Chapter 1: Kriya
Following a general introduction, 20 internal hygiene techniques are described.
Introduction (verses 1 – 11)
Chanda Kapali went to the hut of Gheranda and greeted him with devout reverence.
He said, “Oh, Master of Yoga, best of Yogins, I wish to learn the discipline of hatha yoga, which leads to the knowledge of the truth .”
Master Gheranda replied, “Because you have asked correctly, Chanda Kapali, I will teach what you have asked. But you must attend to it most diligently.”
[Gheranda explains the need for diligence.]
There is no bondage like maya [illusion].
There is no strength like yoga [discipline, integrity].
There is no friend greater than jnana [knowledge].
And there is no enemy worse than ahamkara [the “I-maker,” or individual ego].
[Ahamkara, the “I-maker,” is not just ones “ego” as commonly thought of in the West. It is our individual sense of self as separate from others… that which each one of us normally thinks of as “me”… that sense of separation which keeps us estranged from the universal nature that is our birthright.
What Gheranda is saying here is that everything we presently think about ourselves is fundamentally wrong, because it is misunderstood; and our fundamental misunderstanding is due to the masking influence of maya.
Maya is normally rendered simply as illusion, but the word is actually composed of two Sanskrit roots: ma which means “to measure,” and ya which denotes error. The word maya, therefore, literally means “an error in measurement.” We fail to see our true spiritual identity because we are mislead by our senses, our perceptions, and by our constant state of cultural hypnosis.
Jnana and yoga (knowledge and discipline) are the means of overcoming our misdirected sense of self and the world around us.]
[Gheranda next introduces a simile to further clarify the four axioms given in the last verse.]
As by first learning the alphabet [one can go on to learn language and grammar, and] eventually master all of the sciences [vidyas], in a similar way by first learning hatha yoga, one can obtain knowledge of the Truth that frees the soul from bondage.
[By first learning the discipline of hatha yoga, one can obtain the knowledge that frees the soul.
Jesus said the same thing: “Know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.” (John 8:32) In the next verse, Jesus explains that because of bad deeds (“sins”) no one is free.]
[Gheranda explains the circle of life, and then gives another simile.]
Based on good deeds and bad deeds, the bodies of all living beings are created; these bodies produce actions [karmas] which are the cause of rebirth; and the cycle continues like the endless cycles of a ox-drawn water wheel, drawing water from a well.
As the action of a ox-drawn wheel moves the buckets up and down, pulled by the bullock, [filling and emptying the buckets time after time] so a jivatman [a living soul] is propelled by its karma.
But the body soon decays in the world, like an unbaked clay pot thrown into the water; therefore, to purify and strengthen the body, harden it [“temper it” or “bake it”] in the fires of yoga self-training [yogah atmasath].
[The sense here is that hatha yoga training uses the kriyas (taught in this chapter) to purify the internal organs of the body, and the asanas (taught in chapter two) to fire up the body and strengthen it.]
[Gheranda will now introduce the seven stages (saptanga) that he will teach, which together lead the practitioner to the pinnacle of raja yoga. Compared to Patanjali’s eight limbs (ashtanga) yama and niyama are omitted because by the time Gheranda is teaching, they are already presupposed as being necessary and fundamental to any spiritual undertaking; they are replaced by the kriyas and the mudras (which includes the bandhas). Dharana (focus or concentration) is omitted because it is considered to be merely a transitional phase between pratyahara (the focused internalization of the senses) and dhyanam (meditation).]
There are seven parts to this training of the physical body:
courage / [dhirata]
kindness and lightness / [laghima]
clear perception [pratyak-satva]
[Next Gheranda associates these with the lessons he is about to give.]
