Archaic Sources of Modern Yoga Practice
What follows are some quotes from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika which translates as light on Hatha Yoga or as Georg Feuerstein translates it: “Light on the Forceful Yoga” (from The Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga). One translation of the word hatha is forceful. Another fairly common interpretation of the word hatha is that it is a word expressing the merge of sun and moon, ha and tha. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the major source texts that document the practice of Hatha Yoga. “It was authored by Svatmarama Yogin (mid-14th cen, CE.). This work seeks to integrate the physical disciplines with the higher spiritual goals and practices of *raja-yoga.” (Georg Feuerstein Shambala Encyclopedia p. 121). [CH: In the quotes from Feuerstein’s Encyclopedia of Yoga any time there is a word that has its own independent entry in the encyclopedia, for example the term “raja-yoga” above, the word or term is preceded by an asterisk. In my quotes from this source I have left those asterisks in tact.]
It is interesting and worthwhile to look at some of the trends in the practice of yoga from the original sources in the rich cultural history of India.
I figure I might as well quote the first few verses to start. It might give some insight into the cultural context of the text. (For all translations I am using the version put out with commentaries by Swami Muktibodhananda. This text does not credit who actually did the translations but it was put out by Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India copywrite dates are: 1985, 1993, 1998 & 2000).
Chapter 1 verse 1: “Salutations to the glorious primal (original) guru, Sri Adinath, who instructed the knowledge of hatha yoga which shines forth as a stairway for those who wish to ascend to the highest stage of raja yoga.”
The commentary informs the reader that “Sri Adinath is one of the names given to Lord Shiva, who is supreme cosmic consciousness”.
Ch. 1 v. 2: “Prostrating first to the guru, Yogi Swatmarama instructs the knowledge of hatha yoga only for (raja yoga) the highest state of yoga.”
Ch. 1. v. 3: “The highest state of raja yoga is unknown due to misconceptions (darkness) created by varying ideas and concepts. In good will and as a blessing, Swatmarama offers light on hatha yoga.”
Ch. 1. v. 4: “Yogi Matseyendranath knew the knowledge of hatha yoga. He gave it to Gorakhnath and others, and by their grace the author (Swatmarama) learned it.”
The commentary explains that part of what is happening here is that the author of the text is giving the lineage of the teaching he is presenting. An interesting note comments on the mythological story of the sage Matseyendranath. Anyone who knows the Sanskrit names to yoga postures might recognize this name as having a relationship to matseyasana: fish pose and ardha matseyendrasana half lord of the fish pose or seated spinal twist. Matsya is fish, -endra comes from indra meaning lord, note the connection to the name of the god Indra, and nath comes from the sect that this yoga lineage came from and is a term that the commentator says means “master”. So the story about this sage Matseyendranath is that one day Shiva was teaching his wife Parvati some of the secrete practices of yoga when a large fish overheard the teachings, the fish understood the teaching and from this fish the “all knowing” sage Matseyendranath emerged or was born.
The next verse simply lists the rest of the lineage of sages. Most of the sages in this list have similar mythological stories associated with them.
This is a quote from the first paragraph of commentary on ch. 1 v. 5: “These mahasiddhas [CH: mahasiddhas is a term referring to the list of sages. A mahasiddha is a person who has achieved special or magical powers], having accomplished the goal of yoga, have released their own personalities from the cycle of birth and death in the physical world. Being jivanmuktas, liberated while still in the confines of prakriti, their will is sufficiently strong to enable them to do anything, anywhere and at any time. This is one of the advantages of being beyond the confines of time and eventually space.” (p. 32)
This might give some insight into some of the original reasons for the development of yogic techniques and practices.
