Hatha yoga is not only physical yoga. The indication of this is found in the name itself: 'ha' and 'tha', 'hatha'. These two words, ha and tha, represent two different forces in the body, the solar or vital force and the lunar or mental force. Balancing these two forces is the purpose of hatha yoga. The solar force is known as prana shakti, and the lunar force is known as chitta shakti. The solar energy is associated with the sympathetic nervous system activity, and the lunar energy is associated with parasympathetic activity. These two flows control the vitality, energy and health of the body and mind, emotions and spirit. Harmonizing these forces to attain not only physical but also psychological, mental, emotional and spiritual health, is the purpose of hatha yoga.
From this perspective, hatha yoga begins with shatkarmas, which are specific practices whose purpose is to help purify and detoxify the body and internal systems. With the detoxification of the body, the internal systems of the body are regulated and imbalances, which occur within the body due to irregular lifestyle, irregular habits of diet and irregular habits in general, are overcome.
The first three shatkarmas or six practices are: neti, dhauti and bhasti. They cleanse the head, stomach and intestines. The cleansing helps to remove the toxins from the body, and once the toxins are removed, the body gains energy and health. The next three practices are known as nauli, kapalbhati and trataka. They help to regulate the energy structure. Nauli activates the centre of energy in the solar plexus, or manipura chakra, which is the source of prana shakti. The activation of manipura chakra happens with nauli kriya. The second practice is kapalbhati, not the pranayama, but the practice in which the left and right brain hemispheres are brought into balance.
There is a joke: People have these two hemispheres of the brain, the left and right hemisphere, however, the problem is that in the right hemisphere there is nothing left and in the left hemisphere there is nothing right.
The practice of kapalbhati helps to balance the functions of these two brain hemispheres, and thus bring tranquility and harmony to the cerebral activity. There different waves are being generated in form of beta, alpha, delta and theta waves. The sixth practice is trataka, which brings the dissipated energies together, focuses them in the energy centres within the body, and allows the dormant centres of energy to open and awaken. This is the beginning of hatha yoga, for the shatkarmas constitute the first practices of hatha yoga.
The second practice of hatha yoga is asana. Asana does not mean exercise; it means a posture of the body. This posture of the body is a static posture, not dynamic movement. When one lies down, that is a posture, an asana. When one is seated quietly, that is a posture, an asana. Therefore, asana is known as a posture or condition of the body in which one is able to regulate and bring about balance in the various functions of the internal organs.
With the practice of asana it has been found that many illnesses which are due to imbalance in lifestyle are eradicated. The Bihar School of Yoga has done a lot of medical and scientific research over the last fifty years to study the benefits of asanas on the human body. Research is still being undertaken to determine the efficacy of asanas in long-term practice.
The right combination of asanas according to age, body type and stamina of the body have proved beneficial. When the right combination of asanas is selected, they can become effective in the management and treatment of many diseases and illnesses that occur in life, including diabetes, asthma, arthritis, cancer and HIV. The Bihar School of Yoga has been involved in research globally. With the help of many medical professionals, institutions, hospitals and clinics investigations are being conducted on a regular basis. The results of the research have been published by the Bihar School of Yoga.
The third practice of hatha yoga is pranayama. Pranayama is practised to increase the vitality of the body. Fifty years ago, nobody knew about pranayama; only the sages knew. The Bihar School of Yoga was the first institution that classified pranayama and published it. Pranayama creates three kinds of states in the mind. One group of pranayama stimulates the body, mind, prana and the senses. It intensifies the sensations and the body experiences stimulation. The body is stimulated in kapalbhati pranayama and bhastrika pranayama, which generate heat in the body and increase blood pressure and the heartbeat. Therefore, it is called a stimulating pranayama.
The second group of pranayama cools the various parts of the body, relaxing them and giving them rest. This group is called tranquillizing pranayama, for it calms any stimulation in the body and of the senses. The third group of pranayama involves balancing the energies and senses.
The fourth practice of hatha yoga is mudra. Mudras are used in the Indian tradition in many ways – dancers use hand mudras, eye mudras, face mudras, and the various mudras of the body are expressed in dance. Mudras are also used in yoga.
The purpose of mudra is to attain a state which is related to hatha yoga. Therefore, one has to be aware that it has a connection with the state of pranas. In the distal body parts, like the fingers, the top of the head or the feet, the energy is always dissipated away from these body parts.
Kirlian photography was developed by a Russian scientist, Dr. Kirlian. In the 1970s, he developed a camera which takes pictures of the body parts. The parts of the body are not visible; rather the energy that is around it is visible.
With this machine we have done a study in a research institute in Australia. This machine has a great specialty. Whether it is a coin, a leaf, or the hand of a human being, it is kept on a plate, a light is flashed and it takes a picture of the hand, for example. However, in the picture, one would not find a hand. Only a black outline was visible and around each finger different colours of energy could be seen, indicating the amount of energy emanating from these body parts.
When mudras, like jnana mudra, are practised, it was observed that the energy re-enters the body again. This means that the recycling of energy is taking place. The energy is not being wasted, rather the energy, the prana shakti, in our body is recycled. The benefit of using mudras is that energy previously wasted is reabsorbed and preserved.
The fifth component of hatha yoga is the practice of bandhas, locks, which stimulate the awakening of the various psychic centres. Bandhas are of three types: neck lock, jalandhara bandha, abdominal lock, uddiyana bandha, and the perineum lock, moola bandha.
These three bandhas have a physical factor. In various areas in the body there is a mass of nerves. The group of nerves is known as kanda in the language of yoga. One group of nerves is near the rectum, another group is behind the navel inside the abdomen, and a third group of nerves is in the neck region. All the nerves of the body come together in the neck region and go to the brain. The exchange of sensation between the brain and the senses, and between the brain and the mind takes place through these nerves.
Through these bandhas the sensations are reversed. When the sensations are reversed, the energy flow is limited to only one place. In jalandhara bandha, the neck is being locked and the obstruction of sensations takes place only in the neck region. In uddiyana bandha the abdomen is being locked as an obstruction is created in this particular area.
In this manner energy is produced by using different techniques to block the sensations in various parts of the body.
Here is an example: pressure comes when a running tap is closed. Gradually the pressure increases. Then when the tap is opened, the pipe throws the water swiftly through the tap, and the water pressure normalizes. Similarly, the use of bandhas unites the energy by blocking it, then by releasing the bandha the energy is distributed.
These are the five components of hatha yoga. When one perfects hatha yoga, it harmonizes, reorganizes and balances the body, the physical structure, the energy system, and allows one to move into the dimension of the mind. By balancing and harmonizing the body and energy, one moves into the dimension of mind and raja yoga begins.
—5 June 2014, Kathmandu, Nepal