Bodily yoga (Hatha Yoga) was meant to operate subtly; it understands the body as a fungible technological apparatus.
Hatha Yoga is designed to unfold latent possibilities in the technological platform we call “body.” Other arts and sciences pay attention to other things, or they pay attention to the body in a different way.
It is the art of making that infinitude real.
It is therapeutic and developmental in its first steps.
It heals us first, then optimizes our physical, psychic, and existential potential.
What restrains and pains you? What is hard, sad, blind? In our “bodymind,” we all have cold, dark places that are unawakened. Hatha Yoga applies itself to the potentialities of these unopened, uncleared fields.
Our “darks” conceal our “lights.”
Hatha Yoga is of the greatest service to those who recognize their infinite wholeness and want to recreate that wholeness as much as possible in their earthbound, finite body-mind-soul. Yoga deeply serves those who believe this is possible.
As the yoga historian William Pinch puts it, yoga is for “those who would be gods.”
But this isn’t egotistical. “God” is not a stern and capricious creature from Biblical myth. God is ungendered ultimate love. Ultimately empty. Ultimately nothing. God is one whose personality has made the most humiliating bow to universal law.
One who holds onto nothing and receives everything—that’s God.
With all the grand stuff said, Hatha Yoga remains usable as a simple tool for attaining day-to-day goals—for it does soften and harden us where needed.
It clears the vision. It focuses the will; but, it does this while traveling toward grander things.
We can stop short of receiving yoga’s greatest gifts. We can use Hatha Yoga just to supply our ego-needs. Nobody must choose to follow a high path.
Seeking our “entirety” sometimes demands that we let go of familiar ego-goals of health, wealth and popularity.
We don’t always want to do that.
That’s fine, the scriptures say. “Just do it in another lifetime,” a Swami once said to me.
The image of the chakra, the lotus, is suggestive here. Kundalini processes upward along the line of the chakras.
That process is both initiated and fulfilled by the specific bodily meditations that yoga poses force on us.
As is often stated, “hatha” means “force.” When Kundalini moves, it moves forcefully, and forceful practices are needed to prepare the body for Kundalini’s movement and to “strike” it awake.
Most of us know the 7 major chakras (energy wheels), but there are numberless minor chakras throughout the body.
In yoga poses, we meditate “like a bee in the pericarp of the bloom,” as the Tantrik scholar Chris Tompkins put it. We rest our attention on certain bodily points where energy can move. This form of meditation—making our attention “pierce” specific body areas while in yoga poses—amplifies specific harmonies by freeing those areas to subtly vibrate.
When these harmonies begin “sounding,” specific abilities in sensing and acting within the entire range of human doing and being are awakened—i.e., in intimacy, in work, in our self-reflective capacities, etc., etc.
Opening the chakras opens our talents.
We have latent powers.
Hatha Yoga unfolds these by leveraging the body.
Our physical wiring double-functions as psychic wiring.
Leveraging the gross body, the subtle body blooms.
There are other ways to leverage the subtle powers through the gross body, but in the modern day, we have a stripped-down yoga to do this task. Modern Postural Yoga has dropped the cleansings (shatkarmas) and initiation (diksha), and radically pared down any work in mudra, mantra, pranayama or other practices from its original form, systematized around the 12th century (estimates vary).
Modern Postural Yoga consists almost exclusively of provocative physical architectures. And that’s fine. They will do.
Modern folk have embraced this method to grow the psychic self, i.e. the subtle self. It is the most popular thing out there that consciously leverages the subtle body.
How does this happen?
We can look at subtle actions in Garudasana, Eagle Pose:
The body creates granthi (knots) in the arms and legs in Eagle. Force is exerted on energetic nodes (marma points) in the limbs. Effort to collect the energy around a vertical line (to maintain balance) drives energy through the marmas and smaller chakras.
The spiraling pattern enhances that flow—for prana, life-force, moves in spirals and waves, just like other fields in nature. The legs are designed for locomotion and as a platform for the potentialities of the upper body. Increasing foundational action in the legs by forcing them to ground more securely stimulates the creative and expressive capacities of the head, arms and torso by sourcing the energy field of the Earth below us. In rooting down, we draw that energy up (whether we sense this happening or not).
