Hatha Yoga, a stairway to Raja Yoga
(Written by Krishna Wiuker, based on the
teachings of Swami Vishnudevananda and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika)
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What is hatha yoga?
Hatha Yoga is a path of intense self-discipline, in order
to control the Prana or cosmic energy, with the purpose to
control the mind and bring it to the experience of perfect
meditation or stillness.
Nowadays many people have heard the term Hatha Yoga, and many
people say that they practice it, but in fact there is in
general very little understanding about it, its real purpose
and techniques, and very few practice it in its original or
Hatha yoga is often wrongly called “physical yoga”
and it is popularly believed to consist in the mere practice
of asanas alone and even the asanas are wrongly considered
by some to be just a form of physical exercise alone, the
contraction or relaxation of certain muscles, but in fact
this is not what hatha yoga, by its own definition is.
It is true that hatha yoga has some very important practices
that involve the use and training of the physical body, and
the proper use of certain muscles and breathing and it has
many physical benefits, like, improving strength and flexibility,
removal of toxins, and it has gotten more and more well known
for its excellent benefits in overall health, reduction of
the daily stress and improvement of the body functions, strength
and wellbeing in general.
But that is only a small part of what hatha yoga sadhana really
In the classical scripture “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”
of Swatmarama Yogi, its purpose is clearly stated:
Ch 1-Verse 1
“I salute the first lord Siva, who taught to Parvati
the Hatha Vidya (science or knowledge) that is a step to the
attainment of the most excellent Raja Yoga”
Ch 1-Verse 2
“Swatmarama Yogi, having saluted his own Guru, gives
out the Hatha Vidya solely for the attainment of Raja Yoga”
So from the very beginning the author states very clearly
and emphatically, not only once, but twice as trying to really
make a point, that the goal and purpose of Hatha yoga is the
attainment of Raja yoga.
Now, what is then Raja yoga?
Going to the Raja Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yoga (Raja Yoga)
is described in the following way:
1- Now yoga is explained
2- “Yogas chitta Vritti Nirodaha” translated as:
“Yoga is the restraining (or inhibition)
of the activities of the mind” (stilling the thought
3- At that time, (when the thought waves are stilled) the
perceiver rests in his own nature
Why do we want to restrain and still the activities
of the mind?
This is something very important to understand.
Everybody is looking for some happiness in this life. But
where do most people look for that happiness?
Mostly through the senses, experiencing pleasant objects,
sensations or situations. We like to see, hear, touch, taste,
smell beautiful and pleasant objects, and avoid the opposite,
unpleasant ones. Or we look for psychological pleasures like:
power, prestige, high position, success in work, praise from
others, being with the people we like or experiencing exciting
Then we perform all kind of actions and efforts to acquire
those pleasant objects and if we succeed to get them, then
we do all kind of efforts to keep them.
But there is a fundamental problem with all that: all these
pleasant objects or situations are temporary, they have a
beginning and an end, they don’t survive the factor
if time, they pass, sooner or later.
And the more our happiness depends on these objects, the more
unhappiness or pain we experience when they are gone.
And even if you can hold to a pleasant object for some time,
the pleasure and momentary happiness you get from them does
Everything that we can perceive and experience through our
senses and mind is changing. Everything that goes up must
go down at certain time. Everything that is born will undoubtedly
Everything that is pleasant at one time will turn unpleasant
or painful, later on.
So the philosophy of Yoga explains
that the happiness that everyone is looking for, does exists,
but it is not to be found in any object or acquired through
any action, but it is the very inherent nature of the Self,
called the Purusha or the Atma.
We cannot get or possess that happiness because we ARE that
happiness, we are made of it, it is the essence of our own
innermost Self. Any action or effort to look for it elsewhere
will only bring us away from it and to the inevitable experience
After experiencing that pain long enough, a distaste for this
experience dawns in the mind (vairagya) and the intelligence
awakes to the proper recognition of the situation (viveka)
But while the mind remains in the state of ignorance (Avidya)
the mind is looking for happiness outwards, in the world of
objects, trough the senses and the mind itself.
