TTY 2013: Origins of hatha yoga

The Origins of Hatha Yoga

For the ignorant person, this body is the source of endless suffering, but to the wise person, this body is the source of infinite delight.

— Yoga Vasishtha

Shiva resides in your body; you would be made to worship him in images of stone or wood, with ceremonies, with devotions, with vows or pilgrimages. The true yogi looks into himself, for he knows that images are carved to help the ignorant come nearer to the great mystery… When there appears within you the true knowledge of the unity of your atman with the cosmic atman, that is called samadhi… You must say to yourself in truth: “I am not the body, or vital breath, or sense, or thought, or anything else… I am Shiva! I am Shiva!”

— Yoga Darshana Upanishad

In this week’s class we have (finally!) arrived at the origins of the practice of the physical postures of asana. Hatha yoga was founded by Gorakshanath, the student of the yogic adept Matsyendranath, in the 10th-11th centuries CE. The scholar Gerald Larson states that the focus of the practice of hatha yoga is “the ritualistic manipulation of the body’s postures, the body’s fluids and the body’s breathing mechanisms for the sake of attaining enhanced physical strength, greater mental clarity and altered states of awareness of various kinds.” This practice is based on the envisioning of an inner energetic system composed of nadis (“rivers”) and cakras (“wheels”). Through sustained practice the yogi awakens the latent inner spiritual energy of the kundalini and ultimately attains the yogic goal of complete identification with the godhead.

Required Assignments:

Read “Kundalini” by Sally Kempton: A meditation and yoga philosophy teacher writes about the cosmic energy that tantric traditions believe lies within the human body.

Read this short description of the origins of hatha yoga by Gerald Larson, a contemporary scholar of yoga.

Practice: Find a place where you won’t be disturbed. If necessary for privacy, go out into the forest or to the beach. Find a quiet place where you can sit alone. Chant the mantra AUM for at least fifteen minutes.  Focus your attention on the mantra as closely as you can. Feel how it vibrates in your body. After you finish chanting, meditate for at least ten minutes. Notice any changes in your body or your mental state. Write about your experience in your journal.

Download a printable version of the assignment on the origins of hatha yoga for your notebook.

Optional assignment:

Read this short summary of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika,a 15th century text on hatha yoga.

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