As the world goes about celebrating ‘The International Yoga Day’ primarily via postural demonstrations it’s time to review what Yoga truly is. On this Yoga Day, let us resolve to look at Yoga not as a pose but as a process, not as a class but as a commitment. Below is a simplified elaboration on the complex body of understanding that Yoga is – if you feel it is beneficial, please share. I wish you all a very Happy International Yoga Day.
Q: What is Yoga?
A: Yoga is a wisdom tradition of philosophies and practices spanning over thousands of years, emerging from South Asian region, primarily India, aimed at generating lasting inner peace and Self-understanding (Atmajnana).
Q: Is Yoga as set of physical exercises?
A: No, Yoga is not a set of physical exercises. The aspect of physical exercise falls under the category of Asana and Pranayama practices that emerge predominantly from the Tantra-Hatha orientation of Yoga. Asana per se constitutes a minor aspect of ancient Yogic tradition and was not insisted upon or mandatory for Yogic pursuit.
Q: What are Yoga styles?
A: In modern usage, the term ‘Yoga style’ has come to mean the way in which one practices physical postures – Asana. So, the term ‘Yoga style’ actually means ‘Asana style’, if you will, because Yoga is much more than physical posturing. As far as ‘styles’ of Yoga or ‘types’ of Yoga are concerned, they can be spoken of as various philosophical and practical orientations that brings about clarity of Self-understanding. They are called ‘Marga’ – path. Some of these Yogic orientations are Karma Marga (path of Karma), Bhakti Marga (path of Bhakti) and so on.
Q: Do I have to be physically flexible to practice Yoga?
A: This question comes from wrongly interpreting Asana (physical posture practice) as the whole of Yoga. You don’t have to be flexible to practice either Yoga or even Asana. Yoga and Asana, both are a process of self-development and one can steadily experience the benefits with regular practice.
Q: So do I need to do physical postures to be a Yogi?
A: Your need of doing physical postures depend on your sense of well-being and self-connection – it is personal. As I have mentioned earlier, physical posture practice was a minor part of one of the many orientations of Yoga (i.e Tantric-Hatha orientation). Yogic tradition per se does not insist on physical posture practice. But, I deeply believe that modern humans can truly benefit from a right physical posture practice (Asana) and correct breathing techniques (Pranayama). A steady, patient and sincere practice of Asana and Pranayama will only bring about an improved sense of well-being and a calmer mind to the stressed, busy and chair bound contemporary Yoga practitioner.
Q: Then what do I need to practice Yoga?
A: You need a general sense of wellbeing (Svasthya), faith in Yoga (Shraddha), sincerity towards your practice (Sadhana), dedication towards the spiritual guide (Samarpan) and a keen sense of discerned detachment (Vairagya).
Q: What is the goal of Yoga?
A: The goal of Yogic practices is to first bring about a steady state of regulated, peaceful mind which then leads to realisation of the True-Self within (Atmajnana). The end goal of Yoga is Atmajnana, realizational understanding of the True-Self within.
We all, knowingly or unknowingly, are searching for lasting peace and happiness in our lives. The instinct of finding peace and happiness is inherent in all sentient beings, we humans are no different. I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy and peaceful, right?
Just as this search for lasting happiness is inherent to us all, the actual state of lasting happiness is also inherent to all of us. That happiness that we are looking for is at the core of our existence, the core that is understood as the ‘spirit’ (atma). The atma is the base, the ‘Being’ within the human form. It is as fundamental to our existence as an apple is to an apple pie. If this happiness weren’t so fundamental to our existence, we all wouldn’t be looking for it. Instead, we would be willingly looking for other things like sorrow and suffering. But we don’t do that because sorrow, suffering, dejection, depression and limitation are not core to our fundamental nature.
If this search for happiness is so basic to our existence where does one go looking for it?
Well, it is not difficult to find happiness these days, especially when sensory stimulation and excitement is viewed as happiness. Eating a sumptuous meal, watching a favorite movie with loved ones or even getting more than expected ‘likes’ on your Facebook post can give happiness. In all fairness, such experiences of happiness are valid but it is seen that they do not last, prompting an urge to repeat or duplicate those experiences. Life then becomes a constant pursuit of seeking excitement and even a moment’s pause generates a wave of anxiety of missing out on happiness that is somewhere out there.
The search for happiness can venture in two directions, finding happiness outwardly, known as Bhoga and/or finding happiness inwardly, known as Yoga. When one stops looking for happiness and peace that is derived from external sources and focuses the search inward, it is then that one truly starts practicing Yoga and becomes a Yogi.
The modern discourse on Yoga is fractured into two. Yoga is either seen as a practice of becoming physically fit by doing some physical movements or Yoga is considered as a practice of breath work and relaxation leading to meditation. Though both these views are correct in themselves, yet they do not individually convey the entirety of what Yoga truly is. Especially, keeping in mind the overemphasis that modern Yoga lays on physical practice it has become more than important to set the discourse straight in relation to what Yoga truly is in its traditional, broader sense.
Yoga is not entirely a physical or relaxation practice but an extensive philosophy and methodology of orienting life to become the best that one can be. This “best” as understood in traditional Yogic understanding is not a stage (out there) of being highest-strongest-fastest-longest but a state (in here) of undisturbed peace and happiness which is reached through dedicated self-work and letting go off all that opposes inner peace. The nature of this state is undisturbed inner calm, self-empowerment and a broader perception of the self and the world.
The positive assurance of Yoga is that the state of inner happiness is not something that we gain from outside but is the very core of our Being that one discovers by practicing Yoga. We are all, in the heart of our hearts, Love, Freedom and Peace, this being the promise of Yoga.
The journey of Yoga is our voyage through stormy seas of life to discover an inner island of peace and calm. This voyage is guided by the light house of steady practice and faith only to come home to the island of True Self that thrives as a sanctuary of lasting peace and happiness.
As the Bhagavad Gita says, Yoga is a journey of the self into the self by the self. It’s the process of discovering the best that you are. The product of this process is starkly different to what goes into the process at the start. Like the larva that becomes a butterfly is the same individual, yet is completely different in its shape, size, color and capability, the journey of Yoga too metamorphosizes a new you out of you.
