Connections between Hridaya Yoga and Kashmir Shaivism
Hridaya has many roots, from Shankara’s Vedanta and Ramana’s introspection to Rumi’s Sufism and Tibetan tantric Mahamudra.
One of our school’s more important sources is Kashmir Shaivism. Terms like spanda (the Sacred Tremor of the Heart) or even hridaya (the Spiritual Heart) derive directly from Kashmir Shaivism. As well, some key practices derive from Vijnana Bhairava Tantra and Krama Shaktism. Some inheritances are obvious, others more subtle.
Hridaya Hatha Yoga and Kashmir Shaivism
For example, let’s look at the way we practice Hridaya Hatha Yoga, which is quite different from the modern forms that are popular now in the Western yoga community.
Often Hatha Yoga is practiced as a series of asanas that are connected as in a kind of dance or conscious movement. The poses are maintained for a few breaths and the mind must keep up with the constant change.
In Hridaya Hatha Yoga, we take our time. We enter slowly and with awareness, finding the balance between firmness and relaxation, keeping the asana for at least a few minutes until it becomes more like a meditation. Then, when the time comes, we return to a neutral position with the same presence and awareness to witness the effects of that pose. Then we prepare for the next one, and the cycle repeats.
This way of practice is an expression of the cosmic cycles of the universe, in which everything comes to existence, lives for a while, and then returns to the void of non-duality.
In Shaivism, this is known as krama (“succession, sequence”), a way in which Shakti manifests to bring that experience back to Consciousness (Shiva) as an offering. She has to go out into duality, manifesting and being open to what is happening. Then She experiences the creation and afterwards, enriched by that experience, returns to Shiva.
This is a very simple explanation of the complex process of krama and of the 12 Kalis: creation (srishti), existence (sthiti), resorption (samhara) and void (anakhya), a spiral that takes us closer to non-duality.
The Practice of Asana as Expression of Shiva
This mode of practicing Hatha Yoga is also a reflection of the five actions of Shiva: creating, maintaining, destroying, hiding (tirodhana), and revealing (anugraha, “grace”).
The neutral pose represents the void of consciousness, the stillness within which everything is possible.
When the intention to realize the asana appears, the experience is not yet known; it is hidden.
Then we proceed to create that pose, the srishti level. With awareness, we will arrange the body in a specific way, finding the best possibility to live that asana.
Now there is sthiti, maintaining the body still and relaxed, feeling with an open attention the sensations in the body, the flow of the energies, and the quality of the mind.
Towards the end of the period, we already start the samhara (resorption), returning the energies and experiences to the Spiritual Heart, asking the question, “Who am I?”
When we come back to a neutral pose, we are aware of this absorption through the consciousness of the “‘I’ feeling.” We remain as the witness of the things that asana revealed to us and getting ready for a new cycle.
In this way, we remain centered in the heart, being Shiva as consciousness and receiving from Shakti, energy, the offering of the experience. Every part of the practice is a conscious act that mirrors the cosmic play of consciousness. The asana practice is not for the sake of the body or energy but for the knowledge of our true nature, which appears closer to us with each cycle.
Hridaya, The Heart of Shiva
And this is accompanied by the awareness of the Sacred Tremor of the Heart, spanda, the vibrating light of consciousness, by the inner asana — that place between breaths in which the mind remains still (a practice from Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a classic Shaiva meditation text) — and by the centering in the middle of the chest a little to the right, that gateway to the Spiritual Heart, hridaya.
The aim of Shaivism is the recognition of the Heart, the heart of Shiva, in our being and everywhere. It is also what we practice in Hridaya: we remember who we really are, living in the beauty of the Heart…
“Who am I?” We will meditate together, honoring the consciousness of Shiva, the light of the Spiritual Heart.