The Practice of Yoga
Part I of II
by Fra.Veos Philosophy
Hatha Yoga is the art of uniting(Yoga) the Sun and the Moon (Ha-Tha). The primary school of thought in Yoga is called the Sankhya Philosophy. Founded by Adi Shankara, the Sankhya school of thought revolves around Shiva and the symbolism of his mythology. Shiva is seen, like in Kashmir Shivaisim, to be Brahman. Brahman is the one undivided God who is in the form of Satchidananda (existence, knowledge and bliss) which is true consciousness in the highest sense. Seeing as how the primary aim of this article is in teaching the practice of Yoga, I will not spend too long on the theory, but some basic understanding of it will nonetheless help the Aspirant in its practice. The religious preference of the Aspirant will also not effect the practice of Yoga very much, but I am presenting Yoga here as it is traditionally taught without the new-age influences that have infected it since it came to the West at the turn of the 20th century with Swami Vivekananda and Paramahamsa Yogananda. As such, all the religious terminology will be Sanskrit words pertaining to the Sankhya philosophy and I will try to define any sanskrit word I use in parenthesis for the reader.
In the Sankhya philosophy, mankind lives in material world trapped in the illusion of Maya. Maya is the “illusion power” cast by Shakti (feminine principle of the universe) which allows us to identify our Self with our physical body and its lower desires. It is the illusion that sensual pleasure brings happiness and indulgence brings wealth. But what keeps us in this Maya? Why do we stay in it? It is Karma. Most people know that Karma is the law of cause and effect. In hindu and yogic philosophy, the soul is seen as being “caught” in a wheel of life, death and reincarnation called Samsara, and it is the glue of Karma which binds us to this wheel. The Yogi strives to reach “Moksha” (liberation) from the fetters of Maya with the practice of Yoga. By the restraint of the mind and desires, the Yogi crosses the ocean of Samsara in the boat of Sadhana (spiritual practice). He becomes a God-Man. He walks in the material world but is not “in” this world or “of” it. He can move without creating Karma. He dissolves his Karma in the fire of Sadhana and in the deepest states of Samadhi (spiritual ecstasy in God-Union). He is called a Jivan-Mukta (liberated soul) while still alive.
The practice of Yoga is the expansion of the individual consciousness (Atman) into God’s consciousness (Purusha or Paratman). This is done primarily in one way: the raising of the Kundalini.Kundalini:
Kundalini is Parvati, Shiva’s consort. She is his Shakti (feminine principle or counter-part) in the form of creative energy and is represented as a snake coiled up at the base of the spine in the Yogi. Through rigorous Sadhana this serpent must be straightened out and forced into the mouth of Sushumna and guided through each chakra on its ascent up the spine into the head. While I could write for much longer and in much more detail about what the Kundalini actually is, that is not the purpose of this article right now. The beginner will discover many things about the essence of the kundalini with good Sadhana. Chakras:
There are 7 psycho-spiritual centers within the human body known as chakras. They are placed along the spinal chord of the person and are traditionally depicted as lotus-flowers of various sizes and colors. In the mundane man, these chakras are considered asleep, and in the Yogi they are considered awake. What is the difference? Each Chakra is Shiva in one of his emanations. Shiva is asleep until awakened by his consort Parvati (Kundalini). When the Kundalini is not awakened by the yogic fire and brought to her lover, then the chakras are considered asleep. When the Kundalini is brought methodically to each chakra through rigorous Sadhana, then the chakras awaken. The chakras do not all awaken at once on most occasions. They are brought into full activity one by one starting with the base of the spine and ascending to the crown of the head. As each chakra awakens, so does another level of the Yogi’s consciousness. He also develops the Siddhis (magickal powers) of each chakra. A description of the Chakras are thus:
1) Muladhara Chakra: This is the seat of the Kundalini, located at the base of the spine at the perineum. It is a four-petalled lotus whose color is red. In the center of the lotus there is the yantra (symbol) of a triangle with its point upwards. In the center of the triangle there is the serpent Kundalini.
2) Svadhistana Chakra: This chakra is located at the region of the sex organ a few finger-widths above the Muladhara chakra. Its color is generally depicted as purple. It is a lotus with 6 petals and contains the sign of an upward crescent moon within the base of the lotus.
3) Manipura Chakra: Located at the region of the Navel. Yellow lotus with 10 petals. Contains downward pointing triangle as symbol.
4) Anahata Chakra: Located at cardiac plexus in the chest-region of the spine. Green colored lotus, but can also be visualized as red. 15 petals with Hexagram in center of lotus.
5) Visshudda Chakra: Located at throat. Blue color lotus with 16 petals. Symbol of crescent moon within a black ring.
6) Ajna Chakra: Last of the 6 Shat Chakras, the Ajna chakra is located at the pineal gland, but its emanation is a psychic center called the Kutashta, which is located in between the two eyebrows. It is a gray lotus with 2 petals and the symbol of OM upon the center of the lotus.
