shiva samhita in yoga asana


Shiva Samhita

A Short Commentary On Some Of The Most Important Quotes

*As always, this is my own choice of what stuck out to me in the text. So, if you haven’t time or inclination to read the text firsthand, I hope that the following will allow you some idea of the content of the text. However, I have certainly not been able to include all the passages of interest here.

The text is one of the fundamental ones for any hatha yoga practitioner, being one of the three surviving major texts on this practice (along with the Gherunda Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika).

To further add to its relevance, the text makes it very clear that the yoga method it is teaching is for everyone – ie. also, for the householder yogi.

The esteemed Indologist James Mallinson dates the text to between 1300-1500AD. As with many other hatha yoga texts, the text presents a mixture of hatha along with raja yoga as well as mentions the traditional, orthodox Vedic injunction to follow the dharma of one’s duties in life.

However, if you’re expecting a yoga-asana bible, although, the text men mention 84 asanas (as is often the case in other texts), only four sedentary asanas are described. For a more thorough description of the postures themselves, we have the hathayogapradipika.

What this text is, perhaps, unique for, is its presentation of a most comprehensive map of the hatha yoga cosmology; including the nature of kundalini and how it is brought to rise the central channel, sushumna, along with a thorough overview of the qualities of each chakra.

The following is based on the 1914 edition of the text translated by Rai Bahadur Srisa Chandra Vasu, and published by Apurva Krishna Bose of the Indian press. The PDF is linked here.

My comments on the translation are, as here, in Italics below the original quote. To encourage a smooth reading of the text, I have tried to keep them to a minimum. Here, of course, they are my interpretation – you might interpret certain quotes differently. And, indeed, I have left some open to your reflections.

Chapter 1 Shiva Samhita
  1. The jnana (Gnosis) alone is eternal; it is without beginning or end; there exists no other real substance. Diversities which we see in the world are results of sense-conditions; when the latter cease, then this Jnana alone, and nothing else, remains.

*Interestingly, as is always the case, although working with the body, the end result is knowledge – which we are to assume from the above, is abidance in a singular, idealized mental state

  1. As, when the knowledge of the rope is obtained, the erroneous notion of its being a snake does not remain; so, by the arising of the knowledge of self, vanishes this universe based on illusion.


*The text is firmly dualist – there is a clear divide between real (knowledge through yoga) and unreal (everyday world) throughout.

  1. Since in this world created by ignorance, the destruction of sorrow means the gaining of happiness; and, through Gnosis, immunity from all sorrow ensues; therefore, the Spirit is Bliss.

*As is commonly said; sat-chit-ananda: knowledge, consciousness, bliss.

  1. There takes place the conjunction between the Pure Brahma and avidya, from which arises Brahma, from which comes out the akasa.

  2. From the akasa emanated the air; from the air came the fire; from fire – water; and from water came the earth. This is the order of subtle emanation.

*Accordingly, there is also there is also the idea of involution of this evolution of elements through ascending the chakras from the basest element (earth).

  1. The intelligence that is confined in them, through karma, is called the jiva. All this world is derived from the five elements. The jiva is the enjoyer of the fruits of action

  2. When the fruits of karma have been enjoyed, the jiva is absorbed in the Parambrahma.

*Interesting to note that the same fundamental problem exists, karma,  as it is conceived from the time of Patanjali – the answer is equally the same, knowledge. The only difference really, is the use of the body as an adjunctive practice.

Chapter 2 Shiva Samhita
  1. In this body, which is called Brahmanda (microcosm, literally the mundane egg), there is the nectar-rayed moon, in its proper place, on the top of the spinal cord, with eight Kalas (in the shape of a semi-circle).

  2. This has its face downwards, and rains nectar day and night. The ambrosia further sub-divides itself into two subtle parts:

  3. One of these, through the channel named Ida, goes over the body to nourish it, like the waters of the heavenly Ganges – certainly this ambrosia nourishes the whole body through the channel of Ida.

  4. This milk ray (moon) is on the left side. The other ray, brilliant as the purest milk and fountain of great joy, enters through the middle path (called Sushumna) into the spinal cord, to create this moon.

  5. At the bottom of the Meru there is the sun having twelve Kalas. In the right side path (Pingala) the lord of creatures carries (the fluid) through its rays upwards.

  6. It certainly swallows the vital secretions and ray-exuded nectar. Together with the atmosphere, the sun moves through the whole body.

*Here is a most comprehensive example of the hatha yoga cosmology; one where the body is the inner symbol of the outer project. As is always the case in hatha texts, the aspirant must preserve the nectar of the moon (in the soft palate/sahasara chakra) from the destroying element of the sun (located around muladhara chakra).

  1. Among these three [primary nadis] sushumna alone is the highest and beloved of the Yogis. Other vessels are subordinate to it in the body

  2. In it is the supreme goddess Kundalini of the form of electricity, in a coil. It has three coils and a half (like a serpent) and is in the mouth of Sushumna.

  3. It represents the creative force of the world and is always engaged in creation. It is the goddess of speech, whom speech cannot manifest, and who is praised by all gods.

  4. The nadi called ida is on the left side coiling around the sushumna, it goes to the right nostril. 26. The nadi called pingala is on the right side; coiling round the central vessel, it enters the left nostril.

  5. The nadi which is between Ida and Pingala is certainly Sushumna. It has six stages, six forces,1 six lotuses, known to the Yogis.

*However, as well as the project of preserving the ‘amrita’ of the moon, there is that of raising the kundalini (different/part of the same?)

Chapter 3 Shiva Samhita
  1. He who in this way knows the microcosm of the body, being absolved from all sins, reaches the highest state.

  2. Let the Yogi go to a beautiful and pleasant place of retirement or a cell, assume the posture padmasana, and sitting on a seat (made of kusa grass) begin to practice the regulation of breath.

