The True Nature of Hatha Yoga
We held an interview with Yogrishi Vishvketu of Akhanda Yoga (based in Ottawa, Ontario and Rishikesh, India). This laughter-filled yogi provided some playful insights into the deeper meaning of Hatha Yoga as a set of tools (including asana practice) to access our true nature.
What is the meaning of Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga is not a lot of separate things. It’s not just asana, or chanting, or diet—it’s the whole experience. When I was teaching in Canada, I had to have a name for what I was teaching. I had to say, “This is Hatha Yoga.” But unfortunately when people hear the words “Hatha Yoga,” they don’t always understand this more comprehensive definition. The full meaning of “Hatha Yoga” got lost in the branding of yoga…
When I first started teaching in Canada, I called my teachings “Hatha Yoga,” but my students told me that I had to give people an idea that Hatha Yoga is more than just a few postures. I now call my style of teaching “Akhanda Yoga.” It is a traditional and holistic approach to yoga. Akhanda means ‘indivisible,’ ‘unbroken,’ ‘entire,’ and ‘whole.’ So Akhanda Yoga is a complete and balanced practice, including asana, pranayama, relaxation, mantra, and meditation, as well as discussions and readings on the yogic lifestyle and yoga philosophy.
The deepest meaning of Hatha Yoga is reflected in the theme of the class I held today: “Your self is like infinite space. Cloud-free space—that is your true nature.” Thoughts and emotions are in that sky, but you aren’t those thoughts or emotions. “You are bigger. You are infinite possibility…” That was the homework for my students today.
Is reminding your students of their True Nature enough for them to maintain this experience?
I find there are more and more students looking for the whole practice of Hatha Yoga. So I teach Hatha Yoga as a set of tools—more than just asana—for remembering that we are the sky, we are that infinite possibility.
Many people notice that we are contracting our mind. It might be as obvious as physical tightness, or painful mental patterns. Or we might see it in our relationships with other people: we might surprise ourselves with how unkind we can be! These disturbing experiences are what drive people to Hatha Yoga.
But these disturbing experiences are just symptoms. They are symptoms of our fundamental misunderstanding about our True Nature. While it is very helpful to have someone continually pointing it out—“You are like the sky”—what they have to do is overcome it through connection to a teacher, and then by practice.
Energetically connecting to our True Nature is like accessing the internet. If you have a good wi-fi connection—a good connection through a teacher—you can get a better download, and your insight into reality is more effective. Of course, we all have this ability, but the fact is that we don’t recognize it. Or, we might recognize it once in a while, but we’re not able to hold that space. For a few seconds, we recognize it, and then we’re off again on our strange adventures.
But with practice, we are taking another step: to hold that experience, be with it, melt with it. You need to be given the wi-fi password only once—and then that password will work everywhere in the universe, forever. The teacher gives the inspiration to spark the light within you. Then, once your lamp is lit, you just need to keep putting the oil or wax in there with your practice. And then the candle will continue to grow—and one candle can spread its flame and make many candles…
When students come to you for a short class or a retreat, does everyone’s candle get lit?
Well, it’s not quite so simple as that—the process depends on how much the person is holding the veils that surround them. Do they want to let go or are they clinging very tightly to their problems? This depends on previous samskaras: their mental impressions and dispositions from this lifetime and previous incarnations.
I don’t force anyone to change in this way or that way. I like everyone to change in their own way. I can only work with them by being myself. While their receiving depends on them, sooner or later they start to open up.
I might move the veil one time for a student, but they put it back again. I want people to move their veils by themselves. I’m here to just facilitate and give guidance toward the doorway, but I want people to walk through it themselves. I can do it for someone, but that’s not my job. I don’t want someone to depend on me. I want everyone doing yoga to be independent to experience freedom. That’s my goal.
It’s the only way of teaching I know. But it depends on trust.
What do you feel is needed in the world today?
The world needs more trust in each other. Trust is what holds the world together. Whether its a conversation or a friendship or a family, what brings us all together is trust.
If we trust, we are open. Trust removes doubts. Every time your doubt yourself, you put on another veil. When there is trust, you start to remove the veils. There is a misunderstanding because most people don’t know that trust is what’s needed. They have more trust in their Doubt than in Truth. So, the world just needs more trust. Trust supports love, and love supports trust–they both go together.
When people open to themselves, they realize “Oh that, that openness, it’s me!” That’s the moment when healing starts to happen.
Yogrishi Vishvketu began his journey as a student and practitioner of Hatha and Raja yoga and the Vedic healing arts as a child in northern India. He went on to attain a Bachelor’s degree with a specialization in yoga and its use in optimizing athletic performance, followed by an M.A. and Ph.D. in Yoga philosophy at Gurukul Kangri, the Philosophy university of Haridwar. Vishva-ji then moved to Yoga Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh seeking advanced teachings, while teaching and inspiring students from around the world to live the yogic life with joy and dedication. Vishva-ji moved to Canada in 2001 and began to teach internationally, bringing a passion for holistic yoga and his fun-loving nature to classes and presentations at yoga and Ayurveda conferences around the world.