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Introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradîpikâ  by B K S Iyengar

Hatha yoga, or hatha vidya (the science of hatha yoga) is commonly misunderstood and misrepresented as being simply a physical culture, divorced from spiritual goals… In fact hatha yoga is not just physical exercise, but an integrated science leading towards spiritual evolution.

We are caught up in emotions like lust (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), infatuation (moha), pride (ynadha) and malice (matsarya). Hatha yoga helps us to overcome these obstacles and hindrances to spiritual development. It is a biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual science which deals with the moral, mental, intellectual and spiritual aspects of man, as well as the physical and physiological. We can clarify our understanding of hatha yoga by first examining five important underlying concepts: mind, knowledge, aims of life, health and afflictions.


Man is known as manava (human), as he is descended from Manu, the father of mankind who is said to be the son of Brahma, the Creator of the world. The word mana or manas (mind) comes from the root man, meaning to think. Man is one who possesses a mind.

Manas mean mind, intellect, thought, design, purpose and will. It is the internal organizer of the senses of perception and the organs of action, and the external organizer of intelligence, consciousness and the

Self : man is graced with this special sense so that he can enjoy the pleasures of the world, or seek emancipation and freedom (moksa) from worldly objects.


Knowledge means acquaintance with facts, truth or principles by study or investigation. The mind, which is endowed with the faculty of discrimination, desires the achievement of certain aims in life.

Knowledge (jnana) is of two types: laukilfa jnana, which concerns matters of the world, and vaidika jnana, the knowledge of the Self (relating to the Vedas, or spiritual knowledge). Both are essential for living in the world, as well as for spiritual evolution. Through yogic practice, the two kinds of knowledge encourage development of a balanced frame of mind in all circumstances.

Aims of Life

The sages of old discovered the means for the betterment of life and called them aims or purusarthas. They are duty {dharma), the acquisition of wealth (artha) (necessary to free oneself from dependence on others), the gratification of desires (kama) and emancipation or final beatitude (moksa). Moksa is the deliverance of the Self from its entanglement with the material world: freedom from body, senses, vital energy, mind, intellect and consciousness.BKS iyengar_scorpion

Dharma, artha and kama are important in matters of worldly life. Dharma and moksa should be followed judiciously if they are to lead to Self-realisation.

Patanjli, at the end of the Yoga Sutras, concludes that the practice of yoga frees a yogi from the aims of life and the qualities of nature (gunas), so that he can reach the final destination – kaivalya or moksa.

Health and Harmony

To acquire knowledge- whether mundane or spiritual -bodily health, mental poise, clarity and maturity of intelligence are essential.

Health begets happiness and inspires one to further one’s knowledge of the world and of the Self. Health means perfect harmony in our respiratory, circulatory, digestive, endocrine, nervous and genito-excretory systems, and peace of mind. Hatha yoga practices are designed to bring about such harmony.


Human beings are subject to afflictions of three types: physical, mental and spiritual (adhyatmika, adhidaivika and adhibhautika). Afflictions arising through self-abuse and self-inflictions are adhyatmika. Physical and organic diseases are caused by an imbalance of the elements in the body (earth, water, fire, air and ether) which disturbs its correct functioning. These are called adhibhautika diseases. Misfortunes such as snake bites and scorpion stings are also classified as adhibhautika. Genetic and allergic disease or diseases arising from one’s past deeds are known as adhidaivika. The practice of hatha yoga will help to overcome all three types of affliction.

Hatha Yoga or Hatha Vidya

Hatha means to stick fast, to be devoted and to hold closely or firmly. Yoga means to unite, to associate, to yoke and to join. It also means zeal, endeavour, fixing the mind on one point, holding the body in a steady posture, contemplation and meditation. Vidya means knowledge, art and science.

The Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Siva, approached her Lord– the seed of all knowledge–for guidance to ease the suffering of humanity. Lord Siva revealed to her the greatest of all sciences for the holistic development of man–the science of hatha yoga.

On receiving yogic knowledge from Siva, Parvati imparted it to Brahma, who taught it to his children born of his own will, the sages such as Narada, Sanaka and Sanatkumara, who passed it on to Vasista and others. Hatha vidya was set down in the Hatha yoga pradipika by Yogi

Svatmarama who, it is thought, lived between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. The Pradipika has thus been referred to as a nebrively recent addition to the literature of yoga, which goes back to the Vedas (1500 bc). In fact, Svatmarama was part of the long unbroken line of sages or rishis, descended from Brahma, by whom hatha vidya was passed down through the ages.

At the very beginning of his treatise, in verses 4-9, Svatmarama invokes the names of many of these sages who came before him and who practised and passed on the noble art of hatha yoga. A consideration of this list of names leads to the conclusion that the yoga described by Svatmarama is contemporary with that of Patanjali (whose Yoga Sutras were also a codification of long-established theory and practice).

If Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, codified the eight limbs of yoga (astanga yoga), Svatmarama did the same for hatha yoga. If the former is a scholarly exposition with gems of wisdom woven together, the latter is a direct practical and technical handbook.

Because Svatmarama’s treatise incorporated ideas from the Yoga Sutras, the Yoga Upanisads, the Puranas, the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures, doubts may arise in the reader’s mind as to its authenticity. Hans-Ulrich Ricker’s re-organization of the subject matter helps the reader to grasp it more easily, and to understand it more clearly.

It should be realized that the Hatha yoga pradipika is a major treatise with practical guidelines. It takes the practitioner from the culture of the body towards the sight of the self.

The first Sloka (verse) of the book reads: « Reverence to Siva, the Lord of Yoga, who taught Parvati hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of raja yoga » (Patanjali yoga). And at the end we are reminded that « all hatha practices serve only for the attainment of raja yoga ». (4:103).

Hatha means willpower, resoluteness and perseverance; and Hatha yoga is the path that develops these qualities and leads one, towards emancipation. The word hatha is composed of two syllables: ha and tha. Ha stands for the seer, the Self, the soul (purusa), and for the sun (Surya) and the inbreath {prana). Tha represents nature (prakrti), consciousness {citta), the moon (chandra) and the outbreath (apana). Yoga, as already noted, means union. Hatha yoga, therefore, means the union of purusa with prakrti, consciousness with the soul, the sun with the moon, and prana with apana.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The Pradipika is divided into four parts. The first explains yamas (restraints on behaviour), niyamas (observances), asanas (posture) and food. The second describes pranayama (control or restraint of energy), and the shatkarmas (internal cleansing practices). The third deals with mudras (seals), bandhas (locks), the nadis (channels of energy through which prana flows) and the kundalini power. The fourth expounds pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).

In all, the text contains 390 verses (floras). Out of these, about forty deal with asanas, approximately one hundred and ten with pranayama, one hundred and fifty with mudras, bandhas and Shatkarmas and the rest with pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

BKS Iyangar ardhanav


The text begins with asanas as the first step in hatha yoga. For this reason it has been referred to as six-limbed yoga (sadanga yoga) as opposed to the eight-limbed patanjala yoga (astanga yoga) which includes, as its foundation, the first two limbs, yama and niyama. However, hatha yoga does not overlook the yamas and niyamas. Possibly, in Svatmarama’s time, the ethical disciplines were taken for granted, so he does not explain them at length.

He does speak of non-violence, truthfulness, non-covetousness, continence, forbearance, fortitude, compassion, straightforwardness, moderation in food and cleanliness as yama, and zeal in yoga, contentment, faith, charity, worship of God, study of spiritual scriptures, modesty, discriminative power of mind, prayers and rituals as niyama. (The ethical disciplines of what to do and what not to do are given in the text. Asanas, pranayamas, bandhas, mudras and shotkarmas are illustrated by examples to assist aspirants with their practice. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi cannot be explained, but only experienced, when the earlier stages have been mastered.)

It is said that there areas many asanas as there are living species: 840,000. That means the muscles and joints can flex, extead-and rotate in several thousand ways. The Pradipika, however, describes only sixteen asanas. Similarly, Vyasa names only eleven asanas in his Yoga Sutras’, and there are thirty-two in the Gheranda Samhita. It is possible that yogasana practices were such a regular daily routine that it was necessary only to touch on the subject without going into depth. In view of these figures, to claim that hatha yoga is merely physical yoga is simply ridiculous.

Yogis were in constant contact with nature and they were searching for natural remedies to combat afflictions. In their search, they discovered hundreds of asanas to increase the life-giving force and restore it to its optimum level.

Asanas are not just physical exercises: they have biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual effects. The cells of the body have their own intelligence and memory. Through practice of different asanas blood circulation is improved, the hormone system is balanced, the nervous system is stimulated, and toxins are eliminated, so that the cells, sinews and nerves are kept at their peak level. Physical, mental, and spiritual health and harmony are attained.

The commentary Jyotsna1 of Sri Brahmananda clearly and beautifully sums up the effect of asanas. He says: « the body is full of inertia (tamasic), the mind vibrant (rajastc) and the Self serene and luminous (sattvic). By perfection in asanas, the lazy body is transformed to the level of the vibrant mind and they together are cultured to reach the level of the serenity of the Self. »

Patanjali, too, states that perfection in asanas brings concord between body, mind and soul. When asanas are performed with the interpenetration of all three, benevolence in consciousness develops. Then the aspirant ceases to be troubled by the pairs of opposites, and the indivisible state of existence is experienced.


Part Two is devoted mainly to pranayama and its techniques. Pranayama means prana vrtti nirodha or restraint of the breath, which is by nature unsteady. According to Svatmarama, « When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still. » (2:2)

Pranayama flushes away the toxins and rectifies disturbances of the humours, wind (vata), bile (pitta) and phlegm (kapha).

