An important feature of the text is that Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga are not considered separate entities, one of a physical nature and the other spiritual, but, rather, an integrated whole, both dependent upon each other for the essence of Yoga to be realized. Raja Yoga is mere theory unless embodied and practically understood whilst the practice of Hatha Yoga is fixed in the corporal sphere unless a deeper integration of spirit is infused into it. We can only speculate about the deeper philosophical inclinations of Svatmarama - whether he was a hired scribe or a person of great insight - but it is noteworth to observe that the various practices he lists - Asanas, Pranayamas, and Mudras - are all for the realization of the Brahma within. When the mind is finally exhausted from its identification with Knowledge and knowable objects, the atman - the soul - is all that remains. Then there is no longer any duality in the working mind and the soul may shine through in its own unobstructed essence.
As long as there is life force in the body, the mind will fluctuate and operate according to patterns. These patterns may be restrained, however, by first learning to sit comfortably in various postures, then by restraining the patterns of the breath gradually. By internalizing this process until Prana (the life breath) flows into the middle channel (Sushumna) all external associations of the senses will be pacified. The final stages in the surrender of the mind involve awakening the inner hearing of various subtle sounds until all association with them finally lapses. When that happens the mind is finally free from all subtle layers of bondage and all its associations will drop away.
Although known as the ultimate textbook on Hatha Yoga, there are many discrepancies when it comes to the actual practice and their promised result. Like many of the other textbooks on Yoga, a clear description of concepts such as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kundalini and the Nadanusandhana are lacking. Instead, the text stresses the importance of a proper Guru from whom to learn the various exercises. Without the favor of the Guru, these exercises cannot be utilized to their full potential. The true meaning of Yoga is not something that can be gained from mere reading of textbooks, but must rather come from personal experience that may be awakened under the grace of a guru.
Svatmarama claims to belong to the same lineage as the famous Goraksha and Mastyendra and traces this lineage through 31 teachers back to Lord Shiva himself. The date of the text has been established by modern scholarship to be somewhere between the 13th and 15th centuries. Below is a list with a brief overview of each chapter.
Chapter 1 lists the names and descriptions of the asanas along with proper dietary habits that support the practice.
Chapter 2 explains Pranayama: the effects it has on the mind and the nadis (patterns of energy). Also introduced are the Six Karmas (acts of purification) which are preparatory exercises for the practice.
Chapter 3 explains the 10 different Mudras.
Chapter 4, the final chapter, discusses Samadhi, laya and Nada and the four stages of greater integration.
Note: There is some speculation as to whether Svatmarama actually had deeper experience of his topic or whether he was merely a hired scribe compiling a system. However, Yoga was traditionally conveyed through a lineage from teacher to student. Some of the more obscure passages are in keeping with the tradition of preserving the secrecy of the true meaning of Yoga (1.11). This tradition may perhaps have evolved to preserve the potency of the practice in a world of triviality.
Chapter 1: Injunctions on how to perform Asanas
Certain principles are given for the successful outcome of the practice of Asanas. After descriptions of the proper place of practice, te author then advises us on 6 negative and 6 positive behaviours which each respectively diminish or cultivate greater success in Yoga.
The 6 causes that make a yoga practice futile are (1.15):
3. Talking too much
4. Severe austerities
5. Public contact
6. Fickleness of mind
The 6 that bring speedy success are (1.16)
4. Proper understanding
6. Avoiding excessive contact with people
Here, as well as in many other Yoga texts, it is a 6 limb practice that begins with Asana. The stress is placed on cultivation of practical exercises but the Yamas and Niyamas are not be abolished altogether: they act as a grounding influence to make the mind receptive to Yoga within the postures. Some manuscripts of HYP include Yamas and Niyamas whilst others do not. In copies that do, these (Yamas and Niyamas) are each 10 in number:
9. Sparing diet
3. Belief in God
5. Adoration of God
6. Hearing discourses on the doctrine of religion
All manuscripts do agree upon the purpose of Asanas: "It is the first limb of Hatha Yoga and Asanas are therefore described first. I should be practiced for steadiness of posture, health and lightness of body." (1.17 or 1.19, depending on the edition). The rich traditions of postures originating from the sages are merely referred to and only 15 are mentioned in total. Four of them are considered to be the most important ones, namely: Siddhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana, and Bhadrasana (1.36). A clear description is given for all the postures mentioned along with respective benefits.