Even the momentary happiness that we experience from the objects
in the form of pleasure is nothing but a momentary reflection
of the Self in them, like the reflection of the Sun in many
different water paddles after it rains. But the water evaporates
quickly and soon that apparent temporary Sun disappears.
But when the mind it brought to the state of quietness, stillness,
silence; the illusion created by it ceases and what remains
is the pure consciousness or Purusha, who is ever blissful.
Therefore at that time, the sutra says, “The perceiver
dwells in its own nature”, and at that time the true
happiness and satisfaction is experienced.
So Raja Yoga is that discipline
to train the mind to undo that outward tendency in search
for an illusory happiness, and bring it inwards and keep it
still, silent, motionless, so the True Self is experienced.
What is then Hatha
yoga and how does it relate to Raja yoga?
The mind is very difficult to control. Its outward, scattered
and veiling tendency has been going on for innumerable life
times and has created a very powerful momentum or Samskara
and just trying to stop it takes a gigantic effort, training
But here Hatha yoga comes to help and explains that the mind
is kept scattered because of the motion of the Prana, the
energy or life force.
In the same way if we look at the leaves of a tree and we
see them moving, it is because there is a wind that moves
them. We don’t see the wind, but we see its effect in
When we see the flame of a candle moving, it is because there
are wind currents in the room. If we stop these currents,
by closing the windows, doors, etcetera, then the flame will
So Hatha Yoga is the discipline to control the prana, in order
to control and still the mind
Through hatha yoga, the oscillating
and unsteady flow of prana, which creates the vrittis in the
mind, is disciplined and regulated. The prana is brought into
the Sushumna Nadi or central channel and, if it is kept there
long enough, that will automatically bring the mind into the
state of stillness or Nirudha.
When the prana is brought and kept in the sushumna, it is
like taking out the oxygen from a fire. The fire will be extinguished!
When the prana is kept in the sushumna there is no more up
and down, right or left, good or bad, day or night, small
or big, in and out, past or future, this or that. Without
that duality, the mind ceases to oscillate, it stops, there
are no more vrittis. That the state called “”Raja
When the prana flows in the other nadis, ida and pingala,
there is an oscillation, a dualistic experience in the mind,
the mind cannot remain quiet. All kind of vrittis are then
created in the mind stuff, according to the way the prana
vibrates and oscillates. Each kind of thought or vritti has
a corresponding breathing pattern.
By changing the breath patterns, the Vrittis are changed and
Even before we get to the level of suspending the vrittis
completely, the training of the breath will create new kind
of vrittis, of a Sattvic nature, that will substitute the
rajasic and tamasic ones.
The mind and the prana always
• If you can control the mind, you will control
• If you can control the Prana, the mind will be controlled.
Before we progress with that
concept, the meaning of the word Prana has to be explained
a bit more.
Prana is the universal energy in the form of life force. All
kinds of forces in the universe, like electricity, magnetism,
nuclear energy, chemical reactions, are nothing but different
manifestations of the universal force, the Divine power or
That Universal Shakti is the Prana, or we can say more specifically
that when this cosmic Shakti manifests as the life force it
is called Prana.
Everything that is alive has prana. A living organism has
Prana. A copse has no prana.
We are connected to the universal
source of energy or Prana mainly through our breath.
The physical body lives only because of the flow of Prana
It we take an analogy of an electric light bulb, the bulb
emits light and heat because of the electric current that
flows through it. If we cut the electricity, the light gets
off. We don’t see the electrivity with our eyes, but
we know it is there because of its effects in the light bulb,
light and heat.
In the same way the functions of the body, like blood circulation,
heartbeat, digestion, elimination, absorption, motion of the
body, muscle activity, neurological activity, all this can
happen only as far as there is prana flowing through the body.