This metamorphosis requires hard work, focused attention, faith and divine grace. Like the hungry larva that eats many times its body weight, the practicing Yogi too has to consume spiritual nutrition from the right sources. Like the larva that becomes still to allow the process to work internally, the practicing Yogi too has to cut down on external distractions and become still within. Like the transformed larva that uses its own inner strength to tear down the bondage that it had spun around itself, the practicing Yogi too has to be strong and knock down all the tendencies that keep her limited.
Such is the process of Yogic metamorphosis. Are you ready to be centered and still? Are you ready to tear away what you are not? Are you ready to open your wings and fly? Are you ready to give up your cocoon and know you are a butterfly?
Don’t let your ideas stop your journey. Don’t let your fears stop your discovery. Don’t let your mistakes deter you because the only way out is through. Your limitations are not the end, they are the challenges you have to transcend. With wings of Faith prepare to Fly. Give up the cocoon and know you are a Butterfly...
So, what does it take to be a Yoga Teacher ?
– Knowledge of anatomy ?
– Expertise at headstand ?
– Hyper-flexibility ?
– Yoga Alliance accredition ?
– Repeated visits to India ?
What if I said none of the above ?
Yes, the points in the list are optional but not core to becoming a Yoga Teacher. They are the feathers in a cap, but the cap per se is made of something completely different.
To become a Yoga Teacher one must know how to be a Yoga Student. The Yoga Student has to have some essential qualities, which have nothing to do with the list above. A true Yoga Student is,
– Sincerely Disciplined & Committed to Sadhana.
– Never doubts the process of Yoga.
– Is humble, considerate and energetic.
– Understands Yoga as a pursuit of Self mastery and not Asana.
– Honours the culture and living tradition of Yoga.
Only when the Yoga Student has a well rounded approach to the process and practice of Yoga he/she can be an efficient channel of transmission and inspiration. .
A Yoga Teacher then is nothing but a living inspiration, a reflection of what the practice and faith has become.
Do You, as a Yoga Teacher see yourself as a Yoga Student ?
The middle age of Indian spiritual thought was a truly a remarkable time and can surely be called the beginning of a golden age. This was the dawn of age of Saints (Sant Parampara). These Saints, backed by their own Self-realization, fearlessness, equal vision, compassion and missionary zeal have contributed much more towards guarding and transforming the society than the politicians, governments and monarchs of the last 1000 odd years. They brought in a fresh paradigm that shook the basis of rotting Indian society infected by religious bigotry, strong Brahminical authoritarianism, caste system, gender inequality, oppression of the poor, slavery and spiritual hedonism.
The sole credit of planting the seed of this oak of apostles goes to Guru Gorakhnath. Gorakhnath, through his inner radiance, fullness of heart and unending zeal has managed to leave a mark on Indian spiritual thought and inspire spiritual revolutionaries over last millennia like no other mystic. Gorakhnath and his Natha lineage (Natha Sampradaya) has not only left its mark on Indian society at large but also greatly influenced the spiritual thought, methods and orientations of mystics, saints and spiritual traditions spanning the entire Indian sub-continent. From Kabir to Nanak, Meerabai to Muktabai, Dadu to Dnyanadev and from Baudhas to Jainas, the reach of his thought and depth of his influence on other spiritual traditions of India and the world is awe-inspiring.
Who was Gorakhnath?
Gorakhnath was a leading exponent of the spiritual order of Yogis known as the Natha Yogis. In fact, he is the main propagator and organizer of the order of Yogis that mainly practice Hatha Yoga. No one has yet been able to exactly pin point his place of birth (origin) but stories about his birth in various regions of India not only show his popularity but also demonstrate how his Light has made a home in people’s hearts. Some sources suggest He was born in Nepal, some suggest He was born on the banks of river Godavari, Bengal, Punjab, Nasik, Kutch, Odisha while some scholars mention that Gorakhnath is born in every Yuga (eon) in different places.
Scholars have a slightly better idea about his time though, hence, Gorakhnath is said to have been around during the 11th century A.D and was the primary disciple of Maha Yogi Matsyendranath. He is said to be the incarnation of Lord Shiva. Because of his mystique, charm and spiritual prowess he is traditionally known to be “Jyoti Swarup” or manifestation of “Divine Light” itself.
Even though the origins of Gorakhnath are shrouded in mystery the reference of his birth and work is expressed extensively through stories and narratives in popular local literature like Nathaleelamrut, Navnaath Bhaktisaar and Siddhacharitra of Shripatinath. His name and activities have also been mentioned in the Puranic literature like Skandapurana, Naradapurana, in the Tibetan Tantric list of Siddhas and in mainstream Shaiva Tantric literature like Kaulavalitantra, Shyamarahasya and Sudhakarachandrika. Beyond the popular narratives, most academic scholars believe that Gorakhnath was born in a pious Brahmin family. According to the scholar and researcher Mohan Singh, Gorakhnath was an illegitimate child of Hindu woman. Gorakhnath is described as a handsome youth with awe-inspiring radiance, who was intelligent, well versed in scriptures, creatively brilliant, musically talented, super powerful, morally disciplined, purposefully focused, totally detached from sense pleasures, devoted to his Guru and compassionate towards the wellbeing of others.
Gorakhnath, through his wisdom, compassion and spiritual might managed to bring home the message of inner divinity not just amongst sections of Yogi monks but also into the minds and hearts of the laypeople. He was a powerful organizer and established monasteries and study centers across Indian sub-continent. His reform work spanned across the length and breadth of India, Nepal stretching upto the boundaries of regions that now fall in the vicinity of Afghanistan. His is a living tradition because his teachings have been translated and disseminated through widely available literature, stories, poems, prose, songs and a thriving saint tradition that has kept his message extant in the hearts and minds of Indian people. Sadly enough, vast amount of literary works ascribed to Gorakhnath and his life that are available in Sanskrit, Prakrit and other local Indian languages have hardly been translated in English and that’s why the awareness of Gorakhnath and his work in the West, especially in the main stream modern Yoga culture is minimal.
Gorakhnath through his writings exclaimed his philosophical premise in a well-defined manner. Some of the books that he is said to have authored are, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, Mahartha Manjari, Yoga Bija, Yoga Martanda, Goraksha Paddhati and Goraksha Samhita. Gorakhnath may not have actually written these books himself but the books may have been ascribed to him by later authors. Whoever the author may be, it is evident that the philosophical thread is common amongst all these scriptures and in line with the core teachings of the Nathas, especially Gorakhnath himself. Even a brief glance through scriptures like Mahartha Manjari and Amaraughashasana indicates Gorakhanth’s astute scholarship based on personal experience of Self Realization.