This is more information from Feuerstein’s The Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga: “Significantly, Svatmarama does not systematize the yogic *path, but he furnishes many fundamental definitions of core techniques. He describes as many as sixteen postures (*asana), most of them varations of the cross-legged sitting posture. For those who suffer from disorders of the bodily humors (*dosha), he prescribes the “six acts” (*shat-karma). [CH: These techniques are things like taking a length of cotton yarn and putting it into your nose and pulling it out of your mouth, something like the equivalent of dental floss for your sinuses or swallowing a much longer length of cloth and then pulling it out your rectum.] These purificatory practices are to be engaged prior to *breath control, which he calls “retentions” (*kumbaka). These are thought to arouse the “serpent power” (*kundalini-shakti). This esoteric process is also aided by the ten “seals” (*mudra) which include the three “locks” (*bandha) of the *throat, the abdomen and the annus. However, the text also contains descriptions of the *amaroli-mudra and *sahajoli-mudra. [CH: these are well worth looking at for historical purposes.] A prominent feature of Svatmarama’s teaching is “worship through sound” (*nada-upasana) by means of which the condition of mental absorption (*laya) is achieved.” (p. 121-122)
“Amaroli-Mudra (“amaroli seal”). The word amaroli is difficult to translate: it denotes the “immortal (amara) nectar.” This “seal” (*mudra) is one of the techniques that have brought *hatha yoga into disrepute with the pollution-conscious brahmins. The *Yoga-Tattva-Upanishad (128) describes it as the daily drinking of the amari, or urine. The *Hatha-Yoga Pradipika (3.96ff.) contains a more detailed description of this practice: One should enjoy the middle flow of one’s urine, discarding the first flow since it increases bile (*pitta) and the last flow because it lacks essence. This is regarded as a variety of *vajroli-mudra. The *Hatha-Ratna-Avali (2.109) explains amaroli as the absorbtion of the “nectar” through the nose. Se also sahajoli-mudra. (p.20 Feuerstein)
Sahajoli-Mudra is said to be a variation of vajroli-mudra. It is when you rub a mixture of water and ashes obtained from the burning of cow dung over your body after having had sexual intercourse.
Vajroli-Mudra [CH: I like this one] the Geranda Samhita describes this technique basically as a lift up (ut plutu in Ashtanga Vinyasa). You press your hands down and lift your legs. The Geranda Samhita specifies that you do this without letting your head touch the ground. It also says that vajroli-mudra awakens the kundalini, causes longevity and leads to all kinds of powers, most notably control over semen. However, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (ch.3 v.85ff.) uses the term vajroli-mudra to indicate a different practice.
Feuerstein’s description is: “The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (3.85ff.), in contrast, understands this practice as the sexual technique of sucking up the female ejaculate (*rajas) with the *penis (mehana). In order to develop this ability, the *yogin is advised to blow into a tube that he has inserted into his penis.” (p. 321)
I think it is worth looking at the actual text. Here is translation from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
ch. 3 v. 85: “By practicing gradual upward contractions during the emission in intercourse, any man or woman achieves perfection of vajroli.”
ch. 3. v. 86: “By slowly drawing in air through a prescribed tube inserted into the urethra of the penis, gradually air and prana traverse into the vajra kanda.”
ch. 3 v.87: “The bindu (semen) that is about to fall into the woman’s vagina should be made to move upwards with practice. And if it falls, the semen and the woman’s fluids should be conserved by drawing it up.”
Here is the important one:
ch. 3 v. 88: “Therefore, the knower of yoga conquers death by preserving the bindu (semen). Release of the bindu means death: conservation of semen is life.”
ch. 3 v. 89: “As long as the bindu/semen is steady in the body, then where is the fear of death? The yogi’s body smells pleasant by conserving the bindu/semen.”
ch. 3 v. 90: “A man’s semen can be controlled by his mind and control of semen is life giving. Therefore, his semen, and his mind should be controlled and conserved.”
ch. 3 v. 91: “The knower of yoga, perfect in the practice, conserves his bindu and the woman’s rajas by drawing it up through the generative organ.”
This is the last verse of the third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: ch. 3. v. 130: “By following explicitly his (guru’s) words, and practicing mudra, one obtains the qualities of anima, etc. and overcomes death/time.”
I think, for the purposes of this exposition I will just add one more technique: Khechari-Mudra. This web-page, http://www.siddhasiddhanta.com/khechari.html , shows a modern practitioner demonstrating the technique. This is a quite interesting one. I might as well start with what seems to be at least close to the ground.
Feuerstein’s Encyclopedia of Yoga translates this Khechari-Mudra as “space-walking seal”. Feuerstein states: “In the Gerandha-Samhita (3.25ff.) we find the following description: One should cut the *tongue’s fraenum [CH: this is the thin fold of skin at the base of the tongue] and move the tongue constantly, milking it with butter and pulling it out by means of an iron implement. When the tongue has been elongated to the point where it can reach the spot between the *eyes, one is fit for the khecari-mudra. In this technique, the tongue is turned back and slowly inserted into the “skull-cavity” (*kapala-kuhara). This produces all kinds of sensations, including a whole range of tastes—from salty to bitter to sweet—as the ambrosial liquid (*amrita) begins to flow abundantly. One’s gaze (*drishti) should be fixed on the middle of the *forehead. This *mudra is said to prevent fainting (*murcha), *huger, *thirst, lassitude (*alasya), *disease, aging, and even *death. It is also stated to create a “divine body” (deva-deha). Such a transubstantiated, beautiful *body is beyond the vicissitudes of the *elements and specifically of snake bite.”
So, interestingly, another technique for conquering life, suffering and death. This is no surprise since it is consistently stated in historical writings that yoga and yogic techniques were developed to help liberate the practitioner from the suffering that Indian thought described as a prerequisite of life. The statement goes, “All life is suffering.” Yoga, Hindu religious practices and the Buddhist tradition all grew out of a desire to end suffering which was associated with getting out of the karmic rounds of death and rebirth and to achieve a state of self realization or enlightenment.
Here is the translation from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of the verses on Kechari-Mudra.
ch. 3. v. 32: “Khechari mudra is turning the tongue backwards into the cavity of the cranium and turning the eyes inwards towards the eyebrow center.”
ch. 3 v. 33: “The tongue should be exercised and milked and the underneath part cut away in small degrees. Indeed khechari is perfected when the tongue touches the eyebrow center.”
ch. 3 v. 34: “With a clean thin blade, gently cut away the membrane under the tongue. Cut it by a fine hair’s breadth each time.”
ch. 3 v. 35: “Then rub in a mixture of powdered salt and tumeric. After seven days, again cut a hair’s breadth.”
ch. 3 v. 36: “One should continue doing this regularly for six months, then the membrane at the root of the tongue will be completely severed.”
ch. 3 v. 37: “Having turned the tongue back, the three channels of ida, pingala and shushumna are controlled. This is khechari mudra and it is called the center of ether.
ch. 3 v. 38: “The yogi who remains with the tongue going upwards for even half a second is freed from toxins, disease, death, old age, etc.
[CH: Back to that goal of freedom or liberation].
ch. 3 v. 39: “One who accomplishes this khechari mudra is neither troubled by diseases, nor death, lassitude, sleep, huger, thirst or unconsciousness.”
ch. 3 v. 40: “One who knows khechari mudra is unafflicted by disease, unaffected by the laws of cause and effect (karma) and free from the bounds of time (death).”
ch. 3 v. 41: “Mind moves in Brahman (khe) because the tongue moves in space (khe). Therefore, the perfected ones have named this mudra khechari, moving in space or Brahman.”
Just in case anyone out there does not know Brahman in the Hindu pantheon is an aspect of the absolute; the creator god. In simple terms, to make the explanation brief, although that means the explanation ends up being fairly incomplete as a result, Brahman is often connected with Vishnu and Shiva. In this configuration they are often presented as three aspects of the absolute Brahman (creator), Vishnu (sustainer) and Shiva (destroyer). However, each of these gods has their own separate identities and could stand alone as containing all the aspects of the other two depending on the context of the source material.
ch. 3 v. 42: “When the upper cavity of the palate is sealed by khechari mudra, the bindu or semen cannot be lost even if one embraces a beautiful woman.”
ch. 3 v. 43: “Even when there is a movement of the bindu and it enters the genitals. It is seized by closing the perineum and is taken upward.”
ch. 3 v. 44: “With the tongue directed upwards, the knower of yoga drinks the fluid of the moon. Within fifteen days physical death is conquered.”
ch. 3 v. 45: “The Yogi’s body is forever full of the moon’s nectar. Even if he is bitten by the king of snakes (Takshaka), he is not poisoned.”