The physical body is permeated by another body called the
Subtle body (shukshma sharira) also called the Astral body.
This astral body has in itself different layers of subtlety,
where the Prana, mind sensory organs, action organs, intelligence
and the ego function. There is another body called the causal
body (Karana sharira) who is the cause of the other two (the
astral and physical), where the seeds of karma and ignorance
that manifest the astral and physical body reside.
It is the connection between the physical body with the astral
body that keeps the physical alive.
At the time of death, the astral and causal body disassociate
from the physical body, leaving it behind. They disconnect
from each other. The body then, having no prana becomes just
a corpse and not even being able to keep its constituents
together it dissolves back into the elements of the nature,
where it came from through the food we ate.
In that Astral or subtle body there is a network of channels
where the Prana flows. Those channels are called NADIS. They
are also called “astral nerves” or “astral
They are like rivers or prana, or like the numerous branches
of a tree where the sap flows.
According to the yogic scriptures there are 72.000 nadis in
the astral body.
Among those, 10 are more important, and among them, 3 are
the most important of all of them. If we learn to control
the flow of the prana in these 3 nadis, we can control all
the rest 72.000.
These 3 are called: Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.
The nadis, even though they are in the subtle astral body,
they have a correspondence with a physical counterpart in
the physical body. Those are the main nerves and spinal cord.
Ida is also called Chandra or Moon nadi and it flows in the
left side of the body, it has its root on the mooladhara chakra
at the base of the spine, and it goes up spiraling and ends
at the left nostril.
Pingala is also called Surya or Sun Nadi and it flows in the
right side of the body, from the mooladhara to the right nostril.
Sushumna nadi also originates in the mooladhara chakra and
it flows along the spinal cord, ending at the crown of the
head or sahasrara chakra.
The word hatha comes from Ha
which means Sun, and Tha, which means Moon.
Yoga here means union. Hatha yoga is the discipline by which
we can unite the Sun and Moon energy.
The Sun energy flows through Pingala nadi.
The Moon energy flows through Ida nadi
When the union of Sun and Moon happens, this united energy
flows through the sushumna nadi.
In the great majority of people
sushumna nadi is closed, obstructed and quite inactive.
All the prana flows through either ida or pingala nadi.
When we breathe through the left nostril, Ida or the moon
energy is activated.
When we breathe through the right nostril, Pingala or the
Sun energy is activated.
If we observe the flow of the breath in the nostrils during
the day, we will notice that one of the two is more open than
the other for some time, and then it shifts for some time
and so on during day and night.
That cycle is of about 1,5 hours average in a healthy person.
It means that for 1,5 hours the right nostril is more opened
than the left, then for 1,5 hours the left is more open, then
the right again and so on. That time can vary from individual
to individual and according to different activities being
performed, but this is an average time.
That alternation of the nostrils keeps the two poles of the
energy, sun and moon, within a healthy range of balance, similar
to a thermostat of an electric heating device.
When the Sun energy is active (right nostril open), the body
becomes heated up, is more ready for physical action and the
mind is more extroverted and focused in practical rational
kind of thinking. But if opened for too long, then the body
and mind overheat, then the shift happens and the Moon Nadi
When the Moon energy is active (left nostril open) the body
cools down, is more ready for rest and recoup, the mind becomes
more active in abstract and creative thinking.
The alternation of the nostrils has a natural balancing effect
in the whole physical and mental functions keeping with in
the healthy levels by keeping the homeostasis and factors
like temperature, blood pressure, heartbeat, concrete or abstract
thinking, introversion and extroversion of the personality,
the two brain hemispheres and in the sympathetic/parasympathetic
nervous system in a state of balance as many modern medical
scientific studies have demonstrated.
