The Gheranda Samhita
The Gheranda Samhita is an important text of Hatha Yoga. It was written in Sanskrit 300 years ago and documents the teachings of sage Gheranda to his student Chanda. Like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or the Shiva Samhita (see articles from Alex), it is written in verse. The word 'samhita' actually means 'collection of verses'.
At 40 pages, the book is just a little longer than the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is divided into seven lessons. In the first lesson (or first chapter), we learn about six cleansing techniques (shat karma). The second lesson introduces us to 32 asanas or yoga poses. The third lesson focuses on 25 mudras. In the fourth, we learn five techniques for Pratyahara and lesson five follows with 10 techniques of pranayama. Lesson six is dedicated to dhyana, and meditation, while the last lesson focuses on samadhi.
Gheranda explains to his student that there are as many yoga poses as there are species of living beings (2.1). Among them, he says that 84 are root asanas. For example, Padamasana is the root asana of Parivritta-Padmasana, Urdhva-Padmasana, Baddha-Padmasana,…but he doesn't reveal these 84 and only teaches 32 of them:
- Badhrasana: similar to Baddha-Konasana but not bending forward
- Virasana (he calls it 'Vajrasana')
- Ardha-Virasana: the other leg is in lotus
- Guptasana: Padmasana lying on the belly
- Gorakshasana: similar to Padmasana but with hands covering the heels, palms facing upward
- Utkatasana: staying on tip toe, heels not touching the ground, the buttocks rest on the heels
- Sankatasana: similar to Gomukhasana but sitting on the heel
- Uttanakurmasana: similar to Garbha-Pindasana, lying down on the back
- Mandukasana: Virasana with knees apart from each other
- Uttanamandukasana: an inverted Mandukasana
- Garudasana: Virasana with the hands on the knees
- Vrishasana: one leg in Mandukasana, the other bent on the floor with heel touching the perineum
- Makarasana: lying on the stomach, legs apart
- Ushtrasana : similar to Dhanurasana but with legs crossed
- Yogasana: Padmasana with hands on the knees
But more asanas are also presented in the third chapter, where the focus is on 'Mudras'. 'Janushirshasana' is explained as 'Mahamudra', the big mudra, which is a Janushirshasana with one heel pressing on the perineum (thus securing a strong mula-bandha), and the chin towards the base of the throat -
A little further in the book, Gheranda teaches 'Viparita-Karani', which consists of "placing the moon, dwelling at the root of the palate, under the sun, dwelling at the root of the navel" (3.29) - in other words, performing an inverted position. Gheranda describes it this way: "Carefully place the head and both hands on the ground, raise the feet and remain steady" (3.31). This position can be Sarvangasana or Shirshasana.
Like Shivananda, Dharma Mittra and many other great yogis, he considers this pose to be one of the most important: "He who regularly practises Viparita-Karani destroys decrepitude and death, he is an adept of yoga, and he does not perish even at the great dissolution" (3.32). It is therefore essential, according to this major text of Hatha Yoga, to include at least one inverted pose (Shoulder stand or Headstand) in one's daily practice.
Another riveting thing about this book: there is only one standing pose, the Tree. Most are sitting poses. Classical Hatha Yoga is a much more meditative practice than what we understand today as yoga. In the Hatha-Yoga Pradipika (see the article by Alex), there is not even one standing pose. What about the Shiva Samhita or the Goraksha Samhita? The Shiva Samhita presents four poses, all of them sitting poses. The Goraksha Samhita, allegedly the first text of Hatha Yoga, presents only two poses: Siddhasana and Padmasana (1.10). In light of these texts, why don't we adopt slightly more seated, more contemplative, yoga?
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