Saint Dnyaneshwar, a great Yogi himself describes Gorakhnath with two adjectives, “Yogabjinisarovar” and “Vishayvidhvansekveera”. A close look at these two adjectives can gives us more detail on Gorkahnath’s spiritual work. [Source: Dnyaneshwari chapter 18]
By the 10-11th Century the influence of occult leftist Tantra on Indian spiritual systems reached its helm. Even though this influence was percolating into the fabric of Indian spiritual thought since the 6th Century, by the 11th century it reached its peak. The spiritual fabric was being dominated by diverse sects like Tantric Baudha, Shakta, Kapalika, especially the ones that advocated the Pancha-Makara method of using and indulging in wine, fish, meat and sexual intercourse as a method of spiritual liberation. Yogic principles based on realizing the True-Self by cleansing the mind, sense control, detachment and devotion were replaced by perverse techniques that advocated overt body cultivation, alchemy, black magic, sacrificial killings and sexually hedonistic practices that were far away from the basic Yogic premise of transcending the senses and moving towards the inner Truth. The purity of Vedic injunction was also under attack. One can say that the Indian society at that time was torn between the dogmatic caste system dominated by Brahmins who kept spirituality only for the chosen few and the free for all hedonistic, leftist Tantric cults that advocated sensual extremism and outwardly indulgent practices. Apart from this the influence of Islam due to constant attacks from the West by the Moughals since 9th century had started throwing the social fabric off balance. Bloody wars, forceful conversion, attacks on pilgrimage places, fundamentalism and looting had become a regular occurring.
Against such a background Gorakhnath took it on himself to purify and bring together best of both, Yogic and Tantric systems by weeding out the influence of externally oriented, object-based practices and re-establishing an inwardly directed, experience based spiritual path. This is why, Gorakhnath as a revolutionary mystic is known as “Vishayavidhvansekveera” which means the courageous one who destroyed objectification and “Yogabjiisarovar” means the original source stream of Yoga. Thus, Gorakhnath and his lineage’s contribution to the Indian and global spiritual thought is no less than revolutionary.
1) Excerpts from the treatise “Swanubhavdinkar” of Dinkar Swami who was a disciple of Swami Ramdas of the 17th century. Even though this writing is 500 years post the age that we are talking about yet one can see that even then the left hand Tantric influence was still around.
2) Lilacharitra – Mahim Bhat (Mahanubhav Panth)
3) SiddhaSiddhanta Paddhati and other works of Natha Yogis – Dr. Kalyani Malik.
4) Dnyaneshwari – Sant Dnyaneshwar
“Looking at the way Yoga has been embraced by the world in the last decade or so, one can safely say that Yoga has arrived. Modern world has definitely realized the benefits of Yoga. Yoga is here and here to stay.”
(Click the image to view a larger version)
The following is a translation of the article published in Yoga Magazine of Denmark in December 2014.
Looking at the way Yoga has been embraced by the world in the last decade or so, one can safely say that Yoga has arrived. Modern world has definitely realized the benefits of Yoga. Yoga is here and here to stay. But, when we think of Yoga, immediately an image of a bendy person doing some sort of a body contortion comes to our mind. Modern world has been presented the idea of Yoga as physical exercise. Is Yoga only about stretching muscles and moving into seemingly elastic body manipulations? In this article, let us try to understand Yoga as something more than just a “class” and open ourselves to the deeper understanding of the holistic, life transforming benefits of Yoga.
Traditionally, Yoga is understood as “Moksha Shastra” or the science of liberation. Moksha commonly means “liberation”, but one needs to understand Moksha in its deeper sense. Moksha, is not any mundane liberation but is the fundamental liberation from our erroneous perceptions of ourselves. In its original sense, Yoga is the science of total mind-body transformation that releases us from the limiting perception and experience of ourselves and the world. It would not be wrong to call Yoga the philosophy and technique of correcting our own understanding and experience of ourselves.
But, is there a need for such liberation? I mean, ask yourself, how many times have we decided to do something only to be stopped by self-doubt. How many times have we vouched to be calm only to be disturbed by a wave of anger that seemingly comes out of nowhere. How many times have we suffered under bouts of repeated self-denial, guilt, regret and “poor me” syndrome. These issues have an effect on our body, posture, breath, relationships and life in turn. Yoga is a holistic science that includes all aspects of our life. Practicing Yoga in its entirety and not just as postures eases the pressures of the physical-mental (psycho-somatic) ups and downs generating a lasting sense of peace.
The Rishis or the spiritual scientists of ancient India realized that we humans do not really live with total efficiency and effectiveness. Our day to day life is compromised by limiting psycho-somatic tendencies that restrict our thoughts and actions. Once these limiting factors are transformed and eventually over powered we can live as something very profound and peaceful that we all are. This “something very profound” is known as the True Self (Atman/Shiva in philosophical sense). Simply put, the True Self can be understood as our human potential operating in an unrestricted, optimized, peaceful and loving manner. Liberation from limiting psycho-somatic tendencies that restricts our optimum potential is known as Moksha and the set of practices that help us in facilitating the liberation is called Yoga.
Thus, Yoga is much wider than a mere practice of physical contortions (asana). It is a way of living consciously, working on our limitations and allowing life to unfold the optimum potential within us all. Yoga is not just about physical exercise or a class but it is living a life of conscious transformation. Let us look at some ways in which we can consciously practice Yoga in its holistic sense and make Yoga a self-transformation process.
The process of Yoga: The objective of Yoga is to refine the body-mind complex. Since between mind and body the variable of body is grosser, more physical, we start the transformation process with the body. Yoga essentially believes that mind and body are two sides of the same coin. The body is gross of mind and mind is the subtle of the body. Whatever effects the mind will have its effect on the body and vice versa. This is why we start the transformation process via the body as it is more accessible of the two. The physical posture (asana) practice is just one part of the Yoga process.
