Learn Yoga as a spiritual science
The human being consists of the body, mind and soul. It brings within its purview physical development, psychological unfoldment and spiritual realization. Generally the body is treated as a material reality, while the mind is considered as a non-material reality. Indian Vedic Philosophy conceives of the soul as the subtle and ultimate reality. The system of yoga has been brought into existence by the ancient sages of India in order to ensure proper functioning of body, mind and soul together. The principal objective of Yoga is to make the individual understand and experience that the mind and the body are destructible entities whereas it is in reality the Soul, which is eternal and independent from the mind and the body. The main constituents of yoga are Hatha Yoga, Laya Yoga and Raja Yoga. Of these, Hatha Yoga deals with the purification of the body, Laya Yoga deals with controlling thought and emotions, and Raja Yoga brings about the realization of the soul. All these three Yogas are not isolated from one another. Each one remains incomplete in the absence of the other two. However, it is true that in the initial stage of the spiritual practice, Hatha Yoga plays an important role, while in the intermediate stage Laya Yoga plays an important role. In the final stage Raja Yoga plays the important role and that is why it is designated as the King of Yoga. In short, a Yoga practitioner has to begin with Hatha Yoga and then pass through the stage of Laya Yoga, before they reach the stage of Raja Yoga.
Keeping this in view, the author of Hatha Yoga Pradeepika has rightly said:
"All the methods of Hatha Yoga are meant for gaining success in Raja Yoga." (4:102)
He says further:
There is no success in Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga and hence one should practice both until complete success is gained." (2:76)
Asan (posture) being the first accessory of Hatha Yoga, a yoga aspirant should begin with the practice of asans, which bestows health, lightness, suppleness and steadiness of the body. After being firmly established in asan, one should practice Pranayam (breath control) while also exercising moderation in diet. That removes impurities from the channels of the gross as well as the subtle body. When these channels are purified the practitioner becomes lean, but free from disease. One masters celibacy, retains breath according to wish and listens to the subtle sound (anahat naad, unstruck sound) from within. This stage is the culmination of Hatha Yoga. After that, the practice of Laya Yoga begins wherein the objects of the senses are forgotten and desires do not arise.
In Hatha Yoga Pradeepika it is said:
"Mind is the master of the senses, Prana (vital air or breath) is the master of Mind and Laya is the master of Prana. That Laya is dependent on the Subtle Sound (naad)."
While listening to the inner Subtle Sound the mind becomes fully absorbed and the breathing is successfully stopped without involving inhalation or exhalation (that is known as keval kumbhak). At that time the practitioner reaches the culmination of Laya Yoga and enters the stage of Raja Yoga. A Yogi engaged in Raja Yoga samadhi becomes free from all bondages and transcends all states such as waking, dreaming and sleeping. One becomes a liberated soul. Some people wrongly translate the word "Hatha Yoga" as "a harsh method of self-discipline including the infliction of various tortures of one's body." They advocate self-mortification through scourges, but this is not true.
As a matter of fact, Hatha Yoga is a carefully designed discipline for physical culture which makes an aspirant's body a fit equipment for achieving spiritual prowess. For cleaning the body of its impurities the Hatha Yoga discipline employs, apart from asan and Pranayam, other methods such as bandhs, (locks), shat kriyas (six cleansing processes) and mudras (seals). It also leads to an occult phenomenon of Kundalini awakening. This is a mystical experience establishing the aspirant's contact with the subtle. Thus it is only with the help of Hatha Yoga that the aspirant reaches the subtle body and the door to the higher yoga or Laya Yoga is opened. After the Kundalini is aroused, she moves upwards through the passage of the Sushumna Nadi (a central and important channel in the subtle body) and during its course, passes through various chakras (psychic centers) and develops them, yielding higher mystical experiences and unalloyed spiritual bliss. These are the essentials of the Hatha Yoga discipline. This shows that Hatha Yoga is a very important discipline which must be followed by anyone who aspires to attain the transcendental experience. Properly speaking, Hatha Yoga is a system of physical exercises for the cultivation of perfect health and the higher modes of experience. It is timeless and practical wisdom coming down to the people through the millenniums. India indeed is its homeland.
May the almighty shower His blessings on those who engage themselves in learning and performing yoga.
Swami Rajarshi Muni 1
1 See Swami Rajarshi Muni's book, "Classical Hatha Yoga", Preface p.1x, Life Mission Publications, 1st hard cover edition, 2007.