7) Sahasrara Chakra: Generally depicted a few inches above the head, its actual psychic center is located in the Brahmarandhra at the top of the head in the anterior fontanelle just below the skull’s surface. This is Brahman. It is the lotus of a thousand petals, and is pure white. Nadis:
There are 72,000 spiritual “veins” in the body called Nadis. These astral tubes carry prana throughout the body from chakra to chakra. The primary nadis are called the Sushumna, Ida and Pingala Nadis. Ida starts in the left nostril, rises up into the Ajna Chakra and crosses over the center line of the body at this point. It then goes down the right side of the spine until the Anahata Chakra at which point it intersects with the Pingala Nadi and crosses back over to the left side of the spine. It continues to go down until the Kanda, which is a spiritual center just above the Muladhara chakra. At the Kanda it crosses over again and ends in the right testicle. The Pingala starts in the right nostril and does the exact reverse of the Ida, ending in the left testicle. The sushumna runs in a straight line from the perineum at the base of the spine up the spinal chord into the medulla of the brain, at which point it goes up into the pineal glad and further up to the Sahasrara Chakra. This Nadi contains within it a smaller nadi called the Brahma Nadi, which is actually the channel the Kundalini takes up the spine. Prana, Upana and Samana:
There are five different types of Vayus (airs) in the human body. Of these, 3 are the most important. The Prana is the primary spiritual life force of the body. In a mundane man it runs down his spine towards the lower 3 chakras to engage is sensual pleasures. In the Yogi it runs up the spine to the higher chakras to establish Sattvic (holy) mind. It has its base in the Anahata Chakra. The Upana deals with the excretory system of the body. It has its base in the Muladhara chakra. It represents the current of “death” so to say, while Prana represents that of “life”. The Samana is the Gastric fire that deals with digestion and assimilation. It is based in the Manipura chakra. The goal of hatha yoga is to unite the sun with the moon. The prana is the Sun and the Upana the moon. The Samana is the means by which the two are united. This is the goal of hatha yoga: to control the flow of the prana and upana and unite them in the fire of samana. This is done by Asanas and Pranayama. This leads to Pratyahara. End of theory:
That is the very basic theory that is needed for a beginner to able to make sense of the rest of this article. There are of course many things I did not talk about, and what I did talk about I spoke of in very minimal and simplistic terms. PracticeIntroduction to practice:
Thus after some basic theory we start the practical exercises of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is said to have been founded by the Nath Yogis, whose Mahaguru (head guru) is Adi Nath, whose name is Shiva Gorakshanath Babaji, the mahavatar of this age. He is the disciple of Matsyendranath, the founder of the tantra school of Yoga. After Shiva had taught Tantra Yoga to Matsyendranath, he told him that he could have any gift he desired. Matsyendranath asked that he have a disciple greater than himself. As he was the greatest of all Yogis, Shiva himself incarnated as Goraksha Babaji and became Matsyendranath’s disciple. The Nath Yogis are considered the Custodians of Hatha Yoga and Kriya Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is comprised of three angas (limbs): Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara. They are to be mastered in that order, one after another. It is possible to reach the highest of attainments with just Hatha Yoga, because Hatha Yoga in its highest stage results in the complete stopping of the Prana and thus also the thoughts. This is the Chitta Vritti Nirodha (restriction of mind) that Patanjali speaks of as the goal of Yoga. This occurs simultaneously with Sahaja Samadhi, which is the natural state of the human mind before its involution into the world. Raja yoga results naturally from Hatha Yoga, which we will speak about in the next article entitled “Raja Yoga”.
Now comes the question of a guru. Many western people are against the concept of a Guru because they can not humble themselves enough to admit that such a person can exists. While we can spend a great deal of time talking about Guru and the qualities with which to test him by, but ultimately the Guru comes when the student is willing enough. At that time, all previous misconceptions about the guru are destroyed. No spiritual Sadhana (practice) should be done without the guidance of a Guru. However, this is not possible for most people right now. So I will change it: Yoga can be practiced without Guru, but the highest attainable stages of perfection can not be achieved in Yoga without the specific and secret direction of the Guru. People think that everything about Yoga has been published. This could not be more wrong! Only neophyte (aspirant or beginner) things on Yoga have been released. Guru must teach the rest. Sometimes the guru is not physically incarnate, sometimes he his. Regardless, he will always come except for in cases of extreme past-life recapitulation in which the guru is not needed because the secrets of Yoga are remembered by the Yogi. What I will present here is good enough for any one to practice yoga and achieve definite degrees of spiritual evolution and expansion of consciousness.
To finish the introduction, it must be kept in mind that while Hatha yoga can achieve all results, it is generally taught so that the Chela (disciple) can clean the nadis and astral body and awaken the Kundalini so that Raja Yoga can then be pursued. However it is worth mentioning that perfection in Hatha Yoga is the only means of maintaining a physically immortal body according to a certain alchemical formula of the Nath Yogis. Perfection in other Yoga can still allow the physical body to live in relative youth for a few hundred years, such as the case of Trailanga Swami and Old Haidhakan Babaji. Now that I’ve undoubtedly sparked some curiosity, on to the actual practice!
Part I: Asana
Asana is the first task of the Hatha Yogi. How can one meditate or even sit to breath if one can not sit properly in the first place. It is up to the Yogi to decide which Asana to master as his sitting Asana. He is to pick one and only one. It is to be practiced until it can be held for great lengths of time with no discomfort. Once the Asana can be held for 3 ½ hours in one stretch comfortably, he has achieved Asanajaya (Mastery of Asana). This is marked by a very comfortable and enjoyable feeling when the Asana is taken. No discomfort should occur at all. When sitting in the Asana, concentration should be fixed on the physical body. The thoughts should be tamed to always come back to the body when they drift. Contemplate that the body is a statue. In this way it will become rigid and still. The Yogi can also contemplate upon the Naga, the Hindu snake deity who supports the earth. As Naga supports the earth, so does the Asana support the Yogi. It is said by Patanjali in the Yoga sutras that the qualities of the gods can be achieved by meditation on them. Likewise here, we meditate on Naga. Most will contemplate the statue depending on religious preference though. The Sitting Asanas:Padmasana:
By far the most popular Asana. It translates as “lotus pose”. The Yogi sits with his left heel against the hip on the right thigh, with the right heel against the hip on the left thigh. The heels should be high enough so that the strain in the ankles are minimal. At first, most westerners will have a hard time with this pose. You will feel pain in your knees. This is due to inflexibility at the hip joints. There are some exercises to help you gradually reach Padmasana:
1) Put the right heel into the crevice of the left elbow and pull it up infront of the chest. The right arm reaches around the leg and grabs the left hand. This resembles the cradling of an infant, with the infant being the leg. Slowly cradle it left and right so that you feel the stretch in the hips and hamstring muscles. Do the opposite with the left leg.
2) Place the right heel on the left hip in half-padmasana. The right leg should be on top of the left leg. The left leg should be folded in as if sitting cross-legged. Sit with spine completely erect. If the stretch is not felt in hips and thighs, then keep back straight while slowly leaning forward to place the forehead on the ground or against the knees. Make sure that the right leg is flat on top of the left leg. The knee should not be up in the air due to inflexibility. If this occurs, take the right hand and slowly push the right knee down. Do the opposite with the other leg.
3) Take the right heel and put it on the left thigh as in half-padmasana. This time, the left leg should not be directly under the right leg. Instead, the left leg is placed (still bent) slightly in front of the right leg so that the knee of the right leg and be pushed down to the floor without interference from the left leg. This being done, stretch forward and place the forehead against the left heel, which should be a few inches in front of the right knee. Hold this for 20 seconds, or as long as comfortable. Do the opposite with the other leg.
