We live in the times of market economy. Seeing that yoga has caught the fancy of all and sundry, multi-billion dollar multinational industries have grown around it. Then, to make it more marketable, customer friendly and gain the competitive edge, these days all kinds of body contortions and conceptual distortions go in the name of yoga. Thus you have nude yoga, hot yoga, power yoga, instant yoga, goat yoga, beer yoga and what not.
Then there are the controversies. A state in secular democratic US does not want its students to learn yoga as they fear that by doing so the students will embrace Hinduism. Then there are groups that want to delink yoga from its Indian origin and spiritual context so as to make it more global and seculars and thereby expand their commercial empires in the name of yoga.
The fear of the aforesaid US state is not totally ill founded. Yoga has Dharmic roots. Since ages Hindus, Buddhists and Jainas have used yogic methods for spiritual growth. Even though in popular vocabulary yoga has become synonymous with body postures, it is much more than that. Each chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is named as a kind of Yoga – Arjuna Vishada Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga etc. The simple meaning of Yoga is to join. In spiritual context it is defined variously as the meeting of Individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, or bringing harmony to various levels of existence like body, mind, soul etc.
Patanjali in Yoga Sutras defines yoga as, “Chittabritti Nirodhah …… ” Yoga is cessation of the modifications or various tendencies of the mind so that one is established in witness consciousness.” Samadhi – a state of total equanimity – is the goal of yoga and in the first section itself Patanjali describes various states of Samadhi. But he has not given any guidelines for body postures or breath control. Same way even though every chapter of Bhagavad Gita is named as so and so yoga, no guidelines are given as to the yogasanas.
By the way yogic practices that use body as the medium are known as Hathayoga. So the Hathayoga Pradipika compiled in the fifteenth century by Swami Svatmarama has guidelines about body postures and various breathing exercises.
There must be a reason why many texts that extolled the virtues of yoga or propounded the philosophy of yoga did not give detailed guidelines as to how to do it. Maybe, it was not considered safe to undertake the path of yoga without the guidance of a living master. Even in Bhagavad Gita Krishna says that to learn yoga you have to go to a master. The Yogasara Upanishad advises, ‘Practise Yoga under the supervision of a Guru’. (Gurur antike yogabhyashet). Particularly in the case of Hathayoga, form my personal experience also I can say that at least in the initial stages one must practise yogic techniques under the direct supervision of a trained master. Don’t worry about all those stories floating around in the media about fallen Gurus. For every fraud Guru there are thousands of authentic Gurus about whom the media never bothers.
I think it is for the same reason a yoga manual was not put in written form till the fifteenth century even though practices have been there since time immemorial. A written manual may help either the master or an advanced practitioner to some extent. But a novice should never start yoga with the help of a book or your videos. Still, if you are interested I will advise to check out the manual put by the Ayush Ministry of Government of India. For a beginner who want to prcatise on her own it may be of some help. But take care not to mix other techniques with this.
Perhaps Hataha Yoga Pradipika is one of its kind when it comes to a manual of hathayoga. The writer, Swami Svatmarama, belonged to a tradition that traced its origin to Adinath or Lord Shiva. Since ancient times yogic techniques have been transmitted in Guru hishya parampara and a few techniques were scattered here and there. Swami Svatmarama is the first to compile all scattered element into a manual. The importance of a Guru is emphasized at many places even in this manual.
Going by the broader definition of yoga, the entire gamut of spiritual literature that originated in ancient India can be considered as part of yoga. However, other than Hatha Yoga Pradipika there some books that specifically talk about yogic methods or explicitly use the word yoga frequently in their texts. They are:
Bhagavad Gita : This is the most popular text of Hinduism. It contains Lord Krishan's advice to Arjuna just before the start of Mahabharat war. Bhagavad Gita is said to contain the gist of the Upanishads. Yoga Sutras or Yoga Darshana of Patanjali: This is also a popular book on Yoga where the philosophy or darshan of yoga is enunciated. Vijnana Bhairaba Tantra: The book contains Lord Shiva's advice to Goddess Parvati about achieving higher consciousness. It contains a large number of meditation techniques. It is said that all the meditation techniques and breathing exercises since ancient times till present times can be traced to this text. Many New Age Gurus, take a few techniques either from Hatha Yoga Pradipika or Vignana Bahirabha Tantra, modify it a ittle bit and then claim it as if it is their invention. Yogasara Upanishad: A small and minor Upanishad clarifying certain aspects of yoga.
In case you know of any specific text about yoga, please let me know through the comment box.
Harsha Charita (Banabhatta) is another notable texts starting with alphabet H.
This is the alphabet H post of Blogchatter AtoZ Challenge 2021. My theme this year is ‘The beauty of Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts’, where in I explore selected compositions in Sanskrit and also some unique aspects of Sanskrit language and texts. Join with me in my journey to understand India’s spiritual and intellectual heritage. All the posts of AtoZ Challenge 2021 can be accessed here.