The idea of 84 āsanas, which is often found in yoga texts, is based on the worship of 84 nātha–yogis. Each of these 84 nāthas is responsible for the evolution of one lakh of living beings (100,000). When you follow the yoga path, you develop the psychophysical, spiritual purity in yourself, that you radiate into space. By doing your practice you help not only yourself, but also your close ones. Souls reincarnate in different forms until they become perfect yogis, the symbolism of 84 āsanas is based on this principle. The most important thing here is to understand that āsana is not just a physical process, but also a psychophysical one. The purpose of many āsanas is to be able to stay stable in the position of siddha (siddhāsana). Generally, it is the ability to stay in a meditative posture for three hours, to hold it easily, so that you can meditate, remaining in the position, on something sublime and pure in it.
There is a practice in yoga in which jñānendriyas are overlapped with the fingers of both hands, it is called yoni-mudrā. A yogi enters into pratyāhāra and immerses into himself through this practice. The term ‘yoni‘ comes from the root yu, which may indicate several qualities. The first one from the adādiḥ class, means miśraṇa (join together), and the second from the kryādiḥ class, meaning bandhana (binding). That is something that connects male and female fluids, that holds and carries the fetus. The term ‘mudrā‘ also has a similar meaning, from the root mud, which happens in two classes: the first is curādiḥ class, meaning saṃsarga (mixing, combining) and the second is the bhvādiḥ class, meaning harṣa (rejoicing). This is what connects the two polarities: consciousness (meaning) and the object that displays it, as well as something that gives joy. Thus, any practice that connects you with the essence and brings joy can be considered as mudrā, it can be a mantra, a dhyāna, even āsana and prāṇāyāma, being directed to your essential predestination.
In India there is such a famous place of the Goddess as Kāmākhyā-pīṭha, where the Goddess is revered in the form of a female genital organ (yoni). All her images in the form of ten Mahāvidiyās, including the central place – the Kāmākhyā temple, have sanctuaries that are on the surface of the earth and below them, in the form of caves, that are underground. Underground is the bosom of the Mother Goddess, the bosom is considered as the essence of any Goddess, in many yantras she is presented in the form of a bindu and a triangle in the center. If you go into the main temple of Kāmākhyā, going down the stairs, you will plunge into the darkness with only the dim light of the lamps. Merging into the darkness, you are going through the experience of death, as if leaving the sanctuary, you are kind of returning to life, already updated. All the essential elements of these tantric symbols, in the form of veneration of yoni (yoni-pūjā) are also reflected in yoga practice. You are immersed in yourself during that practice, you recognise the nature of the Mother Goddess in your body in the form of Kuṇḍalinī-śakti. Also, being renewed, you will know the true self as ātman. The Mātṛkābheda-tantra says “janmasthānaṃ mahāyantraṃ” that the female reproductive organ is the Great Yantra, although the term janmasthāna can also be associated with the phallic symbol. In fact, yoni and liṅgam both are a manifestation of the bindu, also of one triangle, but only they change to male or female symbols when turned over. This is what the Bhagavad Gītā says about yoni:
सर्वयोनिषु कौन्तेय मूर्तयः सम्भवन्ति याः।
तासां ब्रह्म महद्योनिरहं बीजप्रदः पिता ।।14.4।।
sarvayoniṣu kaunteya mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ।
tāsāṃ brahma mahadyonirahaṃ bījapradaḥ pitā ।।14.4।।
O Kaunteya, in whatever (yāḥ) yoni (sarvayoniṣu) entities (mūrtayaḥ) do not appear (sambhavanti), the yoni for them is the Great Brahman (tāsāṃ brahma mahat yoniḥ), while I am the Father (pitā) giving (pradaḥ) seed (bīja).
This śloka from the Gītā identifies the yoni with the Supreme Brahman. From the foregoing, it can be summarised that yogic mudra is a tantric symbol, it gives knowledge of birth and death (frees from rebirth, i.e. grants mukti), leads to the merging of the soul with the God (Brahman).
