Introduction to Hatha and Raja Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati delivered at the First Pan Hellenic Yoga Convention held in Thessalonika, Greece on 7.4.81

During the last hundred years, the world has changed very rapidly. The social system and other systems are not the same as they once were. This has brought about a situation of dispersion of human energies at all levels. The mind of man has lost the point of balance and harmony in every sphere of experience. We are so engrossed in material survival that we have not been aware of what is happening to us.

In the last century or two, diseases have sprung up with new dimensions, expressions and manifestations. Various sciences are trying to tackle the problem of human sickness. But honestly speaking, they have failed to deliver the necessary health to man, because the problem does not originate in the body. It originates with man's ideals, with his way of thinking and feeling. When there is dissipation of energy, dispersion of ideals, how can you expect harmony in your mind and body?

In the last few decades, research into yoga has been done and the scientists, doctors and social workers have come to the conclusion that yoga is a way by which man's dispersion can be halted. Yoga is such a complete science that it treats not only the physical body, but the human mind, emotions and total personality at the same time. Therefore, it has become necessary to tell everybody throughout the world that you no longer have to be disappointed in medications and treatment. What you are trying to create in your body, what you are trying to change in your mind, all can be done by you, within yourself, through the practice of yoga.

Hatha yoga: unblocking of the energies

Nature and God have created this body with all possibilities and hopes. Therefore, we have various forms and practices of yoga which have to be taught and learned. Of these, the most important is hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is a method by which you utilize this body in order to create harmony in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The practices of hatha yoga consist of a few physical postures and the breathing practices. Asanas are not physical exercises; they are postures maintained for a definite period of time.

There are two forms of energy flowing within this body: one is known as the vital energy and the other as the mental energy. When there is a block in the passage of either of these energies, then you have disease. Disease is not merely a physical condition. This physical body has to be properly understood, not only as an aggregate of flesh, blood and bone, but as a complex of energy movements. For example, an electronic instrument has a superstructure, but inside, it also has an intricate electronic complex. In the same way, in this physical body, there are definitely two types of energy that control the entire movement, existence and homogeneity. On account of wrong thinking, wrong eating or wrong living, sometimes obstruction takes place in the structure and passage of energy.

In the scientific studies it has also been found that the spinal column is not merely a set of bones and discs. In the spinal cord there are six sensitive junctions. Scientific studies have shown that when asanas and pranayama were practised, electrodes attached to the different junctions registered subtle energy charges. These junctions control the distribution of vital and mental energy to every part of the body. But if there is some sort of blockage or defect in the junctions, then the distribution of energy does not take place properly and various diseases and disorders result.

It has been found that generally these junctions do not register a proper flow of energy. When one is suffering from nervous depression, epilepsy or great excitement and anger, he registers a very low emission of energy. This means that when the energy is not properly supplied to different organs of the body, nervous tensions result.

How to release tension

What is the international problem today? Is it hunger, poverty, drugs or fear of war? No, the universal problem of our century is tension, hypertension, total tension. If you know how to free yourself of tension, you know how to resolve your problems in life. If you know how to balance tensions, you know how to control your emotions, anger and passions. If you know how to overcome tension, you can control heart disease, high blood pressure, leukaemia and angina pectoris.

If you examine anybody, you will find tensions. I myself have exposed hundreds of people to scientific observation immediately after entering deep sleep, but all of them were under tension in spite of perfect sleep. This occurs because we don't understand what is meant by tensions. Tensions are of three types: muscular, mental and emotional. If you sleep well, you get rid of muscular tensions. But even if you sleep for months you cannot eliminate emotional tensions.

Is there any science in the world that can help you release your tensions? Is there any drug or medicine that can relieve tensions? The various forms of tension are caused by low emission of energy. It has been found that when you practise yoga and pranayama, the junctions in the spinal cord register a high emission of energy. Therefore, the practice of hatha yoga is so important for clearing the blocked passages of energy in different parts of the body and releasing accumulated tension.

