HATHA YOGA is that branch of the Science of Yoga which teaches how to conquer hunger, thirst, and sleep; how to overcome the effects of heat and cold; how to gain perfect health and cure disease without using drugs; how to arrest the untimely decay of the body resulting from the waste of vital energy; how to preserve youth even at the age of one hundred without having a single hair turn grey, and how thus to prolong life in this body for an indefinite period. Anyone who practices it will in the course of time acquire marvellous powers; powers indeed, which must dumbfound a psychologist or anatomist.
Many years ago a Hatha Yogi was brought to England. Although in middle life he looked like a boy of eighteen. Not only was his physical condition perfect, but through practice he had mastered eighty-four postures of the body. He could bend his limbs in so astonishing a way that it seemed as if his joints must be unattached, while his bones were as though made of some elastic substance. Many English physicians and surgeons came to see him and were amazed at the extraordinary positions of his limbs. They brought a skeleton and tried to fix its bones in the same positions, but could not do so without breaking them. Afterwards they reached the conclusion that if the bones were once fixed in those positions the limbs would be unfitted for any kind of work. Yet the example of the Yogi openly contradicted their statements. His limbs were strong and of good use to him in every possible way. He could walk, lift heavy weights, and move about with absolute ease. The writer himself saw him in India, and also other Hatha Yogis who could accomplish equally wonderful feats. The primary object of these various postures described in Hatha Yoga is to gain control over the involuntary muscles of the body, which is impossible to the ordinary man. We all possess this power latent within us, but the Hatha Yogis were the first to discover a scientific method by which it could be developed.
All Hatha Yogis eat very little, but they can also go entirely without food for days and even for months, and succeed in conquering sleep. The author knew of one who had not slept for twelve years, and who was nevertheless in perfect health. He has also seen a Hatha Yogi who usually ate, for instance, a piece of unleavened bread in twenty-four hours, and who refused to wear warm clothing in the coldest winter weather, and yet who voluntarily worked hard as a street laborer without showing the least sign of fatigue. It may seem impossible to the majority of people, who have made themselves such slaves to sleep and food as to imagine that if they do not sleep eight or nine hours out of the twenty-four and eat pounds of flesh, they cannot live. Hatha Yogis are the living contradictions of such opinions. Perhaps the reader is familiar with the account of that Yogi who was buried alive for forty days in an hermetically sealed box, with a guard of English officers to watch the spot night and day. During these forty days the Yogi could neither eat, sleep, nor breathe, yet at their expiration he was brought back to consciousness without any ill effects and he lived for many years.
Then again these same Yogis who do not eat, sleep, or drink for a long period, can, if they wish, eat as much as ten persons at one time without suffering any unpleasant consequences. Of course they do not eat any kind of meat. They digest their food consciously, as it were. They claim that by a third eye they can, so to speak, see what is going on in their internal organs. Why should this seem incredible to us when the discovery of the Roentgen rays has proved everything to be transparent?
Some of the Hatha Yogis have extraordinary eyesight. They can not only perceive objects at a great distance, but can also see clearly in complete darkness, even being able to pick up a pin from the floor without the least glimmer of ordinary light to guide them. This will not appear so strange when we remember that there is invisible
light in the atmosphere of a perfectly dark room. If we can learn to use this atmospheric light, imperceptible to the common eye, and can develop our eyesight, there is no reason why we should not see things in the dark. The Yogis understand this and know the method by which the power of eyesight can be developed. As regards distinguishing objects at a great distance, this is not so difficult to believe since we know that there are persons living, not Yogis, who can see the moons of Jupiter without the help of any instrument.
This branch of optical science in Hatha Yoga is called in Sanskrit “Trâtaka” Yoga. It teaches, among other things, how, through gazing on one object and at the same time performing certain special breathing exercises, many optical maladies can be cured as well as the power of sight strengthened. The authentic records of Hatha Yogis vouch for the fact that it produces many beneficial effects when properly practiced under the direction of a competent master of Hatha Yoga.
