What is Hatha Yog
What is the objective of Hatha Yog?
Is it just a physical culture or something more?
Let us turn to what Swami Swatmarama says in the second verse of the 16th Century classic, Hatha Yog Pradeepika :
Pranamay SriGurunatham Swatmaramena Yogena
Kevalam Raja Yogai Hatha Vidya Padishyathey
A free translation:
After paying the traditional obeisance to his guru, Yogi Swatmaram lays down the principles of the Science of Hatha Yog SOLELY (Kevalam) for the purpose of attaining Raj Yog (Yog of the mind).
It is very important to appreciate this distinction that Hatha Yog is the means to an end and not an end in itself. The end is spiritual enlightenment and having a strong and fit body is the means to attaining that end.
The spiritual path can be long and arduous and we need we need suitable, strong, disease-free vehicle to carry us along , without giving us trouble or breaking down along the way. The Yogis of yore realised very clearly the importance of health. With a weak body, frequently ravished by pain and disease, how can a man even think of higher ideals? His immediate concern is his physical health and the attention he has to pay to his weaknesses and illnesses are a constant distraction.
Even in the Patanjali Yog Sutras, (circa 500 BC), a Raj Yog text considered the bible for yog practictioners, the relative importance of the physical exercises (asans) is clear. Out of 196 verses in this text, only 2 relate to the physical aspects of yog! One verse mentions that asan is one of the limbs of the eight limbed (asht-anga) yog path and the other simply states "Sthiram Sukham Asanam" or "That (posture) which is steady and comfortable to hold is a suitable posture (for meditation).
Unfortunately for many people Hatha Yog or the body is the end itself. Years are spent in practicing and perfecting a particular asan. If while doing that the practictioner is paying due attention to awareness and his mind that may be fine but generally many people mistake yog for pure acrobatics. Sole attention is given to learning more and more complicated postures. A human rubber band who can contort his body into a hundred impossible postures is considered a great yogi. People do poses in public for acclaim and applause. The reality of course is that yog is for yourself and not for others. Until it is practiced in this way it is difficult to make progress beyond the body.
So yog is not about just tbe body. On the other hand, it is not just about the mind either. There are several people who give no importance to the body at all. They look down on the body, consider it a hindrance and a nuisance on the spiritual path. They pay no attention to it's needs and try to concentrate on their mind alone with meditation and other practices. Undoubtedly they make progress in this realm, but they fall far short of what they could have achieved had they paid equal and prior importance to their health. History is full of examples of spiritual giants who died early or suffered from diseases like cancer..
The real yog is about avoiding either of the extremes. We have to take care of our body AND our mind AND our soul. Where do we begin? The mind is very subtle and difficult to grasp and the soul even more so. If we do not even have control over our gross body then this whole business is going to be very difficult. So the best way seems to be to begin with the body and that is what Hatha Yog is all about..
What are the characteristics of a Hatha Yogi?
Another way of getting a better understanding of Hatha Yog is to understand what the characteristics of a Hatha Yogi should be.
Let us turn to Swami Swatmarama again in the Hatha Yog Pradeepika :
"Vapu Krishatvam, Vadaney Prasannatha, Nadha Sputathvam, Nayane Sunirmalay, Arogatha, Bindu-jayogni-dipanam, nadi Vishuddhi Hatha Yog lakshshanam"
A free translation :
Slim body, smiling face, clear and resonant voice, sparkling eyes, disease free body, having control over sexual passions, having hearty appetite clean and clear Nadis : these are the characteristics of a Hatha Yogi.
So now we know what is aimed at. It is not just a strong and supple body but much more than that.
This gives us a good way to determine whether the Yog teacher we are planning to learn from is practicing what he is preaching. If he lives up to this ideal, it is probably safe to learn from him.
Hatha Yog vs Yog as a whole
Initially I thought I would put up this site about Yog as a whole but I soon realised that the scope is vast and I have no great experience or expertise in the spiritual realm. I am just a beginner there. So I decided to restrict myself on this site to talking about the physical aspects of yog, viz Hatha Yog where at least I have five years personal experience. But I thought it important to lay down at the beginning that though I am talking about the physical part of yog, it is not the final objective.
There are a LOT of excellent resources on the web to learn more about Hatha Yog. Here are a few of them
There are MANY books on Yog but by far the one I have liked the best amongst what I have read so far is:
A systematic course in the ancient tantric techniques of Yoga and Kriya
By Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yog, Munger, India
THe name of the book is quite a mouthful but so is the book. It is literally an encyclopaedia of yog (over 800 pages) covering almost all of its aspects. Equal importance is given to Hatha Yog and Raj yog. The best part of the book I liked is the conversational tone the Swami maintains. He always talks to you and not down to you. It is a very practical text for the modern man because it understands where the reader is coming from and talks his language. What's more, it does not talk about ideals that can be achieved in an ashram in the Himalayas, but rather about something you can do here and now. A must own for all yogis, if you can get hold of it..
Another interesting book:
Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar
An excellent book propogating the parampara (tradition) of the great Yogi Krishnamacharya. The central point of his teachings was the concept of "viniyog" or yog (customised) for the individual. He preached that yog was for the individual and not the other way around. Many other important concepts such as the importance of linking breathing with the postures etc is covered here.