Pranayama and the brain

In hatha yoga there is another important branch known as pranayama. Usually, in the west, pranayama is translated as breathing exercise or breath control. In fact, pranayama is not only a breathing exercise or breath control; it is a system for training the different centres in the brain.

There are two types of breathing. We call them voluntary breathing and involuntary breathing. When you breathe automatically throughout the 24 hours, it is called involuntary breathing, and is registered by the inferior brain, the occipital region. Now, the moment you start voluntary breathing, a different computer in the frontal brain registers it. Voluntary breathing thus allows control of the different hemispheres of the brain.

I will give you one example of voluntary breathing. You breathe in through the left nostril, hold it for a period of time, then breathe out through the right nostril; breathe in through the right nostril, hold it for a period of time, then breathe out through the left nostril. Now, in our scientific studies, we have seen that when you breathe in through the left nostril, the activity starts in the right hemisphere of the brain, and when you breathe in through the right nostril, the activity begins to take place in the left hemisphere of the brain. And when you hold the breath, both hemispheres of the brain become operative at the same time.

It has also been observed that the breath which goes through the left nostril has a slightly lower temperature than the breath which goes through the right. This is because the left nostril is related to ida nadi, the flow of mental energy, while the right nostril is related to pingala nadi, the flow of vital energy.

Nowadays, in scientific experiments they are using ECG and EEG to record heart and brain waves, and GSR to measure electrical activity of the skin. They have found that the practice of pranayama results in a very synchronous flow of alpha, delta and theta waves which harmonizes the activity of the brain. The tensions recorded during periods of beta activity change when there are alpha, theta or delta waves. When the alpha waves manifest in the brain, it has been found that the tensions in the body are lowered and the heart becomes free from pressure.

Therefore, when we talk about tension or hypertension we definitely should know how to manage, control or train the brain to produce alpha waves. It is on this basis that a lot of work has been done in the field of biofeedback. However, in order to control the brain, you require a method to train the mind. You cannot control it by separation, fright or fear. The brain, which is the seat for the mind, can be controlled by managing the different centres through a systematic method of pranayama.

Raja yoga: mastery of the mind

Now I am going to talk about raja yoga, and the subject I am going to deal with is meditation. When your mind is one-pointed, that is known as dhyana yoga or meditation. This is one of the greatest achievements of man. One who can meditate can control every situation in life. If man does not know how to meditate, he knows nothing about life.

You may be able to handle the affairs of the society, the country, the nation, the military and the whole world, but can you handle your own mind? If you cannot handle your own mind, then you cannot handle anything. Meditation makes you master of your own self. But how to do it? Everybody talks about meditation, but nobody knows how to do it. Raja yoga deals in detail with the necessary requisites of meditation: the technique, how to sit, and what to concentrate on.

When you close your eyes and forget yourself, that is not meditation. You have to close your eyes and become aware of an inner point; then you keep going in. If your mind begins wandering, you have to be aware of it. Mind is nothing but consciousness, awareness. Your brain has millions and billions of archetypes in it, and these will have to be known, manifested and seen before you can expect any meditation. Therefore, in meditation you don't have to suppress the thoughts, emotions or impressions. You just concentrate and let anything happen to the mind, it does not matter, because the archetypes within the brain will have to be manifested, experienced and gone through completely. In raja yoga one of the important techniques is known as yoga nidra. It is a practice and a science in which you attain the state of total relaxation. In order to heal one's own mind and body, you have to know how to relax the whole composition, and in yoga nidra you lie down quietly and completely relax. Through this particular method you renew yourself, not only mentally, but also physically.

Yoga for a better life

So I have introduced the two systems of hatha yoga and raja yoga. If these are learned for our daily use, we can have better health and better experiences in life.

At the present time man is passing through a very difficult period in his life and experience. On the one hand, he has developed his awareness, and on the other hand he does not know how to handle it. In one way, he has become supersensitive and in another way he does not know how to manage it. Now he has become so much aware of his inner being that he needs certain directive principles in his life. Therefore, out of 24 hours, if you can devote just half an hour to one hour every day, you can gain very much from yoga in your life.