Based on the teachings of Yoganand Michael Carroll
By Monica Keady, RYT 500
What are the roots of modern day yoga?
Have we disconnected from the original intention of yoga?
Where can we find guidance?
Swami Kripalu based his practice on ancient texts including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Light on Sun/Moon Yoga), a 15th century text that is the first recorded outline of practices and principles specific to Hatha Yoga. This document is at the heart of Pranakriya’s path, “a hybrid path: mostly householder living a sattvic lifestyle with a core of renunciate teachings and practices.”
Though variations of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika exist as material was transcribed by hand and was subject to interpretation, errors and omissions, Swami Kripalu’s Pradipika outlined the following four practices: Asana (seated posture), Pranayam (breath control), Mudra (a lock or technique for manipulating vital energy), and Meditation (Samadhi).
“The first part of Hatha teaching is Asana so it is spoken of first of all.
By means of its practice the practitioner receives steadiness,
freedom from disease and lightness of limbs.” HYP 1.17
While many contemporary yoga classes focus primarily on asana, which has great benefits, the practice can be enhanced when considered as leading to transformation – “the path taking us from illusion, delusion, and bondage to reality, truth and perfect inner freedom” (Georg Feurstein, The Lost Teachings of Yoga).
Tantra set a path for ascetics to follow but rituals became increasingly complex and were coded and enshrined in secrecy that only a master teacher could decipher. Hatha Yoga is thought to have originated in the 10th Century paralleling Tantra. Around this time, Tantra master Matsyendranath, and his student, Gorakshanath, endeavored to create a practice rooted in Tantra but free of its complexity.
“All of our yoga today came from the Tantric Schools.”
– Yoganand Michael Carroll
Yoganand Michael Carroll shares a myth about the abduction of Matsyendranath and his ultimate rescue by Gorakshanath leading him out of the ensnarement of the Tantric path. Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath simplified rituals into Asana, Pranayam, Mudra and Meditation. They removed the concept of paying priests to lead ascetics through strange, challenging rituals and developed techniques that would be transformative without the complexity of Tantra.
No written record exists of practices developed by Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath or Hatha Yoga until the Pradipika. It’s believed that their followers ultimately developed their own schools (around six schools around the time of the Pradipika). One follower of their teachings named Svatmarama (“the one who delights in the self”) compiled the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, creating a master source that combined key principles from the various schools.
In an effort to avoid controversy, the language of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika could be unspecific and coded. Terminology from the various schools was intermingled throughout the text i.e., Chakras from Tantra, Granthis from another school, Nadis from yet another. Filled with metaphor, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was a roadmap that had to be followed carefully and required the interpretation of a master so as not to be taken out of context.
While Sanskrit was the language of the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Brahmins, and the temples, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other tantric texts were written in Sandhya Bhasha meaning “twilight language” or “pillow talk.” Tantric practices and the effects of practice were described symbolically. Language was purposely imprecise so that you had to be “in the know” to understand the teachings as they were written.
For example, Vajroli Mudra, a combination of posture and pranayama, required “milk” and “a woman behaving as desired.” This is coded language, a secret that only proper instruction would reveal. Another example is Kechari Mudra where yogis are instructed to “eat the flesh of the cow and drink wine and still remain pure.” Flesh of the cow is hatha yoga practice and wine is an internal experience. You wouldn’t know this unless a teacher told you.
Many yogic texts were based on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika but again, multiple interpretations followed and yoga schools continued to branch out and intermingle. By the 15th Century, yogic texts included language about non-dualism and dissolving into pure space while Tantrics spoke of expanding energies to become one with the universe.
The practices in the Pradipika were meant to lead to Samadhi (enlightenment and liberation) through the state of Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga). The essence of Hatha Yoga, stilling energy patterns to open a doorway toward understanding, was accomplished through the pathway of the body which needed to be purified through kriyas (cleansing techniques), pranayam and mudra.
Once the energy channels were cleared, the yogi stilled the body in asana and stilled the mind through meditation, the ultimate path to Raja Yoga. Having reached the level of a “diamond body” or Divine Body through the prescribed rituals, the yogi could attain the same powers as Shiva and become immortal and god-like.
“Those ignorant of Rajayoga merely perform Hathayoga.
I think these practitioners are denied the fruit of their efforts.” (HYP 4.78-9)
Yogis believed that the body could be returned to the optimal state of youth. Intense practice was meant to awaken Kundalini energy (the coiled serpent at the base of the spine); Kundalini energy rising to the point where you merge with everything or as in Jiva Mukti, you find liberation while remaining in your body.
Bodhi Sattva in Buddhism is similar to the Divine Body tradition in yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika refers to a transcendence beyond the body and also, through the body ultimately achieving the “immortal body.” According to Yoganand Michael Carroll, Swami Kripalu was a “divine body yogi” and believed that his guru came back to him in the form of a young boy.
Over time, variations of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika develop into even more schools. By the 17th Century CE, there are over a hundred Hatha Yoga texts, many likely sourced from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, making it a principal source of Hatha Yoga so its importance cannot be understated. Because it combined practices from various schools, it made Hatha Yoga more accessible and likely led to widespread practice in India.
To dive deeper, consider signing up for Pranakriya’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika program. It’s an opportunity for immersion and study with a skillful and knowledgeable teacher. Attaining some understanding of these texts can bring us closer to the original intent of yoga.