wikipedia Article Hatha Yoga Pradipika


yamas and niyamas

Yamas, and its complement, Niyamas, represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. These are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. Every religion has a code of conduct, or series of “do’s and don’ts”, and the Yamas represent one of the “don’t” lists within Hinduism, and specifically, rāja yoga.

Yama (Sanskrit) यम, means self-restraint, self-control and discipline. The yamas comprise the “shall-not” in our dealings with the external world as the niyamas comprise the “shall-do” in our dealings with the inner world.

Ten yamas are codified as “the restraints” and ten niyamas are codified as set of prescribed actions (observances, requirements, obligations) in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varaha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular.  Patañjali lists only five yamas and five niyamas in his Yoga Sūtras.


origins of surya namaskar

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the oldest known hatha yoga text does not mention “Sun Salutations” but mentions a sūrya-bhedana (sun-piercing) kumbhaka (II, 44 and 48-50) while the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā mentions sūrya-bheda kumbhaka (58-59). The oldest documented book with clear depictions of asanas is the Sritattvanidhi, though there is no mention of “Sun Salutations” in the text, it does describe the asanas “Sarpasana” (Bhujangasana), “Gajasana” (Adhomukh Swannasan), “Uttanasana” and series of asanas done in tandem, similar to Sūrya Namaskāra.

The translator of the ancient Sritattvanidhi, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, was also responsible for arranging for Sri. T. Krishnamacharya to teach yoga at Yogaśālā in Mysore sometime around 1930. Sri. T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings are largely responsible for the modern version of Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in modern day Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and the Visesha Vinyasa Sun Salutation subroutine from Vinyasa Krama Yoga, as well as a host of other popular forms of yoga. K. Pattabhi Jois claims to have taught exactly as he had learned from Krishnamacharya, though other than personal testimony, there seems to be no other evidence as to the precise content of Krishnamacharya’s teachings. While Krishnamacharya’s specific sources for his yoga teachings are unclear, it is said that he learned from Sri Ramamohana Brahmachari in the Himilayan Mountains (perhaps Muktinath where his son has visited, but certainly somewhere near the Gandaki River in Nepal) beginning in 1916; however, the source of his teaching (at the Mysore Yogashala or otherwise) is not otherwise documented. Krishnamacharya’s son attests to his father having developed some of his teachings himself. There is the possibility that he may have been influenced by the Mysore Palace Gymnastics Tradition.

Another indication as to the origins of Sūrya Namaskāra is the 1928 Indian publication of “The Ten Point Way of Health” by Raja Bhavan Rao Srinivas (“Bala Sahib”), Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh (1868–1951; Raja of Aundh 1909-1947), followed by later publication in England in 1938. The Raja claims to have practiced the series as a child. And some sources report that only after extensive practice and analysis (and potentially modification) himself did he finally publish the book. Thus, the true origin of the series remains unclear, though it has to be noted that Raja of Aundh, himself never claimed to have invented Surya Namaskar. Further he actually stressed on the ancient origins of this procedure. He helped in popularizing surya namaskar as a simple physical exercise for all round development of an individual in India. He introduced it in schools as a form of education and encouraged even the ordinary man to be physically fit by performing surya namaskar every day. Still, how exactly Sūrya Namaskāra came to be included in the yogic practices of Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga remains unclear.

Other sources which cite early use of “Sun Salutations” are A Short History of Aryan Medical Science from 1896, which claims that in India “there are various kinds of physical exercise indoors and outdoors. But some of the Hindus set aside a portion of their daily worship for making salutations to the Sun by prostrations. This method of adoration affords them so much muscular activity that it takes to some extent the place of physical exercise”.

Early English publications record some ancient methods of sun salutation; however, the do not seem to be related to the modern Sūrya Namaskāra as seen in Yoga practice today. In “A Catalogue raisonnée [sic] of oriental manuscripts”, noted that a short book with 71 leaves with “Tricha calpa vidhi” from “Aditya Puranam” was preserved. He describes the vidhi as “Modes of rendering homage to Sun, with praise and spells; the object being health or delivery from disease”. He further notes the presence of Arghya Pradana, Surya Stotaram, Aditya dvadasa namam – 12 names of the Sun according to the monthly signs of zodiac, Surya Narayana cavacham, Saurashtacshari mantram, and many other elaborate rituals as the part of the vidhi. In Page 148 of the same book he describes a shorter version called “Laghu tricha kalpa vidhi”.

Aditya Hridayam is another ancient practice which involves a variation of Sūrya Namaskāra. It is a procedure of saluting The Sun, taught to Sri Rama by Sage Agastya, before his fight with Ravana. It is described in the “Yuddha Kaanda” Canto 107 of Ramayana.

There are numerous references of praising the Sun for the purpose of good health and prosperity, in Vedas. Some of these Vedic hymns were incorporated into Nitya Vidhi (Daily mandatory routine for a Hindu) for the well being of an individual, through salutations to the Sun. These daily procedures were termed as Surya Namaskara (literally translates as “sun salutations”). Physical prostration to Sun, showing complete surrender of oneself to God, is the main aspect of these procedures. The forms of Surya Namaskar practiced vary from region to region. Two such popular practices are Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah and Aditya Prasna.

Excerpt From Wikipedia Articles, Surya Namaskar and  Surya Namaskar Origins