I won’t try to be a scholar here, cause I’m not. I can’t even say the title of this post 3 times fast! (try it). What I do profess to be is an honest to goodness student (yogadorks high five!) and I like to think I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to ancient texts and traditions. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika written by Svami Svatmarama c. 15th century, arguably THE book on hatha yoga*, is the foundation for the physical asana practice we know today (though, eventually, BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga arrived as a more palatable version, becoming the reigning “bible” of modern asana). Anyway egads, is the HYP one mother of a strict and freaking tough book of yoga!
A recent YTT gathering had us gnawing over this ancient nitpicking text, and, hilariously, attempting some of the postures. This one is perhaps my favorite: Purna Matsyendrasana, which is a full spinal twist. Say what now?
Why thank you Swami Vishnudevananda for that lovely demonstration (via yogaprema.org). Have you ever tried this one? Oof, it’s harder than it looks. If you’re into Ashtanga Yoga you may recognize a lot of these more pretzel-y poses presented in the Pradipika. However, asana is only the first part of the book’s four sections that cover everything from pranayama techniques, kundalini, bhandas, mudras, chakras, and the more rigid rules on what to eat, where to practice and who to (no) pal around with.
There are some standout similarities between the HYP and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, perhaps most noticeably the inclusion of yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama. pratyahara, charana, dhyana, and samadhi, otherwise known as Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, though not explicitly mentioned as such.
You might also enjoy the concept that yoga books and fancy yoga clothes does not a yogi make:
Chapter One: Asana
Verse 67. success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. how can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success.
68. success cannot be attained by adopting a particular dress (Vesa). it cannot be gained by telling tales. Practice alone is the means to success. this is true, there is no doubt.
Practice, practice, practice, practice and all is coming? Hey that sounds familiar. How about Atha Yoganushasanam (Yoga Sutra 1.1)? “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.”
“More philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” (trans. Swami Satchidinanda)
And then we get to the freaky goodies like Chapter 3 on Mudras: The Khechari for Samadhi
Verse 32: Kechari Mudra is done by inserting the tongue into the hole in the soft palate at the roof of the mouth, by turning it backward.
33. In order to be successful, the tongue must lengthened into a Lambika (such as the long tongue of Goddess Kali). Sometimes cutting the frenulum (a mucous membrane extending from the floor of the mouth to the midline of the underside of the tongue) is necessary. Else, pull or move your tongue around constantly. When it gets long enough, to reach the point between the eyebrows, then Kechari becomes possible.
36. The frenulum is cut 1/2 millimeter each day and the wound is sealed. In 6 months, the tongue becomes free & quite long. (Note: Dont eat food or drink that are too hot like chilli or too sour. This will make the tongue thicker and interfere with Khechari.)
Ohhh K! Yep, that pink bit is the tongue! (diagram source) So you see now why the HYP isn’t on the NYT bestsellers list. Still, no doubt there is wisdom to be gained from an ancient 15th century-ish text that promotes courage, determination, compassion, patience and intellect, even if we can’t touch our brains with our tongues for immortality (ack!)
*two other texts are considered essential to hatha yoga: the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita. Have you read these? Probably not, eh?
Would love for you to share your own thoughts!
YD yoga school updates should come pretty regularly on Sundays, at the wrap of each week. Disclosure: Training is with YogaWorks, NYC (I am not being paid to say that, Paula Lynch rocks).