Be True to the Yoga Vidya

From Hatha Yoga Yatra 1: Understanding Shatkarma, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

From Sri Swami Satyananda’s teachings, hatha yoga has to be mastered firstbefore you embark on the raja yoga journey. Most people don’t realize this. Even I used to think in the early days that meditation, pratyahara and dharana are the important practices and hatha yoga can be bypassed. However, I realized that if these are practised without the right preparation which hatha yoga gives, they remain incomplete practices, as the body is not ready and the pranas have not moved, whereas doing them after the proper preparation with hatha yoga, I could easily observe the difference in the practices of raja yoga and kriya yoga. The body responses, the mental resilience, emotional stability, pranic activity, everything alters when a sequential process is followed, moving from hatha yoga to raja yoga to kriya yoga.

Deepening the understanding

We are introducing different modules of hatha yoga practices or journeys in hatha yoga at the Bihar School of Yoga to deepen the awareness and understanding of the practices. For most yoga practitioners, their practice of yoga is not a holistic practice; it is superficial. It is the primary class, using limited practices of asana and pranayama, one practice of relaxation, and a few basic practices of concentration. For a long time that level has been maintained; however, it is necessary that now we review what we know, deepen the experience, and explore new systems that yoga has to offer.

Therefore, even though there will be different trainings of hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga and other programs at BSY, it is recommended that if you have started with the hatha yoga training, then complete the hatha yoga series, and adhere to each module for at least six months. Practise Module 1 for six months, then stop, go back to your other yoga practices, and you will notice the difference in your own practice.

The intention of these programs is to deepen the experience of yoga, not to make yoga teachers. Sri Swamiji did not teach me or my generation of sannyasins to become yoga teachers. However, the focus of most people who come to yoga today is to become a yoga teacher. To train such people, a syllabus is followed but that syllabus is not complete yoga; what you learn in a teacher training course or an instructor’s program is the basics and beginning of yoga. Some people may be competent enough to do advanced postures but then they can’t do advanced breathing techniques or advanced bandhas.

You have to ask yourself what has been the level of your involvement in yoga, where you have reached with your practice of yoga. If you have learnt yoga only in order to teach others, then you have gone down the wrong road. That should not be the intention or purpose of learning. The intention should be to learn and experience yoga yourself. That is what we imbibed from Sri Swamiji; the learning that we received was not from the perspective of teaching but from the perspective of practising, experiencing and developing our own understanding. Ultimately, if you teach what you have experienced, the understanding in the students’ mind is also that much better.

Yoga vidya

Through the ages yoga has been a vidya, a knowledge that has been transmitted. Transmission means something that you experience, not what you practise, for you can practise without experiencing. That is the situation now. People do their yoga and talk about peace, balance and harmony; they talk about meditation and goodness, but it is only talk, as they have not had direct or in-depth experience of these precepts.

The involvement with yoga is limited to a lot of discussion, but there is no understanding. It is a little practice with no depth. You can talk about kriya yoga for one week, kundalini yoga for another week, samadhi for the third week, but how does that help you? It is all theory, but is it helping you in your daily life? No. Even your practice of kundalini yoga or kriya yoga is superficial. For one month you have the drive so you do it and then everything is relegated to the background. You want to do the advanced practices but you are not prepared to make the commitment that is required to achieve the awakening of chakras and kundalini. So there is no depth. There is sincerity in yoga aspirants, but no depth and no understanding of the practice or what can be derived from the practice.

I will give an example. There are machines that measure the stress of muscles; electrodes are placed over the body and they help to measure the stress level while you are performing an activity. Once, that experiment was done with asanas. The asana chosen was paschimottanasana, the back stretching pose in which you touch the toes with the legs extended forward. While doing this asana, the muscular stress reduced by 90 units. It looks like a difficult asana as you are stretching every muscle and trying to touch your toes; your whole body is in a state of chronic tension. However, what is perceived as difficult or causing chronic tension, is actually relaxing the muscular system of the body. When you release the posture and lie down in shavasana, the whole body fops and relaxes more than before, just as you stretch a rubber band and then release it.