One example is the text Āgamarahasyam (Aṣṭamaḥ paṭalaḥ, 449 – 462), according to which praṇava is divided into five mātras: अ – उ – म् and two more – bindu (which is the concentration of sound vibration) and nāda (the spreading of this subtle concentration). Further, each of these mātras is split into a certain number of energy rays (kalā), each of these rays is associated with one or another Sanskrit varṇa, also this five appears in the form of pañca–kāraṇeśvara, the five manifestations of Śiva (Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Rudra, Īśvara and Sadāśiva). According to the Candrajñānāgamaḥ and some other texts, five syllables of the mantra ‘Namaḥ Śivāya’ and five kāraṇeśvaras associated with them appear from these five mātras. Let’s analyse this in detail.
The first mātra अ / a is connected with Brahmā, the syllable of the pañcākṣara mantra न / na and the following 10 kalās and akṣaras:
कं kaṃ sṛṣṭi – the power of creation, खं khaṃ ṛddhi – the power of development, गं gaṃ smṛti – the power of memory, घं ghaṃ medhā – wisdom, ङं ṅaṃ kānti – brilliance, चं caṃ lakṣmī – success in achieving the goal, छं chaṃ dyuti – glow, जं jaṃ sthirā – stability, झं jhaṃ sthiti – existence, ञं ñaṃ siddhi – perfection.
The second mātra उ / u is connected with Viṣṇu, the syllable of the pañcākṣara mantra म: / maḥ and the following 10 kalās and akṣaras:
टं ṭaṃ jarā – the power of longevity, ठं ṭhaṃ naṃpālinī – the power of protection, डं ḍaṃ śānti – peace, ढं ḍhaṃ aiśvari – control, णं ṇaṃ rati – pleasure, तं taṃ kāmikā – passion, थं thaṃ varadā – power to bestow boon,
दं daṃ hlādinī – happiness, धं dhaṃ prīti – attractiveness, नं naṃ dīrghā – prevalence.
The third mātra म् / m is connected with Rudra, the syllable of pañcākṣara शि / śi and the following 10 kalās and akṣaras:
पं paṃ tīkṣā – sharpness, फं phaṃ raudrī – ferociousness of expression, बं baṃ bhayā – power to instil fear, भं bhaṃ nidrā – rest in a dream, मं maṃ tandrā – state of coma, यं yaṃ kṣut – hunger, रं raṃ krodhinī – power of anger laṃ kriyā – movement, वं vaṃ utkārī – rise, शं śaṃ mṛtyu – death.
The fourth mātra is associated with bindu and with Īśvara, the syllable of pañcākṣara वा / vā, as well as four kalās, which are manifested in the colour of energies, and akṣaras:
षं ṣaṃ pītā – yellow, सं saṃ śvetā – white, हं haṃ kṣaṃaruṇā – red, क्षं kṣaṃ asitā – dark.
The fifth mātra is associated with nāda and Sadāśiva, the syllable of pañcākṣara य / ya and the following 16 kalās and akṣaras:
अं aṃ nivṛtti – cessation of activities, आं āṃ pratiṣṭhā – establishment, इं iṃ vidyā – knowledge, ईं īṃ śānti – peace, उं uṃ indhikā – substance for sacrifice, ऊं ūṃ dīpikā – light, ऋं ṛṃ recikā – devastation, ऋृं ṛṛṃ mocikā – liberation, लृं lṛṃ parā – transcendence, लॄं lṝṃ sūkṣmā – subtlety, एं eṃ sūkṣmāmṛtā – subtle, not affected by death, ऐं aiṃ jñānāmṛtā – cognition of immortality, ओं oṃ āpyāyanī – fullness, अं aṃ vyomarūpā – emptiness, अः aḥ anantā – lack of limit (infinity).
Why do the three famous bandhas, that are often used in prāṇāyāma, have the following names: jālandhara-bandha, uḍḍiyāna-bandha, mūla-bandha?
