HATHA TALK # 4
THE PURIFICATORY PRACTICES
If you have followed this philosophical basis of Hatha yoga, it shouldn't be difficult for you to see that what we call the physical was originally pure spirit, and is pure spirit even now. There is a Biblical parallel, saying that God created everything out of Himself, --since in the beginning God alone was--, and then created his first and perhaps only truly begotten son, Adam.
At that point, it had moved one step away from the source: Adam had become an individual, what the Vedantans call Atma. Afterwards, God took rest, and Adam went to sleep. The "Adam" or Atma falling asleep is analogous to falling into the state of ignorance. Out of Adam, the child of God, came Eve.
In other words, identity, or self-knowledge, is lost, and the loss of self-knowledge immediately gives rise to identification. Do you see that this is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways? It's not only that there is a loss of self-knowledge, but also the loss of self-knowledge immediately gives rise to identification!
In the same way, a little movement of energy in cosmic consciousness creates a collision and fusion within cosmic consciousness, within cosmic being, and energy colliding and fusing with the basic element creates greater and grosser combinations until, eventually, you find this body in this world. As this proceeds, self-knowledge is forgotten, which at the same time creates identification.
We see this happening all the time. When I lose my identity, I want to immediately identify myself with something or someone. (Even the psychologists agree with this. In psychology, they say that when a person who has amnesia wakes up to find himself in a strange place, not knowing who or where he is, that person immediately creates some kind of identity and relationship in order to feel secure.) If I do not know who I am, I must immediately call myself an Indian, or a Hindu, etc.
Likewise, in our Biblical parallel, this man who was originally God, later the Son of God, and then the husband of Eve. And then, if you believe all that story, he is thrown out of the Garden of Eden, becomes a farmer, is godforsaken, becomes the father of two sons, etc., etc. From there, this identification moves further and further away from the truth.
But if the truth, if God, if cosmic being, if cosmic consciousness is omnipresent and infinite, then one can never get away from it. That is probably what the Christian theology tried to prove by saying that Adam was not completely banished from the Garden of Eden, that he didn't get completely lost, that he is there in all, and that the same Adam in Jesus is to have awakened to the truth when in the crucifixion of the flesh he was to throw the flesh away and recapture spirit. Somehow we have come to identify ourselves with the flesh. We cling to some notion or other, in an effort to make an identity for ourselves. You can see that in the case of every one of us. We started as a baby. The baby is completely free, but somehow the purity gets lost. How does this happen? The little one is forced into a relationship. How? You tell them:
"I am your mommy!" or "I am your daddy!"
The baby is simply forced into a relationship, and pulled away from its center. Although the child identifies itself as the child of Mr. & Mrs. so and so for some time, that relationship gets abandoned, and the identity shifts from the parents to the child's school mates. The father and mother may still be there, and identity with oneself is still there (the 'I' is still there and therefore, the child will continue to be what it is), but in his (or her) own heart, mind and consciousness, the notion that "I am the son (or daughter) of Mr. and Mrs. so and So'" is either gone, or greatly weakened. The parental thing is weakened, and "I am the friend of so and so" starts to gain strength.
This goes on. A more intimate relationship is developed with one particular person, to whom 'I' becomes the boyfriend or girlfriend, wife or husband, so that now, the parental relationship is nearly completely submerged. The parents are almost total strangers now, the friends are no longer friends but acquaintances:
We were classmates, weren't we?
If you see this, you see our identification go on changing and changing. And so it is with relative ease that notions arise and subside, arise and subside in consciousness. When you begin to wonder how it could be possible for this omnipresent cosmic being to forget itself and become this flesh, just remember it is as simple as this: "How is it possible for the child, who was clinging to father and mother, to throw them out of his (or her) consciousness and come to identify with some other person, a total stranger by comparison?" In just the same way, consciousness is able to progressively forget its identity and become involved in identification with the mind and its limitation, a conditioned notion, and with this particular body along with its own inherent notions.
Yoga recognized that this has become a part of life, seeing the entire process as a purification of the whole being. Yoga doesn't say:
Why labor with this physical body? Why not go right back to the source?
