The Basis of the Body

From Hatha Yoga Book 1, Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Out of many, many authorities on hatha yoga, one is an outstanding personality. His name is Swatmarama. He compiled a book on the hatha yoga system, known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This can be translated as Light on Hatha Yoga. The term pradipika, however, actually means self-illuminating or that which illumines. It is a text which illumines a multitude of physical, mental and spiritual problems for aspirants.

Before him, the chief disciple of Matsyendranath had already written in Hindi. The name of that disciple was Gorakhnath. He was a yogi much greater than his own guru. He wrote books and poems on hatha yoga in the local dialect. But in India there is a tradition that the original texts must be in Sanskrit. So Yogi Swatmarama compiled the entire wisdom of hatha yoga in Sanskrit.

The beauty of Hatha Yoga Pradipika is that it solves a very great problem of every aspirant. The shatkarmas, asanas and pranayamas, which are covered in other texts, are discussed but the yamas and niyamas of raja yoga, and of the Buddhist and Jain system were completely eliminated. Experience has taught that in order to practise yama and niyama, discipline and self-control, a certain quality of mind is needed. Often when one tries to practise self-control and discipline the result is more problems in the mind and personality. If harmony is not created in the personality, then self-control and self-discipline create more conflict than peace of mind. Restraint and self-control have always been expounded as philosophical or religious principles, but from the spiritual standpoint they have mercilessly failed to assist humanity in the task of evolution.

In Hatha Yoga Pradipika the first thing one notices is that Yogi Swatmarama does not worry about self-control and self-discipline in the form of yama and niyama at all. Self-control and self-discipline should start with the body. That is much easier. Asanas are discipline, pranayamas are discipline, and kumbhaka, retention of breath, is control. Sit in padmasana, the lotus pose, for fifteen minutes – that is self-discipline. Why fight with the mind first? One has no power to wrestle with the mind, yet people always wrestle with the mind. Thereby a pattern of animosity is created within the mind itself! One mind wants to break discipline while the other mind wants to maintain discipline. But there are not two minds – one mind is trying to split itself in two. This split can be found in everybody.

The danger was clearly realized by the authorities and masters of hatha yoga. Therefore they said, first discipline the body, and explained what they meant by the body. They said that the subtle elements or tattwas and the energy channels or nadis within the body should be purified. They said that the behaviour of prana, the vital force, the entire nervous system and the various secretions in the body should be properly maintained and harmonized.

It should always be kept in mind that the body, the mind and the spirit are not three, they are one. At one level of existence the body is experienced. At another level existence is perceived as the mind. Spirit should never be considered to be different from the body or the body to be different from spirit. They are one. The basis of this body is divine.