History of Yoga – Part 2

He who realises the truth of the body can then come to realise the truth of the universe. – Rat Nas Tantra

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Hatha Yoga originally incorporated neither postures nor any distinctive breathing patterns,” Kushal Magar revealed to my surprise.  “It was originally a system employed only by initiated Shaivas and constituted nothing more than cleansing techniques to restore balance to the body-mind.  Some of these survive in what we call kriyas – internal and external cleansing practices that include gaja-karani vomition, jala neti sinus purging, and shankha-pashala enemas.”

I flinched at the idea that he might be preparing to feed me herbal emetics in the tight confines of this cave, before poking something ‘cleansing’ up my nose and bottom.

“However, as competence in Hatha Yoga has long been considered necessary for all keepers of the Tradition, over time other practical methods of Shaiva Tantra were incorporated.  The result was the six principal techniques that we know today, used to restore and then maintain fluidity, stability and well-being in the body-mind.”

“And they are?” I asked, drawing out my notepad and pencil.  This history was not at all as I had imagined.

“Well, we always begin with the guiding principles of the yamas and niyamas to resolve the conflicts between our inner self and our outer life, that we might develop relationships that are not detrimental to ourselves or others.”

I felt sure I could spend a lifetime ‘resolving’ just that one alone.

“Then come physical postures, called asana.  Breathing practices, called pranayama. Focussing recitation, called mantra japa.  And re-sensitising hand positions called hasta mudra.”

He paused to let me catch up with my note-taking.

“And all this that we may learn to fully apply the sixth technique: pratyahara – a ‘gathering towards oneself’ – to lessen our ordinary habit of identifying who and what we are merely through appearance, intellect and senses.  This in turn leads to the spontaneous stages of meditation, which have their own terms.”

“But for what purpose?” I asked.

“That we might live and love jhalaa-jhal, ‘ablaze with light’, as we say – engaging with life, with ourselves and each other, more honestly and intimately, more fully, freely, joyfully and wisely.”

He paused to watch as I struggled to equate the yoga classes I had tried at home with the results he was now professing.

“Consider the term Hatha itself: the first syllable, Ha, is the bija or ‘vibration’ we associate with Shiva, symbol of unlimited, unconditioned consciousness.”

I looked to the sidur-tipped linga in its lamp-lit niche and puzzled that this omnipresent image of the ithyphallic mountain deity, considered to represent both the universe within and without, was in some as yet unfathomable way intrinsically connected to a Shoulder Stand and Lotus Position.

“The second syllable, Tha, is our bija for the removal of ignorance of our true nature – the self-knowledge that frees us to live and love without our ordinary fears or self-limiting restrictions – that we might, as we like to say here, ‘make the stars to brighten, the moon to swell’.”

I jotted his words down – yet knew I did not yet really understand meaning.

“You see, here in the foothills of the Himalaya where it originated, Hatha Yoga is understood as the practical, experimental form of Shaiva Tantra Darshana,” he explained, “the ‘correct knowledge’ of the Tradition.”

I nodded cautiously.

“And all this, remember,” he added, “that we might explore ever deeper self-knowledge and self-mastery – and thereby render ourselves of greater benefit to others and the world through which we move.”

This promise seemed so remarkable for even the canniest combination of Alternate Nostril Breathing, Tree Pose or a Seated Twist that I looked back at him in dismay.  And found myself doubting that it could possibly be true.

[Part Three follows soon]

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You’ll find much more of Kushal Magar and his mountain Tradition, with a complete explanation of the yamas and niyamas as practised in those hills, in Limitless Sky.

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