Hatha Yoga Pradipika: The Basics Explained

The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (Lamp on Hatha Yoga) is a medieval text outlining techniques on how to perform āsana, prāṇāyāma, ṣaṭkarma, mudrā, and bandha as a means to samādhiExploring both Haṭha Yoga and Rāja Yoga, it is a seminal text in the Haṭha Yoga corpus; it features on the bookshelves of keen students, teachers, and scholars and has been translated into numerous languages.

Along with the Gheraṇḍasaṁhitā and the Śivasaṃhitā, The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā are considered the most influential and well-known texts on Haṭha Yoga.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • The origins of The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā
  • Haṭha Yoga and Rāja Yoga
  • An overview of the text and its techniques and guidelines

Origins and dates

Spread across 389 verses of Sanskrit, the Haṭhapradīpikā or Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā as it is more commonly known, was written by Svātmārāma.  He states early on that he is the author and will explain Haṭha Yoga.

“Salutations to Shiva, who taught the science of Hatha Yoga.  It is the aspirant’s stairway to the heights of Rāja Yoga.” I. 2

“For those ignorant of Raja Yoga, wandering in the darkness of too many options, compassionate Svātmārāma gives the light on Hatha.” – I. 3

The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā is dated around the 15th century, and its earliest manuscript dates to 1496.  The text features many verses taken from previous writings, which was standard at the time but has led the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā to be considered a bit of a “mishmash.”

James Mallinson (Haṭha Yoga Project) has collated the texts that influenced the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, which total 15 different works, including the Dattātreyayogaśāstra, Śivasaṃhitā, and Amaraughaprabodha. All subsequent haṭha yoga texts refer to it, making it somewhat an authority within Haṭha Yoga literature.

a shelf of old books

Roots – the four Yogas

The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā is a culmination of Haṭha and Rāja Yoga which are part of the four yogas:

Mantrayoga | A core facet of Tantra and often specific to a deity.  A mantra is a sacred sound repeated to focus the mind and is considered spiritually transformative.  Ōṃ is one of the most famous mantas. 

Layayoga | The yoga of “dissolution” uses cakras to awaken kuṇḍalinī and is said to dissolve the self to reach samādhi. 

Haṭhayoga | Meaning “force,” haṭha yoga provides mind-body techniques to preserve and manipulate energy within the body.

Rājayoga | Royal yoga favors meditation and is considered interchangeable with samādhi. Rāja is often considered the quickest path the enlightenment.

It’s worth noting that while the text draws heavily on Haṭha and Rāja and refers to Laya, it makes no mention of Mantra.

a text from the hatha yoga pradipika

Haṭha yoga – what is it?

Most yoga practitioners have been to a hatha class, but this slower, often gentle approach to a yoga style is not to be confused with Haṭha Yoga.  Haṭha Yoga can be considered the method for attaining the state of yoga.

The first mentions of Haṭha Yoga (8-10th century CE) can be found in Buddhist Vajrayāna sources.  Known for extreme practices, Haṭha means forceful.  Although there are some definitions of haṭha being translated as (ha) sun and (ṭha) moon, a more reliable translation can be found in the Sanskrit dictionary, where you’ll find: “force,” “violence,” and “obstinacy” under the entry. 

The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā is just one of many essential and illuminating works within the body of Haṭha Yoga texts.  Not an easy read, the Haṭha Yoga corpus includes:

Amṛtasiddhi 
Amaraughaprabodha 
Dattātreyayogaśāstra
Śivasaṃhitā
Haṭhapradīpikā
Vivekamārtaṇḍa
Pampāmāhātmya
Śārṅgadharapaddhati
Ānandakanda
Gorakṣayogaśātra
Jnāneśvarī
Gorakṣaśataka
Yogabīja
Yogaśāstra (Hemacandra)
Vāsiṣṭhasaṁhitā
Tirumantiram
Amaraughaśāna
Khecarīvidyā
Aparokṣānubhūti
Yogatārāvalī
Śivayogapradipikā

It is important to note that Haṭha Yoga was not widely available.  A teacher/guru was required to share the teachings around which there was a good deal of secrecy.

a text from the hatha yoga pradipika

Rāja yoga – what is it?

“In practice, raja yoga is samadhi, the ultimate absorption in deep meditation. The innovation of hatha is to make this accessible by physical methods, which are said to still the mind if performed correctly.” – Daniel Simpson.

Rāja Yoga, or royal yoga, is not yoga for the monarch but is the “royal path.”  Rāja Yoga is both the method and the goal and is a synonym for samādhi. It is a practice focused on meditation to control the mind and achieve self-realization. The Amanaska claims that Rāja Yoga is superior to all other yoga practices.

“All this practice [of Hatha Yoga] is pronounced as distinctly useless…unless it leads to Raja-yoga.” – M.N. Dvivedi

How is it different from other popular texts on yoga?