purification is acquired through the shat kriyas
strengthening is acquired through the asanas
steadiness is acquired through the mudras
calmness is acquired through Pratyahara
kindness and lightness are acquired through pranayama
clear perception is acquired through dhyanam
isolation is acquired through samadhi
Chapter 1 – Shat Karmas
The 6 Kriyas (or 6 Purifying Practices)
Part 1 – The 10 Dhautis (verses 12 – 44)
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Part 2 – The 2 Bastis (verses 45 – 49)
Part 3 – Neti (verses 50 – 51)
Part 4 – Nauli (Naukiki) (verse 52)
Part 5 – Tratakam (gazing) (verses 53 – 54)
Part 6 – the 3 Kapalabhati Kriyas (verses 55 – 60)
Chapter 2: Asana
32 postures are described, along with some of their benefits
The Asanas (Verses 1 – 6)
“The 32 positions that give perfection to human beings on the Earth are as follows:”
( 1) siddha-asana (accomplished position)
( 2) padma-asana (lotus position)
( 3) bhadra-asana (gentle position)
( 4) mukta-asana (liberating position)
( 5) vajra-asana (diamond or thunderbolt position)
( 6) swastika-asana (beneficial position)
( 7) simha-asana (lion position)
( 8) gomukha-asana (cow-face position)
( 9) vira-asana (hero’s position)
(10) dhanur-asana (bow position)
(11) mritya-asana (death position) (svasana / corpse position)
(12) gupta-asana (hidden position)
(13) matsya -asana (fish position)
(14) Matsyendra-asana (Yogi Matsyendra’s position)
(15) Goraksha-asana (Yogi Goraksha’s position)
(16) Paschimottan-asana (Posterior [Western] position)
(17) utkata-asana (precarious position)
(18) sankata-asana (dangerous position)
(19) mayur-asana (peacock position)
(20) kaka-asana (raven [crow] position)
(21) kurma-asana (tortoise position)
(22) uttana-kurma -asana ( raised-tortoise position)
(23) manduka-asana (frog position)
(24) uttana-manduka -asana ( raised-frog position)
(25) vriksha-asana (tree position)
(26) garuda-asana (eagle position)
(27) vrisha-asana (bull position)
(28) salabha-asana (locust position)
(29) makara-asana (crocodile position)
(30) ushtra-asana (camel position)
(31) bhujanga-asana (cobra [snake] position)
(32) yoga-asana (unified position)
( 1) siddhâsana (accomplished position) (verse 7)
( 2) padmâsana (lotus position) (verse 8)
( 3) bhadrâsana (gentle position) (verses 9-10)
( 4) muktâsana (liberating position) (verse 11)
( 5) vajrâsana (diamond or thunderbolt position) (verse 12)
( 6) swastikâsana (beneficial position) (verse 13)
( 7) simhâsana (lion position) (verses 14-15)
( 8) gomukhâsana (cow-face position) (verse 16)
( 9) virâsana (verse 17)
(10) dhanurâsana (verse 18)
(11) mrityâsana (death position) (svasana / corpse position) (verse 19)
(12) guptâsana (hidden position) (verse 20)
(13) matsyâsana (fish position) (verse 21)
(14) Matsyendrâsana (Yogi Matsyendra’s position) (verses 22-23)
(15) Paschimottâsana (Posterior [Western] position) (verse 24)
(16) Gorakshâsana (Yogi Goraksha’s position) (verses 25-26)
(17) utkatâsana (precarious position) (verse 27)
(18) sankatâsana (dangerous position) (verse 28)
(19) mayurâsana (peacock position) (verses 29-30)
(20) kakâsana (raven [crow] position) (verse 31)
(21) kurmâsana (tortoise position) (verse 32)
(22) uttana-kurmâsana (raised-tortoise position) (verse 33)
(23) mandukâsana (frog position) (verse 34)
(24) uttana-mandukâsana ( raised-frog position) (verse 35)
(25) vrikshâsana (tree position) (verse 36)
(26) garudâsana (eagle position) (verse 37)
(27) vrishâsana (bull position) (verse 38)
(28) salabhâsana (locust position) (verse 39)
(29) makarâsana (crocodile position) (verse 40)
(30) ushtrâsana (camel position) (verse 41)
(31) bhujangâsana (cobra [snake] position) (verses 42-43)
(32) yogâsana (unified position) (verses 44-45)
Chapter 3: Mudra
25 mudras (seals or gestures) & bandhas (locks) are described
Gheranda Samhita – Chapter 3: Mudras
“There are 25 mudras, the practice of which brings success to the yogis.”
( 1) maha mudra
( 2) nabho mudra
( 3) uddhiyana bandha
( 4) jalandhara bandha,
( 5) mula bandha
( 6) maha bandha
( 7) maha vedha [or maha bedha]
( 8) kechari mudra
( 9) viparitakari mudra
(10) yoni mudra
(12) shaktichalani mudra
(13) tadagi mudra
(14) mandavi mudra
(15) sambhavi mudra
(16-20) pancha dharana [five concentrations]
parthivi dharana (earth – Muladhara chakra)
ambhasi dharana (water – Svadishthana chakra )
agneyi dharana (fire – Manipura chakra )
vayavi dharana (air – Anahata chakra )
akashi dharana (space – Ajna chakra)
(21) aswani mudra
(22) panini mudra
(23) kaki mudra
(24) matangi mudra
(25) bhujangini mudra.”
[Gheranda said,] Maheshwara [Shiva] recited the advantages of the mudras to Parvati [his consort] like this:
“Oh Devi, These mudras that I have taught you lead to the siddhis [psychic powers or accomplishments of yoga]. Their secret should be carefully guarded and not taught indiscriminately to all students. They bring happiness to the yogis, but are not easily attained, even by the maruts [sky gods] themselves.
3:6 [Maha Mudra – the great seal]
Press the root [mula, ie., the anus] firmly with the left heel; stretch the out the right leg and hold the big toe with your hands. [This is almost the same as janusirshasana (head-to-knee pose), so far….] [Do puraka and kumbhaka, ie., inhale and hold the breath.] Contract the throat [jalandhara bandha]; fix the gaze between the brows [at ajna; ie. perform sambhavi mudra]. [Repeat on the other side.]
Practiced all together, this is known as maha mudra, the great seal.
3:8 [benefits of maha mudra]
The practice of maha mudra aids in the prevention or correction of: constipation, obstruction of the bowels, enlargement of the spleen, indigestion, and fever. In fact it cures all diseases [of the abdominal area].