Personally, I believe that these names in haṭhayoga, like many other things, could come from tantrism. The aim of these bandhas in yoga is to unite the prāṇas within the suṣumṇā channel, which leads to the control of prāṇa and consciousness (i.e. contemplation). There are four famous śaktipīṭhas in tantrism, such as kāmarūpā, jālandhara, uḍḍiyāna and pūrṇāgiri. Many tantras describe them not only as geographical places in India and as those that are in the central triangle of yantras, but also as located in our body, in various cakras. For example, kāmarūpā, which is associated with Satī’s yoni (one of the main places for tantra practitioners) is located in Guwahati of Assam State. In a way, this is the main place for tantrikas and śaktas, so when we say ‘mūla‘, we can translate this as “root” and as “main.” According to Yoga-cūḍāmaṇyupaniṣad (7), Gorakṣa-śatakam (10), Sidhda-sidhdānta-padhdati (2-1) and a number of other texts, this pīṭha in our body is in the area of mūlādhāra-cakra. This fully corresponds to what associated with mūla-bandha.
Take other examples with pithas, for example, in Kaulajñānanirṇaya (8.20-22) jālandhara-pīṭha is located in the root cakra, although according to the SSP, it is located in the head region. In any case, jālandhara-bandha is what directs upward the flow of prāṇa going into the cakras, like uḍḍiyāna-bandha, which means the movement of prāṇa in suṣumṇā and upwards. Obviously, it is connected with uḍḍiyāna-pīṭha, regardless of the fact that different texts have it in different ways. This special pīṭha in tantrism, the center of any yantra, is also venerated by the Gurus, from whom comes the tradition in which this practice is used. For Buddhists, this is also a very significant place where many great masters came from. If we talk about ājñā-cakra, then it means “following the will of the Guru“, his transmission. But, for this we must direct ourselves from the bottom up to him. This is the dissolution of their lower nature in the Divine, thereby sublimating this nature. Of course, when we do uḍḍiyāna-bandha, we work on the entire abdomen, lifting prāṇa up through suṣumṇā. The fourth, pūrṇāgiri-pīṭha, is also located differently according to different texts, somewhere in the crown of the head, somewhere in anāhata-cakra, etc. It means the completeness arising from the fusion of different energies. Usually, pīṭhas in tantrism, as sacred places in India, are associated with the performance of some sacred processes in our body. If we say this in relation to yoga, then our fragmented, imperfect vital energy (asiddha-prāṇa) becomes perfect (siddha-prāṇa) when it makes a “pilgrimage” to different areas within suṣumṇā. Thus, we are immersed in dhyāna within ourselves.
Besides the Nādabindūpaniṣad, I came across other interpretations of how praṇava is manifested from mantra sohaṃ. There is also the interpretation in which, if we remove ‘sa’ and ‘ha’ from sohaṃ, we get praṇava Oṃ. One of the early texts that I went through was the Prapañcasāra Tantra (4.21):
सकारं च हकारं च लोपयित्वा प्रयोजयेत्।संधिं वै पूर्वरूपाख्यं ततोऽसौ प्रणवो भवेत्।।४.२१ ।।
sakāraṃ ca hakāraṃ ca lopayitvā prayojayet ।
saṃdhiṃ vai pūrvarūpākhyaṃ tato’sau praṇavo bhavet ।।4.21।।
According to the image of pūrva rūpa saṃdhi, removing ‘sa’ and ‘ha’, one must definitely get that praṇava (oṃ) from there.
Explanation: pūrva rūpa saṃdhi is connected with the ending ओ/o, which stands before अ/a of the next word, turning into a sign known as avagraha / ऽ. Thus, the text implies that from ओ/o we get the praṇava mantra.
इन्द्रियाणां मनो नाथो मनोनाथस्तु मारुत:।
मारुतस्य लयो नाथ: स लयो नादमाश्रित: ।। ॥ २ ९॥
indriyāṇāṁ mano nātho manonāthastu mārutaḥ |
mārutasya layo nāthaḥ sa layo nādamāśritaḥ || 29 ||
1) The mind (manaḥ) is the lord (nāthaḥ) of the senses (indriyāṇām).
2) Also (tu) vital force (mārutaḥ) is the lord (nāthaḥ) of the mind (manaḥ).
3) Dissolution (layaḥ) is the lord (nāthaḥ) of air (mārutasya).
