The Hatha Yoga Pradipika - A review

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 Swatmarama 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 relatablerelatable 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 me this text has been life changing and I have more love and devotion for my practice more than ever thanks to this commentary, which I am eternally grateful for.

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Light On Yoga - A Review
Light of yoga is the classic guide on yoga, which has been in print for over 30 years.

At first approach, this book to its reader can be somewhat overwhelming and intimidating. However, the beauty of this book or guide is that it can be approached in so many different ways. This is only because of the way the book is constructed.

The book starts with a wonderful and inspiring preface from Iyengar himself. It tells us of his joy and happiness of the books success, along with the struggles he faced when first publishing it. Not once does Iyengar take credit for any of its successes (even though it has sold millions of copies across the globe), instead offers his gratitude to those who helped him along the way and shows humility to his own offerings and teachings outlined in the book. From this, the reader will start to understand what a great yogi Iyengar is and how his continued love and devotion to his practice of yoga has inspired people the world over.

The introduction to the book consists of Iyengars' explanation of yoga, the stages of yoga and also the eight limbs of yoga.
In the introduction Iyengar highlights the knowledge of yoga and quotes from classic works such as Pantanjalis' yoga sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
I would like to highlight a quote from Iyenagr within the introduction.’ As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different colour of light, so does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing different aspects of the entire range of human endeavour to win inner space and happiness’. As yoga is still so misrepresented and misunderstood by other so called authorities, I cannot think of a more perfect metaphor for the reader.
The stages of yoga and eight limbs are written in a very traditional and perhaps somewhat rigid manner. It may be so to do with when the book was first constructed, but there are many authoritarian books on hatha yoga outlining the same text, but with a bit more of a casual element to them. Iyengar it seems, does not offer much questioning of these subjects, but rather shows them as they are. I think this very well shows why this book has become such a blueprint for the practice of hatha yoga and doesn’t run off on a whim or a hunch. The foundation is very solid throughout.

Part 2 of the book consists of; Asana, Pranayama, Bandha and kriya. From this point on the book becomes a manual into the practice of physical yoga, breaking down each pose into a formulated systematic guide along with photo illustrations. Up until Light on yoga was first published, this type of manual was the first of its kind, people where only taught yoga directly from gurus. Iyengar cornered the market somewhat by introducing this step by step guide to reach a wider audience. He begins with precautions of asana practice, which is not missing in most classes and books published today. Each asana is the shown by breakdown of there names in Sanskrit and meaning, the techniques and effects – all shown with a photo illustration of Iyengar himself and not some beautiful model we tend to see in our western publications today; the photos of Iyengar are plain and were taken throughout many different stages of his practice and not in a highly lit studio with a team of people ensuring the photo looks perfect. This im assuming would be more to do with the point of the book rather than the time the photos were taken. I don’t know if at the time, if Asanas had English names, but I do respect Iyengars choice in not using them as so many yoga guides today heavily rely on the English word for each asana, which is slowly diluting the true Sanskrit words.
What makes his guide so different and original is that any of the Asanas can be approached by any level of student. It can also be used by teachers or students as quick reference guide and he even lists exercises to do as medical ailments, such as arthritis, backache and fatigue. The ending part of this section concludes with asana courses that you can practice as a student. At the time of books publication there where no yoga DVD’s or weekly classes one could attend after work, so the information set out in the book was its originality and the information in the pages could be used to progress ones own practice. This whole section of the book is a blueprint, which is why that this book has become such useful practical resource for yoga students and teachers. Dare I say that light on yoga is just as important and groundbreaking to yogis as to what Greys Anatomy is to students of modern medicine? The book end with an invaluable glossary which gives the reader a great reference point for anything they are unsure of.

As a yoga student, I see this book as a blessing and an essential resource. Personally I see it as manual and an encyclopedia that I can refer to for answers and inspiration.

In such a western dominated world of yoga it is important for us all to honour such a man as Iyengar. Light of yoga is a piece of work that can only be derived from generations of yogic knowledge passed on through generations of gurus. This book keeps alive the importance of honouring a higher consciousness and offers asana practice as a path to achieve that union of body and spirit. It also confirms to its reader that asana practice can be for everybody regardless of level. People describe this book as the bible of hatha yoga merely because the very fact that everything you need to know about that practice of asana is here.

Its mere existence and place in the world of yoga will continue to inspire students forever and safeguard correct alignment of asana in an ever evolving practice of yoga postures.

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The Heart Of Yoga - A Review
The Heart of Yoga is a guide into developing ones own personal yoga practice, written by one of the world’s most respected teachers, TKV Desikachar. The book draws upon teachings from Desikachars own Farther, Krishnamancharya and Pantanjalis Yoga Sutra along with his own practical approach; making it a broad spectrum of teachings.

