Vahnistripathisevaanaamaadau varjanmaacharet Tathaahi gorakshavachanam – “varjayed durjanapraantam vahnistripathisevanam Praatah snaanopavaasaadi kaayaklsha-vidhim tathaa.”
Fire, women and long pilgrimages should be avoided. Therefore Goraknath said: Bad company, mixing with women, bathing in the early morning, fasting and tasks which produce pain in the body should be avoided. (Chapter 1, Verse 61)
Anything which demands excess energy and depletes the system should be avoided. Standing or working near a fire exhausts the prana. ‘Bad company’ means those who live an anti-spiritual life or who think negatively. People without any purpose in life, who are unaware of the importance of spiritual evolution do not enlighten one’s soul and should be avoided by a sadhaka.
Involvement with the opposite sex and sexual intercourse for pleasure alone, deplete energy and tax the nervous system. Sexual desire can never be fulfilled and when you feed that desire it is like throwing kerosene on a fire. It is not the physical act which is ‘bad’ but the mental repercussions which can be harmful for the sadhaka. Thus it is better not to indulge for some time if one wants to awaken prana through hatha yoga.
One is also advised not to undergo long journeys or pilgrimages. Of course, it should be remembered that when Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written, jets and fast cars were not in existence. People travelled by foot, physically exhausting the bodily and pranic reserves. A pilgrimage implies a religious search to find God somewhere else. The hatha yogi can realize that highest state travelling anywhere.
‘Bathing early in the morning should be avoided’, but the sentence is incomplete without adding ‘with cold water when the weather is winterish’. In India most people bathe in water from the well or water reserve, few take a hot bath. Particularly when it is very hot, nobody wants to bathe in warm water. However, in winter it is cold in the early morning and if one bathes in cold water it strains the nervous system and lowers the body temperature. Hot water baths weaken the body’s resistance to the outside temperature and can make one feel very lethargic and sluggish.
The hatha yogi should eat regular meals and not make a habit of fasting often. Fasting is useful to stimulate the digestive system, to eliminate toxins and to help bring the senses and mind under control. In sickness it stimulates the body to produce the necessary antibodies to fight disease and rebalance the body structure.
In India many people follow the age-old tradition of fasting in conjunction with the phases of the moon. There are particular days which are conducive for either a full or half-day fast, e.g. the fourth, ninth, eleventh, fourteenth and fifteenth day of either the bright or dark fortnight. Swami Sivananda says, “Occasional fasting once a month or when passion troubles you much, will suffice.”
Though fasting has a lot to offer and many people advocate it, one who devotes many hours to hatha yoga sadhana should not strain the body in such a way. Any actions which are strenuous and create pain or extreme conditions in the body should not be undertaken by the yogi. Without being fanatical, one should take proper care of the body and avoid any unnecessary strain or injury, as the body is the vehicle to higher consciousness. Of course, one has to be sensible about all these instructions and take into account the situation and conditions.