4) And that (sa) depends (āśritaḥ) on resonance (nādam). (Haṭhayogapradīpikā 4.29)
Many connections can be found between the praṇava oṃ and the mantra “haṃsa” (sohaṃ). The symbol of the swan, like a bird, is found in the Nādabindūpaniṣad. This image and the connection with praṇava are described there as following:
अकारो दक्षिणः पक्ष उकारस्तूत्तरः स्मृतः।
मकारं पुच्छमित्याहुरर्धमात्रा तु मस्तकम् ॥मस्तकम् १॥
akāro dakṣiṇaḥ pakṣa ukārastūttaraḥ smṛtaḥ।
makāraṃ pucchamityāhurardhamātrā tu mastakam ॥mastakam 1॥
It is believed (smṛtaḥ) the mātrā “A” (akāraḥ) is in the right wing (dakṣinaḥ-pakṣaḥ), the mātrā “U”(ukāraḥ) in the north (uttaraḥ – “north” is “in the left” wing). Thus (iti), in his tail (puccham) is the mātrā “Ma” (makāraṃ), also (tu) they say (āhuḥ), ia half the mātrā, (ardhamātrā) is in his head (mastakam), i.e. nasalized vibration.
I heard from my Guru that the so-ham mantra is connected with the experience related to the sahasrāra–cakra, when kuṇḍalinī-śakti connects jīva with Śiiva. The haṃsa-mantra (inverted “so-ham”) is located in the six-cakras and symbolises the jīvātman (the eternal soul embodied in the body). Both mantras, which are essentially one mantra, have many meanings. I suppose, haṃsa, which is formally translated as “a swan”, requires special explanations of what is actually meant by a swan. You can find the essence of the haṃsa concept in one of the ślokas from the Rigveda, which is later repeated in the Yajurveda, the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka and the Kaṭha Upaniṣad (one of the earliest Upaniṣadas), the Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad and others. This mantra is also found in tantric sādhana. It refers to the haṃsa – a swan, generally symbolising the sun. The sun is the source of prāṇa (the symbol of the jīva respectively), the sun – like a swan, rises on the horizon, moves in the sky and goes back to the earth in the evening. Thus, it is present both in the sky and on the earth, is also able to be under water and on its surface. It is something omnipresent, like prāṇa that pervades the entire universe. Here is the mantra from the Rig Veda dedicated to the Swan Sun (haṃsa):
हं॒सः शु॑चि॒षद्वसु॑रंतरिक्ष॒सद्धोता॑ वेदि॒षदति॑थिर्दुरोण॒सत् ।
नृ॒षद्व॑र॒सदृ॑त॒सद्व्यो॑म॒सद॒ब्जा गो॒जा ऋ॑त॒जा अ॑द्रि॒जा ऋ॒तं ॥ ०४।०४०।०५
The sun (swan – haṃsaḥ) located in the clear sky (śuciṣat), in the atmosphere (antarikṣasat), moving through the air (vasu), it is a priest (hotar – Agni himself) staying in a hollow (the center of the vedic altar – vediṣat), the guest (atithi) abiding in the house (duroṇasat). Dwelling in people (nṛṣat), being in the best (varasat) (that can be deities or siddhas), in the world order (ṛtasat), located in space (vyomasat), born in water (abjā, the fire inside the ocean – vaḍavānala), born of “the cows” (gojā – the sun rays), born of a world order (ṛtajā), appeared from the mountain (adrijā) – the great truth (ṛtaṃ bṛhat) (the rising sun).
The sun (savitā) is one of the main worshiping aim in the Vedas. Sāvitrī in the Vedas is a prototype of Śakti, after which it became known as kuṇḍalinī, which ascends through suṣumṇā to Śiva in the form of the light of prākāśa. The kuṇḍalinī raises the jīva (haṃsa) through the cakras and is absorbed back into itself in the sahasrāra, turning into the realisation of so-ham (I am him) in the form of Śiva.
