This kind of yoga appeared owing to the Nath Tradition compilers. Evidently basing upon existing yoga practices and developed forms of Tantra the yogis of this tradition succeeded to unite their knowledge and experience and granted the world practical science of spiritual development. Though India was always generously gifted by saints and wise men, spiritual masters and reformers; the appearance of Hatha Yoga became a significant event in the history of the country. To be the effective one it became one the main forms of yoga among Nath yogis and many other traditions. Hatha Yoga is believed that it has various miraculous benefits. Ones believe it can cure diseases, the others perceive it as certain exclusive form of magic or witchcraft. Perhaps these opinions aren’t groundless. At different times many yogis of Nath Sampradaya indeed has demonstrated all possible miracles however these achievements are never considered as aims of the practice but side effects only. Hatha Yoga was and remains the system of spiritual development. It is all purpose mean and beyond any national or religious restrictions.
Being physical and psychological discipline Hatha Yoga is based on belief that the Universe is created of two powers (it represents opposing energies) – peace and motion. Peace is understood as constancy and transcendental experience or Nath yogis call it Shiva. Motion is a variety through one the transcendental experience becomes apparent, or Shakti. The interaction of these two polarities causes to all changes in the Universe. The Universe history includes destructions and followed renewal. Such factors as appearance of new planets and galaxies, climate changes at different periods of time, replacement of living beings by other ones, historical changes only prove the existence of invariability and constant reiteration of the processes in the Universe.
Exploring these phenomena the wise men of ancient times came to the conclusion that a man’s life is closely connected with them. As long as a man is under Shakti’s influence he continues suffering from dependences, narrow-mindedness and scantiness but his natural need still remains yearning to peace and perfection. He constantly seeks harmony – within himself and nature. Just keeping Shakti and Shiva’s balance gives him satisfaction and awareness of existence, enlarges his life potential and reveals a man’s transcendental “the I” which was given from the very birth.
Ancient yogis understood that a man is a complicated psychophysiological structure of energies that become apparent in different characteristics and conditions. This structure is a precise copy of the Universe. That’s why in order to understand the laws of Universe existence and development and how to get in harmony we should study and control the powers which functioning in our bodies. Having a considerable experience Nath yogis have known that the attempts to control unprepared mind and body cause more anxiety. They had worked out the system based on conception of two opposite powers activity and unity. The process can be possible through vast network of energy channels – nadis, which are spread all over the subtle body. According to ancient texts various numbers of nadis are mentioned, but only three of them are used as fundamental. Ida, the first one, is said to control all mental processes and pingala, the second one, controls the vital power, prana. The interaction between ida and pingala constantly influences upon all man’s activity in everyday life. Bringing ida and pingala into equilibrium correlates to excellent condition of physical body and control of subtle body. In other words, balancing two channels ida and pingala keeps body healthy and vital and facilitates to reach a higher spiritual consciousness.
Balancing these channels and their activity leads to activating the third channel sushumna. Exactly in sushumna vital and mental power will be unified and the process is considered as revealing the transcendality and becomes the moment when the consciousness starts to awake and develop. In fact it is a major focus of Hatha Yoga.
The foundation of Hatha Yoga basically has scientific proves and its practices are based on perfect knowledge about a man. The major idea of Hatha Yoga is to control the energy that influences upon the mind. The energy and the mind are correlated to each other; hence state of one substance effects the state of another one. Therefore Hatha Yoga is more effective to restrain the mind because controlling the energy allows influencing upon the mind directly and preparing the consciousness for meditations.
Exactly this approach helped to create a large number of practices which will deal with activity of physical, subtle and mental bodies. All the methods include combined basis and are grounded on developed ideology about the Universe and man structure. The yogis had marked out the practices of shatkarma, asanas, pranayama and pratyahara as methods of direct influence on body and mind. I should notice that Hatha yoga practice demands real Guru’s control from the very beginning who knows subtleties of the whole process and during each stage. It is important to understand that no consistency in learning and using different methods separately exists and it can’t be. They all are used in combination and turn into complicated and exquisite forms as long as you learn.