ch. 3 v. 46: “Just as fuel kindles fire and oil a lamp, so the indweller of the body does not vacate while the body is full of the moon’s nectar.”
ch. 3 v. 47: “By constant swallowing of the tongue he can drink amaravaruni. I consider him of high lineage (heritage). Others destroy the heritage.”
ch. 3 v. 48: “The word ‘go’ means tongue (and also means cow). When it enters into the upper palate, it is ‘eating the flesh of the cow’. It (khechari) destroys the great sins.”
ch. 3 v. 49: “When the tongue enters the cavity, indeed heat is produced and the man’s nectar flows.”
ch. 3 v. 50: “When the tongue constantly presses the cavity, the moon’s nectar (flows and) has a saline, pungent and acidic flavour. It is like (the consistency of) milk, ghee, honey. Fatal diseases, old age and weapons are warded off. From that, immortality and the eight siddhis or perfections manifest.
The siddhis are actually supposed to be transphyscial powers like levitating, being in two places at one time, being able to make yourself invisible, knowing the future, knowing the past, knowing another person’s thoughts, being able to remember “past lives”; these are some of the more common siddhis that usually get listed.
ch. 3 v. 51: “Fluid drips into the sixteen petalled lotus (vishuddhi chakra) when the tongue is inserted into the upper throat cavity; the paramshakti (kundalini) is released and one becomes concentrated in that (experience which ensues). The yogi who drinks the pure stream of nectar is freed from disease, has longevity, and has a body as soft and as beautiful as a lotus stem.”
ch. 3 v. 52: “The nectar is secreted from the topmost part of the Meru (Shushumna), the fountainhead of the nadis. He who has pure intellect can know the Truth therin. The nectar, which is the essence of the body, flows out from the moon and hence death ensues. Therefore, khechari mudra should be practiced, otherwise perfection of the body cannot be attained.”
ch. 3 v. 53: “Five nadis convene in the cavity and it is the source of knowledge. Khechari should be established in that void, untainted (by ignorance).”
ch. 3 v. 54: “There is only one seed of creation and one mudra—khechari; one deva independent of everything and one state—manonmani.”
Sounds pretty clear what the goal of this practice is. Right? Okay, it is true this stuff wide open to interpretation and also might be pretty foreign to a lot of people in the west practicing yoga. Is this stuff necessary for you? I will give the answer I always give. That is up to the practitioner to decide. I like knowing what time of day it is but I am not sure that any of this is necessary for practitioners in the west. I sometimes wonder how many people out there would even understand what I am doing in my own practice. Although it does not resemble what I am these texts are describing it is very personal and probably would not make much sense for most of the people I work with.
I figured I would finish this up with the Shat Karma the six acts. I might as well simply quote from Feuerstein’s Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga since he sums up the Gherandha Samhita’s presentation, the presentation in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the presentation of practices that are, what he refers to as Tantric although he does not attribute his sources for the Tantric practices he refers to.
Shat Karma (“six acts”), the first step in the *Gherandha Samhita (1.12). It consists of the following practices: (1) *dauthi (“cleansing”), which has four constituent techniques; (2) *vasti (“bladder”), which is the yogic equivalent to an enima; (3) *neti (untranslatable), which is nasal cleansing; (4) *nauli, lauli, or lauliki (“to-and-fro movement”), consisting in rolling the abdominal muscles; (5) *trataka (untranslatable), which is steady conscious gazing; (6) kapala-bhathi (“skull luster”), which has three constituent techniques. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2.21) recommends these six practices specifically for initiates who suffer from an excess of fat or phlegm (*kapha).
The term shat-karma can also refer to the following six *Tantric magical practices: (1) marana (“killing”); (2) uccatana (“repelling”); (3) vahsi-karana (“Bringing under one’s control”); (4) stambhana (“arresting”) such as arresting a storm, for instance; (5) vidveshana (“creating enmity”); and (6) svastyayana (“causing welfare”). Most of these practices belong to black *magic. See also astha-siddhi, siddhi.
What is the point with all of this. These are interesting practices. They seem quite foreign and perhaps out of place in western culture and practice, but they are some of the foundations that modern yoga has grown out of. I will let you make your own decisions about how to take this information.