What is Hatha Yoga?
The most popular text on Hatha Yoga is The Hathayogapradipika of Svatmarama. The name Svatmarama means one who delights in communion with his higher self. It indicates that he was a Yogi who was in perpetual samadhi. The author’s name and the opening passages of the text leave no doubt that the goal of Hatha Yoga is a spiritual one.
The primary practice of Hatha Yoga is pranayama. Ha is prana and tha is apana. The union or integration of these two forces is Hatha Yoga. The text describes the procedure for attaining this end.
In Yoga there are five primary aspects of the prana (life force) that regulate all the physical functions.
· prana vayu – heart
· apana vayu – downward force
· vyana vayu – circulation
· udana vayu – upward force
· samana vayu – digestion
After the preliminary preparations, detailed in the text, the practice of asana, pranayama and bandhas are integrated to facilitate the union of prana and apana.
The control of breath and a long exhale and hold, along with the three bandhas must be mastered by the aspirant.
The names of these techniques are:
· bahya kumbhaka – external breath holding
· jalandhara bandha – throat lock
· mula bandha – rectal lock
· uddyana banda – abdominal lock
With these tools in place the precedure goes like this.
The aspirant sits in a Yogic posture. Following a long exhale the mula bandha is engaged which is said to lift the apana. Uddiyana bandha is then engaged uniting the apana with the prana. The integrated prana is now close to the fire in the belly (jatharagni). It is then heated and causes a dormant obstruction (kundalini) to move giving free passage to the prana to enter sushumna, the main nadi (channel) in the spine. Rising up through the chakras (nerve hubs in spinal column). Finally reaching the sahasrara chakra the Yogis say it merges with Siva and gives moksa (freedom).
So for the Hatha Yogi the primary practice is pranayama, to attain the spiritual goal which they call moksha. The liberated Yogi is said to exist in samadhi until they pass away.
Many people today practice Hatha Yoga techniques for the wonderful health benefits that they impart. However, to follow the path described in the classical texts requires a dedicated and sustained effort over a long period of time under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
The Hathayogapradipika of Svatmarama with the commentary of Brahmananda is a useful and well regarded reference work. It is published by The Adyar Library and Research Centre of The Theosophical Society.
Note: Some practitioners say that the awakened kundalini rises up the sushumna. Another interpretation is that kundalini represents a blockage (avidya) which is removed by the practice, allowing the prana to enter the sushumna.