Once steps 1-3 can be done comfortably, then the heels will be able to be placed in full padmasana. At first aim for 20-30 seconds. After a week or so, try to get a few minutes and gradually increase the time according to common sense.
Benefits of Padmasana:
By forcing the lower back straight due to the position of the hip joints, the back can finally become completely straight. Padmasana, when perfected, feels as if the Yogi is sitting upon a throne. It locks in the static electricity caused by intense Sadhana and preserves the Prana. The straightening of the lower back allows the Kundalini to pierce the Brahma Grantha (knot of Brahma) in the Muladhara Chakra. The mind naturally calms in this posture. It allows the yogi to maintain an upright sitting position with no physical effort during deep meditation. This is one of the best postures for the practice of Pranayama and meditation. A householder (one who has not renounced sex or does not intend to) should sit in this Padmasana. Women can sit in it too.
*Padmasana--Taken from Sivananda’s “Kundalini Yoga”*Siddhasana:
The “perfect pose”. This posture is adopted by many yogis, as is Padmasana. This posture is also hard for most people at first, though to some it easier than Padmasana. It is sometimes considered to be the best Asana, even over Padmasana. The Yogi takes the right heel and places it at the base of the perineum. The left leg is placed over the right leg, with the left heel inverted upwards so that it touches and exerts some pressure at the region immediately above the sex organ. This posture requires some ankle flexibility, as well as hip flexibility and hamstring/inner thigh flexibility. Practicing splits while sitting helps the knees to be wide enough apart for this Asana. The hips also have to be rotated forward slightly so that the heel can be inverted. As with Padmasana, some people are naturally good at this Asana and others have to labor a great deal to achieve it. Benefits of Siddhasana:
The right heel, by placing pressure on the perineum, stimulates mulabhanda (root lock) by contraction of the anus and sphincter muscles, which forces the Apana upwards. It also stimulates the Muladhara chakra and Kundalini. The left inverted heel stimulates the Svadhistana Chakra and redirects the flow of sexual energy from downwards into Muladhara to upwards in the Anahata chakra, Visshuddha Chakra and Ajna Chakra. This is the best pose for a Brahmacharya (celibate renunciant). It is not to be practiced by women. The pressure on the perineum and sex organ can cause nerve damage to the reproductive system. The male may loose sexual urges, or at least not be able to indulge in them. This Asana should be saved for those seriously pursuing their Sadhana as a Brahmacharya.
*Siddhasana-Taken from Sivanada’s Kundalini Yoga*Sukhasana:
This is called the “Easy Pose”, and rightly so. In Sukhasana, the Yogi simply sits comfortably with his legs crossed. This is generally better for people who start their practice late in life and can’t achieve Padmasana or Siddhasana. It is also used by Chelas (discples/aspirants) who are doing some spiritual exercises but have not perfected Padma or Siddha Asanas. It has little spiritual benefits outside of being easy to sit in for a beginner.
These are the sitting poses that the Yogi should choose from. There are others, such as vajrasana (rock pose), but they do not provide as good a benefit in Yoga, so they have been omitted here. While the Yogi is working at perfecting Padma or Siddha Asanas, he can practice Sukhasana for his yoga. He should strive hard to perfect one of the two main sitting Asanas before the practice of pranayama. While he is practicing his Asana, it is good to also perform several other key asanas that can be kept in the Yogi’s Sadhana for years or a lifetime. There are three key Asanas, the performance of which will guarantee a flexible body and clean astral body. Three key Asanas:
In the West, a common practice of Yoga is called a “yoga flow” in which the yogi moves from one yogic position to the next, spending only a few seconds on each Asana. This is agreeable to people who can not keep their mind on one point for too long. B.K.S Iyengar and Patabhi Jois teach this system of Asana Yoga. This is not found in the traditional Yogic texts, particularly the two which pertain immensely to Hatha Yoga, being the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Svatmaram and the Goraknath Paddhati by Shiva Goraksha Babaji. It is declared in the scriptures that the Yogi must endeavor to hold the Asana for a great deal of time, employing the proper breathing techniques and visualizations taught by the guru. In this way, the Asanas become much more than just a physical workout. They control the movement of the prana and help still the mind to develop Ekagrata (one-pointedness of mind). This is not to say that the Yoga flows are ineffective, but just that they do not allow the yogi to sit in the Asana long enough to reap the full spiritual benefits. Due to this, the three key Asanas are to be practiced for prolonged periods of time. The Yogi should hold each Asana as long as possible (which at first is usually about 5 minutes each) and then increase its length according to common sense. 1 or 2 minutes a week is usually good for most people. I will not provide the proper visualizations and mantras (when used) for the Asanas, as this is something that should be learned directly from the mouth of the Guru and they change slightly depending on the chela’s spiritual progress and Karma which the guru can see. While some specific pranayamas can be used in the Asanas, Ujjayi Pranayama is the best natural breathing sequence. Inhale through the nostrils, retain the breath as long as comfortable, and then exhale. Proper ratio is 1:2:1. For example, breath in 5 seconds, retain the breath for 10, and exhale for another 5. Other ratios used are 1:2:2 and 1:4:2. Sirshasana:
This is called the King of all Asanas. It is said that just by perfection of this Asana the highest stages of yoga can be reached. The Yogi, sitting on his knees, bends over and places thr top of his head on the ground. His hands reach up and interlock the fingers together behind his head. He then acquires a point of balance on the top of his head, shifts his wait to the head and lifts up the trunk and legs of the body into the air in a vertical ascension so that the Yogi stands completely on his head with hands locked behind his head and elbows placed firmly on the ground for support. Having gained balance, the yogi closes the eyes and contemplates his body as a statue to acquire stillness. If the body is moving and shaking, then the mind is not still. If the mind is still enough, body will become still. You will see with practice. Benefits of Sirshasana:
This asana redirects sexual energy from the lower chakras into the Ajna Chakra to be transmuted from sexual energy into mental energy. This is a good Asana for fighting lustful urges. It also awakens the Kundalini and drives it up the spine. It tones the shoulders and back and develops neck strength as well. It is good for helping you to wake up in the mornings, and can be done before meditation to help the mind enter into a meditative mind-set. The Yogi who can hold this Asana for 3 hours achieves Siddhis (yogic powers) and great spiritual benefit. He enters into the deepest states of meditation.
