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THE BIG BOOK OF YOGA: THE NUTS & BOLTS OF HATHA YOGA

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So much for chatting with friends! But most Yoga scholars take a reasonable view of these old injunctions. The basics haven't changed, after all - keep your space clean, stay focused, don't go overboard in daily life, and try to keep life simple. And that's kind of the point of this chapter - that those ancient Hatha Yoga basics haven't changed all that much, even today. Hatha Yoga was originally laid out as a complete system with a very specific purpose: to achieve a stable, enduring state of inner peace and stillness. The practices described by that system are very formulaic, meaning there is a method behind their reasoning. Each part of the Hatha Yoga program accomplishes a certain purpose, and the whole thing progresses in stages, bit by bit, until the ultimate goal is eventually achieved.

Stages of Yoga

Well, there's more to say about this, but first it'd probably be helpful if we're all on the same page - no pun intended. So here's the breakdown - in a nutshell, Hatha Yoga is meant to work like this:2

First, make spiritual development a priority in your life. This is accomplished through Yama & Niyama.

Every one of the texts insists on this in one way or another, but the idea is most commonly reflected in the listing of Yama and Niyama, the ethical and self-disciplinary injunctions considered to be the minimum requirements for a yogic lifestyle. The number of injunctions differ - Yoga Sutra has ten, while Hatha Yoga Pradipika has twenty!

Second, cleanse, purify, and condition the physical body. This is accomplished by Shatkarma and Asana.

Shatkarma is a set of six types of purification practices, including nasal irrigation, intestinal flushes, and enemas. You can read more about them in the Interactive Illustration on the next page. These basically get the body squeaky clean on the inside and outside,

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inducing both a physical and psychological state of purity.

Asanas are various bodily postures designed to condition and strengthen the body. The Asana practice is the first stage where the Hatha Yoga guidebooks start talking about the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits that come, in addition to the physical results of practice.

Third, develop control and regulation of the breath and energy. This is accomplished by Pranayama.

Pranayama is a set of breathing exercises designed to increase control over the breath, and, by association, the prana, or life energy of the body. One tenet of Hatha Yoga philosophy is that the mind and the breath are inextricably interlinked3. One is a mirror of the other. With that in mind, the emphasis on Pranayama makes sense from a yogic point of view - to control and still the breath is to control and still the mind, which is the ultimate goal of Yoga.

Fourth, activate latent Kundalini energy in the body to stabilize and energize the body & mind. This is accomplished by Mudra and Bandha

Mudras, in the context of Hatha Yoga, are those practices designed to pump up the energy in the body (now suitably purified and conditioned for this increase in "voltage"). The development of siddhi, or paranormal capacities, is a hallmark of the Mudra practices. Most Mudras are a combination of physical and mental effort, ie. assuming a particular asana and then visualizing a certain activation or flow of energy within the body.

Bandhas are sustained muscular contractions which either contain or stimulate the flow of energy in the body. While there are only a few formal Bandhas, they are often combined with other techniques, such as Asana, Pranayama, and Mudra.

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