The Muladhara (the first major chakra, at the body’s pelvic floor) is enlivened because it must reach effortfully down through the legs to balance (the legs are “organs of action” for the three low chakras ).
The pressures created by bending, twisting, compressing, and balancing the legs excites the smaller patala chakras that exist below Muladhara.
The energy that moves in Garudasana wakes the chakras up—it increases the intensity of the vibration and expands its frequencies. The attendant psychic potentialities in muladhara (wealth creation, deeper affiliation with tribe and capacities for survival) are activated in the “field” of energy around us, making circumstances or people that will align with these achievements attune to us, even as we attune to them. This happens generally when we forcefully take a precarious seat. Profound seating stimulates Muladhara. Garudasana does this along with other actions to activate subtle potential.
Activating and attuning the muladhara in Garudasana and other poses helps it awaken. It prepares it to receive the much greater force we call Kundalini (whose broad effects will only be peeked at here).
This is how one pose in the modern vocabulary enhances the arc of our evolution. It might be more than a normal, pragmatic-minded reader wants to think about.
In fact, exclusive pragmatists may want to stop reading here. The following might seem non-sensical.
Our personality is infinitely various. Awakening its numberless specific powers and perceptive capacities is, after health, a secondary action of Hatha Yoga. The tertiary action is awakening Kundalini in order to re-align our karmic structure and functioning.
Here we go really woo-woo.
We are rooted on this earth by the Tamasic (closed and grounded) parts of our psychic composition. They form our earthbound personality. They run on Kundalini as it “idles.” At its highest RPMs something else occurs.
Cicadas become butterflies, wallflowers morph to prom queens, kudzu consumes Chattanooga. Nature loves radical adjustments of form. We have another life awaiting us that comes after our particular Tamasic fields are cleared and Kundalini’s action accelerates. The awakening of Kundalini begins a process that results in freeing us to travel through the realms of existence or states of being beyond the physical, among other powers.
So the texts tell us.
“By meditating [on the third chakra] the reward of knowing one’s past [lives] and future [lives] arises.” Shiva Samhita, 5:155
“By mastery of [the down breath of] udana . . . The body levitates.” The Yoga Sutras, 3:40
“. . . the practitioner of Yoga will have a divine body, radiance, a divine fragrance, freedom from disease and a full heart.” Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 4:71
It sounds woo-woo. One may practice to discover its truth.
As Hatha Yoga energetically clears the body, it sets us up for a “good death.”
It sets us up for a re-incarnation—a rebirth—on a plane being that exists in higher fields of vibration. Or Kundalini awakening (or even greater pranic awakenings) will get us reborn right here back on Earth bearing a higher vibration.
If your efforts are roughly superhuman in your sadhana (yogic path), your karma may be resolved in its entirety and won’t reincarnate at all.
You’ll just become God.
You’ll get dissolved in Universal Consciousness. You will become everything by way of becoming nothing.
That is what the tradition tells us.
The tradition tells us that the human organism was built to evolve this way.
Yoga is for “those who would be gods.”
Hatha Yoga is a subtle art. If you want to live a full life of love, individual achievement, and existential knowing—then Hatha Yoga is for you.
If you do not want this because it is uncomfortable, uninteresting, or a seeming waste of time (in this particular lifetime), avoid taking your yoga too seriously, or don’t do any yoga at all!
Hatha Yoga is perfect for general fitness, and if you don’t want to pursue a greater evolution, you will avoid the long holds, deeper asana practices or pauses for psychic integration during your “workouts.”
These allow your organic energies the opportunity to do the deep work. They work to unfold who you really are.
Avoid deep practices, if health, wealth and beauty are your singular aims.
“Do these asanas and you will regain some health,” Krishnamacharya told the young B. K. S. Iyengar after he began to teach him in 1934.
If you do a reasonably wise practice, you will always get health; yet, grander possibilities await every one of us.
Hatha Yoga is a subtle art. And it produces the grandest effects human beings can possibly know. If greater things appeal to you, find a guru, read books, practice with force.
Explore Hatha Yoga deeply—with wisdom and care—and this platform of the body will play host to the greatest forces, perceptions and talents that consciousness can ever know.
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Ed: Sara Crolick