What are the origins of Hatha Yoga?
Where does hatha yoga sit in the eight limbs of Yoga?
Why does Gherand Samhita say there are 7 steps?
Where did Surya Namaskar originate?
Hatha Yoga has absolutely no place, as understood in contemporary practice, within the context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali only comments on four sitting postures, and the sole purpose of these asanas is to provide steadiness for the body, so that the mind is not disturbed by imbalances. Yoga Sutras are the quintessence of Raja Yoga and really have no connection with body culture as exemplified by contemporary practices and Western attitudes to Hatha Yoga.
One of the difficulties is to understand that an immense time span, in terms of cultural development, exists between the Yoga Sutras and Gherand Samhita. Patanjali wrote his terse commentary sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE while the Gherand Samhita is a late 17th Century text.
The origins of Hatha Yoga probably begin with early Tantric Texts and the characteristic pragmatic approach of Tantrics to graspable and palpable methods for piercing the veil of body and mind.
The Gherand Samhita (along with the Hatha Yoga Pradapika and the Shiva Samhita) represents an evolution of approach through the body in contrast to Patanjali’s purely mental ‘Raja Yoga’. Both systems are equally valid and it is a matter of temperament as to which doctrine an individual pursues.
The aim of ultimate Moksha or Jivan Moksha (freedom while incarnated) is a common goal for both schools. Much of Patanjali’s vocabulary is still to be found in the classical Hatha Yoga texts as 8-limbed delineation of Yoga Sutras has withstood the test of time as a foundation for all Yoga.
My opinion is that Gherand Samhita eliminates the Yamas and Niyamas because they are so intrinsic that they do not require mention and are implied in Stanza nine by his 7 preliminary requirements for the practice of Ghatastha Yoga:
- Body Purification (Shodanum)
- Strength of Mind (Dridhata)
- Steadfastness (Sthairyam)
- Patience (Dhairyam)
- Lightness of body (Laghawam)
- Direct perception (Pratyaksham)
- Unaffectedness (Nirliptam)
Also be aware that the approach of Gherand Samhita focuses upon the Shat Kriyas or internal body cleansing (Ghatastha Yoga).
“Ghatastha” carries the implication of ‘a cooking pot’ suggesting that just as cooking utensils must be scoured after use, so the human body must be strongly internally scoured. These practices are remarkable and I have studied them intensely.
The closing stanzas of the Gherand Samhita deal with Samadhi, and although the methods taught are different the theme replicates Patanjali’s final branch, that is, Samadhi.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika dates to ca. 14th century C.E; the Shiva Samhita was an early 17th century C.E. product. These texts, along with the Gherand Samhita, form a triad of the first consolidation of what we now call Hatha Yoga, which is the most popular form of Yoga among Westerners.
Modern Hatha Yoga is based upon the body culture of South India that emerged in the 19th century, and by the end of the 20th century the best-known schools came out of the Madras center of Krishnamacharya. His son, Desikachar, and his disciples B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Yoga) have all stamped their own influence and developed the most prominent schools in contemporary society.
As a final word let me remind you that most Yoga students and teachers are not aware that the famous Surya Namaskar, and the variations out of the South Indian Schools of Hatha, never existed before the 20th century. In 1937 the Raja of Aundh was studying Law in London and attracted much attention by teaching a family system of exercises. This resulted in a London journalist publishing articles and ultimately a book. As a result, the Surya Namaskar rapid spread rapidly throughout the world, including India. Today, many in both East and West, believe this to be a traditional practice; it is not. No Brahman Hindu, reciting the sacred Gayatri, while facing the sun, has ever been taught to do Surya Namaskar. Surya Namaskar is a very modern innovation or invention in a long history of evolving Yoga practices.