Hata Yoga is a preparatory process of yoga. You can also explore Hata Yoga in ways that take you beyond certain limitations, but fundamentally, it is a physical preparation—preparing the body for a higher possibility. If we want to do Kriya Yoga, we always prepare people with Hata Yoga because without the body being prepared, it will not be able to take higher dimensions of energy. It will break. It is just like if your pipe is not ready and you pump in too much force, it is bound to burst. So Hata Yoga is preparation of the pipe. We prepare the pipe as a channel, so that when you do Kriya Yoga, your system is ready to take it.
Understanding the mechanics of the body, creating a certain atmosphere, and then using the body or body postures to drive your energy in specific directions is what Hata Yoga or yogasanas are about. Hata Yoga is not exercise. Asana means a posture. If I sit in one way, it is one asana. If I sit in another way, it is another asana. So innumerable asanas are possible. Out of these innumerable postures that the body can take, 84 fundamental postures have been identified as yogasanas.
There are other dimensions to this, but to put it in the simplest way, just by observing the way somebody is sitting, you almost know what is happening with them, if you have known them long enough. If you know yourself, if you have observed yourself, if you are angry, you will sit one way; if you are happy, you sit another way; if you are depressed, you sit another way. For every different level of consciousness or mental and emotional situation that you go through, your body naturally tends to take certain postures. The converse of this is the science of asanas. If you consciously get your body into different postures, you can also elevate your consciousness.
I am incapable of being depressed; otherwise I would be depressed looking at the way Hata Yoga is being practiced around the world and people thinking that is what it is. The practice as you see it, the mechanics of it, is simply of the body. You have to breathe life into it, otherwise it will not become alive. This is why, in the traditions, there has been so much stress on a live Guru—to make it alive. The yogic system is a subtle manipulation of your system to allow it to rise to a different level. Yoga means, that which allows you to attain to your higher nature. Every asana, every mudra, every way of breathing—everything —is focused towards this.
After 20 years of yoga entering the West and becoming popular, medical professionals are now coming forth and making studies and saying, “Yoga has benefits”. Right now the number of people practicing yoga—even the simplest Hata Yoga—is growing in a big way simply because the scientific community is slowly beginning to recognise the depth and dimension of what it is. Though it is taught in frivolous ways, still the health benefits of it are undeniable around the world. But if improper, distorted kind of yoga spreads, in 10 to 15 years’ time, scientific studies will clearly come out and tell you in how many ways it is harmful to human beings, and that will be the downfall.
If Hata Yoga is taught in a proper atmosphere with a certain sense of humility and inclusiveness about the whole process, it is a very fantastic process of shaping your system into a fantastic vessel, a fabulous device to receive the Divine. There are certain dimensions of Hata Yoga which are almost absent in the world today. It is there in some places, but generally in the known places, it is absent. I would like to bring those dimensions. It is a very powerful way of living. Power, not over somebody else; power to access life.
The writer is a world-renowned spiritual leader.