Why do we do asana in Yoga: Traditional Yoga schools did not look at asana as flexibility training but as a method of generating self-awareness and energy alignment. Deepening of self-awareness is facilitated by making the asana practice more conscious and mindful. Such conscious, inward focus is cultivated by focusing the awareness on body sensations, breath, emotional sensitivity and through visualizations. A mindful asana practice generates self-awareness and mental stillness, bringing the mind and its movements under observation and a fairly conscious grasp. This is when the deeper work of refining the mind and emotions can start. Thus, a gentle, mindful asana practice can, over a period of time, generate increased self-awareness and slow down the restless mind which is usually responsible for stress, exhaustions and a number of mind-body ailments. A life lived with self-awareness makes the practitioner feel more alive, participative and integrated in the process of life.
Breath is the key: According to yoga scriptures, mind and breath are closely linked. It is said that the mind rides on the horse of breath. When the mind is relaxed, the breath is balanced and effortless. When the mind is agitated, the breath is imbalanced and effortful. Modern life, with its stress and speed has resulted in a hyperactive, buzzing mind. This hyperactive mind keeps us in an excitatory state which leads to a fast, shallow and confused respiratory rhythm. Such respiratory rhythm in turn leads to an agitated mind. This is how the cycle goes on, unnoticed for our whole life.
The technique of breath modulation is called Pranayama and is very useful to calm down the mind. Pranayama has not caught up with the modern Yoga enthusiasts as much as asana. Yet, one cannot rule out its importance. In fact a regular practice of Pranayama has shown to generate a sense of wellbeing, cultivate deep relaxation and increase lung capacity. But the most important benefit of Pranayama is that it makes us more aware of ourselves. It literally creates more space between two moments and allows us to consciously exercise the “choice” that we all have and that every moment encloses within itself. Pranayama practice in Yoga is a slow, gentle practice that makes us more conscious of our breathing which is otherwise usually automatic. When a person is conscious of the breath and is able to modulate it in the right time, the automatic, impulsive thoughts can be reined in. In times of conflict, when the mind and speech fires like a machine gun, one, single conscious breath can create space and give us the moment to choose our action carefully. When choice is exercised in such a way, escalation of conflicts and worries can be avoided. Sometimes all you need to create peace in life is conscious awareness and one relaxed breath. Gradually every single breath, taken consciously, calms down the mind and promotes a reflective life rather than a reactive life.
Relaxation: Yoga practices like Shavasana, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and Meditation can provide innumerable relaxation benefits. Modern society needs to learn to relax. It is with a sense of urgency that we all ought to understand our mind-body system’s vital need for relaxation. Relaxation, not in the sense of getting enough sleep or resting on a sofa, rather, relaxation emerging from a deep knowing that there is no hurry, there is no need to prove anything to anyone and that it will all be fine eventually. Many of us complain of tiredness, exhaustion and mental fatigue compromising our efficiency. Unless we take the time to relax, our lives will continue to be driven by pursuits that lead to nothing but increased nervous exhaustion. One of the best ways of relaxing is a general slowing down of activities through the day. Unless we slow down, we are too caught up in life’s pace to even know where we are going. Slowing down give us the chance to pause, reflect, prioritize and channel our energies towards the desired goals. Involving more relaxation methodologies in the Yoga practice can create lasting peace of mind that can allow us to reflect on our life and take appropriate steps to slow down life’s pace, enjoy the moment and cherish small joys of life.
Faith and Patience: Last but not the least, each one of us who has been preoccupied with the external world has to one day sit up and take notice of the inner voice. This inner voice is nothing but a deeper, innate instinct of self-refinement (transformation). It is that impulse which is programmed to set us free. Listening to the inner voice will drive us safely and clearly towards self-refinement. Self-refinement happens through patiently experimenting with methods of Yoga and experiencing life consciously and totally. Experimenting means exploring new possibilities and to explore new possibilities we need to be fearless, fearless enough to objectively examine our self and to ascertain what to let go off and what to hold on to. One cannot expect the benefits of Yoga if one is not ready to invest in dedicated and diligent Sadhana (self-practice). Process of Yoga is not merely a pursuit of fitness but a process of enlivening a steady state of peace and contentment. This process of self-transformation is gradual and many a times challenging. But with patience, determination and trust we all can reach the peak of peace and true potential that Yoga promises.
When a student, who had heard of the foundational history of Hatha Yoga from me, was told in a Teacher Training course that Hatha Yoga was created by smoking sadhus who stand on their heads, I felt it was time to write this blog. Perhaps the modern Yogis could dedicated a little more time to Faith instead of Fascia, Humility instead of Handstand, Bhakti instead of Backbends ?
When a student, who had heard of the foundational history of Hatha Yoga from me, was told in a Teacher Training course that Hatha Yoga was created by smoking sadhus who stand on their heads, I felt it was time to write this blog.
Over the years I have seen some creatively flamboyant “free for alls” written under the topic of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a gentle “class” for beginners. Hatha Yoga is a “soft practice” for physically challenged. Hatha Yoga is a “style” of easy physical postures. A system of physical postures founded by Sage Patanjali et al, are just some of the baseless arguments I have heard and seen in the Yoga world over the last decade.
This blog, though not exhaustive, is a short write up to clarify a few things about traditional Hatha Yoga, its origins and its founders.
To start with, Hatha Yoga is NOT just a system of physical manipulations (exercises) but is a extensive spiritual philosophy (which includes practices) based in the quintessential fundamental of spiritual liberation. It is a moksha shastra itself, the science of fundamental liberation.
Hatha Yoga as a spiritual path came to the forefront around the 9th Cent. A.D. Note: I have mentioned “came to the fore front” and have not used the word “originated,” or “founded”. (I will give the reasons for this in another blog)
The word “Hatha” has been ambiguously translated in modern English translations as “forceful”. Even though the word Hatha (pronounced as Huth) in English is translated as “forceful” it should not be viewed as effortful and compelled. In fact none of the traditional Hatha Yoga scriptures have even a single line in them that suggests that the Hatha yoga path is forceful. The word “Hatha” is never used in Hatha Yoga texts to refer to violent means or forceful effort. In fact, Hatha Pradipika warns the Yogic practitioner against being impatient and forceful. The word actually means and conveys strong determination, directed will and intense self effort in order to facilitate the mergence (samarasa) of Individual and Universal consciousness. Even today, in many local Indian languages, when a child throws a tantrum he is said to be doing “Hatha/Huth“. Thus, it does not convey pain but signifies intense longing. Hatha also has another meaning, a metaphysical one. Hatha is the result of the union of two syllables “Ha” which signifies the solar energy and “Tha” which signifies the lunar energy. The Sun is known by the syllable “Ha” and the moon by the syllable “Tha”, the active and passive energies of our Being.
