Many great sages and saints throughout the ages expound that direct experience is essential in spiritual practice. Intellectual knowledge only carries us so far. Yoga is skill in action. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, composed in 1350 C.E. by the Nath Yogi Swatmarama, one of the key texts of Hatha Yoga is all about cultivating direct experience. Along with ancient texts such as the Gerhanda-Samhita and the Shiva-Samhita, the HYP serves as a technical manual for the physical practices of yoga. These texts describe techniques for balancing of the body and emotions emphasizing the intention of reaching enlightenment, devotion to a qualified guru and a lineage, shat karma kriyas and Nadam.
Ha is “Sun”. Tha is “Moon”. Pradipika is “that which illumines” or “self-illumined”. Yoga’s root “Yug” means “to connect”. One translation from Sharon Gannon is: “It is the low down on how to link together the forces of the sun and moon, light and dark, masculine and feminine, hot and cold, energetic and mental. In past eras, it has been coined the system that ties the practitioner to a stake until he or she is well cooked.”
Some history of Yoga along with some insight into the perspective of the Nath Yogis and why they introduced this system is valuable. The earlier yogic text, The Yoga Sutra, whose Eight-Limbed system begins with Yama and Niyama or ethical practices was contemporary with and influenced by the Buddha according to some. Because the Nath Yogis believed that introducing ethics and esoteric moral guidelines to the aspirant before the physical body and emotions are brought into a state of balance is dangerous, they chose to emphasize physical practices to prepare for the journey towards Self-realization. They discovered that by purifying the physical body, self-control and self-discipline occur more easily. They found that introducing the practitioner to Yama and Niyama before the physical vehicle is “in tune” often results in a divided mind, confused emotions and personality problems.
How can we overcome our habitual tendencies to react to situations emotionally when we are operating from a vehicle that is out of balance or practically short-circuiting? Let alone effectively practice kindness, compassion or detachment. Like all instruments, the body needs regular maintenance to insure that it is operating at its best. So Swatmarama encourages us to begin by removing avidya to prepare the body to become an instrument for the Divine. Avidya is a case of mistaken identity or “the dirt that clogs the instrument”, obscuring our perceptions of ourselves and reality. Removing avidya raises our vibration, promotes inner harmony and allows us to shine.
The HYP is presented in four chapters which are Asana, Shat Karma and Pranayama, Mudra and Bandha, and Samadhi. The slokas or verses in each chapter offer techniques, benefits and warnings for those entering into sadhana, including dietary and environmental recommendations. Along with the many topics and techniques covered is a wealth of wisdom based on generations of practice, experimentation, observation and self-examination. It is the how, what, why, when, where and with whom of yoga for practitioners seeking Yoga. These time-tested practices offer us a way to become more adaptable and centered in our constantly changing, modern world.
As we nourish balance and brightness within, empathy and compassion grow. Practices of Yama and Niyama root more deeply. Awakening to the truth of the inter-connectedness of life, we are inspired to uplift others and cherish the earth. When we pulsate harmoniously with the pulse of all life, we experience connection. We are OM.