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Encapsulating Yogic Traditions

Due to the sect being essentially non-existent, a great quantity of material has been lost, making the traditions of the 64 yoginis a mystery. It was the flamboyant reflection of tantrism in the 8th century CE when the occult Sadhana reached its pinnacle. The culture is now completely abandoned, yet the remains of its customs live on in magnificence.

“As salt being dissolved in water becomes one with it, so when Âtmâ and mind become one, it is called Samâdhi.” Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Verse 5, translation by Pancham Sinh

Haṭha is defined as "with power" in the commentaries on Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. 'Strength' here is not just mental, but also bodily. Similarly, Haṭha means "force," and refers to a set of physical procedures or asanas. According to other definitions, Haṭha may be spelled 'ha' for sun and 'ṭha' for moon. This alludes to the balance of masculine (active, hot, sun) and feminine (receptive, cold, moon) elements within each of us. Haṭha yoga is a method of achieving balance and bringing opposites together to establish an alignment of strength and flexibility in our physical bodies. In each asana, a yogi learns to balance effort and surrender. The Kanphata yogis, an order of ascetics, and their founder Mahayogi Gorakhnath are credited with popularizing the disciplines of Haṭha Yoga.

Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (Light on Hatha Yoga, from 15th century) by Svātmārāma is a fifteenth-century Sanskrit handbook on Haṭha yoga that traces the teaching's history down to Matsyendranath, who got knowledge directly from Adi Nath (or Shiva). The first chapter discusses creating the right environment for yoga, the ethical duties of a yogi, and asanas. Chapter two discusses pranayama and kriyas to prepare for moksha. The advantages of mudras are discussed in Chapter three; and the fourth chapter discusses meditation and samadhi as a personal spiritual development path.

“There are two causes of the activities of the mind: (1) Vâsanâ (desires) and (2) the respiration (the Prâṇa). Of these, the destruction of the one is the destruction of both. Breathing is lessened when the mind becomes absorbed, and the mind becomes absorbed when the Prâṇa is restrained.” Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā Verse 22-23, translation by Pancham Sinh

Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā is another important Haṭha yoga text, it mentions thirty-two asanas for building body strength, mudras for perfecting body steadiness, lessons on proper nutrition and lifestyle, ten types of breathing exercises, three stages of meditation, and six types of samadhi. It is most likely a late 1700 C.E. manuscript organised as a teaching manual based on a conversation between Gheranda and his pupil Chanda.

Another treatise on Haṭha yoga is Śiva Saṃhitā (c. 1300 and 1500 CE); with five chapters written by an unknown author. The text is addressed by Shiva to his consort Parvati. She fell asleep while listening to him, and Matsyendranath disguised as a fish overheard it, thus beginning the Nath tradition. The first chapter covers nondual or Advaita Vedanta philosophy, while the subsequent chapters address yoga, the value of a guru to a pupil, and numerous asanas, mudras, and siddhis (powers) that may be attained via yoga and tantra. It defines eighty-four distinct asanas, discusses different forms of prana, and ways for controlling it.

Other than these three classic texts on Haṭha yoga, other texts talk about this form of yoga, which shows that yoga was thought of as a system for everyone and was a part of a very blended and continuous Indian culture. For example, Sharangadhara-padhati, a treatise on Ayurveda, talks about Haṭha yoga and breaks it down into two types: Gorakhnath and Markandeya. The word yoga (which means union) was first used about 5,000 years ago in northern India, where the Indus-Sarasvati people lived, in one of the oldest texts – the Rig Veda. However, the first known text on yoga is thought to be Patanjali's yoga sutras, which were written in c. 400 CE and describing it as consisting of eight limbs or the eightfold path.

Shri Yogendra set up The Yoga Institute, one of the oldest yoga institutes today, in Mumbai in 1918. The eminent Krishnamacharya then established a Haṭha yoga school in Mysore in the 1920s, teaching in Mysore style. He taught famous yogis such as Indra Devi, T.K.V. Desikachar, Sri K. Patthabi Jois (founder of the ashtanga vinyasa style of yoga), and B.K.S. Iyengar (famous for the Iyengar style of yoga), all of whom developed their own methods of teaching and spreading the practice around the world, further spreading Haṭha yoga style's popularity globally.

When Indra Devi started the first yoga school in Hollywood, California, she taught the actresses of the period. Swami Sivananda's Divine Life Society was established beside the Ganges river in 1936.

Swami Vivekananda, along with other spiritual leaders from throughout the globe, addressed a large American public at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and yoga started its fast expansion into the Western world from there.

Yoga was a life philosophy that included how we connect to the world and ourselves, and how to attain inner peace. In today's world, Haṭha yoga is one style, and what a teacher today may offer in a Haṭha yoga class varies greatly. All major yoga forms of our day – Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Sivananda, Bikram, Yin, Kundalini, Power, Restorative, Moksha, and so on – stem from what was once a holistic lifestyle known as yoga. Today, there are nearly 200 Haṭha yoga postures, with hundreds of variations. They work to make the spine flexible and to improve blood flow to all parts of the body. The ultimate goal of a yogic lifestyle is a condition of absolute non-dual consciousness, which can only be achieved through practice.

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