Owing to the union of the sun and moon, Hathayoga is named thus. – Yoga Bija
The meaning of Ha-Tha is the union of two spiritual energetic forces which are the constituents of our materialized Being. The name itself makes one aware of the goal of Hatha Yoga. The ordinary human appears to be imprisoned in the complex of psycho spiritual embodiment, limited by the dualities of life. The goal of Hatha Yoga is to see (experience) the unity in diversity, the essential One-ness in the duality and to manifest the union of Jiva and Shiva. Thus, Hatha Yoga is neither a “class,” a “style,” nor a “sequence” of asanas, it is an extensive science of spiritual liberation.
The founder of this system is Mahayogi Matsyendranath who received the doctrine of Hatha Yoga from Lord Shiva himself. Matsyendranath passed on the doctrine to his disciple Mahayogi Gorakhnath (Gorakshanath). Gorakhnath is instrumental in propagation of Hatha Yoga science in the recent times. Just as Ramakrishna had Vivekananda, Yukteshwar had Yogananada in the same fashion Matsyendra found in Gorakh the spirit, motivation, devotion and faith to bring Hatha Yoga to the masses. Lord Shiva is considered to be the source of both, Hatha Vidya (Wisdom of Hatha) and Natha lineage. He is invoked as Adinatha (Primordial Lord). Guru Dattatreya is considered as the facilitator who blessed Matsyendra and Gorakh as they went about awakening the masses with this venerable psycho-spiritual science.
The founders of Hatha Yoga science through the lineage of Adinath (Shiva), Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath are known as Nathas. The word Natha has two primary meanings. First, Natha means Na+Atha, the one which is beginning-less, unborn and primal. In this sense Natha means the immortal principle of Shiva consciousness. It is the lineage and teaching inspired by the One who is the beginning less. So in this sense, the teachings of Hatha Yoga too are beginning less and immortal. Secondly, Natha also means the protector, nurturer and care taker. Shiva is called Adinath the Primal Lord and his followers who spread the wisdom of Hatha Yoga are called the Natha Yogis. Since Natha means protector or nurturer, the path of Hatha Yoga propagated by the Nathas also assures protection and nurturing of those who can offer dedication, surrender and devotion to the path. This is why Yogi Svatmarama mentions in Hatha Pradipika “Hatha is the monastery for those who are afflicted by unlimited suffering and for those who are engaged in different Yogas, Hatha is a supporting tortoise”- HYP 1:10.
Traditionally, the lineage of Hatha Yoga propagators is called Natha Sampradaya. Amongst all the Nathas there are 9 who are considered primary inspirations. They are popularly known as Nav-Nathas (nine Nathas). Their names are, Matsyendranath, Gorakhnath, Jaladarinath, Kanifnath, Charpatanath, Nagnath, Bhartrharinath, Revannath and Gahininath. (In some regions of India, depending on the inspirations, few names are interchanged)
The Yoga Siddhas of Natha Tradition are [Note: I have not used the word were] adepts who have reached the heights of spiritual evolution. They have verily become the Absolute Truth and shine forth in the union of Divine purity. They have and they do inspire us by their own spiritual grandeur and love. The main contribution of Natha Siddhas towards humanity is their very presence in the world, among the people beyond class, creed and gender. The main message and purpose of the Nathas is to guide humanity to revolt against the limitedness of mind-body complex. As one scripture says, “Yogis in diverse guises, intent on welfare of humanity, walk on the earth, unrecognized by others” – Kularnava Tantra – 9:66.
Humanity lurks in bondage and thrives in the notion that life is suffering, the Nathas toiled hard to awaken us to work against this mindset. Saint Dnyaneshwarnath in his beautiful contribution Dnyaneshwari says “Pinde Pindacha Grasu, to ha Natha sanketicha Danshu” means “Using the body itself to devour the ego of the body is the main principle and teaching of Natha Yogis”.
Nathas have been inspirational in bringing social change over the millennia across India and the world. The Natha Siddhas themselves are at a transcendental stage which is beyond the limited understanding of our human mind. But through Bhakti (devotion), dedication and Sadhana (practice) one can access them by being the message itself. Because of their compassion for all, they manifest again and again amongst us. It is because of such selfless liberated souls and their inspiring work that the fabric of human society is maintained. When the Indian society was suffocating under the dominance of caste-ism, foreign oppressions and social evils it was the Nathas that went from village to village resurrecting the masses to awaken to their true freedom. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to awaken ourselves and awaken others. The work of the Nathas is for the greater good of all.
Every human, somewhere deep within, feels the urge of transcending bondage and suffering. But by the axe of societal concepts, cultural presuppositions and peer pressure this urge is prematurely killed. The Nathas tapped into this inner urge of the masses by preaching the equation Jiva = Shivain the local language of the villagers through songs, poetry and many a times even by awakening a spirit of awe and motivation by using their spiritual powers (siddhis) to convince the people that everyone is capable of tapping into the heights of their own spiritual potential. Since the purpose of Natha Siddhas was raising the masses they did not get involved in academic controversies, philosophical debates and metaphysical duels (as was popular during that time) to establish their rationale amongst the people. They were not interested in establishing any particular dogma, in fact their work was to release the people from accepted dogmas which were eating the society from within. Their work was to raise faith in the One all mighty which is beyond religion and dogma. In traditional Hatha Yoga and the teachings of Nathas there are no limitations based on caste, creed or gender. Everyone is considered to have the same universal potential within and everyone is inspired to reach it and this is why I deeply feel Hatha Yoga is the path for today’s day and age.
I feel modern yoga world should seek to understand the expansive perspective of traditional Hatha Yoga and approach it with humility and surrender. Somewhere I feel the physical bit has been passed on to the west but the heart of Hatha Yoga is still missing to be conveyed. Perhaps the modern Yogis could dedicated a little more time to Faith instead of Fascia, Humility instead of Handstand, Bhakti instead of Backbends ? The Heart of traditional yoga is in humility, surrender, dedication and selfless service. Perhaps its time to step back from the “asanification” of Hatha Yoga and move towards the Heart of this brilliant spiritual science. Adesh!