People have tried to do that. It
would be a bit difficult for most of us. Since the whole process
of identification seems to have already taken place, it might be
better to transform or transmute every aspect of this
identification, and in doing so, roll the whole thing back to the
source. That is the yoga approach.
Since the identification has descended right down to the level of the physical being (the body), pay some attention to that, but without getting lost in it. Your body may need some attention, but don't over do it. You don't practice Hatha yoga merely to rectify the liver or spleen; you involve the physical body in order to go back to the source.
Hence, the author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika makes it clear right from the beginning that he is teaching Hatha yoga only to prepare you for the practice of Raja yoga. That is... a truth that is hardly ever remembered in the modern world. And this seldom remembered truth is stated in the very beginning, in the second verse (the first verse is an invocation) :
pranayama srigurum natham svatmaramena yogina kevalam rajayogya hathavidyopadisyate - I.2
"After having saluted his guru, the yogi Svatmarama, (the author) expounds Hatha vidya only for the practice of Raja Yoga. "
Certainly then, Hatha yoga is not meant as a slimming exercise, or for those on some kind of a 'health kick'. Every physical benefit is incidental to the spiritual benefit that one derives from the Hatha yoga practices. And one could say the same thing for all the so called "different" yogas. And so, in the Bhagavad Gita, when Krishna explains why one bothers to meditate at all, he says that one should practice meditation...
... for the purification of the self (Atmavisuddhaye).
One meditates in order to purify oneself, in order to cleanse the mirror. If the mirror is clean, then the truth is reflected without any further effort. When the heart is clean, the truth is reflected without any further effort.
Aside from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there is another important Hatha yoga text called the Geranda Samhita. In this lovely scripture, you will not only find the seven components of Hatha yoga, but the purpose of each practice is also given:
sodhanam ca asanena bhaveddrdham
The text translates as follows:
Purification is acquired by the regular performance of the Sat-kriyas.
Neither slimming down, building
muscles, or becoming more supple are mentioned: "Asana
(posture) gives drdhata (stability)." You can see that it
only mentions that postures give stability. In the (Raja) Yoga
Sutras of Patanjali, you have a description of the posture,
meaning the posture for meditation, and words given for it are
From this we learn that "the posture" must be comfortable (one in which you can sit for a considerable time), and it also must be sthiram, firm. "Mudra gives sthirata (steadiness). Pratyahara (introverting mind and senses) gives dhrta (calmness, perseverance). Pranayama (regulation of the life force) gives lightness." Enlightenment, yes? If you are light, and therefore don't feel heavy --not only physically but psychologically, neurologically and also spiritually-- you are able to go through life without a burden.
|Dhyana (meditation), gives pratyatsa, (direct realization of the self). Samadhi (direct experience of of cosmic consciousness) brings about nirliptam (freedom).|
Nirliptam also means non-attachment.
Have you seen the people who go guru hunting, looking for a yogi who, in samadi, has achieved this non-attachment? These hunters go around looking at all the different yogis, and get quite worked up over this non-attachment business. They say, "That yogi doesn't want to look at anyone, or touch anyone. He must be unattached!" I doubt that this is the intended meaning of non-attachment. Attachment implies duality. Attachment presupposes a division. So the non-attachment that the yogi experiences in samadi is a realization of cosmic oneness.
When you and I are forever one in cosmic being, in which there is no division, there is neither an attraction nor aversion, neither what you call love, nor what you call hate. Swami Ramdas once explained what it is to love all. He said, "To love all is to love none in particular." That means the one who loves does not think: "You are my favorite. I love you more than... .." Such attachment is a trap, and the yogi is not caught by it. Free of attachment, the yogi is free to love.
Those are the seven Hatha yoga practices, and their benefits. It is good to become acquainted with them. Many of them are not universally practiced. Let us look at some of them briefly.
The first of these are the purificatory practices, known as the sat-kriyas. Both the Gerandha Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika mention them. If you would like to know why one should practice all the purificatory kriyas, the benefits are beautifully given in this selection from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
|suddhimeti yada sarvam nadicakram malakulam tadasiva jayate yogi pranasangrahane ksamah|
|If the physical body is rid of toxic substances, then it is possible to hold the breath for as long as you like. The impediments to the practice of pranayama are removed.|
It is obvious from this passage that such purificatory kriyas are necessary only if you are going to devote yourself wholly and solely to the practice of pranayama. Otherwise, it is not necessary. Take to them only if you wish to take the practice of pranayama very seriously.
