Hatha Yoga: Maintaining the Body

From Yoga in Daily Life, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What is it that you face in your body to begin with? In the realm of the senses, you face illness and disease. The word ‘disease’ is composed of two different words: ‘disturbed’ and ‘ease’. When the ease of the body is disturbed, when the level of comfort in the body is disturbed, when the harmony of the body is disturbed, then it is dis-ease. The meaning of the word ‘disease’ is ‘disturbed ease of the body’. To manage that, yogis formulated ways in which this body can be influenced, and the internal systems and organs of the body can be brought into balance. In order to deal with the body, they came up with the system of hatha yoga so that internal disturbances could be removed, and comfort, ease, stamina and health regained.

Contrary to the popular belief that hatha yoga is only the practice of physical asana and nothing more, it is an important aspect of yoga. Hatha yoga is like the primary class to which you get yourself admitted before you can continue your study in higher classes. Admission to yoga takes place through hatha yoga; it does not take place through dhyana or meditation. Admittance in the yogic journey does not happen through kriya yoga or kundalini yoga. You are admitted in yoga education when you begin hatha yoga, something with which you can physically identify. The body is something gross, physical, material with which you can identify. You can see it; you use it to full your aspirations and ambitions.

The wellbeing of this physical structure was a concern for the yogis. If the body is sick, how will you do the other practices? Try practising meditation while having an asthma attack, not possible. Try awakening your kundalini when you have a hernia or an abdominal ulcer, not possible. Your mind will be diverted to your problem rather than the practice. It is impractical for anybody to practise yoga if they are not well. Therefore, the welfare of the body was thought of by the yogis, and to manage the disturbed conditions of the body they developed the science and the subject of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga contains many different practices such as asana, pranayama, shatkarmas, mudras and bandhas. Their purpose is to realign the energy flow within the body and the mind.

The purpose and the destination of hatha yoga is perceived, recognized and known when you understand the word ‘hatha’. Hatha is a combination of two mantras which are of ajna chakra. If you look at the image of ajna chakra, the third eye, the two petals have ham and tham written on them. Tham can be substituted by ksham. The mantra ham represents the flow of the solar energy, the prana shakti, the pingala channel. The mantra tham represents the flow of the lunar energy, chitta shakti, the mental power, through the ida channel. Balance of ida and pingala, balance between the pranic and the mental energies, is the purpose of hatha yoga.

When you sit for an extended period of time in any posture, blood and prana circulation to certain parts of the body slows down. If you sit cross-legged without having any practice, without being proficient in the practice, after twenty minutes, half an hour, one hour when you try to get up, you will discover that your legs have gone to sleep. Often when you sleep in a different posture at night, in the morning your arms have gone to sleep and you can’t even move them because circulation has slowed and it takes a few moments or minutes for the circulation to restart and for the movement to resume. Blood circulation becomes a factor which can inhibit the movement of a physical organ. In the same way, pranic circulation is also a factor in the maintenance of the health of a physical organ. Diseases and illnesses occur when there is lack of prana in that particular organ. That is the yogic understanding.

Balancing Shakti

Why do digestive problems occur? It is because prana is not flowing into the digestive system. It is not active there, therefore constipation is experienced. Digestion is affected, therefore gastric problems occur. Digestion does not take place, therefore you experience acidity. Once digestion begins to function properly, constipation ceases, gastric problems cease, as do problems with acidity.

Each organ needs to have a certain amount of pranic energy in order to function, just as in the outer life each electrical instrument uses certain volts of electric power to function. Power is available either through the socket in the wall or through a battery depending on what power is required. In the same manner, different organs of the body also need power. The brain needs power to function, and energy in your life is depleted on a daily basis. When this pranic urja, energy, is depleted you feel tired, and through rest this pranic urja is restored, pranic shakti is restored and you feel fresh again.

Similarly, when chitta shakti, the mental power, through which you think, contemplate, understand sensory inputs and act, is blocked, the mind becomes dull. You have experienced this. Often, after a hard day’s work when somebody asks you something, you reply “Not now. I’m tired.” This is chitta shakti. If it flows properly, you would be able to answer promptly. You would never need to say, “Later. I am resting now.”

The postures of hatha yoga, asana, and pranayama, which are of a dynamic nature, help to rectify the imbalances in the flow of prana shakti into the body and the flow of prana shakti into the mind. That is the purpose of hatha yoga.

As the balance is being restored in your body and the imbalances are removed, the problems become less. There is an improvement in asthmatic respiratory conditions, in the cardiovascular system and in the functions of the digestive system. In this manner, through gradual practice of hatha yoga, the body achieves a state of wellbeing. This harmony of pranas allows them to focus on the management of the mind, as after hatha yoga follows raja yoga.

20 August 2011, Ganga Darshan, Munger