Many of us have lost our loved ones, especially parents. Others will have to face this eventuality one day or other. Death is the most certain phase and yet the most unaccepted part of our lives.
My primary school mornings used to be spent crying and feeling abandoned when my mother used to leave me in the care of a nanny to go to work. I used to wave bye-bye through the window and come crashing on the bed crying my heart out for the next two hours. Tugging her saree into my chest I would cry till it was time to get ready for my 1 o’ clock school. This was my daily routine for four years.
In 2012, when I was on my European Yoga Tour I received a call from my sister informing me that mom had slipped into coma and her future was uncertain. I flew back to India immediately, straight into the Intensive Critical Care Unit of the hospital and by the side of my mother’s motionless body. The beeping of machines around her bed took my mind back to those years when I used to cry in fear of her leaving me. There I was, now, facing my biggest challenge, the person who I had loved the most ever, my strongest emotional bond was going to leave me….
After a couple of days my mom passed away, the eventual had happened. In fact, she left her body in the morning when I was by her side. I rushed out of the hospital room and cried for 2 hours in the arms of my sisters just the way I used to in primary school. The only difference, in the past I used to cry out of abandonment, this time I cried out of acceptance. In the past I used to cry feeling my mom had left me, this time I cried tears of gratitude knowing she had finished her work here.
I could say I was born in abandonment because as far back as I remember I was afraid of my mother leaving me. That fear of abandonment has nothing to do with my mother, it was my issue since the time I know I exist and it was me who had to resolve it. Around twelve years ago, in one of my silence periods, it dawned upon me how important it was to evaporate this dark cloud once and for all.
The quest began with a question, why is it that we fear our loved ones leaving us, why is it that we look at it as abandonment. Over the years the answer was revealed. We all fear abandonment because we all have abandoned. We all have abandoned the very immortal love that we ARE and this is why we are afraid of losing the love that we HAVE. Losing some one dear to us reminds us of that abandonment, our abandonment of our Self. The fear of losing some one always lurks in the back of our mind. Every other source of love apart from the Self becomes an obsession. When that source is attained, we feel accepted. When that source is taken away, we feel abandoned. The time in between these two experiences is spent fearing and worrying about the obvious. Death is the most certain phase and yet the most unaccepted part of our lives.
Somewhere over life times we have managed to blindfold ourselves and are now complaining of darkness. Somewhere we all are playing hide and seek with our deathless essence. Somewhere we are all busy entertaining guests of the finite while our infinite mother awaits our arrival. Once in a while some of us do experience a glimpse of immortality and infinity but immediately the voices of mind ground us in flesh. The feeling dies before it blooms into an experience. We have forgotten that the experience of our infinity cannot come through pursuing the finite. We keep forgetting that the acceptance of our immortality cannot come through fearing the mortal.
Many of us have lost our loved ones, especially parents. Others will have to face this eventuality one day or other. It is hard, very hard, to lose someone you love. It is disastrous to feel the separation. But I feel this is a lesson, the toughest lesson. All other spiritual lessons are based in this lesson, the lesson of abandonment, the lesson of separation. And just like any other spiritual practice the acceptance of death, the passing of a parent and facing the eventual separation also needs to be worked upon.
Over twelve years I prepared myself just to accept the fact that one day my parents (especially my mom) will not be with me. It is something that you don’t want to happen but know that it will. It is one of the trickiest and most ruthless of acceptances one has to recognize. I am not claiming that my mother’s passing did not affect me, in fact it was not at all an easy journey for me afterwards. But I just want to share a few things here that did reduce the blow of this incident on my life.
What helped me most was to recognize that my mom was an independent Being even before she was my mom. Endless hours spent looking at her comatose body made me realize that even though this Being was in a relationship with me as a mother in this life it had its own flowering to continue. That Being was now ready to go on its next adventure and I had to let it go. Her death would be an end of “my” relationship with “my” mother but beyond the “my” that Being had to move towards a new journey to realize itself through newer forms and relationships. This is where we need to realize death not as a full stop (period) but as a comma, not as an end but as a pregnant pause.
When one accepts the eventual passing of a loved one as a Being and not as a relation it becomes much easier to generate compassion. Our conflict and resentment with others are only in context of relationship, from the context of Being there are no conflicts, there is only compassion. In the pond of compassion the lotus of forgiveness can bloom. And in the blossom of this lotus lies the peace of past. When the past is made peace with, there is no regret, guilt and resentment. When the past is wiped clean the mind does not move into the future to compensate. When memories of past are let go off, the desires of future too are tamed. The pendulum of mind doesn’t oscillate between resentment of past and desires of the future anymore. Gradually, in the context of that relationship one starts staying in the present and in this present is present just one thing and that is love. Relationships end, Love remains and Love is the common denominator of all that is.
If you have aged parents around perhaps it’s time to prepare yourself. Gather all the courage that you have and work towards resolving any conflict that you may have had with them. Work with compassion, look at them more and more as Beings in form of your parents and not just as “your” parents. Allow genuine forgiveness to arise in the heart, seek forgiveness and keep forgiving. It takes time, patience and sheer determination to hold your ground when it comes to forgiveness. Enjoy every bit of opportunity that you get to express your love. Bit by bit close the chapters based on regrets and resentment till the book of that relationship becomes a book of love. This is the time to count your blessings, this is the time to cherish the love, this is the time to feel thankful and appreciate the joy of small things. From the context of Love we are never really separate, from the context of consciousness we are never really abandoned, from the context of Being we never really die. As bodies we die, as Beings we are immortal.With this fact in mind, when the time comes, allow your loved ones to pass on, allow them to move on to the next stage of their journey as spiritual Beings. Let the abandonment turn into acceptance, let the aloneness transform into all-one-ness. Just like you they too are evolving, just like you they too will flower.
This is the way Kundalini rises and our perception of our self and the world becomes broader, broader to such an extent that everything and everyone is experienced not as separation but consolidation.
Our inherent infinite potential (Kundalini) takes the opportunity to manifest its completeness through the body-mind complex by evolving over life times. In fact, this is the very reason why we have a body and a life. In this context, every material body is a vehicle of pure potential and every life is an opportunity to manifest its fullness. The evolution of this potential happens over stages. The stages through which the Being evolves to its full potential are called Chakras.