[It is very common in the medieval texts to make extraordinary health claim for almost every technique, especially the shat kriyas (the six classes of purification practices covered in G.S. chapter one) and the mudras (covered in this chapter). They are touted as panaceas or cure-alls; for many techniques, it is even claimed that they overcome death. These texts were, of course, written after the entry of Islam and Islamic medicine into India. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods (in Europe) Islamic medicine was the most advanced and efficacious in the entire western world. The point seems to be that these ancient and domestic yoga techniques also have powerful therapeutic value, and that, taken collectively, the end result of yogic practice is to know the Truth which sets one free. This ultimate Truth, of course, allows one to realize that everything in the universe is recycled, and nothing ever truly dies. This allows one to overcome the “fear” of death. The most advanced stages of yogic trance (samadhi) actually allow the practitioner to pre-experience the disembodied state, and hence to actually be able to overcome the death of consciousness when the body dies.]
3:9 [Nabho Mudra] –
Pursuing any livelihood, in any location, a yogi may practice nabho mudra. Turn the tongue upwards [and back towards the soft palate, so the underside of the tongue is touching the upper palate, and press the tip of the tongue back as far as it will go without strain.] Inhale and hold the breath [puraka kumbhaka]. This is nabho mudra; it destroys all diseases.
[This modified technique allows the practitioner to enjoy the benefits of kechari mudra, without having to spend months in unnecessary self-mutilation, cutting the frenulum linguae (the tendon beneath the tongue). This is why the text says, it can be done by a person of any livelihood, at any time or place.]
3:10 [Uddhiyana Bandha – the “flying up lock” or abdominal lift]
Contract the abdominal viscera equally both above and below the navel; draw them back towards the spine. [The lower abdominal area is contracted inwards, as the upper abdominal area is lifted upwards with the diaphragm.] Those who practice this without ceasing, will conquer death.
By this process, Hamsa is forced to fly up into sushumna and reside therein.
[Hamsa is the Great Swan, signifying spirit, and is a steed for Brahma, the creator; here Hamsa means prana, the breath (prana also means spirit). Sushumna is the central nadi, where kundalini must rise to meet Shiva, which cosmic union is a major aspect of yoga: cosmic/universal consciousness.]
[After we have covered the next several bandhas (especially jalandhara bandha and mula bandha, immediately following this) we shall discuss the combined use of these techniques in some detail, and their value to the yoga practitioner will become more obvious.]
3:11 [Benefits of uddhiyana bandha]
Of all bandhas, uddhiyana is the best, the complete practice of which makes liberation [moksha] easy.
[Since a lot of techniques may be called “the best,” even in the same text, we need to understand this as meaning “great” or “superior.” We could then render sloka eleven more understandably as, “Uddhiyana is a superior contraction because its regular practice makes the goal of yoga easier to attain.”]
3:12 [Jalandhara Bandha – the net-holding contraction, or chin lock]
Contract the throat and place the chin on the chest. Jalandhara bandha closes off the 16 adharas. [These 16 basic “support channels” are part of the system of 72,000 nadis (currents) that distribute the flow of prana throughout the body.] Together with maha mudra, this destroys death.
3:13 [Benefits of jalandhara bandha]
Jalandhara bandha is well tested and gives excellent results. The yogi who practices it for six months will certainly accomplish his goal.
3:14 [Mula Bandha – the “root lock”or anal-sphincter contraction]
[NOTE: The technique given here specifies the siddhasana seated pose as an integral part of the bandha.]
Carefully press the perineum [region between the anus and the genitals] with the heel of the left foot, and contract the anus sphincter muscle.
Place the right heel above the genitals so it presses against the pubic bone, and contract the abdominal region below the naval back towards the spine. This mula bandha is the destroyer of decay. [This bandha helps to relieve the bowels, and therefore prevents waste matter from accumulating and putrefying in the colon or rectum.]
3:16 [Benefits of mula bandha]
The yogi who desires to cross the ocean of Existence should practice this mudra in secrecy.
Mula bandha controls the [downwards] flow of vayu [prana, the vital life-force energy] and should therefore be practiced carefully and diligently.
3:18 [Maha Bandha – the “great contraction”]
Close the root with the left heel, and carefully press this heel with the right heel [as in siddhasana for mula bandha, above]. Slowly and carefully contract the anus sphincter muscle.
At the same time, contract the yoni and restrain the breath with jalandhara bandha
[retain after inhalation, ie. do puraka kumbhaka].
[Yoni can mean womb, vagina, or source.]
[This part of the technique is practiced as follows.
Females: contract the vagina; males: contract the cords that support the testes.]
[These days, this particular contraction is called yoni mudra. But G.S. uses the term yoni mudra for a much more complex and comprehensive technique (slokas 37-42) which we shall learn a little later.]
This [set of three contractions performed together (root, yoni, and throat)] is called maha bandha, the “great lock.” [It helps to prevent or] destroy degeneration, malignancy and [premature] death. [Maha bandha helps the yogi to] fulfill all desires.
Chapter 4: Pratyahara
4 techniques for internal awareness are described