All the yoga texts, including Patanjali’s, are emphatic in their view that one must gain perfection in asanas before practising pranayama. This point is overlooked today, and many people think that any comfortable sitting asana is good enough for pranayama practice, and that pranayama may be safely practised without the foundation of asana. Svatmarama cautions: « By the faulty practice of pranayama the yogi invites all kinds of ailments. » (2:16)pranayama2

Asanas, important though they are for the health and balance of the body, have a deeper purpose: to diffuse the consciousness uniformly throughout the body, so that duality between senses, nerves, cells, mind, intelligence and consciousness are eradicated, and the whole being is in harmony. When the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and genito-excretory systems are cleansed through asanas, prana moves unobstructed to the remotest cells and feeds them with a copious supply of energy. Thus rejuvenated and revitalised, the body–the instrument of the Self–moves towards the goal of Self-realisation.


Prana is an auto-energising force. The inbreath fans and fuses the two opposing elements of nature–fire and water–so that a new, bioelectrical energy, called prana, is produced. Prana neutralises the fluctuations of the mind and acts as a spring-board towards emancipation.

Pranayama stores prana in the seven energy chambers, or chakras, of the spine, so it can be discharged as and when necessary to deal with the upheavals of life.

Patanjali states that « mastery in pranayama removes the veil that covers the lamp of intelligence and heralds the dawn of wisdom. »

Svatmarama explains various types of pranayamas and their effects, but cautions that just as a trainer of lions, tigers or elephants studies their habits and moods and treats them with kindness and compassion, and then puts them through their paces slowly and steadily, the practitioner of pranayama should study the capacity of his lungs and make the mind passive in order to tame the incoming and outgoing breath. If the animal trainer is careless, the animals will maim him. In the same way, a wrong practice of pranayama will sap the energy of the practitioner.

Bandhas and Madras

Bandhas and mudras are dealt with in Part Three. Bandha means lock and mudra means seal. The human system has many apertures or outlets. By locking and sealing these, the divine energy known as kundalini is awakened and finds its union with purusa in the sahasrara chakra.

Mudras and bandhas act as safety valves in the human system. Asanas act in a similar way. All three help to suspend the fluctuations of the mind, intellect and ego, so that attention is drawn in towards the Self. The union of the divine force with the divine Self is the essence of Part Three.


Samadhi, the subject of Part Four, is the subjective science of liberation, the experience of unalloyed bliss. Before discussing Samadhi, we need to look at consciousness (citta).

Consciousness is a sprout from the Self, like a seedling from a seed. As a branch of a tree is covered by bark, so the consciousness is enveloped by the mind. While the concept of mind can be understood by an average intellect, that of consciousness remains elusive: it is not easy to catch hold of mercury. Consciousness has many facets and channels which move in various directions simultaneously. The breath, on the other hand, once it has been steadied, flows rhythmically in and out in a single channel. Svatmarama, after watchful study of the mind and breath, says that whether the mind is sleepy, dreammg or awake, the breath moves in a single rhythmic way.

Just as water mixed with milk appears as milk, energy (prana) united with consciousness becomes consciousness. So hatha yoga texts emphasize the restraint of energy, which can be more easily achieved than the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind. A steady and mindful inbreath and outbreath minimises the fluctuations and helps to stabilise the mind. Once this steadiness has been established through pranayama, the senses can be withdrawn from their objects. This is pratyahara. Pratyahara must be established before dhyana (concentration) can take place. Dhyana flows into dharana (meditation) and dharana into samadhi. The last three cannot be described, only experienced.

Svatmarama says that through samadhi, the mind dissolves in the consciousness; the consciousness in cosmic intelligence; cosmic intelligence in nature and nature in the Universal Spirit (Brahman).

The moment the consciousness, the ego, the intelligence and the mind are quietened, the Self, which is the king of these, surfaces and reflects on its own. This is samadhi.


Hatha yoga practices bring certain powers (such as clairvoyance and clairaudience) called siddhis, about which Svatmarama cautions the aspirant, If he does not practice with the proper attitude, there is danger that he will misuse these powers. (Patanjali calls the siddhis worthless, and a hindrance to the true goal of Self-realization).

Svatmarama says that practice has to be done without thinking of its fruits, but with steadfast attention, living a chaste life and moderation of food. One should avoid « bad company, proximity to fire, sexual relations, long trips, and cold baths in the early morning, fasting, and heavy physical work ». (1.61). In 1.66 he says that yoga cannot be experienced « by wearing yoga garments, or by conversation about yoga, but only through tireless practice ». Earlier, in 1:16, he says: « Success depends on a cheerful disposition, perseverance, courage, self-knowledge, unshakable faith in the word of the guru and the avoidance of all superfluous company. » And Patanjali says, « faith, vigour, sharp memory, absorption and total awareness are the key to success ».

B K S lyengar December 1991


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