The chakras are zones of psycho-spiritual energy which our Being is made up of. The word Chakra is translated as “wheel”, but such a translation misleads us into thinking of chakras as “wheel like structures”. Chakras are not wheel like structures rather the word chakra in Sanskrit literally means “something that whirls” and everything that whirls is not a wheel. It is so named because it is supposed to convey a whirling movement of the psycho-spiritual energy. It also conveys a radiating force field, a region (kshetra) and not just a point in our subtle body.
Hatha Yoga says that the stability and/or instability of the energetic field in our subtle body along the chakras consequently manifests in the gross body. The chakras have an influence on energetic as well as physical body because the chakras are essential subtle structures functioning to collect, use, transform and pass on Prana energy. Our material bodies could not exist without them for they serve as gateways for the flow of energy and life into our physical bodies. This is how the subtle energies of our chakras in the subtle body influence the physiology in our material body. In fact, the physical body can be called as manifestation of the psycho-vital body which includes prana flow and chakras. Every chakra corresponds to a specific aspect of human nature, behavior and development. The chakras vibrate at different levels relative to the awareness (consciousness) of the individual and their ability to integrate with life and this is why the “spin” of chakras differ from person to person. In simple terms the chakras can be defined as “the stages through which perception and experience of one’s own self and others evolve”.
Let’s understand the concept of chakras with one simple analogy. Imagine a couple have a baby boy. Just like all parents, the parents of our little boy too want him to grow up and be a healthy and happy adult who can create a life full of possibilities by harnessing his potential. For this purpose the parents facilitate proper education, diverse experiences, safe upbringing and stable support with love and care in the life of the child. This example, which perhaps exists in every household, is a microscopic representation of how Shiva and Shakti as our parents facilitate our growth and evolution towards our full potential. To evolve towards our True Potential is our swadharma, one’s own duty towards oneself in this life.
The little boy starts his journey through life. Schooling and education form an integral part of his life as he grows up. The little child goes to a kindergarten, primary school, high school, college, university and so on to gain the required knowledge and experience to become what he wants (or his parents want!?!). The boy’s growth over many years through his educational life could be likened to our growth as spiritual beings (jivatma) moving through chakra stages. In every stage of the boy’s education he goes through innumerable experiences and experiments with life to gain happiness. In the same way, we as spiritually beings (jivatma) evolve over life time to experience and manifest the full extent of our potential. Some experiences are bitter, some are sweet, but experiences come and they shape our life and existence. There is no doubt that consciously or unconsciously transformation does happen. Just like the boy, we, as spiritual students are admitted to the school of life the moment we are born because our potential (Kundalini) as spiritual beings is limited and not yet fully harnessed. The education of our boy through the six stages of schooling namely, early, primary, secondary, higher, master’s level and doctorate studies could be likened to the evolution of human beings through six stages of chakras in the school of life.
We go through life weaving the warp and weft of mistakes and success to shape our life into a fabric of pure love, permanent freedom and unending bliss. This love, freedom and bliss is the full expanse of our True Potential (Param Shiva). This experience is not a step but the stage from where the Being radiates without the hindrance of any limitation. It is here when the Hatha Yogis say the “Kundalini has united with her Shiva”, meaning, the spiritual being has reached its ultimate pure, true potential. When one starts exploring the bigger dimension of their being by starting to explore the inherent potential (Kundalini), the Kundalini awakens and starts moving through the various levels (chakra). This is called evolution of the Kundalini along the chakras. This is the way Kundalini rises and our perception of our self and the world becomes broader, broader to such an extent that everything and everyone is experienced not as separation but consolidation.
Our life might feel inconsequential but as Beings of light we have the potential to create magnificence. Kundalini is a part of us, rather She is very much us. It is time we stopped looking at Kundalini as some supra natural esoteric force. She is a Goddess, our mother and the potential within us that is programmed to find the way towards its full expression.
The Hatha yogis of past understood the human existence in a deeper way as compared to modern understanding. They understood humans not as mere bag of bones and muscles with some oxygen thrown in but as a much subtler and complex creation. Hatha Yoga understands human beings as consciousness based psycho- spiritual entities in human domain of manifestation. It believes that infinite divine consciousness is constantly and gradually evolving through 840,000 psycho-spiritual domains (yoni). Every domain (life form), from an insect to an elephant is permeated by the same divine consciousness. Human domain is the last stage towards reaching the full bloom of consciousness through a physical body. The human body-mind complex as a domain is most capable of manifesting the divine consciousness, it’s the most conducive vehicle so to say
When we see a tiny little match stick it seems lifeless and impotent. When the same match stick is struck against the right surface a tiny spark emerges that can start a forest fire. Similar is the case with us humans. Our life and existence might sometimes feel inconsequential but as Beings of conscious light in human form we have the potential to create magnificence. The potential to manifest a spark that is inherent in the matchstick is also inherent in humans. Humans too have this very potential of radiance because we are divine light (prakasha), a spark of the divine fire. This potential inherent within us is traditionally called Kundalini or Kundali or Kula Kundali in Hatha Yoga.
Kundalini in Sanskritmeans “coiled”. Kundalini can be defined as the psycho-spiritual potential inherent within us all. It is because of Kundalini that we are conscious. It is this very force that breathes life into material body and it is this force that leaves the matter lifeless when it exits. As the seminal Hatha Yoga scripture, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati says “There is no doubt that the creation and dissolution of the universe results from the proliferation and contraction of the supreme Shakti on account of which she is called the Mulam (the root cause).”
Kundalini is the potential within us that is programmed to find the way towards its full expression resulting in innumerable possibilities. This is why Kundalini is regarded as Shakti, the power within. This inner potential and power is not seen as a lifeless electrical energy current running through the body but a conscious, powerful feminine creative force (chitshakti). It’s a creative force because of its inherent potentiality and it’s this creative nature that gives it its feminine essence. This is why in Hatha Yoga the Kundalini is regarded and respected as a Goddess and not just as energy or force. Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, describes Kundalini as follows, “As Kundalini is the material cause of all beings, She is considered to be supreme”. – SSP 4:15
The base of the spine or the root chakras is the entry of Kundalini in the human domain of consciousness. In some Hatha Yoga scriptures the origin of Kundalini is said to be a part in the subtle body called as Kanda. From the Muladhara along the spinal highway She starts her journey to cross the domain of limited human tendencies in order to realize her infinite divine spontaneity by merging with Shiva (universal consciousness). Gheranda Samhita very eloquently states, “Muladhare Kundalini bhujagakararupini, tatra tishtahi jeevatma pradipkakalikakriti.” In the Muladhara the Kundalini lies in form of a coiled serpent. The innate self dwells there like the flame of a lamp – Gheranda Samhita 5:16
Kundalini is visualized as a three and half coiled dormant snake coiled around the Svayambhu-linga (representation of Shiva) at the base of the spine with the tip of its tail in its mouth. The coils are symbolic of potentiality as in the snake springing up when disturbed. The number three is a representation of three states of awareness and the half is symbolic of transcending those three states, similar to the diagrammatic representation in OM.