(or Vata if waning or new)
the sympathetic nerv. system
the Parasympathetic nerv, system
blood sugar level
Decreases blood sugar level
the muscles tense and ready for action (fight
or flight response)
the main muscles
heart beat rate
heart beat rate
(Activates the body)
Mental (Activates the mind)
left brain hemisphere
right brain hemisphere
more logical “practical” thinking
more abstract, intuitive or creative thinking
But this healthy balance
of the nadis can be disturbed by several causes, like:
improper diet, ingest of toxins like alcohol, tobacco,
chemicals, drugs and by emotional disturbances like fear,
anger, depression, over activity and stress factors.
ASANAS AND PRANAYAMA
The different practices of hatha yoga, like asanas and
pranayama, have an amazing efficiency in bringing these
nadis and functions back to balance, which quickly reflects
in physical and psychological healing and wellbeing.
Especially the practice of asanas and pranayama, done
in the proper way, are very effective means to bring the
balance. But a wrong kind of practice could actually increase
During the asanas and pranayama, the proper balance between
the effort and the relaxation is important. If the asanas
are performed in a too strenuous manner, too dynamic,
with an agitated breath, with tension, too much effort
and with too much focus on the physical performance and
a spirit of competition it will increase too much the
sun energy. Many modern schools of yoga have this propensity.
On the other hand, asanas done with laziness, too easy,
too slow will increase too much the Moon energy and make
the body cold, the metabolism too slow and the mind too
sleepy. Neither extreme is desirable. So the asanas practice
should combine both, stimulating, activating and energizing
exercises with periods of relaxation, release of tensions
and an introspective and meditative mood at the same time.
The practitioner should gradually increase the period
or retention of the asana, reaching a point where the
asana becomes comfortable, firm and steady and can be
held for long time.
The 3 gunas
In the beginning of the practice, asanas and exercises
that are more dynamic, stimulating and awakening are practiced,
like the sun Salutation and different variations of asanas.
This helps to move out from the state of Tamas or lethargy,
laziness, to the state of Rajas or activity. Then the
rajas or activity has to be transformed into Sattva. This
happens when the asana is held for a longer time, quiet
and relaxed at the same time.
When you hold a posture quietly, the body and mind have
to be awake and strong, but at the same time the mind
has to be focused and quiet to be able to hold it. This
brings the Satvic state, or state of equilibrium.
The breathing during the postures is also very important.
The breath should be flowing, deeply, rhythmically and
slowly, and never agitated, panting, blocked or unsteady.
The proper yogic diet also pays a very important role
in the achieving of sattva and is a very important part
Foods like meat, fish, alcohol, tobacco and other intoxicants
are the worst since they block the nadis, harm the astral
body and drain the prana and bring Tamas.
Foods that are too spicy, pungent, salty, sour or bitter
disturb the prana and nadis and create rajas or restlessness.
Drinks like coffee, tea and others which have caffeine
also create disturbances and agitation in the prana, nadis
and mind. Onion, Garlic and asafetida are also disturbing
and not suitable for yoga sadhana.
The recommended foods for success in yoga are those that
increase sattva and Ojas, like for example, milk, ghee,
grains, nuts, almonds, honey, some vegetables and sweet
Only when sattva predominates
over rajas and Tamas, the further practices of pranayama,
bandhas and mudras can be effective. Pranayama, especially
the advanced forms, should not be attempted until the
satva guna dominates over rajas and tamas.
After the asanas are practiced
and a required level of sattva and balance is acquired,
a further deeper level of balance is achieved by the alternate
nostril breathing or anuloma-viloma pranayama.
But the intention and benefits
of hatha yoga don’t end on the physical and healing
level, they are intended to bring other deeper or spiritual
effects as we will analyze.
In a more advanced state of practice, when trough the
different practices of hatha yoga, the Sun and moon energy
are brought to a perfect balance, both the right and left
nostrils will be open at the same time. If this balance
is kept long enough, then the Sun and moon energy can
be united, merged together.