Briefly, serious pranayama practice means practicing pranayama at the rate of at least twelve to sixteen hours a day. If you are going to be devoted to pranayama to that extent, all these purificatory kriyas are desirable:
|(gives verse II/20)|
|These six sat-kriyas promote the vitality of the gastric fire.|
This means that digestion and assimilation improves. It improves, not because you can eat more pancakes than you used to, but now you can make do with half of what you used to eat, because now whatever little is eaten is fully assimilated. so the yogi looks for better digestion and assimilation, not because he craves to eat more, but because he hopes to eat less.
|(gives Sanskrit II/20)|
|And if the body, including the nadis, is completely purified, and rid of all toxins, then the inner hearing becomes acute, clear.|
In order to hear the "inner sounds" (we will discuss the inner sounds later on), you must be rid of various toxins. The yogi refers to toxins not only in the physical body, but also as a kind of pollution affecting the psychological and subtle body as well. In hearing the inner sounds, there is clair-audience, which simply means the yogi has clear ability to listen.
|(gives Sanskrit II/20)|
|The physical body is also restored to perfect health.|
No comment is needed. Now comes another important verse:
|medah slesmadhikah purvam satkarmani samacaret anyastu nacarettani dosanam samabhavatah II/21|
|If you find that your body is phlegmatic... then take to these purificatory practices. Otherwise, don't do them. "|
If you are phlegmatic --not only in the sense of the respiratory tract being full of phlegm, but also in the sense of being fat, lazy, lethargic-- then you may practice these things. But if your body is very thin, and if you do not suffer from phlegm, it's better not to try them. Otherwise, you may run into difficulties. If, for example, you were constipated, taking a laxative would be a good idea. On the other hand, if you were already having diarrhea, it's rather unwise to take a laxative.
The following six practices are recommended to those in particular who wish to devote themselves to the study of pranayama. Therefore, these were not intended for those who only practice yoga asanas.
dhautirbastistatha netistratakam naulikam tathakapalabhatiscaitani satkarmani pracaksate II/22
|The six practices are: dhauti, basti, neti, tratakam, nauli, kapalabhati.|
Dhauti literally means cleansing. There are different procedures for achieving the cleansing which may be necessary, so that quite a number of different ways of doing dhauti are found. In the cleansing of the stomach and the intestinal tract, for example, several methods are found. There is something known as vastra-dhauti, in which a piece of cloth is swallowed, and then pulled back out. The idea behind it is that while in the stomach, the cloth absorbs useless waste. One valid criticism is that even though you take the waste out, you are going to put some more in very soon! Even so, people do practice this. And some others do another method called vamana-dhauti. In vamana-dhauti, you must drink a minimum of ten glasses of slightly warm salted water. You keep drinking until it eventually all comes up. If it hasn't all all come up, and you don't feel that you can force down any more water, simply tickle the throat with your finger, and bring it up that way. It is important for each practitioner to relate his or her own body to the specific practice in order to see not only whether the body needs that practice, but also whether the practice 'agrees' with you.
A practice may be good for some, and not good for others. Be watchful and cautious. Also, although it should go without saying, try to be aware of whether your system needs that practice before you commence with it. For example, in the case of the dhauti called plavini-pranayama, where you swallow air into your stomach only to belch out toxic gases along with the air swallowed, it is especially true that it's only a good idea to do it if your system needs that kind of thing. In the same way, if you sense that you have some leftover waste in your stomach, you might do something called agni-sara-dhauti, where you pump the abdomen vigorously in order to generate heat in the body so that what little rubbish is left in there gets eliminated. Again, the point is to do it only if needed. It also goes without saying that if you are doing all these practices, you will be extraordinarily careful about what you put into the stomach in the first place!
The second type of purificatory practice is called basti, which literally means "enema." There are two categories: jalabasti and sthala-basti. Jala-basti is done squatting in water, and stala-basti is done on land. It is rare to see these performed. Once, in India, I saw a young man walk into the Ganges, squat down, and do asvini-mudra (contracting and expanding the rectum while churning and drawing the rectum up), which enabled him to suck up the water through his rectum and into his large intestines. He continued churning for awhile, and then pumped the water out. The whole process is exactly like an enema. Since sthala-basti is done on land, it is accomplished by sucking in a instead of water.