*Sirshasana-Sivananda's Kundalini Yoga*Sirvangasana:
As Sirshasana is a head-stand, Sirvangasana is a shoulder-stand. Laying flat on the back, the yogi should raise the trunk and legs of his body vertically over him, keeping the back and legs as straight as possible so as to form a straight line. The chin locks in Jalandhara Bandha against the chest. If eyes are open, concentration is at tips of toes above the head. If eyes are closed, concentration is on body or specifically between the eyebrows. Benefits of Sirvangasana:
This Asana keeps the nectar Amrita within the head above the palate of the mouth, instead of allowing it to drip down into the stomach and be wasted. This generates an intense amount of mental and creative energy. Aside from this, it does the same benefits of Sirshasana, but in a less extreme manner. I will give the primary importance of this Asana in a cryptic manner that the Yogi can realize with practice and experience: In Sirvangasana, the moon takes the place of the sun and the Sun becomes the moon, allowing shiva to embrace Shakti in the fire yajna (sacrifice).
*Sirvangasana-From Sivananda’s “Kundalini Yoga”* Paschimottanasana:
The third key Asana is Paschimottanasana. The Yogi sits and stretches both legs directly in front of him flat on the ground. Both feet are placed next together. The yogi stretches forward the trunk of the body and reaches the hands out to the feet, grasping the big toe of each foot by the index and middle fingers, with the thumbs pressing down on the front of the big toe at the toenail. Another manner is to interlock the finbgers of both hands with eachother, keeping the big toes in the middle of the lock. The former is the best. The pressure on the big toe stimulates an important Nadi. The back must be kept as straight as possile. The yogi must make extra effort to keep the lower back straight while stretching foward. The head locks in Jalandhara Bandha against the chest., or is placed with the nose between the two knees. It is a good practice to keep neck straight with nose between knees during inhale, and then move to Jalandhara Bandha for retention and exhalation of breath. Benefits of Paschimottanasana:
This asana helps vitalize the Sushumna nadi with the fresh prana acquired from the Ujjayi Pranayama. It stimulates the Kundalini to rise up to the ajna Chakra. It stimulates the chakras with Prana. By keeping the spine flexible with this Asana, the Yogi can help retain his youth and also enhance production of the spinal fluid and effectiveness of the nervous system.
*Paschimottanasana-Sivananda’s “Kundalini Yoga”*
These are the three key Asanas for someone who does not wish to rigorously practice hundreds of Asanas. These help maintain physical strength as well as spiritual strength. They should be practiced in the above given order. These three asanas will give the basic spiritual balance in the Yogi’s Asana Sadhana, but should he desire for physical balance as well, there are two other Asanas that should be done to make sure the spine is stretched in all the needed directions. These can be done after Paschimottanasana.
This is a strong spinal twist. The yogi sits down in sukhasana. Now lift the right leg up and over the left leg so that the right foot is placed firmly in the ground to the left of the left knee. The right arm is placed in front of the right leg and stretches back to grab the big toe of the right foot. The trunk twist to face behind you, with head focusing on wall behind you. The left arm reaches across the trunk to the left side and rests on top of the right hip. This is very hard for people with too much fatty tissue around the gut. The opposite is done with the other leg turning the other direction. Benefits of Matsyendrasana:
This vitalizes the Sushumna straight up to Sahasrara Chakra. It also exercises the spine and back to increase spinal fluid and spinal health. This increases overall health. It is said in the hatha Yoga Pradipika that the yogi who masters this Asana attains all Siddhis.
*B.K.S Iyengar in Matsyendrasana* Bhujangasana:
This is the cobra pose. It stretches the spine in the opposite direction of paschimottanasana. The yogi lies flat on his stomach first. Then placing the hands firmly flat on the ground the upper body is pushed upwards to that it inversely arches upwards. The hips are left flat on the ground, and the arms should not be completely stretched out in a locked position because it kinks the shoulders and can cause harm. The spine bends backwards. The arms are left slightly bent so that they do not lock out. This creates a good workout.Benefits of Bhujangasana:
This helps awaken the Kundalini. It also drives the prana up the spine from the lower chakras into the Ajna chakra. Ujjayi Pranayama done in this Asana will help expand lung capacity.