Now, if you use this knowledge to create a specificcondition in your body, that can counteract stressful situations, then no matter where you are in life, in a profession or in renunciation, you can manage the psychological effects of stress and anxiety in a much better manner. This is an indication of understanding and applying the yogic practices to create a change in the pattern of the body and psychology. If you can do this, then yoga does not remain a mechanical practice that you are doing every morning or evening; instead it becomes a conscious practice to create or alter a condition in your life. That is what we learnt from Sri Swamiji and it is this teaching that we are again presenting, for in the last fiftyyears there has been a significantdilution in yoga teaching. Practices are remembered but not the original intention or the instruction that Sri Swami Satyananda gave. We are reviving that and connecting with the spirit with which he taught us the practices: not to become teachers but to become experiencers of yoga.

Complementary yogas of yoga chakra

Sri Swamiji emphasized the learning of six yogas, which become part of the yoga chakra, the yogic wheel: hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Generally, we believe that the first three – hatha, raja and kriya – are the practical yogas; while the other three – karma, jnana and bhakti – are the expressive yogas. What is not realized is that each yoga from the first three has a complementary yoga in the other three. Hatha yoga is complemented by karma yoga, raja yoga is complemented by bhakti yoga, and kriya yoga is complemented by jnana yoga.

Although many people definekarma yoga as hard work, bhakti yoga as the yoga of devotion, and jnana yoga as the yoga of self-enquiry, that is incorrect. The external aspects of karma, bhakti and jnana have no relevance in yoga. Yoga is a discipline; karma yoga is a discipline, bhakti yoga is a discipline, jnana yoga is a discipline. All these disciplines are intended to improve the traits of human nature and to fine-tunethe human personality.

Karma yoga is not hard work, selflessservice, or the work that you do in an ashram; that is one interpretation but not the real understanding. Karma yoga is an awareness, an attitude, a perception of the mind that regulates the effects of one’s actions, and that cannot be practised by sweeping or cleaning. That has to be realized and understood, and through that understanding a direction is given to oneself in pratyahara and dharana. The book Yoga Chakra tells you about the three goals of karma yoga: atmashuddhi, akarta bhava, and naishkarmya siddhi. These three goals have to be present in every action that you undertake. This has to be attained after you complete your training in hatha yoga. First you attain mastery over the body and the senses through hatha yoga, and then you use every action of the body and the senses with a different awareness and understanding. Thus hatha yoga and karma yoga are practised in a complementary way.

Similarly, raja yoga is where you are working with your mind. Along with that bhakti yoga must be practised – not the ritualistic bhakti, but bhakti yoga as a psychological process of developing the emotional body. Ringing bells and lighting incense is not bhakti yoga, that is bhakti. Ritual is bhakti, not yoga. When we add the word ‘yoga’ to it, it becomes a personal inner experience, not an outside show. The same kirtan that is sung in a temple is sung in a yoga ashram. However, there it is done with a religious belief and perspective in mind, and here the perspective is to experience the vibration generated by the kirtan. In this manner, what you derive from one practice is dependent on what you want to experience. Thus raja yoga and bhakti yoga, representing mind and emotions, are clubbed together.

Then comes kriya yoga. The psychic awakening is assisted by jnana yoga: understanding, knowing, realizing and living. Jnana yoga is not enquiring ‘Who am I?’ It is living an understanding and realization. The presence of this jnana is necessary during psychic awakening, so that you don’t lose your head but have a proper understanding of what you are experiencing and where to go.

Therefore, never think that karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga are separate from hatha yoga, raja yoga and kriya yoga. They are integral parts of each other, and support and facilitate the progression from one into the other state of yogic experience. This is the process of yoga as devised by Sri Swamiji. Hatha yoga and karma yoga balance and strengthen the body and the senses, raja yoga and bhakti yoga balance and strengthen the intellect and the emotions, kriya yoga and jnana yoga balance and strengthen the psyche and the understanding. These are the tools through which the aspirations of yoga and human life are achieved, according to Swami Sivananda, according to Swami Satyananda, and according to my own realizations.

—30 September 2016, Hatha Yoga Module 1, Ganga Darshan, Munger