When the ida and pingala are perfectly opened and balanced
and the nadis have been purified by proper practices,
the Sushumna nadi becomes pure and active and the united
Sun/Moon energy enters into it.
The prana then leaves ida and pingala and enters into
Ida and Pingala become temporary “dead” like
a wire without electricity.
In that state, the vrittis don’t get any prana and,
like a fire without oxygen, they cease.
According to how long the practitioner is able to hold
the prana in the sushumna, he moves from the stage of
Pranayama to the state of Pratyahara, then to Dharana,
then Dhyana and finally Samadhi, the superconscious or
When the prana enters the sushumna, it withdraws from
the other nadis, which connect to the nerves and senses.
The mind is brought inwards together with the prana.
“Where the prana goes, the mind goes”
So if the prana is kept in the sushumna, it doesn’t
flow to the other nadis, then the mind also doesn’t
go to the sense objects, but dwells in the internal experiences.
This is the state of Pratyahara.
Then, keeping the prana in the sushumna for a longer period
of time without disruption, brings the mind into the state
of deep concentration or Dharana. When it is held for
a longer time with a constant flow without interruption
it is called Dhyana or meditation and if it is kept there
long enough it creates a powerful new samskara or impression
in the mind stuff, which destroys all other samskaras
and the yogi attains Samadhi, which in hatha yoga is called
the “Unmani Avasta” state. Unmani Avasta means
a “no-mind” state, no vrittis.
During this process of
bringing and keeping the prana in the sushumna, the Kundalini
Shakti is awakened and enters into it. When the nadis
and sushumna have been purified enough, the Kundalini
Shakti is awakened by the yogi by certain pranayamas,
bandhas and mudras, or by the use of mantras or by the
influence of the Guru who has it already awakened.
Kundalini Shakti is the Divine power that creates, sustains
and dissolves the whole universe. That same Divine power
which creates the universe can bring the universe back
to its original source, Ishwara or God.
When this dissolution happens in the whole universe or
“Macrocosm”, it is called Cosmic Pralaya.
But when this process happens within the individual world
or “Microcosm” the world as we experience
it in our individual mind gets dissolved and only pure
consciousness and bliss remain, this is called the awakening
of the Kundalini and its return or union with Siva.
The cosmic Shakti, after having created the universes,
resides, like resting, in the mooladhara chakra. Siva
or the pure consciousness resides in the highest chakra
When the kundalini enters the Sushumna it is gradually
brought upwards as the yogi increases his level of prana
and keeps it for longer time in the sushumna and practicing
the right technique as taught by his guru.
The longer time the yogi can keep the prana in the sushumna,
the highest is can go, until eventually it reaches and
remains in the sahasrara and unites with Siva, bringing
the highest blissful experience of union.
This is comparable to connecting a high voltage battery
(the Kundalini in the mooladhara) to a high power light
bulb (the sahasrara), through a high capacity wire (the
sushumna). Then a tremendous light is turned ON.
This, of course can happen only after long time of constant
sadhana and complete purification of body, nadis and the
mind. www.yoga-elsilencio.com www.9graha.com
No matter how much one practices, if there is no purification,
the prana cannot be held in a high state for long time,
the old negative or impure samskaras will pull it back
down to its old low energy state.
Only after perfection in Yamas and Niyamas, which include
complete devotion and surrender to the Lord and trough
karma yoga and renunciation to all selfless actions the
complete success can be achieved.
of the teacher or Guru
If we understand what hatha yoga really is, we can understand
why the scriptures and Masters have emphatically insisted
that the guidance of a qualified teacher is utmost essential
in this form of yoga.
Prana is a subtle force and it cannot be explained properly
by words. The same with the meditative states. Its understanding
is transmitted mostly in a non-verbal way from the teacher
to the student.
Since we are manipulating the energies that sustain the
body and mind, any mistake done in this practice can have
serious consequences in the physical or mental health.