Every human has Kundalini, She is the very force of universal potential within the body-mind complex. It may happen that life times may pass without a person even acknowledging the existence of this pure potential within. This is called being “asleep” to your true nature. This is why in Hatha Yoga the Kundalini is represented as a dormant spiritual force (sleeping snake) which the yogi (spiritual aspirant) awakens by his determination and will. The yogi awakens the Kundalini in order to make her unite with Shiva, her consort, where the union signifies full bloom of potentiality. This is also the representation of individual potential merging with the universal potential. Note: The snake is not dead, it is alive but asleep. If it were dead we would be unconscious, inert, jada.
Human domain of consciousness does not mean only one life time in human body. The Being that is present within the human body is here for a purpose. This purpose is to manifest its true potential which is nothing but pure consciousness beyond the limitations of psycho-somatic conditioning. To evolve from the human domain of consciousness and stabilize in the divine may take thousands of life times. Just because we have a body, mind and life does not mean we will automatically transcend to the divine state. It takes firm determination, commitment, trust and surrender to go through the trials and tribulations of limiting tendencies. Hatha yoga is the path of working on the Kundalini in a disciplined, dedicated and devoted manner.
Every individual is infinite potential and innumerable possibilities, in this sense we all are Shiva and Shakti in our true nature. This potential is inherent in us all and lies dormant because of our lack of knowledge and acceptance of our true potential. The Shakti is limited by various factors over lifetimes. Self doubt, mistrust in the bigger scheme of things, nurturing limiting tendencies, disregarding the importance of body and mind are just some factors that halt our experience of full potential. When a seeker acknowledges the existence of the infinite potential within and starts the journey of Self search it is then that the Kundalini awakens and proceeds on her journey to manifest her fullness.
Kundalini is a part of us, rather She is very much us. It is time we stopped looking at Kundalini as some supra natural esoteric force. She is a Goddess, our mother and Hatha Yoga has always described her as a loving nurturing caretaker, protector and guide. Let us hold the hands of our mother and allow her to walk us home.
What would you do if your closest friends turn back on you? What would you do if your own family rejected you? What would you do if your parentage was ridiculed? Just do one thing ….
What would you do if your own closest friends with whom you hang out turn back on you? What would you do if your very own rebuked you? What would you do if your own family rejected you? What would you do if your parentage was ridiculed? What would you do if your own countrymen prosecuted you for being who you were? What would you do if you had to die because of other’s misunderstanding of you? You would do just one thing. You would FORGIVE.
We all have faced rejection in your life. But the life of Christ is one of the biggest examples of rejection in history. It was this rejection that prompted Jesus to remark “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house” – Matthew 13:57. Incidentally these episodes of rejection culminate at the end of Jesus’ mortal life into one of his greatest teaching, the teaching of forgiveness.
Christ proclaimed that without love He was nothing – Corinthians 13:2. Forgiveness is the other side of the coin of Love. Love and forgiveness go hand in hand. The life of Christ shows that the love of God resides in our Being and expresses itself through forgiveness.
Our life is mired by experiences of resentment, episodes of past have the power to stir our present and anger multiplies itself when held in our system. The solution to this chaos which we hold and nurture in our system is forgiveness. Many a times we do not even know that we have the power and capacity to forgive. But the power to forgive is one of the strongest powers we have. This power has the capacity to erase the burden of past. Even Christ aroused the ire of the then religious leaders by openly saying “your sins are forgiven”. Religious dogma had given the power of forgiveness to God alone thus creating generations of slaves, salves who were oppressed by the so called “mediators” of God known as priests. Jesus made people realize that they had this amazing power, the power of forgiveness to make peace with their pasts and not depend on the priests or God to deliver them. This power of forgiveness is not just for forgiving others but also for reconciliation with our selves. We have a habit of holding a lot of self regret and guilt within us which manifest as experiences of self punishment. Remember, we have the power to forgive ourselves too and start anew without the baggage of past.
Jesus Christ’s own life and death was the biggest example of forgiveness. After being rebuked, scourged, ridiculed, spat upon, beaten and cruelly crucified, Jesus still had the capacity and resilience to forgive those who subjected him to such heinous treatment. The immortal words “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” still guide many to work on forgiveness.
Jesus did not preach about forgiveness as an extension of guilt but as a tool of reconciliation and union. He cites a case in Gospel of Matthew asking his disciples to first reconcile the differences with near and dear ones and only then offer their gifts at the altar. Forgiveness heals deep wounds and as we know some deeper wounds need more medication, more patience and more time to heal. Forgiveness is not a one off act but rather a process, a process that takes time to heal deeper wounds of resentment. This is why, when asked by Peter about how often should he forgive, Jesus sternly replies by saying “not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times” – Matthew 18:21.
Forgiveness is empowering not only for oneself but also for other. When you forgive the other the karmic bond binding the two is loosened. Even though realization of the need to forgive is in hands of the other person your actions of forgiving can ease the strained karmic bond. Imagine if you were handcuffed to some other person (karmic bond) and you happen to discover the key (forgiveness) to unlock your end of the handcuff. You use the key and unlock your end. By doing this you are not just setting yourself free but also freeing the other person involved in the bondage. This is how forgiveness is empowering to both the parties. The one who realizes the importance of forgiveness first should start without waiting for the other to forgive.
If you, somewhere in the corner of your mind feel a need to forgive and even ask for forgiveness be brave and do it. Let this Christmas be the start of our reconciliation process with those who we hold grudges against. Let us forgive, forgive lovingly, forgive openly, forgive others and above all forgive ourselves.