Two Essential Ideas Underlying the Practice of Hatha Yoga

The parable of the “unbaked jar” is used by teachers of Yoga to illustrate the critical and essential nature of solidifying the physical and nervous body in order to enable it to receive, hold and control the increase of energy that accompanies the descent of the higher forces into the being. The clay may be formed into a vessel for holding water, but if one tries to pour water into it without first baking it to the right hardness, the vessel dissolves, the water disappears and the effort is lost.

Sri Aurobindo observes that Hatha Yoga recognizes the importance of preparing the physical body and that there are “…two profound ideas which bring with them many effective implications. The first is that of control by physical immobility, the second is that of power by immobility. The power of physical immobility is as important in Hathayoga as the power of mental immobility in the Yoga of knowledge, and for parallel reasons.”

The immobility being sought is not one of torpor or lassitude, not a form of sleep, but a highly concentrated state of indrawn awareness whereby the body itself becomes steady and unmoving. “…for Yogic passivity, whether of mind or body, is a condition of the greatest increase, possession and continence of energy. The normal activity of our minds is for the most part a disordered restlessness, full of waste and rapidly tentative expenditure of energy in which only a little is selected for the workings of the self-mastering will,–waste, be it understood, from this point of view, not that of universal Nature in which what is to us waste, serves the purposes of her economy. The activity of our bodies is a similar restlessness.”

If we try to just sit quietly for a while, we immediately begin to notice the little disturbances that occur all the time, the itches, the nervous movements, the shifting of the body from one position to another, the darting of the mind equally in all directions. For the Hathayogin, these are signs of unsteadiness and unpreparedness of the physical body. If we cannot hold onto the little bit of energy that operates within our normal human lives and vital systems, how can we expect to hold onto the immense uprush of energy with the opening of the spiritual levels of consciousness and the descent of the higher forces into the mind, vital self and physical being?

We have seen in the Yoga of knowledge that one of the goals is to bring the mind to a quiescent state so that it may open to and reflect the higher planes of conscious awareness; similarly, for the Hatha Yoga practitioner, the stability and quietude of the body is the first powerful tool of this yogic path.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 27, Hathayoga, pg.. 509