Yoga is a very popular term in the 21st century. With the growing popularity, the originality of yoga is missing.
People consider it only a physical exercise to maintain a healthy body. To understand yoga as a whole, we need to study some authentic texts on yoga.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika written by Yogi Swatmarama is very well known text. Another text, Goraksha Samhita by Yogi Gorakhnath is an authentic one.
Evidence shows that Hatha yoga is an ancient science born in India as there are large stones carvings depicts yoga practice.
However, the systematic form of hatha yoga began to emerge in India sometime in the 6th century A.D.
In ancient times hatha yoga practice was designed and practiced by great rishis and sages for a higher state of consciousness for evolution of mankind, is being practiced in a limited sense for physical benefits only.
The beginning of Hatha Yoga
During the 6th century A.D., a lot of spiritual evolution had taken place in India.
Two great spiritual personalities, Lord Buddha and Mahavir preached Ahimsa (non-violence) to prepare the mind for the spiritual practice.
Finally, Buddha formulated his teachings which are still known as the “Four Noble Truths”. Vipassana meditation became an essential part of his teachings.
With the popularity of Buddha, meditation became the main form of spiritual practice in India and other countries.
After the period of Buddhist decadence in India, Yogi Matsyndranath and Gorkhnath and a few other yogis realized that the important science of yoga was being ignored by people and being wrongly taught to others so they separated hath yoga from rest of yoga practices.
They picked up the useful, practical and noble practices of yoga from one of the yoga branches, the tantric system.
Later the teachings of Buddha about psychological experiences of human being became necessary and added to hatha yoga.
The Objective Of Hatha Yoga
We are the combination of physical body, mind, and spirit.
To live in balance and peace, it is necessary to purify the body and mind. It is possible through hatha yoga. Hatha Yoga is also known as the science of purification.
The body has to be cleaned in different ways for different impurities of body and mind. After purification, the energy blocks are released.
Then the energy moves like wave frequencies throughout the channels within the physical structure, moving right up to the brain that calms the mind.
The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind, and energy for the entire transformation of a practitioner.
Hatha yoga, the science of purification
One outstanding personality Swami Swatmarama who compiled the text Hatha Yoga Pradipika became popular and authentic text on yoga.
It is a text which illuminates a multitude of physical, mental and spiritual problems for aspirants.
In common with the other text, he has expounded techniques such as asana, pranayama, and shatkarma (six cleansing practices).
Practically it has been observed that practicing Yama and Niyama at first as described in Patanjali’s yoga sutra, a certain quality of mind is needed.
Some people find it difficult as their mind is full of preoccupied thoughts about religion and each aspect of life.
Hence one can begin with asana, working from gross body to mind gradually. Simultaneously he can practice Yama and Niyama.
Importance of Shatkarma (cleansing practices)
While practicing hatha yoga, we observe that the Hatha Yoga system does not worry about self-control and self-discipline in the form of Yama and Niyama.
The order here is very different. One can start the journey from the body.
Therefore shatkarma comes first, i.e. Neti, Dhauti, Basti, Kapalbhati, Trataka, and Nauli.
Hatha yoga begins with these practices.
After purifying the body and mind by Shatkarma, we should practice asana and pranayama.
Self-control and self discipline should start simultaneously. That is easier.
Through this sequence, we can attain discipline and self control as we have no power to wrestle with the mind. If the mind splits intoa different direction, it created physical and mental disturbances.
The great masters of yoga also realised the danger and emphasised first to discipline the body.
They explained all elements of the body, the energy channels should be purified first.
The behaviour of the vital force, the entire nervous system and the various secretions in the body should be properly maintained and harmonised.
After this, one should incorporate mudras and bandhas with asana and pranayama to deepen the awareness that is helpful for meditation.
Hatha yoga for health
Through hatha yoga, first of all, we care of the body and purify it for the purpose of meditation.
Our body functions like a machine produces wastes. These wastes are of three types: mucus, gas and acidity.
If we cleanse our body internally from time to time under the guidance of an expert teacher, the access of these three metabolic products is removed and their function is regulated and balanced.
Then perfect health can be maintained.
For Developing Concentration
Hatha yoga kriyas tend to purify the energy patterns and bring a balance between the forces of mind.
When these patterns are well under control, then the mind can be focussed on one point.
The energy of the mind is channelized into one direction that develops improved concentration.
Concentration is essential for the progress in both the physical and spiritual world. Concentration also leads one to meditation.
Controlling the mind
We always project our mind whatever we do and where ever we go.
Other read the signals our mind always sends. Our mind influences others and we get influence by others as well in the society.
The entire life depends on the management of the mind and its direction.
Our mental peace and harmony in our relationship with others depends on the mind.
But the mind is always full of fluctuations and it is very difficult to stop those fluctuations.
Hatha yoga helps to control the mind by having control on prana, the life force.
Prana and mind influence each other. When the prana is restless, it affects the mind and mind affects the body.
By practising pranayama correctly, the mind is automatically conquered with the help of controlled and expanded breath.
Different practices of pranayama awakens some of the dormant centres in the brain, it soothes the nervous system and lowers the respiratory rate and change the brain wave patterns.
In this way breath is controlled, a mind is controlled and controlled mind opens the higher dimensions of life.
The Therapeutic use
More researches on pranayama which is an important component of hatha yoga practice revealed its physiological and psychological benefits.
Hence people started practising pranayama as a therapy that is one of the most important achievements of hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga has succeeded in overcoming disease like asthma, diabetes and blood pressure where modern science is still researching.
Besides, hatha yoga has proved very effective in case of epilepsy, hysteria, rheumatism and many other ailments of a chronic and constitutional nature.
The psychic and mental diseases from which human beings are suffering are nothing but a state of disharmony in the energy system.
Hatha yoga and pranayama practices bring balance in physical and mental energy, controlling over the total structure of the brain and mind, the controlling system which allows us to direct every aspect of our lives and the energy within that.
Today in the modern world, where man has become mentally or physically sick and medical science is not able to meet the challenge.
Hatha yoga has been helping everybody. But at the same time, we should not forget the broader aspects of hatha yoga. When a patient comes for help, teach him yoga and make him better.
Treat his sickness but do not stop there. Take him further into the spiritual domain of life.
One should not merely feel freedom from disease, but freedom from bondage and wavering tendencies of mind for truly unconditional happiness.