Paścimatānāsana from the Jogapradīpyakā (18th century)
By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES and JASON BIRCH
|Photo: Jacqueline Hargreaves, Mahāmandir (late 18th - 19th century) in Jodhpur|
Attend a yoga class in almost any city in the world today and one is likely to encounter a posture called Paścimottānāsana (also known as Paścimatānāsana in the Haṭhapradīpikā): a seated forward bend in which both legs are outstretched and the head is taken towards the knees. Typical instructions from a teacher may include guidance on how to avoid discomfort in the lower back or the hamstrings, with a suggestion to hold the position for 5 or 10 breaths while emphasising the length and subtle quality of each exhalation. For many people, this proves challenging enough!
Now imagine you are in 18th century India. There is the sweet smell of cow dung on the walls of your secluded yoga hut. The guru has told you that the aim of your practice is to progressively build up to performing this posture for 84 consecutive days for 24 hours a day while undertaking a breathing exercise. When feeling tired, there is the option to take a rest and sip a bowl of lightly spiced broth to keep up your stamina.
This is the practice of Paścimatānāsana as described in the text, the Jogapradīpyakā (18th century).
The historical significance of the description of Paścimatānāsana in this text is that it demonstrates how the practice of āsana became progressively more sophisticated in the centuries following the Haṭhapradīpikā (15th century). Paścimatānāsana forms the basis of a complete practice (sādhana) for a set period of time. Holding one posture for such long intervals is redolent of ascetic practices (tapas) in ancient India.
The Jogapradīpyakā contains descriptions of 84 āsanas, many of which are very challenging physical positions. Certain techniques of meditation and breath retentions (prāṇāyāma) are advised for some āsana. Most of the descriptions specify gazing points and indicate therapeutic benefits.
The full translation (by Jason Birch) of Paścimatānāsana from the Jogapradīpyakā (70 - 78) is given below.
Here is a concise summary of the practice of Paścimatānāsana:
1. Sit (facing North) with legs outstretched and the gaze between the eyebrows (trikuṭī).
2. Breathe in for 12 counts (assume through both nostrils).
3. Hold the breath for 12 counts (kumbhaka).
4. Breathe out through the right nostril (piṅgalā nārī) for 12 counts. Hold the right foot with right hand and perform prāṇāyāma with the left hand.
Repeat everyday for 12 days.
Once stage 1 is mastered, perform Paścimatānāsana with prāṇāyāma according to your capacity for intervals of 3 hours, once or twice a day, for 72 days.
After preparing and drinking slowly a simple broth made from rice, dal and ginger, one immediately repeats the above practice of Paścimatānāsana with prāṇāyāma, taking rest and sipping the broth when needed. This cycle is practised continuously for 84 days, 24 hours a day.
Interestingly, the recipe for the broth is provided:
- Soak about 120 grams of Sāṭhī rice*
- Separately soak about 72 grams of mung dal
- Grind both separately and make a broth by putting them together in water without salt
- Mix in about 22.5 grams of green ginger
* Sāṭhī rice is a particular variety of rice that is harvested within 60 days (sāṭhī literally means '60'). It is sometimes referred to as 'red rice', but in India still has the name Sāṭhī. In recent years, Sāṭhī production has been discouraged due to the high water consumption required to cultivate it.
In total, the Paścimatānāsana sādhana takes a 168 days to complete. It is an ambitious endeavour. The rewards for undertaking such an intense sādhana do not disappoint. The Jogapradīpyakā claims that it will bestow several enticing benefits:
It destroys all diseases including tuberculosis. One can hear and see for thousands of miles. [When] one succeeds in it,
one then sees miracles.
It is worth noting that the photo above of a wall painting from the Mahāmandir in Jodhpur offers a close (but not exact) representation of the practice of Paścimatānāsana as described in the Jogapradīpyakā. The latter specifies that the right foot is held with the right hand and the left hand is used to manipulate the nostrils.
Translation by JASON BIRCH
"Now, [the instructions for] Paścimatānāsana:
One should sit facing north and extend both outstretched legs. Then, one should perform prāṇāyāma and fill the Suṣumnā channel with prāṇa. (70)
One should breathe in for twelve counts, hold the kumbhaka for twelve again and breathe out for twelve through the right nostril (piṅgalā nārī). Place the meditative gaze on the trikuṭī (i.e., the space between the eyebrows). (71)
One should undertake [prāṇāyāma] with the left hand and hold the right foot with the right hand. Practise this method for twelve days. Having mastered [it, then] follow the next [practice]. (72)
Bring the breath under control according to one's capacity, and undertake the practice for three hours, once or twice [a day], for seventy-two days. Very gradually, one overcomes all obstacles. (73)
Then, one should take [the following] gruel. One who does so, perfects this āsana. Soak Sāṭhī rice, taking no more than twenty-seven taṅkas (i,e., about 120 grams). (74)
Then, one should acquire and soak sixteen taṅkas (i.e, 72 grams) of mung dal. Keep it separate [from the Sāṭhī rice]. Grind both separately and make a broth by putting [them together] in water. (75)
One should make it without salt and add green ginger. Mix five taṅkas (i.e., 22.5 grams) [of ginger] into it. One should drink it very slowly and immediately perform this āsana. (76)
At first, one should perform †it once†, take rest and practise again. In this manner, one should learn [how to do it] constantly, and undertake it for twenty-four hours, for eighty-four days. It destroys all diseases including tuberculosis. One can hear and see for thousands of miles. [When] one succeeds in it, one then sees miracles. This is Pachimatāṇa āsana. It is [also] called Ārambha āsana. (77-78)" **
atha pachimatāṇa āsana |
uttara sanamukha baiṭhaka dhārai | dou caraṇa lāṃbā jū pasārai ||
bahorau prāṇāyāma jū karai | suṣamana māraga vāī bharai ||70||
dvādasa mātrā pūraka karai | dvādasa hī puni kuṃbhaka dharai ||
recai dvādasa piṃgalā nārī | rākhai trikuṭī driṣṭi vicārī ||71||
vāmahasta soṃ āraṃbha karai | dachana kara dachana paga dharai ||
dvādasa dina aaise vidha karaī | bahura sādhi āgai anusaraī ||72||
jathā sakti vāya vasi ānai | prahara eka doya āraṃbha ṭhānai ||
divasa bahattara aise karai | sanai sanai vighna saba ṭarai ||73||
bahuri ogarau aiso gahai | jā kari yo āsana sidha lahai ||
sāṭhī cāvala ko puni bhevai | ṭaṅkaṃ satāisa adhika na levai ||74||
solaha ṭaṃka mūṅga puni ānai | bhevai tāhi bhinna hī ṭhānai ||
bhinnabhinna kara bāṇṭe doū | karai palevau jala meṃ soū ||75||
karai alūṇau adraka lyāvai | ṭaṃka paṃca tā madhihi milāvai ||
sanai sanai so pībai aaise | turatahī yo āsana kara baise ||76||
†bāra yeka pathi† pahale sādhai | kari visarāma bahuri ārādhe ||
aisī bhāṃti dinarāta ju jānai | āṭha pahara ko āraṃbha ṭhānai ||77||
dina caurāsī āraṃbha karaī | rājaroga ādika saba haraī ||
sahasra kosa kī sunairu dekheṃ | lahai sidhi aciraja puni pekhe ||78||
iti pachimatāṇa āsana | yāhī ko āraṃbha āsana kahiye ||
** Thank you to James Mallinson for his comments on this translation.