The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
What has commonly considered Yoga in the West is in actuality just one of the many paths of Yoga, and is technically called Hatha Yoga. The oldest and most widely used ancient text on the physical practices of Hatha Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. As with all ancient spiritual texts, the writing is terse and often mystical, mysterious, and a bit cryptic. As a foundational scripture for yoga, it is important to understand the text’s historical context and how it’s content has informed and influence the modern practice and understanding of yoga. Many of these teachings and practices are now esoteric and strange, but they are still considered to be powerful techniques that need to be explored if one wishes to find enlightenment through hatha yoga.
What is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika?
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) is one of the three primary ancient texts on hatha yoga. The other foundational texts are the Gheranda Samhita and Shiva Samhita, which both predate the HYP.
The original name of the text is Hatha Pradipika. Subsequent commentaries and translations began to refer to it as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and this is the name it is commonly known as. Pradipika translates as “light” or “to illuminate,” so the title is usually translated to “The Light on Hatha Yoga.” The Sanskrit prefix “Ha” translates as “sun”, “Tha” as “moon,” and “yoga” means “union” so the title could also be translated as “The Light on Uniting the Energies of the Sun and the Moon.”
This book was composed in 15th century CE by Swami Swatamarama and is derived from older Sanskrit texts, the teachings from well-known teachers, and from Swatamarama’s own yogic experiences. The first version translated into English was in 1915 by Pancham Sinh.
The main goal of this text is to illuminate the physical disciplines and practices of Hatha Yoga and integrate these with the higher spiritual goals of Raja Yoga (meditation).
Swatamarama begins by explaining the relationship between Hatha Yoga and Raja yoga, informing us that Hatha is a preliminary practice for Raja Yoga. He tells us that obtaining self-control and self-discipline is much easier when we start with the physical and energetic body, versus trying to directly control the mind as in Raja Yoga. Through the mastery of the prana, or energy of the body, we can then easily master the control of the mind and obtain success with Raja Yoga. In verse 1:41 he tells us that when the flow of prana is stabilized through the practices of Hatha Yoga, the breath stops spontaneously and a mindless state naturally arises.
Guidelines for practice
Although Swatamarama’s instructions on how to practice this yoga are quite detailed and a bit dated, Westerners can still apply the most important and relevant points to their practice. Swatamarama tells us that the room where one practices yoga in should be clean, pleasant, comfortable, and free from insects and animals. He also details the qualities that bring success in yoga, that cause failure, and also supplies ten rules of conduct and ten personal observances for the beginning yogi to follow. In brief, he tells us that to be successful in the practice of Hatha Yoga we must live a quiet, pure, honest, and moderate lifestyle and avoid any excessive behaviors.
The main practices in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The bulk of this text details the techniques of the main practices of Hatha Yoga: Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Shatkarma (internal cleansings), mudra (energy seal), and Bandha (energy locks).
After some basic preliminary requirements in the first chapter, Swatamarama makes clear the first stage of Hatha Yoga is asana, the physical postures that we are most familiar in the West. Asana creates firmness of the body and mind and disease-lessness and flexibility of the body. It is here where we first learn to control and discipline the body.
Swatamarama tells us that once a practice of Asana has been established then pranayama can be begun. The goal of these breathing exercises is to control the prana and the subtle energies of the body, which in turn can be used to control the mind.
In the second chapter, Swatamarama tells us that if there is excessive mucus in the body, this will need to be removed using the six purification techniques of shatkarma. These purifying techniques as well as the pranayama help to purify the energy channels of the body and allow the prana to move more efficiently through these nadis.
The third chapter explores the subtle energy systems and the practice of mudras and bandhas. Utilizing mudra and bandha further activates the energy of the body, concentrates it, and channels it into the main energy channel, the sushumna, that runs from the base of the spine to the top of the head and intersects all seven chakras. Mudras are complex movements of the whole body in a combination of asana, pranayama, bandha, and visualization. Bandhas are engagements of specific groups of muscles at the base of the pelvis, the abdomen, and the throat to “lock” the prana energy of the body inside the torso. Both of these techniques are challenging to master and should only be attempted after one is competent and skilled in both Asana and pranayama.
Chapter Four provides additional techniques for the attainment of enlightenment or Samadhi. Swatamarama notes that developing a sound body and a sound mind is crucial for the attainment of Samadhi. When this final stage is reached, a yogi will experience the unstruck sound, known as pranava, the vibration of the entire universe.
At one level, the HYP details a very similar yoga of what is practiced in the West, while a very different yoga is shown by the intent of the deeper practices described within. Traditionally, Hatha Yoga is uniquely focused on transforming the physical body through purification and the cultivation of the life force energy of prana. And all of the techniques of Hatha Yoga are seen as preliminary steps to achieving the deeper states of meditation and enlightenment found in the path of Raja Yoga. Considering this, we are only getting a small taste of what yoga can offer us here in the West. The HYP gives us a valuable map to these deeper practices of yoga, as well as providing the knowledge and tools to travel to these depths if we so choose.
Important quotes from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Chapter 1: Asana
- Overeating, exertion, talkativeness, adhering to rules, being in the company of common people, and unsteadiness of mind are the six causes that destroy yoga.
- Enthusiasm, perseverance, discrimination, unshakable faith, courage, avoiding the company of common people, are the six causes that bring success in yoga.
- Paschimottanasana is the best among asanas. By this asana, the pranic currents rise through the central energy channel. The digestive fire increases, the abdomen becomes flat, and the practitioner becomes free from diseases.
Chapter 2: Shatkarma and Pranayama
- When the nadis are purified there are external symptoms—success is visible when the body becomes thin and glows.
Closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration through the ida and pingala nadis, so that the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound.
- When the breath is unsteady, the mind is unsteady. When the breath is steady, the mind is steady, and the yogi becomes steadfast.
- As long as the breath is retained in the body, as long as the mind is calm, and as long as the sight is in the middle of the brows, where is the fear of death?
- The perfection of hatha yoga is achieved when there is leanness of the body, tranquil countenance, manifestation of the inner sound, clear eyes, disease-lessness, control of bindu (semen/ova), active digestive fire, and purification of the nadis.
Chapter 3: Mudra and Bandha
- Therefore the knower of yoga conquers death by preserving the bindu. Release of the semen/ova means death; conservation of bindu is life.
- She is verily a yogini who conserves her rajas by contracting and raising it. She knows past, present, and future and becomes fixed in khechari mudra.
- The bindu and that rajas in one’s own body unite through the union by the practice of vajroli mudra, thus bestowing all perfections or siddhis.
- The yogi who moves the shakti regularly enjoys perfection or siddhi. She easily conquers time and death. What more is there to say?
Chapter 4: Samadhi
- When the mind ceases to be fickle and is united by fixing it in nada, it becomes immobile like a wingless bird.
- One who desires complete dominion of yoga should thus explore the nada with an attentive mind and abandon all thoughts.
- The yogi in samadhi is neither eaten by time, nor bound by Karma, nor overpowered by anyone.
- The yogi in samadhi knows neither smell, nor taste, nor form, nor touch, nor sound, nor herself, nor others.
Free PDF downloads of HYP
Fortunately, there are several different translations of the HYP, and with all older yogic texts, we recommend comparing at least two different translations to have a clearer understanding of the philosophy and practices they contain. The only edition available in print that we recommend is Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda from the Bihar School of Yoga. The following links are to public domain ebook editions that we recommend: