Practices of Hatha Yoga

Talk given by Swami Amritananda Saraswati in Chicago on 20.8.81

When we talk about yoga, we find that the word itself has much significance. Yoga means union, merging, joining, connecting, conducting. All these mean yoga, but how to unite, how to join? Join with what? Yoga is not a thread joining one seam with another. It is not the joint where two pieces of pipe are connected. It is not the joining of two persons together.

Though we all seem to be different human beings, in essence each one of us is the same infinite and immortal being. So what appears to be different, in reality is one. But since our senses, ideas and beliefs are so limited, we are unable to experience the oneness, the infiniteness of the supreme. Therefore, we must awaken such energy, knowledge or wisdom in us whereby we can overcome the limits of the physical level and of the emotional, mental and spiritual levels as well.

In this era of technology and tension, everybody comes to yoga to dispel physical illness, to balance the emotions and rectify mental disorders. There are very few sincere sadhakas who come to yoga solely for spiritual advancement, although the ultimate result of the practice is to develop yourself spiritually. But what happens through the practice of yogic techniques that rids us of mental and physical disease? Here let us talk a little more about hatha yoga, which you as a student or as a teacher will understand easily.

Suppose you assume the position known as shashankasana, the hare pose. First sit in vajrasana, then raise the arms straight up over your head. Gradually bend from the waist until the palms and forehead touch the floor. This is called shashankasana or ardha chandrasana, half moon pose.

This is the asana for those who have asthma or bronchial problems. If you know beforehand that an attack is about to occur, you can perform shashankasana in order to avert it. That is one application of the practice.

Now there are many people who have an uncontrollable temper. They become angry suddenly and unnecessarily. In order to gain control over such terrible anger, to pacify that type of emotion, this is the asana. Remember, shashankasana also means half moon pose. Here the coolness of the moon reduces the heat of anger and helps to maintain balanced emotions.

Shashankasana is such an easy pose. You can remain in it, breathing slowly, for several minutes. Become aware of your breath at the navel centre. That will make you more relaxed. It will also help you to achieve better concentration and less wavering of the mind. Even if you are not asthmatic, this asana can still benefit you. Shashankasana is especially good for children up to sixteen, and also for the old people, because it is mild and frees up the lungs. All lower abdominal ailments such as constipation, diarrhoea, dysentery, will be rectified by this pose over a period of time.

Now, raise the body to the erect position and place the palms on the knees. This particular asana is known as vajrasana. It is very beneficial and the only asana recommended after meals. If you sit regularly in this pose for five or ten minutes after food, all your stomach disorders will be eliminated. Vajra means thunderbolt and this asana makes our digestion as powerful as the thunder.

Next, lie down on your back. Gradually raise the head, shoulders, arms and trunk. Bend forward and grasp the toes or ankles if possible, placing the forehead on the knees. This is a very easy position. If you find it difficult go slowly. Then roll back gradually without lifting the heels.

This asana is called paschimottanasana. It is useful for reducing obesity and rectifying stomach ailments. It is especially good for ladies with menstrual problems. Most sexual problems can be resolved through this practise but it requires long term and regular practise.

Paschimottanasana is also useful in minimising visions. Sometimes visions keep coming and you find it impossible to get rid of them, whether the eyes are open or shut. This practice tranquillises the brain and helps to stop the appearance of distracting visions.

In hatha yoga, asana is followed by pranayama. We practise pranayama in order to manipulate the movement of vital energy. Prana means 'vital energy' and ayam means 'to move or circulate in a certain direction'.

There are a number of, pranayamas, but the most popular and powerful is nadi shodhana. Nadi means 'channel or flow' and shodhana means 'to purify'. Nadi shodhana purifies not only the nadis or energy channels, but all the elements in the physical body. It also balances the nervous system, creating harmony throughout the body and brain.

In order to practise it, first you press the right nostril and breathe in slowly through the left. Then press the left nostril and breathe out slowly through the right. This alone brings about great tranquillity in the physical body, particularly in the brain.

Hatha yoga also has many cleansing techniques. One important practice is kunjal kriya in which you drink a few glasses of warm, saline water and then vomit it out. All the old and fermented mucus and acidic secretions in the upper canal will come out with it. This practice will relieve giddiness and nervousness.

When you practise the many, multifaceted techniques of hatha yoga, you will come to understand how closely they are aligned with the science of tantra. In fact it was from the tantras that the system of hatha yoga evolved. Perhaps it is hard to believe, but when you investigate more about it, you will find out how the rishis, sages and munis discovered this ancient science which prepares the body and brain for spiritual awakening.