Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the oldest surviving text on hatha yoga, written possibly in 15th century CE by Swatmarama. The most-widely cited and quoted text on yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, was written several centuries earlier. Hatha Yoga Pradipika is as essential as the Yoga Sutras.
This translation and commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda of the Bihar School of Yoga is on the reading lists at most yoga centers. The Sanskrit text is translated and then followed through with a detailed, informative commentary. This is the most comprehensive, clearest, modern commentary on Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The history of yoga given at the beginning of the book, Swamiji on Hatha Yoga, clarifies much confusion. Understanding this history may help remove the tension and rivalry that exist between hatha yogis and raja yogis. Hatha Yoga Pradipika itself is fairly clear on what it means by hatha and raja.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika consists of four stages: asanas (15 are named and described), shatkarma kriyas and pranayamas, mudras, bandhas. The physical postures of asanas activate the vital life force prana. The cleansing practices of shatkarma kriyas clean the body of toxins. The breathing practices of pranayamas purify the energy channels and balance prana. Hand gestures, called mudras, activate certain pressure points to channel the prana. Yogic locks, called bandhas, draw prana up to higher energy centers called chakras. The self-contained book describes everything with detailed instructions so the reader has all the information on the theory as well as clear directions (with line diagrams) on the practice. Reference to another book or source is not necessary.
The purpose of these stages is to prepare the body for the awakening of spiritual energy, called kundalini. The energy must be directed and drawn up into the central channel of sushumna, the pathway for spiritual energy called kundalini. Commentators over the centuries, the book states, explain that when ida (negative current), pingala (positive current), and sushumna (spiritual energy) unite at ajna chakra, it is called hatha yoga. When the spiritual energy continues on to merge at the top of the head, at the energy center called sahasrara, it is yoga.
Swatmarama explains what he means by hatha yoga and raja yoga. Hatha yoga is the means, the method, the path; raja yoga is the goal. Hatha is the basis of raja yoga—hatha being the dynamic and preparatory aspect while raja yoga is the culminating stage. Raja yoga is simply another term for samadhi, the stateless state in which the individual consciousness has completely dissolved into the Universal Consciousness.
In the context of Yoga Sutras, raja yoga now commonly means the path, the method of the mind disciplining the mind, to attain samadhi. So the term raja yoga is used in two different ways. Patanjali predates Swatmarama and never uses the words “raja yoga.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda is filled with wisdom and information on all aspects of life covered by Swatmarama. Hatha yoga is an offering from Swatmarama to achieve spiritual awakening.