I have no picture for this particular pose. The description should be suitable. If not, the reader can easily look online to get this picture. Other Asanas:
There are over one hundred other Asanas, with at least 70 of those being traditional. They all have some value, but most of them are impractical to hold for long periods of time. I have given the base of the Yogi’s Asana Sadhana. You may expand upon it according to your like, and I refer the reader to B.K.S Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” and Swami Sivananda’s “Asanas” for further study and practice of the other groups of Asanas. Those Asanas which I have included are the most important ones for awakening of the Kundalini and purification of the Nadis. Part II: Bandhas
Now aside from the Asanas, the Hatha Yogi also employs a certain selection of physical locks called Bandhas. There are several Bhandas, and I will cover the three most important which comprise the Traya Bandha (lit. three locks). These are Mula Bandha, Jalandhara Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. These are primarily done at different stages in the pranayama as a means to aid the flow of the Prana and Apana and help stir the Kundalini. Mula Bandha:
Mula Bandha is the first Bandha done in the pranayama series. The Yogi retracts the sphincter muscles inwards in this Bandha. For help, he can place the heel of the foot against the perineum should he sit in Siddhasana. At first this is hard to hold for long periods of time, but it becomes easier with practice. In the pranayama, this is done during the retention of the breath. It can also be done during the exhalation as well. Some do it during the entire pranayama, but few can do this. It is best to make sure you do it at least during the retention of breath. This Bandha forces the Apana, which has a downward tendency, upwards so that it can unite with Prana and enter into the Sushumna to awaken and drive the Kundalini. Jalandhara Bandha:
This Bandha can be done either during the entire pranayama or just during the retention of the breath. It is also done at certain points in some Asanas according to the visualization techniques given by Guru. The Yogi presses his chin against the top of the chest at the crevice of the collar bone. The chin must be pressed firm against the body at this point, but not so much that it causes stress against the neck. This is an easy Bandha. Some have trouble with it because of pains in the back of the neck when they do it. This is due to inflexibility in the upper back muscles. Some stretching along with actual practice of the Bandha will change this. Jalandhara Bandha drives the prana from the chest region into the head and helps maintain the nectar above the palate during inhalation. In exhalation it maintains the amrita nectar above the palate of the mouth and drives the prana downwards towards the rising Apana (from mula Bandha). Uddiyana Bandha:
This is by far the hardest Bandha to learn, but once learnt it can be easily done. The yogi here retracts his stomach and pulls the intestine into the pit of the stomach just below the chest, thus allowing the stomach itself to retract far back almost to the spine. There is a certain knack to developing this Bandha. A good Guru or teacher can help you. The yogi has to perform a sort of “internal inhalation” which creates a suction force inside the body and draws the stomach in and upwards. This Bandha is not as necessary as the other two, but is still a great compliment for those who learn it. It drives the prana into the spine and activates the Gastric fire for the blending of Apana and Prana. It also drives the Kundalini up the Sushumna. Part III: Mudras:
Mudras are yogic techniques which act as seals in the body to help vivify the Nadis and purify the mind. They also help raise the Kundalini. There are many Mudras, but we will be concerned with only three of them which play a key importance in the yogi’s Sadhana.Maha Mudra:
Literally translates as “Grand Seal”. The Yogi sits down and places the left heel against the perineum while stretching the right leg out in front of the body. Inhaling in Ujjayi Pranayama, the yogi bends forward and grabs his right foot, placing the left hand grasping the sole of the foot and the right hand grasping the big toe by hooking the back of the toe with the index and middle fingers while applying pressure to the front of the toe (at the toenail) with the thumb. He assumes Jalandhara Bandha and retains his breath for as long as comfortable in this position. Fix the eyes in between the eyebrows and concentrate here. Then exhale and lift up slowly during the exhale resuming the original position. This can either always be done with the same leg, or for physical balance can be done once with one leg and then again with the other leg (switching hand positions of course). This Mudra has many benefits. They are too many to list completely. The most important are the stimulating of the Kundalini, Vitalizing of the Sushumna, vitalizing of the Chakras with Prana, Brahmacharya becomes easy, internal organs get worked, siddhis are acquired, etc. As Sirshasana is the king of Asanas, so is Maha Mudra the king of Mudras. This should be done at least 12 times a day.
In the Goraknath Paddhati, Shiva Goraksha Babaji says “As the Turtle withdraws his limbs into his shell, so does the Yogi withdraw his Indriyas (5 senses) in Yoni Mudra”. Yoni Mudra helps establish Pratyahara. Sitting in Padma or Siddha Asanas, the yogi closes the openings of the head with his fingers as such: the right thumb closes the right ear opening, the right index finger holds the right eyelid shut, the right middle finger pushes the right nostril closed, the right ring finger pushes down on the upper lip while the right little finger pushes up on the lower lip thus closing the mouth. The exact opposite is done with the left hand on the left side of the head. Inhaling in Ujjayi Pranayama, the Yogi directs all of his attention to the point between the eyebrows (Shiva Netri, also called Kutashta). While retaining his breath for as long as possible, the entire consciousness is brought into the head by intense focus on the kutashta and the mantra “Om” is recited mentally in the head. The Yogi must endeavor to see his soul in the Kutashta shining forth like a brilliant white flame. There are deeper stages of this Mudra which should be learned from the Guru that can result in Astral Projection along with other Siddhis. After retaining breath, the Yogi exhales slowly bringing his consciousness back to his body. If he wishes to repeat the exercise, he leaves his hands in their positions and repeats the exercises. 5 in a row of Yoni Mudra once a day has good benefits on the consciousness. With Yoni Mudra, the Yogi can retain his breath for incredible inhuman lengths of time when the consciousness is absorbed in Yoni Mudra. Kechari Mudra:
Called the “flying seal”. It is said in the hatha Yoga Pradipika that the Yogi who masters this walks on air. This refers to astral projection of course, however there are more important benefits to this mudra. This Mudra should only be practiced under the skilled guidance of a guru. The Tongue is brought back in the mouth and up into the nasal cavity inside the head, so that one can not see the throat opening when the tongue is thus placed. This requires the lengthening of the Frenellum (small thin connection between the tongue and bottom of mouth) by the skilled and systematic cutting of it one hair at a time over the period of several months with a sharp blade. This should not be attempted by anyone without a skilled Guru’s guidance. The cut is then salted with rock salt to help heal the wound but keep the frenellum from reconnecting. There is another method which does not involve cutting. It is just as effective and much easier, but is hard to teach by writing. It has to be taught by demonstration and example of the guru. Do not, under any circumstances, result to cutting the Frenellum unless under a skilled guru who has done it many times with many students.
This Mudra has many benefits. The Kundalini is drawn up by magnetism to Shiva. The prana inhaled goes directly into the Sushumna. It is said that some of the highest stages of Meditation can only be reached with Kechari Mudra. While I don’t personally believe this, I will say that it amplifies meditative sadhana immensely and the Kundalini wakes easier. Also, when the tongue reaches high into the nasal cavity inside the head it meets a small bulb underneath the Pineal gland. When the tongue rubs this bulb a heavenly nectar is emitted called Amrita. This is the divine nectar of Yogis. It is very pleasing and filling. This is how a Yogi who is always fasting and doing Sadhana can still be healthy and full in appearance, even fat.
Part IV: Pranayama
Pranayama is perhaps the most important cornerstone of Hatha Yoga. There are a dozen different types of Pranayama. For the sake of length (because this is not intended to be a full analysis of Hatha Yoga) and practice, I will provide those Pranayamas which are the most potent and important techniques for the Yogi’s Sadhana. They are primarily three in number: Sukha Purvaka, Bhastrika, and Khapal Bhati. Done in that order, they create a very peaceful and centered feeling along with cleansing the Nadis. Pranayama is the most effective means of cleansing the Nadis and awakening the kundalini. There are two kinds of Pranayama: internal and external. Hatha Yoga pranayama is external (physical), while Raja Yoga pranayama is internal (spiritual).
