One of the purposes of hatha yoga is the burning of karma. Yoga philosophy believes that nothing happens in the body without first happening in the mind. You sow certain seeds in your mental personality. You drop a seed in the soil of your mind where it grows; it becomes either a mango tree or a mulberry bush, poison ivy or a rose, whichever one you wish to sow. If you sow a rose, it is a rose that grows from you. You have placed in your mind the raw material of your thought. Each thought once placed in the mind becomes the raw material for further thought. Some other thoughts will arise out of it, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, depending on how much this seed-thought is watered, how much you contemplate it, how much your strengthen it. Every act you perform with your body is a thought. Every act you perform with your speech too is a thought planted in your mind.
This is where hatha yoga and meditation connect. A person plants lazy thoughts in his mind every time he slouches. That lazy thought becomes the seed for a further thought and so it becomes a habit. He lies comfortably on a pillow and does not want to get up for the next morning’s asanas. When he finally does get up it is too late.
This process of wrong decision making eventually becomes the cause of disease. Disease is a ripening of the poison ivy plant from the seed planted in the original lazy thought which then leads to the decision to remain lazy, to not use the body correctly, not use food properly, not use sleep in the right way. That suffering becomes the fruition of his karma and he later complains of having so much suffering. The instrument of discrimination, the buddhi, becomes occluded by cloudy thoughts and gets into the wrong process of decision making and thereby one makes choices to use the body wrongfully. The natural karmic result of these poor decisions is suffering, which is really only a purging of accumulated toxins.
What the hatha yogis do is follow a very wise principle which has been spoken of by all the schools of wisdom and philosophy and which is one of the many secrets of a happy life. This principle is that whatever you dislike, do voluntarily and willingly, if you do not want it to come to you by force. Whatever you are running away from, turn and face it squarely and say ‘what is it that I am afraid of? Let me examine you.”
We usually run away from physical discomfort. Tapas is when we turn around and say ‘let’s see what is this discomfort that I run away from?’ Do that at every step in your life if you want to attain perfection- in health, mind, speech, action, spirituality. Whatever you are running away from, find out what it is and turn around and look it straight in the eyes and examine it. As soon as you turn around, this thing you have feared so long will try to run away from you.
In hatha yoga, we turn around and where in the body we have deposited fat and blubber and many other unnecessary things, we remove them as a voluntary act of karmic purification. We can take 15 minutes of daily discomfort or fifteen days later in a hospital. The choice is ours. If we do not pay the karma voluntarily, it will be paid involuntarily. If we will not put ourselves on a diet, the doctor will put us on one. If we will not do it today, we will have to do it 15 years from now and come face to face with the whole accumulation and we will have to handle it.
Purification exercises are called shaucha – the first of the five niyamas (2nd of the 8 rungs of raja yoga). Shaucha is a word both for physical cleanliness and mental purity. A clean, clear mind is a purified mind. You become very sensitive to impurities in the body. So we go from purification of the mind to purification of the body. A pure mind cannot live in an impure body, just as a clear mind cannot live in confused surroundings. A clear mind has fixed daily habits.
Quite often people do their practices mechanically but their overall attitude toward life is not changing. This is seen in the craze about diets, substituting one kind of drug culture for another. Food still remains an object that is picked up and put in the mouth when one craves it. How we eat or when or how much is ignored. We also ignore the idea of gratefully accepting the gift of food and passing on this gift by offering food to someone else. We eat it without offering it to anybody else. We cannot take one little thing in isolation and experiment with it without making it part of our overall growth. I would rather see a person eat meat and share it than become a vegetarian, live on the diet of a hermit and not share his food with others in mind.
People ask ‘should I take a shower before my hatha yoga or after my hatha yoga? If we cannot revive the concept that all waters are mother waters, that taking a shower is an act of washing off the dirt of the body and the mind, then it doesn’t matter whether we shower before or after doing hatha postures. It’s going to keep our bodies clean, that’s all. The psychological impact is missed, because we have demolished mythology, killed Milton, murdered Dante, destroyed the ancient Greek culture, because we have cut off our connections between the individual mind and the cosmic mind, because we are too ashamed to recite poetry in school. Because of all those collective, cultural murders, entering a shower is for us only washing the dirt and sweat from the body; but the psychological satisfaction, the spiritual satisfaction, the ritual satisfaction, the washing of the mind, changing the overall pattern of thought is missing.
Objects are just objects and have no psychic connections. There is nothing from the subtle body flowing between ourselves and the mother waters. Unless this overall attitude changes, just moving the body in the sun salutation is of no use. Rather, when we practice our physical yoga, let our connection of the mind be between the core of the mind and the vast field of cosmic energy. The two are one.
In yoga philosophy, there are 3 universal qualities: tamas (stability), rajas (activity) and sattva (harmony). Tamas may take the form of lethargy, heaviness of mind or depression, rajas excitement or nervousness, and sattva joyfulness, clarity of mind and calmness. Everything in nature has these 3 qualities, as in the case of food. Choose the right food and choose the right attitude that goes with the food.
We can overcome conditions by undertaking certain types of action – fresh actions to counter those psychological effects from the subtle body. There has to be the intent to love, to be concerned, to share, and it has to be pure, positive altruistic without seeking results therefrom, without asking for fruits of that action. Only then will it bring the necessary changes in the subtle body which will very minutely adjust the relationship between the mental and physical body. That minute intangible adjustment will change the flow of secretions in our glands and will begin to undo the damage caused by the warping of energies due to past selfishness.
Besides changing the energy pattern of the subtle body by altering one’s attitude and conduct, there are other ways to help remedy diseases. The exercises can be done mentally but there is one secret. That is breath. Breathe as though the diseased part of the body is being exhaled out from that point. It is the breath that is flowing from that point outward, outward through the nostrils, then inhale as if peace and healing are going down to that point. If you are too ill to exercise, breathe as if the breath is flowing out from the cardiac area and flowing upward and flowing into that area. Do it for a good one hour every day at home or in the hospital. This is the first exercise in the complex and long art of self healing.
At the same time, we are also working from the physical angle, doing our exercise with this openness of heart. When we are opening our arms, we shouldn’t just open our arms out into empty space, we are opening our arms out to the whole universe. When we close our arms, it is not a selfish act of drawing in, but embracing and gathering.
If we observe our natural inclinations, there is a certain point where the whole yoga practice will come to us. We have to learn it by prescription now because we are not sensitive to whatever is natural in us. Why? Because we have been incorrectly trained in the use of the mind; we have been told that the rational mind is the only worthwhile mind. In the process, what women of the primitive tribes of Africa practice naturally at childbirth, here we have to go to classes to learn. Dr. Leboyer observed the women of India at childbirth and wrote his book, which is selling millions. So: self-sensitivity, self-observation; an overall view of the universe – where we are in the universe, what our connections are. We know this in the moon and the tides and the menstrual cycles yet we don’t understand it.
The real philosophy of hatha yoga can come to us by practice, practice of the mind – doing it as a mental exercise, as an act of worship, as an act of reestablishing the relationship both with the lower world of the instincts, of the snake and camel and elephant and with the higher world of the beings of energy which we really are – beings of energy which have come and occupied these physical bodies and are exercising control over them. In that context, we should practice our yoga and enjoy it.