If you have explored yoga beyond the mat, you will most likely have come across some of the principal texts when studying yoga.  The following books are often found on yogi’s bookshelves and teacher training syllabi, but it’s important to note that they offer different perspectives and methods for the same goal.

  • The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali  – Considered a part of classical yoga, this handbook for practicing yoga and attaining samādhi is a popular choice for yoga teacher trainings as an informant of the philosophy of yoga
  • The Bhagavadgītā Unlike the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, this text teaches us about how to live in the world and is not a practice manual.
  • Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā – The focus of this article’s text is considered a practice manual rather than a philosophical guide.

James Mallinson and Mark Singleton state in their book “Roots of Yoga” that “The Hathapradīpikā ̣ is the first text that explicitly sets out to teach Hatha Yoga ̣ above other methods of yoga.” They also note that the cleansing practices (ṣaṭkarma) in The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā have “became emblematic of Hatha Yoga.”

the bhagavad gita open on the first page with incense burning in the background

Conditions for yoga

In the first chapter, Svātmārāma provides information on the environment and conditions for optimal yoga practice.  He states that yogis should live in peaceful secluded huts free of fire and damp with a small door but no windows.  He says that the walls should be plastered with cow dung and that bugs are not welcome.  He also states an ethical approach to practice in which yoga thrives or withers:

“Yoga perishes by these six: overeating, overexertion, talking too much, performing needless austerities, socializing and restlessness.” – 1.15

“Yoga succeeds by these six: enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of the truth, determination, and solitude.” – 1.16

The four chapters of the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā

The text is based on the manipulation of energy: āsana to stimulate, prāṇāyāma to retain, and mudrā to shift prāṇa and finally to reach samādhi.

Āsana

“Āsana brings about steadiness, improved health, and lightness of limb.” – 1.17

As the first text on yoga to include descriptions and instruction on āsana, this is the chapter most modern yogis will be eager to read and identify with.  There are 84 āsana within the text, 15 of which he teaches as primary postures.

a woman doing an advanced yoga posture

Prāṇāyāma (and ṣaṭkarma)

The Hathapradīpikā ̣ teaches eight varieties of kumbhaka (retention) which are sūryā, śītalī, bhastrikā, ujjāyī) sītkārī, bhrāmarī, mūrcchā, and plāvinī).  Prāṇāyāma is used to manipulate prāṇa (the subtle energies within the body) as a means to control the mind.  In addition, this chapter also provides cleansing techniques, ṣaṭkarma, which promote good movement of prāṇa and purification of the Nāḍīs.

”Retention of the breath as desired, stimulation of the digestion, manifestation of the nada, and good health come from purifying the Nadis.” – 2.20

Mudrā

Mallinson calls these esoteric techniques for retraining vital energies.  Chapter 3 teaches ten mudrās used to manipulate breath and some for preserving Bindu. Bindu is made in the head; some believe the belly fire can burn it up.  The primary purpose of mudrās is to use kuṇḍalinī to keep the Bindu rising. 

“Therefore, practice mudras energetically to awaken the goddess sleeping outside the door to Brahman.” – 2.5

Mudras and Bandhas are used to activate the energy channels of the body.  The mudras often combine that which has come before (āsana and prāṇāyāma,) which is why they are a pre-cursor.

hands in a mudra

Saṃādhi  

“As salt and water become one when mixed, so the unity of self and mind is called samadhi…The state of unity-when the prana decreases and the mind dissolves-is called samadhi.” – 4.5-6

Raja yoga is saṃādhi.  This chapter focuses on the practice of meditation and self-realization.  It is a culmination of what the previous methods are leading towards.  This chapter also introduces nāda, which refers to internal vibration and is often called the “unstruck sound” or “union through sound.”

Do what?

While there are practices within the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā that are not dissimilar to some of the things we do today: the neti pot to cleanse sinuses and āsanas such as padmāsana (lotus pose), some might disagree that viparītakaraṇī will eliminate grey hair and wrinkles if practiced daily for six months or that semen can be drawn back from a woman’s vagina into the penis. One not try as a novice:

“Slowly swallow a wet cloth which is four fingers wide and fifteen hands long int structured by one’s guru.  Draw it out again.” – 2.24

Key Takeaways

  • Haṭha techniques are the method to get to the state of yoga (saṃādhi).
  • It is the first text to talk about kriyās or cleansing, as well as being the first text to teach haṭha yoga explicitly.
  • The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā is based on transforming the physical body, manipulating and purifying the subtle energies of the body as a means to achieve Rāja Yoga.

Find out more about yoga texts

If you’re interested in reading Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, then check out the translation by Brian Dana Akers referred to in this article.

If you want to dive into other seminal yoga texts, take a look at the Upanishads.

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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