The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the few reliable texts on the understanding and secrets into the practice of Hatha Yoga. Its original Sanskrit text was compiled by Maharishi Swatmaram, and also has a running English commentary by Swami Satyananda and Swami Muktibodhananda; both are descendant students of the
Bihar school of yoga.
The book covers the entire science of Hatha Yoga, (Asana, Pranayama, Shatkarma, mudra and bandha) as well as the esoteric body and the vital energies; Pranas, Kundalini Shakti and Chakras.
I would like to focus on examples from chapter one of the book, verse 16, the Yama’s and Niyamas. The English translation and viewpoint of this text is both challenging, inspiring and life changing. Its very different to any viewpoint I have ever read on the Yamas and Nimyamas as its offering a sensible and practical approach on how to carry out these codes of conduct. Contrary to such sacred text such as the Yoga Sutra, The Pradipika suggests we can succeed without initially practising these codes. This is very refreshing to a student of yoga, not only because this information allows one to be more free in their practice of yoga, but also very reassuring to have this guidance from such an authoritative source.
Ahimsa is a fundamental code of moral practice. Many religious sects and yogis can take this certain code of non violence to the extreme. Instead of that notion, the Swamis suggests that Ahimsa can be approached not by just being non-violent in the extreme sense such as killing animals, but by being true to your intentions as a human being and that any act of violence (being spoken, thought or acts of violence), moves away from your true nature. Like many yogis although not all, I do not agree with violence towards animals, and for a period in my life I felt every person that wasn’t a vegetarian were morally wrong. That is up until I realised the real meaning of Ahimsa, which is so well pointed out in this book; is that ‘one must remain passive in any situation, without the desire to harm anyone or anything, either physically, emotionally, psychologically or physically’. You can take from this that judgement or separation towards people that do eat meat or wear fur etc can also be a form of harm to oneself and to others and that most people do not intentionally set out to hurt animals and not eating meat doesn’t let you off the hook if you are speaking badly of these people or judging them.
When dealing with Brahmacharya, yogis somehow automatically assume this means to remain celibate. This is very true of many texts on yoga, but again the Pradipika offers something different; a spiritual and chemical explanation to this yama, which I had never even considered before reading this. The Swamis explain that by avoiding sexual contact does not mean you are practicing this yama, as you may still have loss of control over sexual fantasises or masturbate. They also suggest that the ‘sexual act can be used to induce spiritual awakening’, thus the guilt of having sexual interaction is removed. The conclusion is that real brahmacharya is resisting sexual urges and not letting ones chemical imbalances rule ones lives. The practice of Hatha yoga balances hormones and the secretions made, so this makes such perfect sense. I think it also suggests that we must not act on what we see, but what we feel and that in turn will make our sexual exploration more organic and true to ones owns feelings. This revelation into this Yama has never been privy to me before, I found it to be honest and also extremely sensitive into a yogi’s sexuality.
Moving on to Tapas from the Niyamas, the Pradipika gives an insight into the practice of this code, by clear, relatable and very practical exercises one can do in order to help in spiritual growth. What I find particularly different and useful about this overview into this Niyama is that it is states to its reader that there is not point of disciplinary acts if they do not aid you in your own spiritual evolution. The example used is ‘standing in cold water for hours, will do nothing but cause discomfort and possibly disease’. A less server method would be to wake up at 4am if you are used to waking up at 7am. We also have the idea that removing once favourite things form ones lives such as tasty food or TV, can also be a good practice of this Niyama, and once we adjust they no longer become austerities. I think what the book is trying to tell us here is that discipline can be very much misunderstood and that practicing hours of challenging asana each day or staving oneself to achieve unnatural thinness for example, will not lead you anywhere but harm. It suggests discipline is more about change and testing one self’s willpower to mould body and mind into a purer state which helps in spiritual growth.
The English commentary in this book, by both swamis, is comprehensive and invalid to its reader.
I have chosen the above examples to highlight what I think are the most valuable offerings into the yamas and niyamas to a modern yogi. Not only does it encourage the student to keep an open mind to the approaches on the moral codes of the yogic path, but to keep things practical and relatable to ones life. Former texts on such a subject have been somewhat intangible and idealistic. For the want of a better expression the swami’s, ‘keep it real’to a certain degree, at the same time respect the Sanskrit texts as they are. It’s not that the commentators are making up their own justifications and codes, but realising that yoga is ever evolving like the rest of the world, and scholarly swamis such as themselves do have the knowledge and experience to offer such teachings to make the practice of yoga more accessible and relatable to all. We are told to ‘keep the Yamas and Niyams in mind and let them develop naturally’ and I honestly believe this is the best piece of advice on the subject to give to any student as I believe the more you practice Hatha yoga, without even realising, these changes will occur and the morality outlined will become apart of your make-up. This really illiterates to its reader that yoga is a guilt free and way of life, and the more we embrace our own self along with surrendering to our teachings of yoga, the more we can revel in its beauty and use that to share with others.
For a student such as myself, this text has been life changing. I have more love and devotion for my practice more than ever thanks to this books commentary. I am eternally grateful for knowledge passed on through this text.