The birth of modern day Yoga… Hatha Yoga
Originally it is believed that a form of Hatha Yoga was a preparatory practice in the Buddhist tradition and the Tantric sects that were around during their height of expression, aspirants would spend many years for purification of the body and it was part of a profound spiritual discipline and evolutionary process leading to deeper levels of spiritual consciousness through meditation, though nowadays this tradition of higher consciousness (Raja Yoga) is rarely being practice in a general yoga class.
There are references to Hatha yoga preceding the Buddhist period in the Upanishans around the 6th century BC and it possible that the system of Hatha Yoga was known well before this time. With the decline of Buddhism in the beginning of the millennium at the time of Christ, the physical aspects of the Yoga practices started to lose their appeal and it was not until about the 4th, 5th and 6th century AD the foundations of Hatha Yoga slowly started reemerging and developing again in India.
Great Yogi’s of Hatha Yoga
A great Yogi known as Matsyendranath and possibly the father of establishing Hatha Yoga in India, founded the Nath cult in the 10th century which incorporated special elements mainly from the Tantra tradition, though the Tantric rituals were not incorporated and left out all together. Prior to this period the Yoga purification practices were not being applied fully as they were originally, they were reintroduced back in to the Yoga system, so at this point the necessity was for the aspirant to purify their bodies (elements of Hatha Yoga) before proceeding to the meditational practices, started to reemerge.
The great book of Yoga (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
Swatmarama a great yogic sage of 15th and 16th century in India compiled a famous Yoga book, even used today by some Yoga practitioners, known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (self illuminating) or Light of Hatha Yoga, it included Asana, Pranayama, Mudra and Kriyas (Shatkriyas) for cleansing and purifying the body, an earlier book had been written by one of his disciple Gorakhnath, though Yogi Swatmarama complied his great knowledge in Sanskrit, which gave his writings a very profound ingredient. Elements of the moral codes of Yoga, (Yamas and Niyamas) which were originally a prerequisite to spiritual practice, from the Buddhist, Jain and Patajali Raga Yoga systems were removed, the concept was that these elements can create problems and hinder the aspirants Yoga path, as they tried to grasp the understanding of the meaning of life, the removing of the moral codes Yama and Niyama of Yoga, was to help the natural development of the Yoga aspirants as they progressed on their path, removing the pressure of working physically, mentally and emotionally with oneself.
Swatmarama states that one must first work to purify the body; the Hatha Yoga Pradipika incorporates the use of 6 Yoga cleansing and purifying techniques known as Shatkarma;
They are: Neti, dhauti, nauali, basti, trataka and kapalbhati.
• Neti = Nasal cleansing.
• Dhauti = Cleansing of ears (Karna Dhauti), eyes (Chakshu Dhauti), sinuses (Kapalrandhra Dhauti), tongue (Jihva Dhauti), forehead (Kapalbhati), oesophagus, stomach (Vastra & Vatsara Dhauti), rectum, and anus (Moola Shodhana).
• Nauali = A form of abdominal massage, which isolates and contracts the muscles vertically of the abdomen and rectus.
• Basti = Yoga enema, cleaning the colon the large intestine.
• Trataka = A focusing technique (gazing at a flame of a candle), to strengthen the mind.
• Kapalbhati = (Brain purification) Body cleansing; also known as skull shining in English.
At this point the concept of trying to control the mind was put aside; instead the first point of focus was to clean and purify the body with shatkarma explained above and to discipline the body through Hatha Yoga. The purifying of the body allows for the flow of energy through the energy channel located internally to increase and function at its optimal potential and this helps to balance the physical body, mind and energy, (this concept is also known in the arts of Qigong, Tai Chi and Reiki) this also stimulates the potential of the Yoga aspirant, as their increase energy flow, stimulates opens and harmonizes 2 energy channels known as ida and pingala which travel either side of the spine and the centre energy channel known as sushumna nadi leading to the brain, which helps with the spiritual awakening of the Hatha Yoga practitioner..
This system known as Hatha Yoga, the term Hatha is broken down in 2 parts Ha represents prana (vital force) and tha represents the mind (mental energy), Hatha Yoga helps to unify these 2 elements which is the starting process of developing and awakening of the higher mind and consciousness, in Yoga they are known as Prakriti and Purusha, in Tantra these elements are known as Shiva and Shakti, in Qigong and Tai Chi they are called Yin and Yang. The imbalances that are within us create our suffering, diseases, emotional and mental affliction, the idea is to balance both energies so they harmonize with one another, so body mind and spirit integrate as a whole, they should be considered as one unit. The Hatha Yoga cleansing techniques explained above (Shatkarmas), where an important part of that development which also help to cleanse and purify the internal energy lines known as the Nadis and called the meridians in Chinese, the focus was not only the external (body discipline) but the internal cleansing of the human body and energy system, this was so that the Yoga practitioner can proceed into their meditation and progress in their evolution.