Scripture Commentary: Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.10

Taking refuge in the practice of hatha yoga

February 12, 2014    BY Sandra Anderson

Scripture

For those completely scorched in the fire of suffering, hatha yoga is a refuge. Hatha yoga is the supporting tortoise [foundation] for practicing the complete range of yoga.
—Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.10

Commentary

Many of us have discovered the sanctuary that hatha yoga offers the body and mind. The word hatha itself—ha, solar energy, and tha, lunar energy—implies a union and transcendence of the polarities, including pain and pleasure, thus sheltering us from the inner and outer storms of life. 

The word hatha itself—ha, solar energy, and tha, lunar energy—implies a union and transcendence of the polarities, including pain and pleasure, thus sheltering us from the inner and outer storms of life

Hatha yoga is also the foundation that supports other spiritual practices like meditation, devotion, selfless service, and contemplation. In the symbolic language of yoga, the earth (representing the body) rests on the head of the hooded serpent Sheshnaga, who in turn rests on a tortoise. The tortoise (hatha yoga) is the foundation that supports our body and nervous system, and allows us to train our mind and senses so we can experience higher states of consciousness.

A story from the scripture Srimad Bhagavatam illustrates the importance of a solid foundation: One day the forces of light and darkness recruited Mount Mandara and Vasuki (another serpent) to churn the primordial ocean for its elixir of immortality. Mount Mandara served as a churning rod and Vasuki as the rope to twirl the rod. Their efforts were completely ineffective until Lord Vishnu manifested in the form of a tortoise, dove to the bottom of the ocean, and supported the mountain on his back, focusing and empowering the process.

Hatha yoga is the foundation that supports other spiritual practices like meditation, devotion, selfless service, and contemplation.

By stabilizing the body and nervous system, hatha yoga allows us to face the world as well as our own inner unrest with equanimity. It becomes both the foundation upon which we build our spiritual life and our support and refuge during our spiritual journey.

Sandra Anderson
For over 20 years Sandra Anderson has shared her extensive experience in yoga theory and practice with students from all over the world. A senior faculty member and resident at the Himalayan Institute, her teaching reflects access to the living oral tradition, and the embodied experience of 30 years of dedicated practice. With a background in the natural sciences and interest in classical Sanskrit, along with frequent pilgrimages to India, Sandy has a rare capacity to eloquently convey the... Read more>>