A Yogi who is expert in this science of optics can fascinate or madden another by his optical powers. The process of hypnotism or mesmerism verifies this claim. A Yogi can likewise read the thoughts of another by looking at his eyes; for according to the Yogi the eye is the index of the mind. Here it may be asked, how do the Yogis acquire these powers? They do not get them from outside. These powers are dormant in every individual, and through practice the Yogis bring them out. They say: “Whatever exists in the universe (the macrocosm) exists also in the human body (the microcosm).” That is, the finer forces exist potentially in our own organism, and if we study our nature carefully we shall be able to know all the forces and the laws which govern the universe.
Hatha Yoga, again, teaches the cure of disease through breathing exercises and the regulation of diet and of the general habits of the daily life. But it does not claim that physical health is the same as spirituality. On the contrary, it tells us that if a healthy body were a sign of spirituality, then wild animals and savages who enjoy perfect health would be exceedingly spiritual; yet they are not, as we know. The principal idea of these Yogis is that physical maladies are obstacles in the path of spiritual progress, while a healthy body furnishes one of the most favorable conditions for the realization of the highest spiritual truths in this life. Those who do not possess good health should, therefore, begin to practice Hatha Yoga.
In the practice of Hatha Yoga strict dietetic rules must be observed. Anything that is sharp, sour, pungent, or hot, like mustard, liquors, fish, flesh of animals, curd, buttermilk, oil cakes, carrots, onions, and garlic should not be eaten. Food, again, which, having been once cooked, has grown cold and been rewarmed, should be avoided; as should also excess of salt or acidity, or that which is hard to digest. Rice, barley, wheat, milk, sugar, honey, and butter are good for a Hatha Yogi’s diet. The manner in which Americans live in hotels and boarding-houses, where the food is often unclean, is far from favorable to this practice. Food cooked for hundreds of people in a restaurant cannot be equally good for all and may easily cause disease. Those who wish to enjoy perfect health must be careful about what they eat; they must also observe all the laws of hygiene regarding cleanliness of the body, fresh air, and pure water. They should not live in over-heated houses; neither should they indulge in artificial stimulants, especially beer, wine, and coffee. The habit of excessive coffee-drinking is a serious menace to the American nation. Many people are already suffering from nervous prostration as a result of indulgence in this direction, and there are very few cases in which the nervous system will not be affected by it to some extent.
He who wishes to practice Hatha Yoga should first of all find a Hatha Yogi teacher, who has perfect control over his physical body; and having found him, he should lead a life in strict accord with his instructions. He should live in a secluded spot and where the changes of weather are neither sudden nor extreme. He should
be a rigid vegetarian and abstain from all kinds of drinks that stimulate the system. He should never fill the stomach with a large quantity of food. He should observe the moral laws and practice absolute continence. He should learn to control his senses, keep his body clean, and purify his mind by arousing feelings of kindness and love towards all living creatures.
The beginner in this branch of Yoga should gradually conquer the different postures of the body and limbs. These postures are called in Sanskrit Asâna. There are altogether eighty-four of them described in the science of Hatha Yoga. Each of these, when practiced with special breathing exercises, develops certain powers latent in the nerve centers and the different organs of the system. Another object in practicing Asâna is to remove the Tamas element which causes heaviness of the body, and to free the system from the effects of cold, catarrh, phlegm, rheumatism, and many other diseases. Some of the exercises increase the action of the stomach and liver, while others regulate the activities of the other organs. Tremor of the body and restlessness of the limbs, which are such frequent obstacles in the way of gaining control over the mind, may easily be removed by the practice of Asâna.
The reader may get an idea of the Asâna from the following descriptions:
I. Sit cross-legged on the floor, placing the left foot on the right thigh and the right foot on the left thigh, and keeping the body, neck, and head in a straight line.
II. After sitting in this posture, hold the right great toe with the right hand and the left great toe with the left hand (the hands coming from behind the back and crossing each other).
III. Sit straight on a level place, firmly inserting both insteps between the thighs and the calves of the legs.
IV. Assuming posture No. I, insert the hands between the thighs and the calves, and, planting the palms firmly on the ground, lift the body above the seat.
V. Sitting on the floor, stretch the legs straight in front, hold the great toes with the hands without bending the knees.
VI. Having accomplished this posture, touch the knees with the forehead. This Asâna rouses gastric fire, makes the loins lean, and removes many diseases.
VII. Holding the toes as in posture V, keep one arm extended and with the other draw the other toe towards your ear as you would do with the string of a bow.
VIII. Plant hands firmly on the ground, support the weight of the body upon the elbows, pressing them against the sides of the loins. Then raise the feet above the ground, keeping them stiff and straight on a level with the head.
This Asâna, according to Hatha Yoga, cures diseases of the stomach, spleen, and liver, and all disorders caused by an excess of wind, bile, or phlegm. It also increases the power of digestion.
IX. Lie upon the back on the floor at full length like a corpse, keeping the head on a level with the body. This Asâna removes fatigue and brings rest and calmness of mind.
The student of Hatha Yoga, having perfected himself in controlling some of these postures, should next take up the breathing exercises. He should carefully study the science of breathing in all its aspects. Posture No. I is one of the easiest and best Asânas for one who wishes to control the breath. It favors a tranquil circulation and slow respiration.
A beginner should first practice abdominal breathing through both nostrils, keeping a measured time for inspiration and expiration. Gradually he should be directed by his master to hold the breath in and out. Practicing this internal and external suspension of breath for a few weeks, he should next take up alternate breathing. He may inspire through the left nostril for four seconds and expire through the right for four seconds, then reverse the order, breathing in through the right and out through the left. The alternate breathing exercises will purify the nerves and will make the student well-fitted for higher breathing exercises. The student should then breathe in through one nostril for four seconds, hold the
breath counting sixteen seconds, and breathe out through the other nostril counting eight seconds. This exercise, if practiced regularly for three months, will generate new nerve-currents and develop the healing power that is latent in the system.
The Yogi who wishes to cure organic trouble or disease of any kind, should combine the higher breathing exercises with the different postures of the body which bear direct relation to the disturbed organ. He should arouse the healing power stored up at the base of the spine and direct it to the diseased part.
Hatha Yoga describes various methods for cleansing the internal organs. Some of them are extremely beneficial to those who suffer from chronic headache, or cold in the head, catarrh, dyspepsia, or insomnia.
The drinking of cold water through the nose removes headache or chronic cold in the head. A Hatha Yogi cleanses the passage between the nose and the mouth by passing soft cords of delicate thread through the nostrils and bringing them out at the mouth. He can pass the cord through one nostril and bring it out through the other. This purifies the head, makes the sight keen, and removes disease in the parts above the shoulders.
A Hatha Yogi cleanses the alimentary canal by swallowing a long piece of fine muslin three inches wide. He purges the impurities of the intestines by drawing water through the opening at the lower extremity of the alimentary canal. This he does with the help of breathing exercises without using any instrument. Then shaking the water by the alternate exercise of the rectimuscles of the abdomen, he throws out the water through the same passage. An expert Yogi can wash the whole of the alimentary canal by drinking a large quantity of water and letting it pass through the opening at the lower extremity. Thus he becomes free from stomach or intestinal disorder. These exercises are especially recommended for those who are flabby, phlegmatic, or corpulent.
He cures insomnia by assuming posture No. IX, at the same time taking a few deep breaths and holding them after each inspiration.
A Hatha Yogi can swallow his tongue. It is said that he who can swallow his upturned tongue is freed from old age and death, conquers sleep, hunger and thirst, and rises above time. The powers of a perfect Hatha Yogi are indeed wonderful. He can do and undo anything at his will. He is the master of all physical laws.
Thus we see that perfect health and longevity are the immediate results of the Hatha Yoga practices. To the real seeker after Absolute Truth, however, they have small value except as they become a means of attaining superconscious realization. According to him, if a man lives five hundred years and yet in that time does not reach the state of God-consciousness, he is little better than an oak tree which may outlast many generations and grow to great size, but is in the end only an oak tree. That man, on the contrary, who dies at the age of thirty, having realized his oneness with Divinity, has achieved infinitely more than he who possesses perfect health, longevity, psychic powers, or the gift of healing; for he has become a living God in this world and can point the way of
salvation to all mankind. Therefore the exercises of Hatha Yoga should be practiced only so far as the earnest truth-seeker does not attain Râja Yoga, which alone will lead the soul to God-consciousness and perfect freedom (From the Teachings of Swami Abhedananda).