Shatkarma (6 purificatory steps) allows to begin to purify body and mind. The descriptions of shatkarma are given in details in texts, but it is necessary to understand that their usage is appropriate as a case of need in certain time or recommended by Guru. The accomplishment of shatkarma techniques helps to remove the products of vital functions out of the body and refers to purification and preparation of abdominal cavity and respiratory tracks organs. Some kinds of Shatkarma are elementary methods for mind concentration. In a word all these techniques are mainly intended for body and mind purification and allow using advanced and deeper practices for spiritual development.
In general, asana and pranayama allow extending energy in the body and taking it under control. The execution of asanas and pranayama releases energy blockages in physical and subtle body and gives an advantage in controlling the activity energy balanced activity. The word itself asana means a stable posture. That is the principle of execution which is contained in the meaning of the word. Certainly it contradicts to modern wide spread tendencies which are based on asana postures but are basically oriented to gymnastics aspects only. Such a practice creates tension in the body and within some time it wears out. But the principal problem is the substitution of key points: Hatha Yoga is not considered as a spiritual system of integral development, but gymnastic practice combined with some psychological background becomes a priority. It must be said because nowadays many people suppose that yoga is the execution of gymnastic exercises and the relaxing and therapeutic effects are attained through it. And asana is used as a gymnastic and physical posture. This approach may become an “introduction” into Yoga, but it is important to understand – if it is understood this way so the approach remains limited and unsecure. In the first place Hatha Yoga is intended for development and expansion of consciousness, not for sport achievements.
From Yoga’s point of view asanas should lead to balance and filling oneself by vital energy, and is an excellent way to stabilize the state of mind. By practicing asanas in a gentle and slow rhythm superfluous activity of body is gradually removed and as a consequence out of mind. Practicing asanas in a this precise way and having a deep and proper understanding one can realize the connection with more subtle properties of energy and consciousness. In the broad sense asana is a form that transcendental states are realized through it. When the body is relaxed and the energy flows throughout the whole energy structure without any obstacles, so the smooth transition from asana to pranayama happens naturally. Actually the transition is quite relative. If asana is practiced as a form of energy so only major points of practice can change. Keeping sitting in a steady posture for a while a practitioner regulates the breath and deepens understanding of subtle structures of the body. Inhalations and exhalations combined with hold-ups result the change of characteristics of energy flows. One can easily notice it by gaining and spreading energy through the whole body. The hold-ups are considerably appreciated in pranayama, because exactly at moment of hold-up the energy is adopted and the pause after it furthers stop of energy as well. And what is more it furthers the total stop of mind activity when the energy of consciousness is not distracted by external objects. This way we create an appropriate balance of various kinds of energies which are spread in subtle body and responsible for different functions of psychophysical organism. As a consequence stability and orientation of consciousness are observed. The mind becomes open and receptive for observing objects which are revealed by energy flows.
Such kind of state of mind is called pratyahara. The feature of these techniques is an activated attention which is directed inside. If the process happens naturally the mind becomes free of hesitations and concerns. The energy is directed from organs of sense towards inside and concentrated on a chosen object. It doesn’t mean freezing the consciousness. On the contrary it demands from us high level of activity but directed towards internal processes. The amount of energy that previously was expended on unconscious actions and reactions for materialistic objects now is moved inside consciously. All mentioned above techniques are not separate from each other. All these methods could be connected not only by practice sequence but just being in each other, combining each other. When one controls and regulates breath asana contains pranayama and is accompanied by pratyahara. A combined approach to the methods of Hatha Yoga helps to unify the whole human nature in system body – mind – consciousness.
One more fact should be taken into consideration: the use of the techniques must be based on moral and ethical principles and balanced nutrition because Hatha Yoga grants the abilities that are greatly beyond the average person’s abilities. Without coordination of the principals and Yoga practice all attained abilities can harm the person and his environment. One should be always guided by Guru who can see and understand the pupil and prevent mistakes and misunderstandings on the path. Only this concept will lead the practitioner from simple and preparatory exercises towards the more advanced and difficult forms of Yoga and self-realization.
Hatha Yoga is not restricted by described methods. Its idea is universal and touches all spheres of existence because the principle of union and harmony of energy and consciousness is achieved by any yogi’s action.