Hatha yoga is a very important science. In ancient times it was practiced for many years as preparation for higher states of consciousness. But the real purpose of this great science has now been forgotten altogether. The hatha yoga practices which were designed by rishis and sages of old, for the evolution of mankind are not understood and utilized only a limited sense.
Hatha yoga concerns two important and vital systems in the physical body – the solar and lunar forces. In tantra and in hatha yoga these are known as ida and pingala representing the mental force and the pranic force. In the body, these pranic and mental forces interact with each other, respectively controlling, guiding and directing the senses of action and of knowledge. Due to them, we live, move, think and know.
The pranic and mental forces are conducted through ida and pingala nadis within the framework of the spinal passage. From each chakra they branch off via the network of nadis into all the respective organs and parts of the body. Nadi does not mean nerve. It means a flow, just as electricity, a radio wave or a laser beam is a flow. These channels or flows carry these two interacting energies of ida and pingala from pore to pore of the human body. There is not one point in this body where you do not have the interaction of these two forces.
In the practices of hatha yoga we are concerned with the balance of these two interacting forces of prana and mind. If the pranic force predominates there are physical imbalances due to excess prana in the system and if the mental force is predominant there are diseases related to the mind. This is the definition of somopsychic and psychosomatic diseases. Diseases do not originate only in the mind, they also originate in the body. Mind and body are not two separate realities. At different stages of manifestation, we know them as body and mind, but in essence they are one.
In order to purify the mind, it is necessary for the body as a whole to undergo a process of absolute purification. Hatha yoga is also known as the science of purification, not one type of purification, but six types. Purification of the whole nervous system is also a part of hatha yoga. Besides purifying the physical body, we have to also purify the nadis. The body has to be cleansed in six different ways for six different impurities. When you clear the body of these impurities, the nadis function and the energy blocks are released. Then the energies move like wave frequencies along the physical structure of the channel and they go right up to the brain.
Therefore, we consider hatha yoga as the preliminary practice of tantra, kundalini yoga and kriya yoga. When the rishis discovered the science of hatha yoga, they did not have yoga therapy in mind. Although yoga has proved to be very effective in the treatment of many incurable diseases the therapeutic effect of yoga is an incidental by-product.
The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the pranic and mental forces. When this balance is created, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to sushumna nadi, the central force which is responsible for illuming the higher centres of human consciousness.
So, the real purpose of hatha yoga is not to build the body or improve the health, but to energize and awaken the higher centres responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. If hatha yoga is not used for this purpose then its true objective is lost.
Mankind has to evolve. Transformation is a scientific fact. It is not a philosophy, faith or creed. The path of transformation and evolution gives meaning to life. You cannot deny evolution. Everything in this universe is evolving, even the rocks. If there is metamorphosis in every part of creation, why shouldn’t man’s consciousness undergo this state of metamorphosis? This physical body constantly undergoes various processes of transformation, which affect each and every molecule of its material substance.
Now people have begun to realize that matter in its ultimate form is energy. Therefore, we will have to reanalyze and redefine what the body is and how far this transformation can be effected. Can the body be turned into light particles? This must be understood in terms of science, not in terms of faith or belief. If this body can undergo a state of metamorphosis, then what is the way? The answer is yoga.
Through the process of yoga the body is rendered so subtle and pure that it is transformed into a yogic body which is unaffected by old age and disease. Hatha yoga initiates a process in this physical body whereby the pranic molecules and the mental forces which interact with each other may be transformed. Unless the physical molecules are transformed it is of no use to discuss compassion and unity.
A great challenge is open to us. If matter in its ultimate form is energy, then this physical body can be transformed into solid energy through the systematic practice of the six cleansing techniques of hatha yoga followed by asana and pranayama.
Hatha yoga is the preparation for pranayama. Pranayama is far more than just breathing exercises. In Sanskrit ayama literally means dimension not control. Pranayama is practiced in order to extend the dimensions of prana. Years ago, I wanted to know about the dimensions of prana. Has prana many planes of existence? In which plane does prana flow? What happens if prana does not flow? Around that time, I had a dream in which I saw a beautiful city with large roads lined with electricity poles. I went into the buildings and found lights, telephones, televisions, everything but there was no electricity, the whole city was in complete darkness.
Similarly, within us are planes of existence, areas of consciousness which are in absolute darkness. These planes are much more beautiful and creative than the ones we live on now. But how are we going to penetrate and illumine them? To talk about the different states of consciousness is useless. You must be able to experience them, even as you experience the state of dream or sleep. When the pranic energy is aroused and awakened through the practice of pranayama, it is circulated to these dark areas of consciousness. Then the inner city is illumined and man is reborn into a new dimension of existence, a new area of experience.
My tradition is Vedanta but I realize that philosophy is intellectual and you can never reach the point of evolution through the intellect. Intellect becomes a barrier to spiritual awakening and we have to find a powerful means of transcending it. I have tried many methods, and have found pranayama most effective.
If you practice pranayama, you do not have to worry about the mind; the wild mind does not exist for you. As you go on practicing pranayama, you push the pranic force into the different dark areas of your consciousness, and the mind evaporates. There is no thought process. Thoughts are impressions. You are reading this; it is an impression. You become aware of impressions stage by stage, and so you think that they are moving. But thoughts don’t move – they don’t travel into the past, present and future, they are just there, that’s all.
Through the practice of pranayama, the involuntary processes of body, brain and mind can be mastered. Control over these processes enables you to direct the major course and destiny of your life, and also of your death. When you change the structure of the physical material, the mental substance automatically undergoes a change. Mind is a further manifestation of the body, and when you influence the mind you also influence the spirit. So, body, mind and spirit are not the trinity – they are the unity, one.
If you want to achieve this transcendental experience, the practices of hatha yoga and pranayama should be perfected, while observing the rules and recommendations. This does not mean giving up all the pleasures of life, but once you have decided to step into another dimension of consciousness you must be ready to sacrifice some of those things which are definitely detrimental. This is an important point that has to be considered. Therefore, I remind you that the practices of hatha yoga, asanas and pranayama are ultimately intended for developing the quality of human consciousness, not just the mind. With this knowledge, with this attitude, one can progress.
I have the greatest respect for meditation but it is necessary to practice the three preparatory limbs first, then you may go further if necessary. If the preparation is perfect, there will be no need to learn meditation. One fine morning, while practicing pranayama, your mind will be lifted into a new realm of consciousness.
Dublin, 1979 European Tour. First published in YOGA Vol. 18, No. 3 (March 1980)