Purpose of Hatha Yoga

There are many misconceptions about Hatha Yoga. Many believe that a Hathayogi is attached to his body excessively. He aims primarily at looking after his body, attaining miraculous powers, mastering the most difficult Yogic postures and so on. It would not be fair to assume so by pointing fingers at some pakhandis or deluded Hathayoga practitioners.

The beginning of Hathayoga Pradipika presents the real purpose of Hatha Yoga. Yogi Swatmarama says :

श्रीआदिनाथाय नमोस्तु तस्मै येनोपदिष्टा हठयोगविद्या।
विभ्राजते प्रोन्नतराजयोगमारोढुमिच्छोरधिरोहिणीव॥

I bow down to Shri Adinatha i.e. Lord Shiva who has expounded Hatha Yoga as a means to attain the supreme Raja Yoga.

Lord Shiva is regarded as the originator of the art and science of Yoga. The entire knowledge of Yoga was first revealed by Lord Shiva to his consort Parvati. In Natha sect he is known as Adinatha. Adi means the oldest or original and Natha means owner or controller. Natha sect is Shaivite and considers Lord Shiva as the symbol of Supreme Truth. So for a Natha Yogi Brahman, Paramatman are synonymous to Shiva. For our devotees He appears in human Saguna form. Lord Shiva is the ageless being. He is beyond birth and death. He is the first Natha. That is why one of the names of Shiva is Akula i.e. the one who do not have any ancestors. Yogi Swatmaram starts his work by saluting Lord Shiva. Natha sect being Shaivite  that's quite natural and adhering to established practiced.

This first verse itself clearly indicates why Lord Shiva taught Hatha Yoga to Parvati and this purpose is very important. Shiva taught Hatha Yoga to Parvati for the sake of attaining Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga means King of all Yogas. Raja Yoga aims at controlling and stilling the mental fluctuations with the help of meditation alone. Patanjali Yoga Sutras say - Yoga is restraint of mind stuff. There are several ways to restrain the mind. Every Guru recommends his own path. Some say devotion is the best and some say Knowledge is supreme. Some say Japa is the easiest whereas some others say Karma Yoga is good. As per Natha doctorine Hatha Yoga is the best way to attain success in Raja Yoga.

As everybody is aware, controlling mind is extremely difficult (especially at the beginning stages). Those who have practiced meditation or similar disciplines will agree to this wholeheartedly. One needs to employ several clever tricks to rein the outward going mind. As per the science of Yoga Mind and Prana (the vital life force) are two sides of the same coin. If Prana is under control mind comes under control. Similarly, if mind is under control Prana too comes under control. Since controlling mind directly is extremely difficult Hathayogis control Prana first. Once Para is controlled gradually mind also comes under control. The point to remember is that the primary purpose of Hatha Yoga is attainment of Raja Yoga and a practitioner should not be under any misconceptions about it.

प्रणम्य श्रीगुरूं नाथं स्वात्मारामेण योगिना।
केवलं राजयोगाय हठविद्योपदिश्यते॥

By saluting Shri Guru I, Swatmaram Yogi, expound the knowledge of Hatha Yoga purely for the sake of attaining Raja Yoga.

After bowing down to Lord Shiva, Swatmarama is now saluting his Guru. All spiritual disciplines emphasis the importance of Guru. In Natha sect role of Guru is even more emphasized. There are three reasons to it. First one is that Natha sect has important place for Shaktipata. An able Guru bestows Shakti to an eligible disciple and awaken his kundalini so as to achieve quicker progress meditation. Secondly, the path of Hatha consisting of Pranayama, Bandhas and Mudras is better learned directly from some expert. If you wish to learn how play flute then you must learn it from some able teacher. You cannot learn it merely by reading books. Similarly, not all practices of Hatha Yoga can be learned from books. Imagine, in ancient days when means of sharing knowledge were limited how important Guru must have been. The third reason is that, one needs some role model to walk a path of Yoga. If a practitioner has such role model in front of him he can quickly and effectively absorb the values need to walk the path of Yoga. Then he won't get too much doubts. Even if doubt arises he can get it clarified from his Guru.

Yogi Swatmaram, here, once again has reminded us of the ultimate aim of Hatha Yoga. He wants to indicate that if your practice of Hatha Yoga is not taking you closer to Raja Yoga then it is futile. This verse is a lesson to those who blame Hatha Yogis to be body centric.

भ्रांत्या बहुमतध्वांते राजयोगमजानताम।
हठ प्रदीपिकां धत्ते स्वात्मारामः कृपाकरः॥

Due to delusion cause by various opinions Raja Yoga remains unattainable. That's why graceful Swatram is throwing light on the science of Hatha Yoga.

Several are the ways to attain Samadi i.e. Raja Yoga. The fact is unless one takes the path of Yoga he cannot attain Samadhi. Today we see that so called Gurus are extremely rigid about their own teachings. Every Guru feels that his path alone is supreme. That's quite obvious. However, such Gurus often neglect the fact that his path may not be suitable for each and every person. Not everyone can follow every spiritual discipline. That is precisely why India has so many spiritual disciplines and variations. In ancient times a Guru never used to accept a disciple unless he tests his ability to walk a particular path. He used to suggest a path based on the ability of the disciple. Today that rarely happens. Especially so with Yoga organizations and institutes from cities.

As per Yogi Swatmaram Hatha Yoga is the best path to attain Raja Yoga. Now, some readers may feel that even Swatmaram is rigid in making this statement. We should remember, however, that Hathayoga Pradipika is not written for any ordinary individual. It is meant for those who are new initiates of Natha sect. Swatmaram has specific audience in front of him for his work. So, when Swatmaram says that Hatha Yoga is the best, he is telling so for new disciples who have already made up their mind to walk this path. In Shiva Samhita this has been explained by Lord Shiva to Parvati in ample details. Summary of that explanation is as follows :

(Lord Shiva says) I am giving away the knowledge of Yoga to those who have deepest devotion in me for the sake of liberation. Some say Truthfulness is the best whereas some others suggest austerities and cleanliness. Some recommend Forgiveness whereas some others say Control of Senses is best and yet some others laud straightforwardness. Similarly, some praise charity and oblation. Some others laud karma and yet some others laud detachment. Some believe in Jana and some others in Shunya. Some others accept Purusha and Prakriti. Devoid of real understanding of Supreme Reality people talk about salvation in several ways. They all are but deluded and never attain liberation. By contemplating again and again about all these ways it becomes clear that science of Yoga alone is the supreme path.

Thus Swatmaram is expounding the knowledge of Hatha to all such new initiates of Natha Yoga. Here, the word "krupa" i.e. grace is important. Only a person who has reached certain level of spiritual progress can shower grace on others. Not everybody is capable of doing that. Unlike many so called Gurus of today, Swataram has not acquired his knowledge by mere reading of books but by tireless practice and self-experience.

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant, trainer, author, yoga mentor, and meditation teacher with over 24 years of experience in classical form of Yoga. He is an internationally published author and has authored or co-authored more than twelve books on .NET technologies. He has been awarded as a Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. He has also written a few Marathi books including Devachya Davya Hati and Natha Sankentincha Danshu. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he also teaches Ajapa Yoga to selected individuals.

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Posted On : 12 December 2010

Tags : Yoga Shiva Hatha Yoga Kundalini Chakras Meditation Asanas Natha Scriptures Spirituality

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