The inhalation is called Purvaka, the retention of the breath is called Kumbhaka, and the exhalation of the breath is called Recheka. There are two types of Kumbhala; Sahita and Kevalya. Sahita is restraint of the breath with an inhalation or an exhalation. Kevalya is the natural restraint of the breath without inhalation or exhalation. Sahita is normal pranayama. Kevalya is liberation from this world. The Yogi who performs Kevalya rules this world and transcends Maya. Kevalya is the natural restraint of the breath during Samadhi (ecstatic union with God). The yogi’s breath stops for hours in Kevalya. Kevalya and Samadhi do not exist without each other.Sukha Purvaka Pranayama:
This is a very powerful pranayama. The Yogi cleanses the Ida and Pingali with this pranayama. It induces Nadi Sodhana (cleansing of the Nadis), which is marked by feeling the alternating warm and cool currents of Apana and Prana flowing up and down the spine. In Nadi Sodhana, the nostrils become clear and easy to breath through (hence the name, which translates as “easy breathing”). The skin becomes vibrant and full of health. The yogi emits a pleasant fragrance from his body as well. The exercise is as follows:
1) The Yogi sits is Siddha or Padma Asana. He prepares his right hand for the pranayama by taking the index and middle fingers and curling them into the palm, while the ring and little fingers reach over the folded fingers and touch the point of the thumb. This is proper hand position. Only the right hand touches the nostril during this Pranayama. The left hand is placed either in Jnana mudra (index finger touches thumb) or is used to help count the number of Pranayama done.
2) The yogi completely exhales to empty the lungs
3) The right hand comes up to the nose (maintaining its position). The thumb presses closes the right nostril by pressing down the skin outside the nasal passage. The yogi does purvaka through the left nostril.
4) When purvaka is done, while keeping the right nostril closed with the thumb, the other two fingers (ring and little) curl around to close the left nostril as well. Thus both nostril close and the Yogi retains the breath in Kumbhaka.
5) Lift the thumb off of the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril. This is Rechecka.
6) Pause a second (without closing nostrils, this is a natural pause between exhalation and new inhalation)
7) Inhale through right nostril for Purvaka.
8. Do Kumbhaka with both nostrils shut by closing right nostril with thumb.
9) Recheka through left nostril by lifting little and ring finger.
Steps 3-9 comprise one round of Sukha Purvaka Pranayama. Practice it until the motions become natural. It is said in the Goraknath Paddhati that if one sits for Pranayama 4 times a day at the time of Sandhya Prayers (midnight, sunrise, noon, sunset) 40 times a sitting, then the Yogi can achieve Nadi Sodhana in a few months. Its is good for the Yogi to be able to work up to 80 rounds at a time. This has great physical and spiritual benefits. The ratio for this pranayama is supposed to be practiced as 1:4:2. For example, purvaka for 5 seconds, kumbhaka for 20 seconds and recheka for 10 seconds. If you can not do this ratio at first, then work up to it. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for as long as comfortable, and then try to exhale as close to 10 seconds as you can. Increase the length of time with practice. Always aim for the 1:4:2 ratio. It has the best purging effect on the Nadis. Start with 10 rounds of sukha Purvaka if possible. If not, then work up to 10 rounds. At first, most people will do this once a day. You should always endeavor to sit for pranayama at least twice a day. Start with 10 rounds and slowly increase the rounds. Once you can do 40 rounds at a stretch twice a day, then increase the time of the Pranayama. For example, if you can do 40 rounds of pranayama with 4sec/16sec/8sec pattern, then increase it to 5sec/20sec/10sec pattern. Continue in this manner according to your practice. Most yogis stop increasing breath time once they can achieve 20sec/80sec/40sec, thus making each breath 2 minutes and 20 seconds long.
There are four levels of success in this Sukha Purvaka pranayama. The first stage is when the body shakes and trembles, and feels intense heat with immense sweating. This stage has to be worked up to. The shaking, heat and sweating are all due to the prana cleaning out the impurities of the Nadis. When the second level of success is achieved, the body becomes totally rigid in its Asana. This is a good stage for meditation. When the third level is reached, the rigid body starts to hop along the floor several inches at a time. There is a fourth level, which is very hard to reach, in which the physical body levitates off of the floor. Few can achieve the fourth level. It requires a very one-sided training routine. The yogi should always strive for balance in his Sadhana (practice). Pranayama should never be pursued just for levitation. No success can be had in that way.
The mind must be fixed firmly on one of two things: the point between the brows, or the pure prana being inhaled and the impurities of the body being exhaled. This is the neophyte’s (beginner’s) level of visualization. There are some higher levels of visualization which should be learned from the guru. Bhastrika Pranayama:
The is a very powerful pranayama, and some Yogis claim that just its practice can awaken the Kundalini by itself. The Yogi takes up his customary Asana and does a very strong purvaka followed by a quick and strong exhale. This can be a physically exhausting pranayama. The nostrils are not manipulated in any way. Inhalation and exhalation are done through both nostrils. On the purvaka, the chest is expanded and the stomach does not expand. The Recheka is done forcefully while the shoulders drop back down to their normal position (they lifted when the chest expanded on the inhale). The shoulders are not forced down, they are allowed to drop back to place naturally. The exact technique is best learned by a good teacher or guru. Concentration should be on Kundalini in Muladhara chakra. One round of Bhastrika usually is 10 full breaths in and out (10 actual bhastrika pranayamas). It is not good to do more than a few rounds. 3-5 rounds is good. Too many rounds can make you go unconscious. You should rest for a few breaths in between rounds or else you can also go unconscious as a beginner. 3 rounds of 10 is good for starters. When done, it is a very refreshing and invigorating pranayama. Don’t be foolish and do it too many times.
