The primacy of pranayama and the subtle body
Many of the early hatha-yoga texts were occupied by descriptions of the subtle body -the energy body – and how to stimulate it. This seems to be the common denominator. The texts were full of technical expressions – dozens of them – in relation to the subtle body and its workings. The primary techniques taught in order to manipulate the subtle body were: pranayama, mudra and bandha. The term hatha, as it emerged, seemed mainly to be related to pranayama practices. Often hatha-yoga techniques – especially pranayama – were about uniting oppositional polarities and forces like prana/apana, sun/moon, ida/pingala, and bindu/rasa) (Mallik 1953, Larson 2009). Success in this led to perfection and release. Surprisingly to many modern readers, asana – the main and often single limb of modern postural yoga – played no role worth mentioning in these early hatha-yoga texts. If hatha-yoga could be pinned down to a single technique in the early texts, it must be pranayama.
The early hatha-yoga texts often described practices aiming at perfecting the body physically. The first phase was about controlling the sense organs, the vital winds’ and the bodily functions. This would result in a purified or perfected bodyâ (kaya-siddhi). The physically refined and prepared body was now ready for the next phase of work. In the next phase it was the subtle body that came into focus. The Siddha worked on the maha-rasa. Rasa was, as we recall, a fluid of the subtle body, which in some cases had to be forced up through six centres – chakras – facilitated by the awakening of Kundalini. As the yogi moved through these chakras, there were various experiences of consciousness as each chakra became activated energetically (Mahapatra 1972).
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