By Steve Brandon.
It is often perceived that Hatha Yoga (asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha) and Raja Yoga (mental transformation and enlightenment that follows on from Hatha Yoga) are somehow separate, or even conflicting, approaches to Yoga.
This erroneous perception can lead to an unbalanced personal practice because we have not integrated all the aspects of our being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – into it. We also require the correct preparation and orientation in order to attain success in our endeavour. Hatha and Raja Yoga combined provide a comprehensive approach.
Awareness of Raja Yoga informs our Hatha Yoga practice. It gives us a compass bearing, a direction and purpose to our practice. Hatha Yoga puts us in the right state, physically, energetically and mentally, to then practice Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga renders us ‘Light of limb and free of disease’ according to the Hathayogapradipika.
The Hathayogapradipika of Svatmarama indicates the interdependent nature of Hatha and Raja Yoga.
Ch1: v.1 I salute the primeval Lord (Siva), who taught (Parvati) the Hathayoga-vidya, which is as a stairway for those who wish to attain the lofty Raja-yoga.
Ch 1: v.2 Svatmarama Yogin, having saluted his Lord and Guru, teaches the Hatha-vidya solely for the attainment of Raja-yoga.
Ch1: v.3 To those who wander in the darkness of conflicting doctrines, being ignorant of Raja-yoga, the most compassionate Svatmarama Yogin offers the light of Hatha-vidya.
Ch 2: v.76 One cannot obtain perfection in Raja-yoga without Hatha-yoga, nor [perfection] in Hatha-yoga without Raja-yoga. So both should be practised till perfection [in Raja-yoga] is obtained.
In Krishnamacharya’s book ‘Yoga Makaranda’ we see the integration of Hatha and Raja-yoga practices and teachings combined towards a common end.
My personal studies with Srivatsa Ramaswami have included the main tools of Hatha-yoga; Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha and Mantra, along with the study of the Yoga Sutras (Raja-yoga) and the practice of meditation with the aim of developing Samyama (mental control).
Our life in manifestation is a combination of body, life-energy (prana) and mind. Hatha Yoga works initially, and with great thoroughness, with asana and pranayama in order to purify the physical and subtle body and regulate the prana. Asana eliminates restlessness from the physical and allows it to hold pranic energy. In our normal state the body is restless and the prana is dissipated and squandered.
The results of Hatha-yoga are beautifully stated by Sri Aurobindo in The Synthesis of Yoga.
‘The body, thus liberated from itself, purified from many of its disorders and irregularities, becomes, partly by Asana, completely by combined Asana and Pranayama, a perfected instrument. It is freed from its ready liability to fatigue: it acquires an immense power of health; its tendencies of decay, age and death are arrested.’
Aurobindo and Krishnamacharya both say that health, vitality and longevity are results of Hatha Yoga practice. These are supports for the goal of Ashtanga Yoga, Samyama. The body is healthy, satvic and able to sit comfortably for long periods. The prana is regulated. The mind will then focus on the chosen object. Maintaining the practice of Hatha Yoga continues the benefits giving the necessary well-being and time to bring the practice of Yoga to fruition.
Learning from a teacher can be very valuable.
During his UK visit last year Srivatsa Ramaswami presented a workshop to 25 students called Hatha and Raja Yoga Practicum based on his studies with Krishnamacharya and his personal practice and experience. This helped students to understand the practice and to try the techniques themselves in an integrated manner.
In May, Ramaswami will be giving a three day workshop on Hathayogapradipika and four days on Yoga Sutras for students who would like to investigate these approaches in more detail. You can find more information and booking details here.
Following on from what he has learnt, Steve has organised a Retreat in Devon during the Summer for those who wish to have an opportunity to practice in a beautiful, peaceful and supportive environment, removed from the pressures of daily life. You can find more information and booking details here.
The Hathayogapradipika of Svatmarama. The Adyar Library and Research Centre.
Yoga Makaranda by Sri T Krishnamacharya
The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo