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.
A few 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. 1
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 theTamas 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 bestAsânas 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
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.
HATHA YOGA, as we have already seen, is wholly devoted to the control of the functions of the body and to the mastery of the physical forces, its ideal being a sound constitution, well-fitted to overcome those physical and environmental conditions which stand as obstacles in the path of spiritual progress. Râja Yoga, on the contrary, deals entirely with the mind and psychic power and may be called the science of applied psychology. Its aim is to remove all mental obstructions and to gain a perfectly controlled, healthy mind. The main purpose of its training is to develop and strengthen the will as well as the power of concentration, and to lead the seeker after Truth through the path
of concentration and meditation to the ultimate goal of all religion.
This path is called Râja Yoga or the Royal method (Râja means "king") because the power of concentration and will-power are not only greater than any physical force, but are essential to the acquisition of all other powers. The man who possesses a vigorous mind controlled by a well-developed will, with strong power of concentration, can easily become the master of physical nature and in a short time attain the realization of Truth; and it is the special province of Râja Yoga to teach how this can be accomplished. Its study has been encouraged by all those who have come in contact with the Râja Yogis of India either in ancient or modern times. It was extolled by Pythagoras, by Plato and the Neo-Platonists like Plotinus and Proclus, by the Gnostics and the Christian
mystics of the middle ages; and even to-day it is in some measure practiced by some of the Roman Catholic monks and nuns of the higher orders. Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, spoke in praise of it, declaring its object to be the unravelling of the mystery of the nature of the human soul and the enfoldment of the latent powers existing in each individual. It has been proved by the living example of Yogis that through its practice that power can be acquired by which all other forces in the universe may be controlled; and Râja Yoga claims that whoever has gained mastery over his mind, can govern all the phenomena of nature.
It teaches that mind is the sovereign power of the universe, and that when its forces are properly concentrated upon any particular object, the true nature of that object will be revealed. Instead of using
an instrument, if we properly utilize the mental powers which we already possess, and focus them absolutely upon one point, we can easily know all the particulars regarding the thing upon which they are directed. This object may be physical, mental, or spiritual. The concentrated mind of a Yogi may be compared to an electric search-light. By throwing the converged rays of his mind toward a distant object, whether gross or subtile, all the details of that object are illumined and made known to him. The vision of ordinary persons is not so penetrating because their mental forces are dissipated like the scattered rays of an ordinary light In the same way, if the mind can be concentrated upon internal objects or upon truths that exist in the realm of the universal, perfect knowledge of those things can be acquired.
Thus it becomes evident that the power,
of concentration is greater than sense-power, or than that which can be gained by the help of instruments. If we can develop it by controlling our mental faculties, by making the mind introspective, and by checking all distractions which draw the mind outside; and can direct our concentrated mental energy toward our higher Self, the true nature of the individual ego will be revealed, and we shall realize that our immutable Self is the Soul of all, and that it is the same as the ultimate Reality of the universe. We shall then perceive that the Divine Being, whom in ignorance we worship as separate from ourselves, is not far from us, is not dwelling outside of us, but is our own omnipotent Self residing within us. We shall also recognize that the same Spirit is one and all-pervading, and that it is the Absolute Truth underlying the name and form of every phenomenal
object. This knowledge will emancipate the soul from the bondage of ignorance.
Râja Yoga maintains that the outer world exists only in relation to the inner nature of each individual. What mind is to itself, the phenomenal world of sense-perception is to the mind. The external is only the reflection of the internal; that which we gain, that which we receive, is only the likeness or reflection of that which we have already given. Mental phenomena are merely the effects of invisible forces, which cannot be discovered by the senses or by any instrument which the human mind can invent. We may try forever to know these finer forces through the medium of our sense-perceptions, but we shall never arrive at any satisfactory result. A Râja Yogi understands this and therefore attaches little value to instruments.He does not depend upon his sense-powers, but endeavors to gain all knowledge through the power of concentration. The science of Râja Yoga gives the various steps which lead to the attainment of this ideal. It explains clearly and scientifically the processes and methods by which concentration can be developed. It does not, however, ask the student to accept anything on hearsay, or to believe anything on the mere authority of scriptures or of writers. But it states certain facts, requests the student to experiment, experience the results, and draw his own conclusions.
There is nothing mysterious in the system of Râja Yoga. On the contrary, it points out the laws which govern so-called mysteries and explains under what conditions the phenomena of mysteries are produced. It shows that so long as the
real cause of an event is unknown it appears mysterious to us. Standing upon the solid ground of logic and reason, the science of Râja Yoga unravels the riddles of the universe and directs the individual soul toward the attainment of the final end of all religions. Its principles are highly moral and uplifting. It helps the student to understand the true purpose of life and describes the way by which it may be fulfilled here and now. Râja Yoga tells us that we should not think so much of what will happen after death, but that we should make the best use of the present and unfold the latent powers which we already possess, while it reminds us again and again of the fact that the advancement made in this life will be the foundation of future progress. If we gain or develop certain powers before we die, those powers will not be lost, but will remain with us wherever we go
after death; while external possessions, we know, cannot accompany us in the grave. The only things that we can carry out of life are our character, our experience and the knowledge gained therefrom. They are our real possessions; and it is these which Râja Yoga will help us to develop; since its chief object is to mould the character and lead the student to the knowledge of the divine nature of the soul. The methods which it teaches can be practiced without joining any secret organization, but merely by following the directions of a true Râja Yogi, who is pure and simple, whose mind is free from doubts, and who is unattached to the objects of the phenomenal plane.
The practice of Râja Yoga is divided into eight steps. The first four are the same as those of Hatha Yoga. The first and second, Yama and Niyama, include all
the ethical laws that govern our moral nature. The strict observance of these laws is necessary to the practice of the other steps of Râja Yoga. All the fundamental principles of ethics expounded by Buddha and all the truths proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount are contained in these first two steps. A beginner in the practice of Râja Yoga should live a strictly moral and pure life, otherwise he will not advance in this path, nor will he reach the highest Truth or realize the Divinity that dwells within him. A neophyte must remember that purity, chastity, and morality are the very cornerstones of the structure of the Science of Yoga. In the requirements of the first step we find non-killing, non-stealing, truthfulness, continence, forgivingness, firmness of character, kindness to all living creatures, simplicity, moderation in diet, and cleanliness. Non-killing
must be in thought, word, and deed, so with truthfulness and non-stealing. The character must be firm, for the student must persist in the face of all obstacles until spiritual perfection is reached. He must not take up the study as a passing fad, only to satisfy his momentary curiosity, but must continue with patience and perseverance until the highest ideal is realized.
The second step includes austerities, forbearance, contentment, faith in the Supreme Being, charity, study, and self-surrender to the Divine will. All the physical exercises necessary for keeping the body in perfect condition are to be found in the third step. 1 Health is essential to the attainment of the highest knowledge. Those who are suffering from disease cannot
make their mind steady, cannot fix their attention upon truths existing on the spiritual plane, because naturally their minds will be centered on the diseased parts of the body. A beginner, who possesses a healthy body and a well-balanced mind, should choose any Asâna or posture of the body in which he can sit firmly for a long time without feeling pain in the limbs. In the practice of Râja Yoga, however, one need not be so particular regarding the posture of the body. The student should simply observe that the spinal column is kept perfectly straight while practicing breathing lessons in a sitting posture.
Prânâyâma, or breathing exercises, constitute the fourth step. The practice of certain breathing exercises will remove many obstacles like dullness, laziness, and bodily weakness, and will be helpful in
gaining control over the senses, sense organs, and nerve centers, as also in quieting the restlessness of the mind. Anyone who will practice such breathing exercises regularly, will acquire wonderful power over both his mind and his body. He who suffers from worry, anxiety, nervousness, or insomnia, can obtain excellent results even in a few days by the practice of proper breathing exercises. Those who have studied the science of breathing will know what these results are; but the main object of the Prânâyâma in Râja Yoga is to develop the power of concentration.
Making the mind introspective is the fifth step. It is called Pratyâhâra. If we can withdraw the mind from external objects, fix it on some inner object, and bring it under the control of the will, we shall accomplish all that is required in this step. Pratyâhâra is preparatory to concentration.Before the student is able to concentrate on any particular object he must learn to gather up his scattered mental powers. This process of collecting the powers of the mind and of restraining it from going out to external objects is what the Yogis designate as Pratyâhâra.
Concentration follows next. After going through the five preliminary steps, if one takes up concentration, the results achieved will be extraordinary. Those, however, who have not practiced the introductory steps will find this one extremely difficult, for the ground must be prepared before good results can be gained.
eighth and last step. In this state the sixth sense of finer perception is developed, the spiritual eye is opened, and one comes face to face with the Divine Being dwelling within. In it the student realizes that his true Self is one with the universal Spirit, and he receives all the revelation and all the inspiration that can possibly come to the human soul. It may be thought by many that revelation proceeds from some external source, either through the favor of some angel or bright spirit or the extra-cosmic personal God, but a Yogi knows that revelation or inspiration is the disclosure of the higher Self within, and that the realization of spiritual truths comes to that soul which has reached the eighth step of Râja Yoga. Ceaseless effort, persistence, and perseverance in practice are necessary to attain to the state of superconsciousness. That
which is realized in it cannot be revealed by
intellect or by any other mental faculty; therefore it is said that Truth cannot be attained by reading books or Scriptures, or by intellect or sense-perception, but by reaching the state of superconsciousness. Those who are longing to know the Truth, who are searching for the ultimate Reality of the universe, and are not satisfied with the knowledge gained through the senses or through the aid of instruments, should struggle hard to go into Samâdhi, because through it alone will they discover their ideal and reach the abode of happiness. Before, however, they can arrive at this state, they will have to follow faithfully the different steps already enumerated and with patience and perseverance overcome all the obstacles which beset the way.
There are many obstructions to Samâdhi, such as grief, disease, mental laziness,
doubt, cessation of the struggle to attain Samâdhi, heaviness of body and mind, thirst for worldly things, false knowledge, non-attaining concentration, falling away from the state once attained, irregular breathing, etc. They can be easily avoided by regular practice under the guidance of a Yogi teacher. If a student try to practice by himself any of the exercises as given in Râja Yoga, 1 he may have some unpleasant experiences which may disturb his mind or nervous system; but if he have an experienced Râja Yogi to direct him, then he will have no difficulty in conquering all the obstacles and dangers, and in reaching the right destination. Some of the powers generated by these practices are too dangerous to be handled by an inexperienced student; they may not only
injure him but may even drive him to insanity. There have, indeed, been many such cases among those who have tried to practice without the help of a well-qualified Guru or spiritual teacher.
Having removed all obstructions in this path, the student should be confident that he is approaching the final goal of Râja Yoga. When the superconscious realization is acquired all doubts will cease forever, all questions concerning the nature of the soul will be answered, the search after Truth will stop, the mind will become tranquil, and the soul will be emancipated from the bondage of ignorance and self-delusion. The Yogi will never again fall a victim to the attractions of the world or be distracted by objects of sense. The whole universe will appear to him as the play-ground of the Divine Being; and he will constantly feel that his body and mind are
like instruments moving under the direction of the Almighty Will which is manifesting through all forms. Thus, having gained spiritual strength and illumination, he will become the conqueror of himself and the master of nature even in this life.
"He alone has reached happiness on this earth, he alone has conquered the world, who has gained perfect control over his mind and body, whose soul rests in tranquillity, and whose eyes behold Divinity in everything and everything in that Eternal Being, which is the Infinite Abode of existence, knowledge, and bliss absolute."