Hatḥa Yoga is a form of the Indian Serology which aims at salvation; liberation; to achieve freedom for its practioners. Ha and Tḥa are the combination of two Beeja mantras. In Hatḥa Yoga, Ha means he Prāṇa and Tḥa means the mind. Hence, Hatḥa Yoga means the union of the Prāṇic and the mental forces. These two forces are the most fundamental forces. On another level, Ha means Sun and Tḥa means Moon; hence, Hatha Yoga means union of the Sun and the Moon.
On one level, Hatḥa Yoga is an adjective for forceful, strenuous, aggressive and hence the literal meaning of Hatḥa Yoga is Forceful Yoga. This is because; the discipline uses many strenuous and difficult techniques.
There are many texts which have contributed to the field of Hatḥa Yoga and they are Hatḥa Yoga Pradipika by Swami Swatmarama, Ghoraksha Samhita by Ghorakha nath, Gheranda Samhita by sage Gheranda, Hatḥaratnavali by Srinivasabhatta Mahayogindra and Śiva Samhita which is considered to be given directly by Lord Śiva. All these texts must be written between the 6th and the 15th century AD
There have been many references about Hatha Yoga in various cultures such as Colombia in South America. There have been references about Hatḥa Yoga in Upaniṣads and Śri Bhagwatam. But the sects from India, Nepal and Tibet form the basis for Hatḥa Yoga.
The Hatḥa Yoga started developing much later to Buddhism and Jainism. The Buddhism gave the eight fold path for salvation which included meditation. They believed that one can start doing meditation at any point of time. They also included the Yama and the Niyama which are the morals and the ethics. The more stringent way was called as the Hināyana and the liberal path was called as the Mahayāna. The Mahayāna path included the tantric aspects which were misinterpreted by the orthodox people.
After about 500 years, sages like Matsyendranath and Ghorakshanath structured the Hatḥa Yoga by separating the Hatha Yoga and the Raja Yoga from the Tantra. They picked up the practices useful from the Tantra.
Principles of Hatha Yoga:
Swami Swatmarama compiled Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a text which illuminates the multitudes of physical, mental, spiritual aspects of the aspirants. He has completely eliminated the Yama and Niyama which forms the first steps in the Buddhism and even the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. He believed that one has to have self-discipline, self control to practice Yama and Niyama. He also believed that they were more a part of religion than being spiritual.
Swatmarama starts Hatha Yoga Pradipika by saying that one should purify the whole body first – neti, dhouti, basti, trataka, kapalabhati and nauli. After this come the Asana and Prāṇayāma. He said that self-control and self-discipline should start with the body. Be disciplining the body first, the subtle elements, the energy channels within the body get purified. The Prana, the nervous system and various other vital organs get purified. The body will be properly maintained and harmonized.
The main objective of Hatha Yoga is to create a balance of the interacting activities of the physical body, and energy. When this balance is created, the impulses created stimulate the Sushmana nadi which is responsible for the awakening of the Kundalini. The Ha means Surya Nādi and Tha means the Chandra Nādi. Hatha Yoga is to bring harmony between the two as they are one. When this union takes place, the Mūlādhāra Chakra is awakened at the base of the spine. This awakens the Kundalini which manisfests itself in the higher forms and finally gets established in the Sahasrara Chakra.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
It is important to understand the theory of Hatha Yoga, but it is the practical aspect which has been emphasized in the Hatḥa treatises.
Haṭḥa Yoga was to be practiced solely to awaken the kundalini and to reach the highest state of Raja Yoga i.e. the Samadhi. As one practices Haṭḥa Yoga techniques, one’s physical and mental potentials begin to unfold. This is regarded as the grand achievement by some practitioners but they are only temporary manifestations and hinder the further spiritual progress.
Śriādināthāya namo’stu tasmai yenopadiṣṭā haṭhayogavidyā /
Vibhrājate pronnatarājayogam āroḍhum icchor adhirohiṇiva //
Salutation to Ᾱdinātha (Śiva) who expounded the knowledge of Haṭha Yoga, which is like a staircase leading the aspirant to the high pinnacle Rāja Yoga.
Aśeṣatāpataptānāṁ samāśrayamaṭho haṭhah /
Aśeṣayogayuktānām ādhārakamaṭho haṭhah //
Like a house protecting from the heat of the sun, Haṭḥa Yoga protects it’s practitioners from the burning heat of the three types of suffering; and similarly, it is the supporting tortoise, as if it were for those who are constantly devoted to the practice of Yoga.
The three types of suffering are: Ᾱdhyātmika – it is the spiritual suffering meaning this is the one which passes on from the previous lives. Ᾱdhidaivika – it is the natural/environmental suffering and it is caused because of the environmental conditions such as the earthquake, hurricanes etc which cannot be avoided. Ᾱdhibhautika – it is the physical suffering which happens to the body because of the diseases which cannot be avoided caused due to bacteria, viruses etc.
Haṭhavidyā paraṁ gopyā yoginā siddhim icchatā/
Bhaved viryavati guptā nirviryā tu prakāśita //
A Haṭha Yogi should keep the knowledge of Haṭḥa Yoga a secret who is desirous of success; for it becomes potent when it is kept a secret and when revealed, it becomes powerless.
Most of the great saints and Siddhas who had great powers rarely revealed them. Only the people who lived very close to them knew their greatness. The main reason for this to do is not to develop Ahamkārā or the ego in the Siddhas/Practitioners.
Surājye dhārmike deśe subhikṣe nirupadrave/
Dhanuḥ pramāṇaparyantaṁ śilāgnijanavarjite/
Ekānte maṭhikāmadhye sthātavyaṁ haṭhayoginā//
A Yogi should practice Haṭḥa Yoga in a small room situated in a solitary place, measuring four cubic squares and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentiful.
It is recommended in the śloka to practice in an area of one and a half meters, where there are no surrounding objects which may cause physical affliction. One should also practice in the same place every day in order to build up the spiritual vibrations. These are the various recommendations stated by the Yogis.
Alpadvāram arandhragartavivraṁ nātyuccanicātataṁ/
Samyoggamayasāndraliptam amalaṁ niḥśeṣajaṁtūjjhitam//
Bāhye maṇḍapavedikūparuciraṁ prākārasaṁveṣtitam/
Proktaṁ yogamaṭhasya lakṣaṇam idaṁ siddhair haṭhābhyāsibhiḥ//
The room should have a small door, be free from holes, hallows, room should be situated on neither too high nor too low platform, well plastered with cow dung and free from dirt, filth and insects. On its outside there should be a raised compound. These are the characteristics of the room in which Haṭḥa Yoga has to be practiced as it is described by the adepts in the practice of Haṭḥa Yoga.
These recommendations have been given to give a structure to the Sādhaka. The mind has to be protected from outside influenced and the body should have a good defense mechanism. If the mind and body are kept pure, simple and modest; then they will cultivate spiritual vibrations, and conditions will be conducive for the soul (Ᾱtma) to manifest itself. The Sādhaka’s possessions should be kept to a minimum and the surroundings should always remain clean. This has to be carried out so that there will be fewer mental distractions and worries and therefore all the energy can be directed towards spiritual development.
Utsāhāt sāhasād dhariyāt tattvajnānāc ca niścayāt/
janasaṅgaparityāgāt ṣaḍbhir yogaḥ prasiddhyati//
The following six bring success faster for a Haṭha Yogi and they are enthusiasm, courage/daring, perseverance, correct understanding, determination and aloofness from company of people.