In addition, the author also suggests that they should be complemented with practice of Mudras for proper cleansing of the Nadis to take place. Close attention to Nada is also suggested together with proper observation of food patterns and curbing the senses in general. In short, food is to be taken moderately. It should be well cooked, supplemented with ghee and sweets, and always offered up to the Lord Shiva. Food that may be disturbing to the practice is described as: bitter, sour, salty, or hot. Also mentioned are: too many green vegetables, sour gruel oil, mustard and sesame. Consumption of alcohol, fish, meat, yoghurt, buttermilk, plums, oil-cakes, asafetida, garlic, onion, etc. are also said to be bad for the Hatha Yogi (1.61).
Anyone, young, old, sick or lean, may of course take to the practice of Hatha Yoga, but eliminating laziness is the common criteria for all. What is considered most important is to engage in the practice. Success in Yoga is not merely achieved by reading authentic texts, wearing particular clothing, nor engaging in endless debate. Practice alone is what brings success culminating in the final goal of Raja Yoga (1.66-1.69).
Chapter 2: Injunctions on how to perform Pranayama
Instruction from a proper Guru is of paramount importance to the practice of Pranayama. Svatmarama explains how disturbance in the mind may be related to disturbances in the breath and how learning to restrain the latter may bring about greater steadiness of mind. As long as the vital air (5 pranas) operates within the body, there is life. When they cease to, there is death. A restraint of the breath is therefore necessary to gain a greater experience of that which lies beyond and is free from the effect of the senses. The practice of Pranayama is geared towards purifying the Nadis - all the nerve patterns - so that the Prana can ultimately pass through the Sushumna, the middle channel, and then awaken the practitioner to his/her true identity - which is beyond name and form.
The first method listed is alternate nostril breathing. This is gradually supplemented with the practice of Kumbhakas (retentions), but caution is given so the practitioner does bring about his own ruin:
"Just as lions, elephants and tigers are controlled by degrees, similarly the breath is to be controlled gradually, otherwise it may kill the practitioner. By proper practice of Pranayama, all disease are eradicated, but an improper practice gives rise to all sorts of disease." (2.15-16)
Great care should therefore be taken when one engages in Pranayama practice. First and foremost a good grounding in the practice of postures is expected. In order to awaken the more subtle patterns of the breath Svatmarama optionally suggests that Six Karmas* be performed for the removal of phlegm, constipation, and the general sluggishness that cause disturbance to the mind and nervous system. These are:
6 Karmas (Shat Karmas)
*However, some Acharyas (teachers) claim Pranayama practice in itself is sufficient to cleanse the body of its impurities (2.37).
The main purpose of Pranayama is to: 1) rid the practitioner of the fear of death, 2) to purify the Nadis, and 3) to cause the breath to enter the Sushumna. The state of Manonmani - steadiness of mind - is then brought about. The accomplishment of this may be brought about by the practice of Retention (Khumbhakas). These Khumbhakas are to be practiced together with the 3 bandhas. Eight kinds of Khumbhaka are listed:
1. Surya Bhedana
The highest essence of Pranayama practice is known as Kevala Kumbhaka: a complete and spontaneous cessation of breath where no effort of inhalation or exhalation is needed. This is only mastered by the most capable yogis and gives a direct experience of Raja Yoga.
In this chapter we are also reminded that Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga are mutually dependent on each other in order to bring about the highest result. No success can be attained in either without the proper practice of both.
The sign of progress in Hatha Yoga is defined as:
"When the body becomes lean, the face glows with delight, the inner sound is manifest and the eyes are bright, there is freedom from disease, bindu is under control and the digestive fire is strong, then one should know that the Nadis are purified and success in Hatha Yoga is approaching." (2.78)
Chapter 3: The Exposition of the Mudras
The aim of all Yogic practices is to awaken the dormant Kundalini power. She is said to be the support of all the Tantra and Yoga practices. When she is awakened - through the grace of a Guru - all the centers and knots (the different charkas) are pierced through by Prana. When the middle channel (Sushumna) becomes the main pathway for Prana it is said that the mind becomes free from all the connections with its objects of enjoyment and death is surpassed. (2.1-2.3)
The final goal of Yoga is therefore not enjoyment of this world or even the world to come but freedom from transmigration. What is to be awakened is the inner receptivity to a life force within. This force is not simply mere association with the senses but an internalized refinement which may bring about an awakening to this mystic power.
The practice, which starts from the gross with Asanas and Pranayama, now moves to the subtle realm of sealing or locking (Mudra) the energy from within. The text states clearly that the main purpose of all the 10 Mudras is solely to awaken the Kundalini.
Three most common Mudras:
1. Uddiyana Bandha
2. Mula Bandha
3. Jalanddhara Bhandha
The other 7 Mudras:
1. Maha Mudra
2. Maha Bandha
3. Maha Vedha
5. Viparita Karani
7. Shakti Chalana
These Mudras are advised to be kept secret like a box of jewelry and are best conveyed under the grace of a Guru.
