Its time to get back to the Heart of Hatha Yoga.

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 = Shiva in 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!

Mahayogi Gorakhnath
Mahayogi Gorakhnath

 

The Death of my Mother

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.

..with my mom in Varanasi, her last pilgrimage.
..with my mom in Varanasi, her last pilgrimage.

Chakras Demystified – A Hatha Yoga view

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.

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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.

Panchaklesha – Afflictions

avidyasmita-raga-dveshabhinivesha-klesha

– Patanjali Yoga Sutra ch 2 verse 3

Imagine if we had a list of variables that cause us suffering wouldn’t it be good to just work on each of these obstacles and get rid of them to make our lives smooth flow?

Patanjali in his yoga sutra gives us a list of such causes that can be worked upon. Once the aspirant gets rid of the causes of suffering he/she starts identifying with the “atman”-The self. This self is pure and infinite, it is love, existence and knowledge in itself. Once the aspirant knows the Self nothing else is desired.

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Yoga – Beyond the Mat

Yoga rightly called as the “Sanatana”- eternal has come a long way. Ever along its journey the substance of Yoga has been well preserved and fortified by the experiences of the Rishis, mystics and sadhaks (students). We are seeing a revival of Yoga in today’s age. Millions of us are taking up “yoga”. Yoga is in the magazines, on T.V, in Hollywood and everywhere it can possibly be. But is it really penetrating “Inside” us? We “do” Yoga but do we really “practice” it?

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