Sage Patanjali was a contemporary of Buddha and his system of yoga was influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of yama and niyama. In the Yoga Sutras he divided raja yoga into eight steps. Yama and niyama are the first two, followed by asana and pranayama. Then come pratyahara, dharana dhyana and samadhi, which are final four: Sage Patanjali’s contention is that you have to first perfect yama and niyama, otherwise asana and pranayama may fail to give desirable results.
What are yama and niyama? Self control, rules of conduct and observances: truth, non-violence, non-stealing, non-aggrandizement, external and internal purity and contentment, are some of the regulations. However, the authors of texts on hatha yoga, such as Swatmarama, were very much aware of the practical difficulties every person faced in relation to yama and niyama. Moreover, yama and niyama have more to do with religion than with a person’s spiritual life.
Experience has taught us that in order to practise yama and niyama, discipline and self-control, a certain quality of mind is needed. Often we observe that when we try to practise self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems and in our mind and personality.
If harmony is not created in the personality, then self-control and self-discipline will create more conflict rather than peace of mind.
Swatmarama has completely eliminated the yama, moral codes, and niyama, self restraints, which are the starting points in the Buddhist and Jain systems, as well as in Sage Patanjali’s Raja Yoga.
Emphasis on Shatkarma:
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the first thing we see is that Swatmarama does not worry at all about self-control and self-discipline in the form of yama and niyama. The order here is very different. He begins by saying that you should first purify the whole body- the stomach, intestines, nervous system and other systems. Therefore, shatkarma comes first, i.e. neti, dhauti, basti, kapalibhati,trataka and nauli. Hatha yoga begins with these practices.
However shatkarma alone does not constitute the whole of hatha yoga. After shatkarma you should practise asana and pranayama. Self control and self discipline should start with the body. That is much easier. Asana is discipline; pranayama is discipline, kumbhaka, retention of breath, is self-control. Sit in padmasana, lotus posture, for fifteen minutes. That is self-discipline. Why do you fight with the mind first? You have no power to wrestle with the mind, yet you wrestle with it, thereby creating a pattern of animosity towards yourself.
There are not two minds, there is one mind trying to split itself into two. One mind wants to break the discipline and the other mind wants to maintain the discipline. You can find this split in everybody. When this split becomes greater, then we call it schizophrenia.
They explained what they meant by the body. The subtle elements, tattwas, the energy channels, nadis, within the body should be purified. The behavior of the vital force, prama, the entire nerous system and the various secretions in the body should be properly maintained and harmonized.
After this one should go on to practise mudras like vajroli, sahajoli, khechari, shambhavi, vipareeta karani and others. In this way it will be possible to develop deep meditation. These practices will induce pratyahara and lead into dharna, dhyana and samadhi.
Aim of Hatha Yoga:
In order to purify the mind, it is necessary for the body as a whole to undergo a process of absolute purification. Hatha yoga is also known as the science of purification, not just one type of purification but six types. The body has to be cleaned in six different was for six different impurities.
The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy.
The interplay of the inner energy:
In order to make the subject clear, it was termed hatha, i.e. ha and tha yoga, a combination of two bija mantras. It has been explained in hatha yoga that ha represents prana, the vital force, and tha represents mind, the mental energy. So hatha yoga means the union of the pranic and mental forces.
Prana shakti, the life force and manas shakti, the mental force, are the two fundamental creators. Every object in the universe, right from the smallest atom to the largest star, is composed of these two shaktis or energies.
All matter in this creation is alive. This is the first point. It is also conscious. This is the second point. Therefore, everything has potential consciousness and everything is alive. In yoga, life and consciousness are known as prakriti and purusha; in tantra they are known as Shakti and Shiva. In hatha yoga they are called ida and pingala; in Taoism, yin and yang and in physics, matter and energy.
Harmony between the positive and negative forces:
In the hatha yoga there is the concept of harmonizing the twofold shakthis or energies in man, because they normally remain in an unbalanced and unharmonized form. Due to this imbalance, either physical diseases occur or mental diseases manifest. When prana is subservient to mental shakti, then people are driven to bouts of insanity.
Transcendence through training:
Matter is convertible into energy and vice versa. This is the underlying concept. Similarly, this body is convertible into spirit and spirit is convertible into matter.
Therefore, in hatha yoga, first of all we take care of the body and purify it by six methods. Our body functions along very simple lines. Just as a machine produces wastes, likewise our body continuously produces wastes. These wastes are of three types: mucus, gas and acidity.