This practise you can see in the Śiva Samhitā:
मूलाधारेस्ति यत्पद्य चतुर्दलसमन्वितम् तन्मध्ये वावभव बीजं विस्फुरन्तं तडित्यथम् || १९० ||
हृदये कामबीजंतु कधूककुसुमप्रभम् आज्ञारविन्दे शक्त्याख्य चन्द्रकोटिसमप्रभम्
बीजत्रयमिदं गोप्यं भुक्तिमुक्तिफलप्रदम् एतन्मन्त्रत्रयं योगी साधयेत्सिद्धिसाधकः || १९१ ||
mūlādhāresti yatpadya caturdalasamanvitam
tanmadhye vāvabhava bījaṃ visphurantaṃ taḍityatham ॥190॥
hṛdaye kāmabījaṃtu kadhūkakusumaprabham
ājñāravinde śaktyākhya candrakoṭisamaprabham
bījatrayamidaṃ gopyaṃ bhuktimuktiphalapradam
etanmantratrayaṃ yogī sādhayetsiddhisādhakaḥ ॥191॥
One needs to contemplate vāgbhava-bīja (in Śrīvidyā, it is bīja aiṃ ऐं) in the center of the four-petalled lotus (mūlādhāra), like the trembling light of lightning (vispurana). In the heart (anāhata-cakra) there is kāma–bīja (known as klīṃ क्लीं in Śrīvidyā), it is similar to a bandhuk flower (in India it is associated with passion). In the lotus of the ājñā-cakra, there is śakti–bīja (in Śrīvidyā they call it sauḥ सौः), it is like ten million moons (candrakoṭisamaprabha). This secret mantra bestows fruit both in the form of spiritual liberation and enjoyment. A yogin must diligently practice these three mantras.
Based on that, some people conclude that this is not a text of the Nāthas, but rather the vedantic one, belonging to the tradition of Śrīvidyā. But I don’t think so, the text could well belong to Nāthas. Because, one of the initiations in the Nātha-sampradāya, known as upadeśī-dīkṣā, implies the worship of the Goddess Bālāsundarī. To begin with, I will give you Her śabar-mantra with my translation. Pay attention to the description of the Goddess:
सत नमो आदेश | गुरूजी को आदेश | ॐ गुरुजी | सों अलिय कलिय तारा त्रिपुरा तोतला |
बायें हाथ पुस्तक दायें हाथ माला | जपो तपो श्री सुन्दरी बाला , जीव पिण्ड का तुम रखवाला इतना योगमाया स्वरूप उपदेशी मन्त्र सम्पूर्ण भया | श्री नाथजी गुरुजी को आदेश आदेश आदेश ||
sat namo ādeś | gurūjī ko ādeś | oṃ gurujī | soṃ aliya kaliya tārā tripurā totalā |
bāyeṃ hāth pustak dāyeṃ hāth mālā | japo tapo śrī sundarī bālā, jīv piṇḍ kā tum rakhvālā
itnā yogamāyā svarūp upadeśī mantr sampūrṇ bhayā | śrī nāthjī gurujī ko ādeś ādeś ādeś |
We pay respect to the highest being (truth), let there be its will (ādeś). Let there be the will of Guruji, with all respect to Guruji. Soṃ is the expression of the Goddess of Speech (aliya), Kālī (kaliya), Tārā (tārā), Tripurā (tripurā). She holds a scripture in her left hand, and japa-mala in her right. So (itnā) it was your (tum),Śrī Bālāsundarī (śrī bālā sundarī), in the form of the nature of yoga (yogamāyā svarūp), complete repetition (japa) and spiritual effort (tapas) of the upadeśī–mantra (upadeśī mantr sampūrṇ bhayā) in the form of a living soul, located inside the body (jīv piṇḍ kā rakhvālā). Let there be the will (blessing) of the respected Śrī Guru Nāth (śrī nāthjī gurujī ko ādeś).
