In comparison to medical science, how do the techniques of hatha yoga help in the elimination of disease?
Since ancient times, hatha yoga has been used by yogis and rishis for the relief and elimination of all kinds of diseases, disorders and defects. It is true that the practices require a bit more time and effort on the part of the patient than the conventional therapies. But in terms of permanent, positive results, as well as the saving of enormous expenditure on medicines, they are certainly well worth it.
What makes this method of treatment so powerful and effective is the fact that it works on the principles of harmony and unification rather than diversity. The three important principles on which physical and mental therapy is based are as follows:
Physical and mental therapy is one of the most important achievements of hatha yoga. So far, hatha yoga has succeeded in diseases like asthma, diabetes and blood pressure, where modern science has not. Besides this, hatha yoga has proved very effective in cases of epilepsy, hysteria, rheumatism and many other ailments of chronic and constitutional nature. In fact, we have found that most diseases of chronic and constitutional nature can definitely be reversed through hatha yoga.
What did the yogis learn from their observation of animals?
The yogis were quite impressed by the practice of hibernation. They noticed that when frogs and snakes went into hibernation, their hearts stopped and their breathing ceased, but when it was time to come out, their hearts began to function again automatically. The yogis were unable to do this because nature does not compel man to hibernate. In snakes and frogs, the central nervous system is controlled by the laws of nature and they are compelled to hibernate and re-enter the world when the season of hibernation is over.
So the yogis decided to train themselves to live in total carbon dioxide. Through pranayama, mudras and bandhas, they were able to develop control over their autonomic nervous systems, and by practising shambhavi mudra and trataka, they could control the involuntary functions of their hypothalamuses. Then they were able to hibernate for up to forty days.
The yogis made another important observation. Whenever the snakes and frogs were about to hibernate, they cleansed their bodies thoroughly. Firstly, the snake sheds its skin, then it begins to fast and lessens its movements. It passes faeces and vomits things out, but it does not eat. Even if a rat comes near the serpent, it will not touch it. For hibernation the body must not contain any foreign matter. Therefore, before the yogis went into hibernation, or underground samadhi, as it is known, they practised kunjal, neti, shankhaprakshalana and fasting.
The yogis acquired a great deal of knowledge by watching nature’s ways and adopting them themselves. Another important thing they noticed was that animals never eat at night. You will never see a cow eating during the night, and birds and monkeys always finish dinner just before sunset. Only a few foolish animals like tigers, foxes, jackals and human beings will eat at night.
Like the creatures of the forests, the yogis followed the ways of nature and they discovered the laws of health and the secrets of longevity.
Tell us something about trataka?
The Sanskrit word trataka means to gaze steadily. If someone is staring at you for a long time you call it trataka. There are many ways of practising trataka. Some people do trataka on a candle flame, on a black dot, a crystal, the moon, a picture or a symbol, on the reflections in water or their own image in a mirror.
Trataka is a very important practice and a direct method of influencing the brain. The eye is actually an extension of the brain and the optic nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves that emerge from the brain, not the spinal cord, so therefore, when we engage the optic system we are influencing the brain. The yogis discovered that making the eyes steady by gazing at a point either at the eyebrow centre, the nose tip, or a point outside of the body, immediately and beneficially affects the brain. This has a reciprocal effect on the eye movements, the retina and the whole visual apparatus.
If you watch a sleeping person you can know whether he is sleeping deeply or dreaming. You can immediately tell by his eye movements whether he is worried, frightened, anxious, dreaming, thinking, sleeping or in samadhi. In deep sleep the eyes may automatically assume shambhavi mudra. When a person is dreaming there are fluctuations in the eyeballs, which can be seen, felt and also measured by machines.
In states of profound meditation the eyeballs are usually centred between the eyebrows or at the nose tip, and when a man dies his eyeballs generally go straight up, they never stay in the centre. An anxious person’s eyes are unsteady, and by stilling the eyes we can generally overcome the uncontrolled fluctuations of an anxious brain.
Why should one practise hatha yoga before tantra?
By the practices of hatha yoga you can harmonize the two great forces in man – prana and mind. They are known as pingala and ida, and they emanate from mooladhara chakra and join each other in ajna chakra. Their union takes place in the void behind the eyebrow centre.
If you have practised hatha yoga and have arrived at shoonya, you must then practise raja yoga to experience the consciousness. Firstly union must take place, then an experience comes, and then you meditate on that point. This is raja yoga. When you meditate on that point what happens? The matter and the consciousness are separated, and you go in completely. That is tantra. So, hatha yoga comes first, raja yoga next, and tantra comes last.
Are asanas and pranayama included in hatha yoga?
Academically no. Hatha yoga principally means neti, dhauti, basti, kapalbhati, nauli and trataka, which are termed the shatkarmas. Asana and pranayama are popularly regarded as part of hatha yoga. I am telling you the academic difference, but actually there is no difference.