Around five to six hundred years ago, a sage by the name of Svatmarama expounded on the lineage, techniques and teachings of the Hatha Yogis in a classical text that is known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This book and two others (the Shiva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita) are known as core texts on the teachings of Hatha Yoga. It is important that we understand the background and context as to what Hatha Yoga is before diving into some of the teachings of its texts, as this will help us conceptualize and understand the framework from which we are being taught and to where we are being delivered.
Hatha Yoga emerged as a science of preparation for the higher stages of yoga. When we say "higher stages of yoga", what we are referring to is the ultimate evolutionary potential of the human system. Hatha Yoga was proposed as a set of physiologically transformative techniques involving the use of mind, body, and breath in specific ways in order to prepare the practitioner for the ultimate achievement. It has become watered down today into merely exercises designed to restore health and optimize the bodymind, but if we examine the core texts on the subject, we see that this technology was intended for much, much more.
The yogis were very serious about maximizing the potential of the human system, and they wrote at length about the ways in which we could reach our highest output. Speaking from experience as someone who was spent a good deal of time researching and practicing the methods of Hatha Yoga, the energetic current running through my body today is far different than it was just five years ago. I suspect that as I continue to "sharpen my tools", so to speak, and understand the way in which I can use my body, mind, and breath to support my goals in this life, the more accelerated my progress becomes. As a human in modern culture, I definitely lose sight of what the yogis refer to as the "ultimate" or "supreme goal" of human existence, and replace the supreme goal with ideals of lesser ambition. But as I continue to practice and remain consistent with my efforts, I am repeatedly affirmed to the truth, that there is indeed something far transcendent to even my highest goals. What I am pointing to here in this paragraph is the reality that I personally am only scratching the surface on and something I am hoping to convey in my teachings and sharing --- that the methods of Hatha Yoga are designed for far more than merely stretching, toning the nervous system, or accomplishing feats of breath control. What I hope to convey in this blog post is at least a hint of the potential of these practices, that when we take them seriously and adopt them with equal importance to our other basic hygiene practices (like brushing the teeth or showering), not only does it open the door for us to have greater health in our body, mind and spirit, but it helps move us in the direction of what the ultimate outcome may be for us in our life.
So, although I take my practices very seriously and continue to devote time each day to mastery of their craft, I still live my life and carry on doing the things that I love. I still set basic goals and try to live as grounded and practical of a human experience as possible -- without floating off into the heights of spiritual idealism. In my opinion, becoming a yogi is about using one's spiritual toolkit to maximize their involvement in life because they've unlocked the powers dormant in their nervous system and physiology to really approach life from the most alive and vibrant of places. A yogi is just a being who has entered the stream of life; one who is responding to and responsible for their life, their dreams, and their ambitions. One who has mastered the use of their bodymind so as to be in greatest service to the entirety of life. After all, yoga means union. If we are wholeheartedly engaged in life from a non-dualistic standpoint, we are no longer operating from a fragmented ego-mind but rather a whole-body involvement in the happenings of our day to day. This requires training! Our physiology is not built to handle the potential voltages that run through us, so we often short-circuit or end up with indigestion from life experiences. A well-trained physiology -- a yogi's bodymind, cultivated through the art and science of Hatha Yoga -- is a system that allows energy to run effortlessly through it, without blockages or obstructions. It is a part of the greater flow of life. Ecstasy and bliss are realized as the natural state of this individual as the feeling of life flowing through us is beyond our mind and emotion. It is pure liveliness. Nature and the yogi become one in the same.
These are all conceptualizations that arise from my own personal study and research of the philosophies and practices of the yogis, and in specific, understanding this core text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This book dives into the WHAT, HOW, and WHY of spiritual transformation as seen through techniques involving body, mind, and breath. One of the things I love most about this book and the other yogic texts is that they are concise and straightforward. The yogis were great at defining terms and outlining a map for others to follow in their footsteps. Those who had true spiritual attainment were the ones who expounded the techniques and teachings. In some ways they were unorthodox in their philosophy, but most were extremely orthodox with the systemization of their techniques and methodology.
Hatha Yogis understand the fundamentality of the human nervous system and the biological apparatus that we all inhabit -- our body -- and worked to unlock the secrets of the Universe from within their own electrical currents. In this way, the Hatha Yogis were Tantric Yogis as well. Indeed, the Hatha Yoga system emerged out of the Tantric era of medieval India at a time where the mainstreams of Tantric thought were proposing that our very own bodymind contained the entire mystery of the cosmos. The Hatha Yogis took the suggestions emerging from the Tantras and arranged experimentation in their own spiritual laboratories to verify these claims. Although the Hatha Yogis may have held unorthodox philosophies, they approached the experimentation process in a very practical and straightforward way. Luckily, we have a few core texts that survived more than five centuries and are being revived today but a handful of determined practitioners. The lineage of the yogi never quite dies, as the secrets of the human body are indeed Universal.
When we approach the Tantric and Hatha texts in the way that they are meant to be interpreted -- as the documented observations based on the spiritual science experiments of our ancestors -- we start to pick up where they left off. The knowledge that one is already a yogi, regardless of their background or family history, is the result of realizing that one has a human bodymind and nervous system, just like everyone else. Which means that the voltage currents of life are running through them, the mitochondrial output of cellular biology reflecting the solar power of all life on Earth. We are mirrors to the cosmos, and our Tantric Hatha yogi brothers and sisters of ages past left footprints for us to realize our potential. This potential is not limited to great, robust and vibrant health -- although this high level of functioning is entirely possible for anyone with enough training -- but that this potential may surpass even our wildest imagination.
We are meant for something wonderful. The seed for greatness is intrinsic within each human soul. It is the blossoming force of our existence -- the evolutionary impulse that motivates each being to pursue life. The fire in our heart for spiritual attainment is the same fire that drives us to seek good relationships, career success, purposeful living and a creative, meaningful life. Learning how to master the flow of this fire and direct it, unobstructed, towards our service and mission in the world is the subject of Hatha Yoga. We are learning the art and science of energy flow -- mastering our solar current and lunar current. Ha means Sun and Tha means Moon. Yoga means Union.
Now that we have a broader understanding of the context and story behind Hatha and Tantric Yoga, we will diving deeper into this particular text in our next blogpost. Until then, keep stoking your evolutionary fire using the sadhana that you are familiar with and may the blessing of this process continue to open pathways in your bodymind that correspond to your life experience. May Hatha Yoga become as basic of a habit as brushing your teeth as you open deeper and deeper layers of your nervous system and become an activated member of the evolutionary race of human beings determined to make a real difference on this planet... as each of us trains our bodymind to make it the most awakened, energized, and alive that it can be.
Blessings to you all.
Grant T. Ifflander