The serpent power Kundalini is said to be the key to open the door of Mukti (liberation) through the practice of Hatha Yoga. She is said to be asleep at the entrance, blocking the pathway to the realization of Brahman, and therefore needs to be caught hold of and spurred to enter Sushumna so that Prana may enter the this middle path and pierce the energy centers. This piercing will bring about internal awakening.
When the bandhas become strong and one's energy is no longer dissipated towards external objects, the practice of Bastrkas is said to be the quickest way to awaken this dormant power. Once Kundalinni enters, Prana will follow and success is sure to follow for the Yogi. However, great care must still be taken to avoid a fall from grace. Consistent practice is to be followed until the final goal of Raja Yoga is reached.
Note: According to the text there are 72,000 nadis (energy patterns) in the body. Only the awakening of the Kundalni can remove their impurities.
Chapter 4: The signs of Samadhi
There are many definitions of Samadhi, among them surpassing of death and conferral of eternal happiness, but none can do justice to the actual experience. This text lists 3 definitions of Samadhi: 1) "When the Atma and mind become one"; 2) "when the prana becomes dissolved and the mind becomes absorbed"; and finally 3) "when al impulses to be anything just cease and there is the equality and oneness of self and super-self". (4.5 - 4.7)
The main focus of the practitioner is therefore not to hoard knowledge in the realm of the senses, but rather to dissolve the operating patterns of the mind until the inner essence of it is all that remains. The two 'causes' of the mind are said to be: 1) the operating life force (prana) and 2) its operating vasanas (subliminal impressions). The destruction of one will lead to the destruction of the other. Proper restraint of the breath is the quickest way to utilize this process. When the breath is controlled, the mind will also be controlled since hoth influence each other (4.21 -4.23). The mind is unruly and unsteady by nature, but once the subtle patterns of the breath that cause the fluctuations of the mind are stilled, nothing is impossible.
The four-fold division of greater integration from within takes place in the following order:
1. Restraint of the external senses - paramount to greater clarity of mind.
2. Breath is the master of the mind - once proper restraint of it is practiced, greater clarity of mind may shine forth.
3. Laya - a deeper inner immersioni is master of the breath.
4. Nada - the world of inner sound.
The 2 final states of Laya and Nada are both beyond the power of speech and action since the normal laws of sense activity no longer apply. Here external objects lose their impact because the motivation for the contact with them ceases and the mind is drawn in with greater absorption into that which is fixed - the world of Brahman (4.33).
The state of Nadanusandhanam, internalized sound, is also divided into 4 stages (Arambha, Ghata, Paicaya and Nispatti). This progression of sound within the Sushumna proceeds from the gross to the subtle as the sound becomes more delicate and eventually silent. As this occurs, it becomes easier to restrain the mind from its constant wanderings and instead surrender it to the supreme divinity from within (4.100). As long as sound is present the concept of being within space exists. The soundless state where nothing is heard or experienced is the world wherein only Brahman remains. What is heard are subtle manifestations of Shakti, but the Ultimate reality is formless. That alone is the state of Brahma. All methods of Hatha Yoga nad Laya Yoga seek to climb this highest peak of Raja Yoga - where the inner soul of man merges with the Creator of the world.
Again, no explicit instruction to various of the practices is given. The inner mystical union comes from the grace of the Guru. However, the truth of these practices are to be taken to heart as seeds planted in the field of dedicated practice and further nourished with the water of dispassion. Then the creeper Unnmani will thrive from within, leading the practitioner to the gradual immersion in Samadhi (4.104). In these final stages of Samadhi, no contact the senses are experienced and the practitioner is neither aware of himself nor others. He is neither conscious nor unconscious. He is simply liberated from all contact with "another" and verily becomes Brahma himself. However, until this state if finally realized, all talk about the knowledge of Yoga is but "wild ramblings of mad men". The final verse of the text thus concludes:
"As long as the moving Prana has nto entered the middle path (Sushumna Nadi), and until the Bindu has not become steady by the harmonizing of the Prana-vata, and until the Supreme Reality does not manifest itself in the effortlessness of meditation, until then, all talk about the knowledge of Yoga is nothing but the mad ramblings of mad men." (4.114)
So, let us not delude ourselves in thinking that we have understood the "essence" of Yoga. Yoga is not bound by the limited scope of our understanding. All our efforts to define it may bring us closer or yet further away from the true meaning of Yoga. Our senses may fluctuate according to our disposition, but in the midst of the wild flights of the mind, Yoga remains the same - if only we are able to see it!
R. Alexander Medin