This translates as “skull cleaner”, because it flushes prana throughout the head and refreshes the body greatly. Prana invigorates the blood stream and also rushes through the pores of the skin. This can help prevent wrinkles as well. It stimulates the gastric fire at the pit of the stomach and awakens Mother Kundalini. This is good when done after Sukha Purvaka and Bhastrika pranayamas. The Yogi sits in his usual Asana and makes quick and strong inhalations and exhalations, but on a much lesser scale than Bhastrika. They are short breaths in and out done very quickly. 1 Bhastrika can be done in 2-3 seconds, while 2 Khapal Bhati can be done in 1 second. This is also best learned from a guru so that the proper movement can be checked. I will explain as best as possible. On the exhalation, the yogi pumps the stomach quickly and forcefully by tightening the abdominal muscles and sucking in slightly. On the inhale the stomach relaxes back to its neutral position. It is not forced out, but is allowed to simply relax. This motion is done very quickly with the cycles of Khapal Bhati. One full round should consist of 20-30 pranayamas according to the Yogi’s ability. The rounds is good for starters. The number of pranayama per round and the number of rounds can be increased according to common sense as you become better at your practices. It is not good to do too many rounds. 5 rounds of 100 is good for even an advanced practitioner. It is a wise choice to stop with this unless instructed otherwise by a Guru or you have become very adept at Pranayama. Part V: Pratyahara
Many people think they can enter into pratyahara. This is a lie due to the lack of guidance from a good Guru. People who have been practicing for only a few months say “I can do pratyahara”. This is not the case. They do not even know what pratyahara really is. They think it is simply stopping the thoughts, or attaining an inward peace during meditation. An intense inner peace during practice when the eyes are closed and you are sitting to practice could be called a lesser pratyahara, but that is simply to encourage the Chela (disciple). Pratyahara is a very intense experience. It flows naturally from the practice of Pranayama. It usually takes several years for a student to be able to attain full pratyahara.
So then what is pratyahara? It is the process by which the yogi’s consciousness is withdrawn completely into the spinal chord. Everything becomes peaceful, and there is total loss of consciousness of the outside world. It is a much different state of mind. In some ways, you are still aware of what is occurring outside of you, but there is such a complete state of indifference that you couldn’t really be considered conscious of it. I am not talking from books or people’s theories. I am trying to share the experience of actually being in Pratyahara. These things are always hard to put into words. It is the launching point of Raja Yoga. Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (God-Consciousness) all blossom from the lotus of Pratyahara. This is still considered Hatha Yoga because it only occurs once complete Nadi Sodhana (purification of the Nadis) has been attained. Everything is intensely still in Pratyahara. It is an unworldly still, accompanied by an unworldly peace. When the mind is still and withdrawn from the sense organs, the peace of the spirit is able to be sensed. One also hears the great Pranava (OM mantra) uttering forth from the depths of the soul. The anahata sounds (a series of special sounds that the anahata chakra produces) are heard very easily. In pratyahara, all awareness from the sense organs are withdrawn. He is not aware of physical touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste. He is using astral senses now. There is no exact practice for Pratyahara. Yoni mudra helps develop it. Rigorous Pranayama will allow the mind to naturally enter into Pratyahara after a great deal of practice. There are certain channels which the consciousness must follow to enter into the Sushumna. These can be learned from rigorous practice, but of course is best learnt from the guidance of a Guru. A guru can guide the chela’s consciousness straight into pratyahara if the disciple is ready.
This concludes the actual treatise on Hatha Yoga. I have endeavored to give as much as possible about the actual practice of Hatha Yoga without writing a very large book. A great deal can be written about its full practice. There are many asanas, and many pranayamas. I have included what is needed for success in Yoga and for the Yogi to progress from Hatha Yoga to the higher levels of Raja Yoga. While all can be achieved with Hatha Yoga, it is more natural for Hatha Yoga to naturally flow into Raja Yoga. This is part one of my treatise on the practice of Yoga. Part 2 will examine the practice of Raja Yoga. I will now provide a few supplemental words about the actual guru and his role, as well as provide a recommended training routine in Hatha Yoga for beginners and intermediate Sadhus (those doing Sadhana). A Few Words concerning the Guru:
I know that most people in the West seem to be determined that there is either no such thing as a Guru or that there is at least no need for one. This is largely due to people’s inability to succumb their ego to the divine will of another. Loose the ego! Forget it. You will be humbled over and over again in your Sadhana, so why not start now. In India it is not too uncommon for a man to spend his first year of “training” under his guru as a beggar on the streets. He comes to the guru saying “I now wish to learn Yoga from you”, and instead of receiving any secret teachings, he is given an alms bowl and sent on his way being told not to return for another year. A muslim saint once said that Hunger was the quickest way to God. How true his words! How great a humbler is hunger! In India there Guru is seen as God. Why not? The Yogi learns quickly that his Guru’s consciousness and that of God are one and the same. Guru is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is a jivan mukta (living liberated soul).
Guru literally means “destroyer of darkness”, referring to the Darkness that the neophyte is in when he first pursues his practice. Many people think “I will dispel my own darkness”. How? Have you been given any light? Darkness does not destroy darkness. Only light separates it. The Light of the Guru destroys the darkness that the chela(disciple) is in. People in the west have a hard time bowing down to someone greater than them. They think “certainly there is no man greater than I? Why should I bow?”. And then the Guru bows to them to show his great humility, and they feel ignorant. Don’t live in ignorance. You will hear from vain mouths “there is no such thing as a guru” or “A guru isn’t needed”. These are the words of a man who has never met his Guru!! Only such a man speaks such foolish things. People say “but there are so many aspirants and not enough gurus. I have been asking for a guru and one has not appeared”. This is wrong. There are always enough Gurus. Do you think heaven does not prepare ahead of time! Guru always comes when the chela devotes himself to practice. Then one day when it is needed most, he appears. He is not always physically incarnate on this earth at the time. People think that all the progress can be made without Guru. From what? From your books? Where else did you learn from? You are practicing from books. How little do the books of man reveal about the practice of Divinity! If you are still learning and practicing from books, you are a Neophyte. The guru instructs you in things never written down. He teaches you things passed down by mouth from initiate to initiate for hundreds of years. He perceives the secrets of heaven even with his eyes. He teaches you how to do the same.
There are certain characteristics by which a Guru can be determined. Some gurus have all of these qualities but never display them. Some display all of them. It is hard not to see at least some of them. I have provided a list below:
-He should inspire his students to pursue God with his very presence. He needs no words
-He should be the incarnation of his teachings.
-He knows what his disciples do, no matter the distance
-He knows the thoughts of his disciples
-He gives Shaktipat (transference of his shakti into disciples to clean their auras and help the Kundalini awaken).
