The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the most renowned and accessible texts written on the ancient practice of hatha yoga. Believed to have been written in the fourteenth century C.E. by Svatmarama Yogin, speculation surrounds the true authorship of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika since some of its elements coincide with hatha yoga guides attributed to other authors of the time (Burley 6). In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika Svatmarama melds together the practice of raja yoga and hatha yoga. A disagreement persisted in the early yogic scriptures about which form of yoga was more superior to the other, but by combining raja and hatha yoga practices as well as claiming their dependency upon one another in his work, Svatmarama disbanded this dispute (Birch 527). The Sanskrit word hatha originates from its two roots, ‘ha’ and ‘tha’. The root ‘ha’ refers to properties such as “passion, heat, and positivity,” the root ‘tha’ refers to elements like “cool, receptive, and negativity” (Sivananda Radha 3). Hatha is the incorporation of two extremes while yoga (meaning union) is the bringing together of these polarities (Sivananda Radha 3-4). The Sanskrit word pradipika ‘that which sheds light’, when put into a metaphor helps the reader better understand the context of the title and how it refers to shedding light on the subject of hatha yoga (Burley 6). One who practices hatha yoga would be considered a yogi and yogis are the main reader audience of this particular text. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika contains 389 slokas (Sanskrit verses) and is divided into four upadesas or chapters (Burley 7). The first chapter is titled “Asanas”. In this chapter proper etiquette is revealed for the practice of hatha yoga as well as the yoga postures or asanas. “Pranayama” is the title of the second chapter; it includes emphasis on ‘harnessing’ of fundamental energy and elucidates various techniques or kumbhakas of breath retention that can be utilized to achieve this discipline. Svatmarama also includes six different detoxifying acts called karmans that aid the practice of pranayama in this second chapter. The third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika focuses on the subject of mudras, which are ritual gestures, and the final chapter entitled “Samadhi” centers on the ultimate goal of hatha yoga, the deepest level of meditation (Burley 7). Exploration of this classic text that is a part of the Hindu tradition gives one an understanding of the goals and regimens of the ancient practice of hatha yoga.
Svatmarama outlines in the first chapter of his text various imperative observances that the true yogi must adhere to in order to properly perform hatha yoga. The practice of hatha yoga is explained to be sacred and should be practiced in reverence and secret in order for it to maintain its purity; the full potential of this form of yoga is most accessibly achieved in this way (Svatmarama 4). The fulfillment of the hatha yogi is emphasized as to be completely individual and further instructions of how the practitioner should live and eat, as well as adherences and avoidances is explained to keep their practice on the right path. According to Svatmarama yoga flourishes under acts such as “enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of truth, determination and solitude” and it succumbs to undertakings of “overeating, overexertion, talking too much, performing painful austerities, socializing and restlessness” (6). The first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika also includes important instructions on the proper execution of asanas or yoga postures. An example of an explanation of an asana called Bhadrasana is as follows: “grasp the feet, which are motionless on their sides, firmly with the hands and remain motionless,” this pose is claimed to be “the destroyer of all diseases” (Svatmarama 26). Enthusiastic, involved practice is emphasized in the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as to be the most important part of the accomplishment of asanas.
The practice of pranayama, according to Burley is the “control of ‘vital force’” (31). This act of harnessing energy is done through techniques of breath retention. The importance of this discipline as outlined in the second chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is that the result of pranayama is to create steadiness in the yogi and in turn, steadying their hatha yoga practice (Svatmarama 33). Svatmarama in the Pradipika alludes to the philosophy of breath and how it links life and death and highlights the importance of the control of breath (33). The mention of nadis, or vital channels, and ways of controlling them (kumbhakas), aids in the explanation of the process of pranayama (Burley 7). The practice of pranayama is explained to weaken diseases in the body; other techniques that contribute to the wellness of the body are karmans, purifying actions (Svatmarama 38). There are six karmans named in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli and kapalabhati. These karmans are for the most part physically trying and Svatmarama even mentions that the practice of them are not recommended by all hatha yogis (Svatmarama 42). Instructions on various kumbhakas through pranayama aim to enable the student of hatha yoga to achieve success in their practice.
The third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika entitled “Mudras” includes guidelines on various seals or sealing postures. Svatmarama stresses the sacrosanct quality of mudras and that the practitioner must keep them to themselves as something to be revered (Svatmarama 54). Mudras, like pranayama, are to be utilized to prevent disease and bring physical and spiritual well being to the yogi undertaking them. In this third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, soma ( “the immortal nectar”) is encouraged to be consumed (Burley 23). Along with the encouragement to ingest soma, a significant stress is placed on the importance of the yogi preserving his semen and keeping it within his body. This suggestion is based on the idea that semen is equivalent to life, so in order to avoid death, one must preserve the life or semen within them (Svatmarama 73). These different strategies are resorted to alongside mudras in order to employ authenticity to the hatha form of yoga.
The final chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika concentrates on the final goal of hatha yoga, “Samadhi,” it is the “state of unity” (Svatmarama 85). Samadhi is the collective intention of the yoga practice outlined in the Pradipika. With the combination of the practices of asanas, pranayama and mudras, Svatmarama illuminates the achievement of this deep state of meditation. This last chapter again focuses on the utilization of controlled breath to bring the yogi to their ultimate goal of Samadhi. Svatmarama repeats the importance of blending the practices of raja and hatha yoga gives instructions to follow for the proper execution of sound meditation. The focus for meditation is urged to be placed on nada, which refers to inner sound and leads to absorption of the mind (Burley 99). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika closes on this last speculation on the ultimate goal of its practice.
Yogi Svatmarama’s early work in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika continues to carry on meaning to practitioners of the modern day. The information it expounds in areas of yoga postures (asanas), breathing control techniques (pranayama), sacramental gestures (mudras) and the final goal of realization (Samadhi) gives the reader an explanation of the ancient practice of hatha yoga. Examination and understanding this classic text that is based on the fundamentals of one of the most common forms of yoga creates an interpretation of the mentality or intention attached to the practice of yoga in the Hindu tradition.
Sources Consulted and Bibliography
Svatmarama (2004) The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Translated by Brian Dana Akers. Woodstock: Yogavidya.com.
Burley Mikel (2000) Hatha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory and Practice. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.
Sivananda Radha, Swami (1987) Hatha Yoga The Hidden Language: Symbols, Secrets, and Metaphor. Porthill: Timeless Books.
Birch, Jason (2011) “The Meaning of hatha in Early Hathayoga.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 131 Issue 4: 527-554.
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This article is written by Kwynn Nelson (April 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.