The third type of practice is called neti. In neti, you feed a soft cloth through your nose, down the throat, and out the mouth. It is fairly easy to do, and can be helpful if you have nasal problems. Neti can also be done using water to rinse and clean the nasal passages. That's the most popular form of neti. It can be used to clear the sinuses or cure headache. It's also said to be good for the eyes. Some people use a small jug with i special spout. They stick the spout into the nostrils, and let the water run through. It is a good practice if you need it.
The fourth practice, nauli is churning of the abdomen. When the churning is going on, you also practice uddiyana, which involves isolating the rectus-abdomini by pulling the abdomen upwards. It is given as one of the purificatory practices, but is also used as part of the practice of awakening the kundalini.
Trataka means "staring,"gazing at something with the eyes open. Unlike a previous experiment, where we kept the eyes open but gazed inside, looking at the breathing, trataka is looking at something outside. It is not abstraction of vision! Since the vision is not abstracted in trataka, the eyes have to focus. This causes eye strain, and eventually the eyes smart and tears flow. The instructions regarding trataka say that you should keep staring until tears pour from the eyes. When that happens, the eyeballs are flushed and cleaned.
There is a wonderful message to realize when you practice trataka. You are staring and there is strain, smarting, etc., and suddenly without you having to do a thing, the eyes wash themselves. You need do nothing! That's the message. The 'I' need do nothing! If the eyes need to be flushed and cleaned, there is something deep within that knows. See that!
Some yoga teachers have some strict conditions regarding picking the object upon which to do trataka. Although some people use a candle, these orthodox teachers say that whatever light source you use, it should not emit smoke. They prefer that you use one of those wick lamps with ghee or castor oil, because in the use of these oils, there's no smoke to get in your eyes. Smoke in the eyes would be annoying. Our master, Swami Sivananda, did not use lamps. He preferred to use a picture instead of a flame. You can use a picture of Rama, or Krishna, or Buddha, etc.
The last of these six is kapalabhati. Although this is given as one of the pranayama exercises, it is good to remember that it is neither a breathing exercise, nor a pranayama exercise, but a purificatory exercise. (That is the essential difference between kapalabhati and bhastrika, - a topic we shall cover when we come to the subject of pranayama.) 'Kapala' means 'skull', and 'bhati' means 'to shine'. Although it may seem as if the only concern is with the lungs, kapalabhati is meant for the cleansing of the brain cells.
How often these purificatory practices are done is up to each individual, who must then see if, and how often they are necessary. Unlike Hatha yoga and pranayama, the frequency of the purificatory practice varies greatly. When there is a need, and only then do you do these practices. But it is good to know about them. It's like first aid lessons. An instructor doesn't leave out teaching the class how to attend to a broken arm simply because no one in the group has just fractured an arm. Likewise, when the first aid instructor teaches you the procedure for treating a broken arm, you don't jump up and down, saying: "Come on, fracture my arm! I want to see if I learned correctly."
One should give these kriyas the place they deserve in the total scheme of yoga, without making a fetish out of it. If you give all these practices more importance than they deserve, it's going to lead you astray. Should you think that the asanas, kriyas, and pranayama are so marvelous that they will keep you from any physical problem, and should some health problem suddenly occur, you might become totally disillusioned with yoga practice. Rather than have that happen, it's better if these practices are seen as part of the total scheme of self-knowlegde.
According to the Hatha yoga texts, all these practices are not only supposed to be for the purification of the physical being but also for the purification of the most vital aspects of the personal, psycho- logical, and spiritual being. There is toxicity present in the body. The toxicity, or pollution is present not only in the physical sense but also present psychologically and psychically. In fact, it is thought that it is the ignorance or confusion which has brought about identification with this body, and which in turn has contributed to the physical impurities found in your body. This is the philosophy and psychology behind another beautiful technique called nadi-suddhi.