It describes exactly the same image of the Goddess Bālā, which is worshipped in the Tradition of Śrīvidyā. We can argue about the varieties of syllables, the differences between Saṃskṛt mantras and Śabar mantras. But, that is the same as, for instance, we confidently say that Gorakṣa–gāyatrī is not Gāyatrī, because it does not correspond to the metric size, as there are no 24 syllables in it. Or, to argue about the fact that it is not right to consider the Gāyatrī mantra as so-ham. However, if you thoroughly study the topic of metric sizes, you will see that each metric size has many variations. One chandas can have variations with different numbers of akṣaras. On the other hand, Bālā is not limited to three bījas; there are combinations of six, nine, and even sixteen (ṣoḍaśī). Her bījas are parts of the Mahaṣoḍaśī mantra, inside of which there is the pañcadaśī or ṣoḍaśī (mantra) from kādi, hādi and sādi kūṭakṣaras, with the addition of śrīṃ, and also praṇava Om. In fact, the mantra of Tripura Bhairavī is also derived from the mantra of Bālā, in which bījas ha, sa and ra are added. The former is the essence of the Śrī Yantra, and also the form of Kālī. For that reason, virtually all the main mantras of Śrīvidyā are derived from Bālā. In general, Tripura Sundarī in tantrism is the Goddess of ūrdhvāmnāya, oriented on the ideals of mokṣa, the main goal in yoga.
I propose to analyse the shorter śabar-mantra of Bālā from the Nātha-Sampradāya:
The Nātha-mantra of Yoga Māyā Bālā:
ॐ सों इलीं क्लीं श्रीं सों श्रीं सुन्दरी बाला नमः ॥
oṁ sōṁ Ilīṁ klīṁ śrīṁ sōṁ śrīṁ sundarī bālā namaḥ ॥
These bījas are slightly transformed versions of the triakṣari, as well as of other mantras of Śrīvidyā (śriṃ, oṃ and sohaṃ) derived from it.
The Śrīvidyā mantra of Bālā:
ऐं क्लीं सौः ॥
aiṁ klīṁ sauḥ ॥
Some are compressed according to the principle of pratyāhāra, some, on the contrary, are expanded. Let’s take a closer look.
The bīja सों soṁ is a combination of सोऽहं so̕haṁ and Parā (Śakti) bīja सौः sauḥ. The bīja इलीं ilīṁ is simply a modified ऐं aiṁ (vāk–bīja), because ऐं aiṁ is nothing more than a sandhyakṣara from अ + ई, although there could be short variants of them. We get ए, then if we again add अ to it, we get ऐ. Just like joining अ + उ, we get ओ, with bindu it will be praṇava ओं, and if we further ‘strengthen’ it, we will get औ, which can be a part of the bīja सौः, called Śakti–bīja and sometimes Parā–bīja. In fact, इलीं could be understood as a compressed form that extends from इ to ल – the last akṣara of the Sanskrit alphabet (mātṝkā), with the exception of the first akṣara अ, from which the entire mātṝkā emerges. The bīja क्लीं klīṁ is the kāma–bīja without modifications. This is just a small analysis of the parallels between the Nāth Tradition and the Śrīvidyā-tantra mantras. Of course, I cannot give out all the secrets of the mantras to those who are not dīkṣita. Nevertheless, even from that one can see a lot of connections and parallels of seemingly different traditions. In my opinion, the situation here is about the same as in Vajrayana, when many siddhas could not really separate themselves from Buddhism and from Nāthism at the same time. But after centuries, the paths diverged. Although, there are fewer differences between Śrīvidyā and Nāthism, since both traditions are theistic and have much in common.
Goddess Bālā is directly related to Gorakṣanāth, because she is young, just like Gorakṣanāth (bal-jati). Both deities are symbols of living energy, opened to everything new, without the weight of worldly affairs etc.
This mantra comes from the dhātu of the first verbal group – अव् / av, which means – रक्षण / rakṣaṇa – ‘protection’ (receiving from God, Ishvara). The semi-vowel labial व् / v is transformed into labial उ / u, then it is transformed into ओ / ou with the addition of labial and मन् / man, where only the nasalized म् / m remains, that can turn into a bindu.
This famous mantra is also called प्रणव / praṇava, from the prefix प्र / pra and the root णु / ṇu, which means ‘adoration’. But in this case, the vowel उ / u goes into a strengthened अव / ava, that gives णव / ṇava with the prefix प्रणव / praṇava. In a word, all together this can mean ‘the primary, initial adoration’ from which all forms of worship come from.
There are many other esoteric interpretations of praṇava. The most famous is its splitting into three mātras (अ – उ – म्), to which many traditions give very different meanings.