I would like to focus on the examples from part 2 of the book: The Understanding of Yoga.
This part of the book deals with the psychological aspects of yoga and how yoga  can develop the mind with clarity by removing certain obstacles than darken ones spirit and also ideas on our connection to the universal spirit.
In this section of the book, Desikachar focuses on one common idea: the idea that something changes within us when practising yoga. He so rightly suggests that yoga holds the power to change your way of being; from the way you think to the way you live your life.

Deskichar starts off this section by explaining the things that darken the heart and how we are to dispel these from our lives by action of yoga. Avidya (the root cause of obstacles) is expressed and experienced by humans in four forms, (or the branches of Avidya). They are; Asmita (ego), Raga (desire), Dvesa (refusal) and Abhinivesa (fear). Desikachar explains to us that once Avidya is removed by way of yoga practice, we will have a sense of contentment, quietness and peacefulness. However, by almost offering this wonderful notion as a ticket to a perfect existence, Deskicachar then shatters ones illusions by suggesting that nobody ever remains safe from Avidya and its power. One could be free from Avidya for years on end, but still be subjected to a consuming darkness. What I love so much about Desikachar’s understanding of this, is that he really hits home the point that yoga is a gradual process and a movement from one point to another; that change is the law of nature and what we may be free from today may not be the case tomorrow. This point alone encourages one to live in the now, focus on the task at hand, rather than always looking to the future and our desires. This point can also be reflective of ones Asana’s practice and the feeling of ego and doubt that can arise when working on postures; why can’t I do what they are doing? It’s been months and I still cannot do a headstand! Maybe these things will not be an issue anymore in time or maybe they still will, but the idea of change is always present. Desikachar points out so importantly that everything we do in yoga is for the reduction of Avidya, weather it be Asana or Meditation, and we hold the power to bring on change.

Towards the end of this section of the book, Desikacher goes on to explain the most important method to removing obstacles; the submission to the higher spiritual being. Isvara (the higher spiritual being) can be interpreted as God, although this can arise much debate. As God is almost always seen as a manifested higher power as a person by religions, this idea that yogis worship ‘God’ can be somewhat misinterpreted when speaking of submission to a higher being. Deskikacher so elegantly clears this up by not using religious attachment to yoga but offering this as an option on how to approach yoga. He also says that this approach is not always for everybody and that you don’t have to practice in the name of a higher being at all, which keeps the idea alive that yoga is available to every man and women regardless of their beliefs. Any serious student of yoga im sure, will find this section either revealing or true of their own practice already. My Guru (my own remover of darkness Claire Missingham) once told me that 90% of gym members never return after just a few months of first going. The reverse happens with yoga with only 10% non success rate. The reason I make this point is that so many people, (apart from the obvious benefits), can’t seem to explain why they keep on practicing yoga other than it allows them to be more connected with themselves and their spirituality. Desikachars viewpoint on this is notion is that one can call upon Isvara at anytime for help. We can relate this to Asana practice for example. Let’s face it; we have all been there when you feel like you just cannot do one more sun Salutation and your not sure how your going to breath through it, but there is a trust there within you that allows you to carry on and having the notion of a spiritual connection to aid you in this can be very empowering. Have you ever done your practice before chanting OM? Let me tell you now, that for me it sucks, as it bears no meaning. But 5 years ago I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Desikachar really himself had no idea on the connection he had with yoga and Isvara until later on in his practice which highlights the point again of change in ones practice. He also makes the point that we should create space in our mind and that there are many possibilities for getting out of a bad situation, so if something may cloud it (such as the concept of Isvara) then this is not good for the student. This statement really highlights Desikachars practical and flexible approach to Yoga and that one should remain true to their own approach. This also explains to me why im still practicing yoga today as the notion of Isvara would have not been my first approach, but now is one of the most important approaches to removing my obstacles and highlights the point that the evolution of your own yoga practice can take you beyond what you first expect.

When reading The Heart Of Yoga’ I have found myself nodding along to most of it. Im not sure if this is because I agree with nearly everything Desikachar says or what he says is a revelation into my own thoughts and inquiry into yoga. I hold Desikachar teachings in high regard, not only because of his lineage of teachings, but his own personal observations are very uninhibited. You get a sense from his writing he has been asking questions his whole life and continues to be inspired by the joy of yoga. The psychological aspect of this book for a student is practical and engaging and I feel it picks up from where the Yoga Sutra left off in terms of approach and accessibility.

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