Nadi-suddhi is given in both the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gerandha Samhita as one variation of pranayama practice, but we should regard it as another method of self-purification. Nadisuddhi is not strictly a physical exercise but rather a technique of deep psychological and psychic dimensions. It may be regarded as a mystic practice, and as such, it is the inner attitude which is vital to the technique. If it can be done with deep feeling and deep visualization, then this practice can have a tremendous effect.
In nadi-suddhi, or purification of the nadis, one visualizes a blazing fire which is capable of burning all impurities. Since, in a manner of speaking, the impurities pervade the entire body, and since those impurities must be destroyed without burning up the self, or the consciousness hidden behind those impurities, the first step in nadi-suddhi is to visualize withdrawing the jiva, or soul.
After all, you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. For this purpose, the jiva is visualized at the base of the spine, at the muladhara-chakra. Prom there, you symbolically take the jiva up, and visualize it at the very top of the skull. That's only the first step. When you've done that, you visualize whatever defects or weaknesses that you may have in you, and visualize them as being concentrated in the spleenic region, on the left side of the abdomen. You visualize this as some kind of dark force or dark cloud. Then you inhale through the right nostril while you mentally repeat the mantra Om. As the breath is retained, visualize the dark cloud. Exhale through the left nostril.
The recommended ration for inhalation-retention-exhalation is
sixteen (repeating Om sixteen times)
If you can do all that, wonderful. If you are unable to do all that, also wonderful, because it's the visualization that's most important. So just do whatever you can. You may wish to repeat this part of the exercise until it is experienced. Even so with the other stages of the exercise.
Next, breathe in through the left nostril, mentally repeating the mantra "yam." since yam the 'air' mantra is meant to invoke air, you are to entertain the feeling deep within you that while inhaling and holding the breath this yam is letting loose a gale which dries up the dark cloud containing those impurities in your body. Hold the breath, and feel that the dark cloud has been dried up by the air mantra. Having done this, you exhale through the right nostril, repeating the air mantra.
In the next round of nadi-suddhi, as you inhale through the right nostril, the mantra repeated is "ram," the fire mantra. While mentally repeating the mantra, you visualize that it generates a tremendous fire in the region of the gastric fire. It shouldn't be difficult imagining a fire there. Visualize whatever impurities you may have as being consumed in this fire. It's best to visualize it as clearly and realistically as possible. If you want to get rid of anger, for example, just ask yourself: "Have I never felt angry or irritable? Of course, I have. All that I place in the fire."
Whatever you want to overcome is there to visualize. Visualize it, and put it in the fire to be burned. Hold the breath, feeling that all has been burned in the fire. You exhale through the left nostril, repeating the fire mantra. It is often recommended that while exhaling you feel as though the ashes from the fire are being blown out.
In the next round of the cycle, inhale through the left nostril while repeating the mantra "tham." This is pronounced with the same hard "t" sound as the "tha" in 'Hatha yoga'. As you mentally repeat "tham," you are asked to meditate upon the top of the palate, visualizing a lunar orb there, a moon which showers down cool nectar. As you hold the breath and repeat the mantra, you feel that these moon rays of cool nector shower down to revive your whole system, giving it new shape: the old personality is gone, and a new body is taking shape. After exhaling through the right nostril (repeating the mantra), you are ready for the next part.
Inhale through the right nostril, mentally repeating the mantra "vam." Vam, is the bija mantra for water (for the invocation of water). Holding the breath as you repeat "vam," feel that the old impure body has been destroyed, and a new body has been created. Exhale through the left nostril while repeating the mantra. Now you are ready for the final cycle.
Inhale through the left nostril, and use the mantra 'lam' which is the bija mantra for the invocation of land, earth. As you hold the breath, visualize a new pure body, solid, and ready for yoga practice. Exhale. With your hands in your lap, and with the mantra "soham," you visualize the jiva, or soul, returning to the muladhara chakra.
That is nadi-suddhi, the mystic practice of the Hatha yogis. The orthodox yogis do it before commencing any serious yoga practice. They would do nadi-suddhi before practicing puja, worship. They would do it along with meditation also. It can be done with any spiritual practice.
We have a long way to go in our discussion of Hatha yoga. Well discuss the asanas next, followed by pranayama and kundalini spiral, and we'll see where that takes us.
YASODHARA YOGA TALKS
Copyright © 1997