Some very basic practices of asana and basic simple breathing
exercises can be taught and practice by everyone, but
when we go to the more advanced practices like pranaymas,
bandhas and mudras, which have the capacity to awake the
Kundalini power, then the guidance of a Guru, a teacher
who has proper training and personal experience with this
energy is essential.
The hatha yoga techniques cannot be learned from books
or improvised in an experimental way.
A child can play with a small torch battery, but to manipulate
a high voltage wire you need the guide of an expert electrician.
Otherwise you could end up electrocuted.
The advanced practices should only be practiced in a very
gradual manner and with the personal direct guidance of
the teacher. A teacher may teach different exercises or
different levels or practice to different students according
to their capacity and his knowledge and experience.
The student should be very patient and not trying to hurry
too much. Purification takes time.
The most important point is the regularity in the practice
and respecting the rules laid by the teacher.
Many kinds of astral body experiences may happen during
the practice, but the sign that the practice is working
well is only if the practitioner feels completely peaceful
in his mind and heart and with his environment.
The main practices
of hatha yoga are:
Yamas and Niyamas. They are
the foundation of all other practices. Before sowing the
good seeds in a field, the bad herbs have to be removed.
The negative habits and behaviors have to be purified;
otherwise the karma won’t allow any progress.
Proper diet. A proper diet helps
to bring the sattva and peaceful mind, keeps the body
healthy, promotes quick and easy digestion and nourishes
the dhatus or systems of the body, the nerves and mind.
Kriyas. The kriyas will help
to eliminate toxins from the system and allow the prana
to flow properly.
Asanas. They bring health and
strength, flexibility and stability to the body removing
the main physical obstacles to the other practices. They
strech and press the Nadis making the prana flow and removing
stagnation in the nadis, and start to balance sun and
moon energy. The asanas done in the proper wat bring the
predominance of Sattva Guna in the bidy and mind.
They prepare the body to be able to acquire a proper meditative
erect posture, needed for the pranayama and meditation.
Pranayama. Purifies the nadis,
increases the level of prana which brings health and mental
strength. It balances Sun and moon energy and brings the
mind to a state of peace.
Bandhas and Mudras. They lock
and seal the prana, allowing it to move on certain paths
and preventing it to move to other ones. They help unite
prana and apana, sun and moon and bring it into the sushumna,
they awake the Kundalini Shakti , hold the prana still
and induce the meditative state.
They should only be practiced after long purification
of the nadis and only under guidance of the Guru.
Meditation/Samadhi. In that
stage, hatha yoga becomes Raja Yoga.
In hatha yoga the main meditation technique is the practice
of kevala kumbaka or keeping a state or restraint of the
breath where there is neither inhalation nor exhalation.
This is not a forceful retention but it becomes spontaneous
when the nadis are completely purified. That keeps the
prana in the sushumna. The longer it is held, the highest
the prana and Kundalini is raised until it reaches its
Another important meditation is on listening and becoming
absorbed in the anahata or inner sounds and in the inner
light. The mind becomes dissolved in its source.
4-108 “The yogi in
Samadhi is not swallowed up by the process of time (death)
He is not influenced by good or bad karma, nor is he affected
by anything done against him.
4-109 “The yogi in
Samadhi experiences neither smell, touch, sound, shape
nor color. He is not aware of himself or the others.”
4-112“In the waking
state, when a yogi stays, as if asleep, in a steady state
devoid of inhalation and exhalation, then indeed he is
Wiuker is a direct disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda and
has been a yoga and meditation teacher for over 25 years.
He is the main Hatha Yoga instructor in many Sivananda
Yoga Teachers Training Courses (TTC), advanced yoga teachers
training courses (ATTC) and advanced sadhana retreats
at various of the Sivananda Ashrams worldwide.
He is also the director of the Sivananda Sadhana kutir
- El Silencio, a retreat center in Uruguay.
Om Namah Sivaya!
Silencio - Sivananda Sadhana Kutir