-He gives Shivapat (Sharing of his consciousness with his disciples to still their minds and spirits)
-He gives Pranapat (controls the prana flow within his disciples during meditation to ensure proper practice when needed).
-He bestows initiation
-He is always engaged in service to humanity
-He is always engaged in Yama and Niyama (right acting and thinking)
These are some of the characteristics of a Guru. Sometimes the Guru keeps his true nature to himself until the student is ready. Guidelines for Sadhana:
1) There are some principles which should be observed by the Neophyte as he starts his Sadhana. He should neither eat too much or too little. His diet should be controlled. No red meat if at all possible. Vegetables, fruit, wheat and dairy products should be the staple of the diet. These things don’t contain the degree of intelligent spirit that animals do. Animals take much more prana to digest. The samana has to work much harder as well. Even the blood rushes into the digestive organs to make the body lazy and lethargic. This is not conducive to Yoga Sadhana. It arouses the passions. Fruit and Vegetables are very conducive to meditation. They cultivate serenity and peace in the mind.
2) Yama-This is correct action. I will speak more at length about this in part two of this treatise. The Neophyte should live his life in harmony with his aims. Doing the right thing is Yama. Regulating diet is Yama. Yama is many things. Yama is living in harmony with the universe.
3) Niyama-This is correct thinking. Reading and studying scripture, writing poetry, Japa (chanting mantra), thinking about the Lord (whoever he may be for you), maintaining pure thoughts, etc. This is niyama. I will expound upon this more in the next part of the treatise.
4) The Neophyte should not sleep too much or too little. 4-7 hours of sleep is good for most ages. You can start with 7 hours and gradually decrease it over time. The deeper in your Sadhana you are, the less sleep you’ll need.
5) Avoid bad company and Idle talk as much as possible. Try to keep the mind focused on Divine things, even during daily activities.
6) Do Karma Yoga. This is performing one’s duties and responsibilities every day with no attachment. Do not let the workplace upset you or disturb you. Do not think about it much when you leave.
7) Do not practice too much at first. Start with a short routine and build it up. A good Sadhana for someone who has made progress in his training is 3-4 hours a day. Advanced Sadhana replaces sleep so that the Yogi does his Sadhana sometimes 10-12 hours a day. This is done with Raja Yoga.
Some examples of Sadhana routines in Hatha Yoga:
Designed with householders in mind
-Sirshasana 5 minutes
-Sirvangasana 5 minutes
-Paschimottanasana 5 minutes
-Bhujangasana 5 minutes
-Matsyendrasana 5 minutes
-Savasana (lay down flat on back and relax) 2-3 minutes
-10 rounds Sukha Purvaka 4:16:8
-3 rounds of 10 Bhastrika
-3 rounds of 30 Khapal Bhati
-Pranayamas as before in the morning
-before sleeping, read some scripture.
More Advanced Sadhana (Intermediate):
-Stretch legs for Padmasana
-Sirshasana 20 minutes
-Sirvangasana 20 minutes
-Paschimottansana 20 minutes
-40 rounds Sukha Purvaka 5/20/10 seconds
-5 rounds of 10 Bhastrika
-5 rounds of 100 Khapal Bhati
6:00 AM-6:00 PM: Work/job/Daily activities
6:00-8:00 pm: Two hour nap if needed. If not, then scripture study and other acts of Niyama.
-25 Maha Mudras
-5-10 Yoni Mudras
-repeat morning Pranayama routine.
-Do some relaxing activities and prepare for sleep.
-it is good to wake up at midnight and repeat pranayama exercises if possible.
Many people say “I don’t have time to practice for 2 or 3 hours a day!”. Most of the time this is not true. Most people can make the room in their day. Even if the workday is as long as 12 hours, this still leaves you 5 hours of time to practice and 7 hours of sleep. It is sacrifice that is the problem. We want to watch T.V shows, play video games, go to the bar and drink, party, etc. How trivial and illusory are such things. How can they be happiness. People say “I enjoy drinking a lot and it makes me happy”, but what is this happiness? It is not permanent. Will you even remember the good time you had while drinking? Will you vomit? Will you say something you didn’t mean to say to a loved one? Will you physically hurt somebody or get hurt yourself? People call this happiness? This is foolishness. Real happiness is the result of Sadhana. What else is their more important? Liquor can’t compare to the nectar of divine realization! Extravagance in earthly clothes does nothing for our spiritual garments. Watching TV shows does not compare to seeing the plays and past-times of the gods! What is intoxication? It is nothing in the face of Divine ecstasy. It is filth. Now this is not to say that one should give up all such worldly things, but not one soul can advance in Sadhana if it is not willing to make even the smallest sacrifice. There are people working multiple jobs and going to school who still do several hours of Sadhana a day. Discipline yourself! In the immortal words of Krishna to Arjuna, “Arjuna, be ye therefore a yogi!”. Some Last Remarks
This article has far exceeded the length I had originally planned. What the reader must understand is that I have only touched upon the surface of Hatha Yoga. I have given the basics necessary for advancement. Now the routines I suggested above are for people who can wholly dedicate themselves to Yoga. This is not necessary. Even 10 minutes of yoga a day is better than none. It can also very powerfully supplement your other training (should you have some). I use it to supplement my daily magickal exercises. Now some will disagree with aspects of Yoga along its moral teachings. That is fine also, but it need be kept in mind by the reader that Yoga is a time tested means to achieving self realization. There is a reason for everything. If you reject the moral and ethical teachings of Yoga, you will not make very good progress. I have not written about anything that I don’t have any personal experience in. This entire article is supplemented in many places by own experiences in Yoga. The example Sadhana routines given above were two different routines I use to follow at different stages in my Sadhana. 2 hours of Yoga practice a day is a good minimum. Less than that and progress can become too slow. Most anybody can do 2 hours.
Now there are obviously many practices I left out in this part of the treatise on Yoga. Some of them will be covered in my next part on Raja Yoga. I will primarily cover the different stages of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi, but will also talk a little about Japa and some other exercises along with the practice of Yama and Niyama in full detail. I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed typing it. Some people will wonder why I have posted this is an article in the magick section of veritas. It is because to me, magick and Yoga are inseparable. They are both crucial parts of the Divine Science. To me, Yoga is Magick and Magick is Yoga. It is much more than a simple “energy art”. It is an exact method of Divine realization.