  3. When the Yogi can, of his will, regulate the air and stop the breath (whenever and how long) he likes, then certainly he gets success in kumbhaka, and from the success in kumbhaka only, what things cannot the Yogi command here?

*Asana here is again really subsidiary as a position for contemplation. The body is used more dynamically in the description of ‘mudras’ that involve taking a posture with bandha.  However, in this model, the real focus is the cessation of breath.

  1. The Yogi acquires the following powers: vakya siddhi (prophecy), transporting himself everywhere at will (kamachari), clairvoyance (duradristhi), clairaudience (durashruti), subtle-sight (shushma-drishti), and the power of entering another's body (parakaypravesana), turning base metals to gold by rubbing them with his excrements and urine, and the power of becoming invisible, and lastly, moving in the air.

*Left in to illustrate the interest that Tantra took in aquiring ‘sidhis’, yogic-powers and as a matter of curiosity for the reader.

  1. When the skilful Yogi, by placing the tongue at the root of the palate, can drink the prana vayu, then there occurs complete dissolution of all Yogas (i.e., he is no longer in need of Yoga).

*Again, to do with the preservation of the sacred fluid of the moon conveyed by ‘ida’ nadi.

  1. There are eighty-four postures of various modes. Out of them, four ought to be adopted, which I mention below:-- 1, Siddhasana; 2, Padmasana; 3, Ugrasana; 4, Svastikasana

*Listing many asanas and then describing a few very basic ones seems to be a general trend in the tantric texts (bar The Hathapradipika and Thehathayogapradipika).

Chapter 4 Shiva Samhita
  1. He who practices Yoni-Mudra is not polluted by sin, were he to murder a thousand Brahmanas or kill all the inhabitants of the three worlds—

*Indicative of what value the body is given in its ability to cleanse karma and produce liberation.

  1. Out of the many mudras, the following ten are the best: (1) Mahamudra, (2) Mahabandha, (3) Mahavedha, (4) Khechari, (5) Jalandhar, (6) Mulabandha, (7) Viparitkarana, (8) Uddana, (9) Vajrondi, and (10) Shaktichalana.

*These are not mudras as we know them (as positions of the hands), but rather whole-body positions. In this sense, the description of mahamudra, mahabandha, and mahavedha are the most similar yoga asana in a modern sense, in the taking of an asana with bandha for the sake of manipulating energy in the body.

  1. Ejaculation of semen is death, preserving it within is life; therefore, let the Yogi preserve his semen with great care.

  2. Verily, verily, men are born and die through semen; knowing this, let the Yogi always practice to preserve his semen.

  3. The Yogi certainly obtains through this practice all kinds of powers, at the same time enjoying all the innumerable enjoyments of the world.

*As much as it’s an unwanted message for most, this is always of tantamount importance in hatha yoga. It is also obviously then a male-oriented text. Yet, we also have ‘vajroli’ mudra; the ability to preserve semen while still having sex, illustrating, amongst other things, the practitioner was also to use his methods to enjoy the world (as opposed, as in Classical Yoga to simply renounce it).

Chapter 5 Shiva Samhita
  1. Yoga is of four kinds: First mantra yoga, second hatha yoga, third laya yoga, fourth raja yoga, which discards duality.

*The text suits these four kinds (in ascending order) to different levels of aspirant.

  1. When the Yogi constantly thinks that he has got a third eye – the eye of Shiva – in the middle of his forehead, he then perceives a fire brilliantly like lightening. By contemplating on this light, all sins are destroyed, and even the most wicked person obtains the highest end.

*A matter of curiosity as I’ve never known where this idea of ‘opening one’s third eye’ in yoga comes from.

  1. By habitual exercise, he gets success in six months; and undoubtedly his vayu enters the middle channel (the sushumna).

  2. He conquers the mind, and can restrain his breath and his semen; then he gets success in this as well as the other world, without doubt.


*Obviously, a rather short period! Primarily included, however, as a good summary of the whole physical project along with the description below of preserving the moon fluid.


  1. The lotus which is situated in the Muladhar has four petals. In the space between them, dwells the sun.


  1. From that sphere of the sun, poison exudes continuously. That excessively heating venom flows through the pingala.


  1. The venom (sun-fluid of mortality) which flows there continuously in a stream goes to the right nostril, as the moon-fluid of immortality goes to the left.


  1. From the base or root of the palate, the sushumna extends downwards, till it reaches the Muladhar and the perineum: all vessels surround it, or are supported by it. These nadis are the seeds of mystery, or the sources of all principles which constitute a man, and show the road to Brahma (i.e. give salvation).
  1. Owing to this (vayu) man wanders in the circle of the universe; the Yogis, therefore, do not desire to keep up this circulation; all the nadis are bound by eight knots; only this Kundalini can pierce these knots and pass out of the Brahmarandhra, and show the way to salvation.

*I would suggest that these two models (raising kundalini and preserving the moon fluid are the same in the end. This description also mentions the piercing of the knots created by the chakras.

  1. Sitting in the Svastikasana, in a beautiful monastery, free from all men and animals, having paid respects to his Guru, let the Yogi practice this contemplation.


  1. Knowing through the arguments of the Vedanta that the Jiva is independent and self-supported, let him make his mind also elf-supported, and let him not contemplate anything else.


  1. Undoubtedly, by this contemplation the highest success (maha-siddhi) is obtained, by making the mind functionless; he becomes perfectly full.


  1. That Gnosis from which the speech and mind turn back baffled is only to be obtained through practice; for then this pure Gnosis bursts forth of itself.


  1. The hathayoga cannot be obtained without the rajayoga, nor can the rajayoga be obtained without the hathayoga. Therefore, let the Yogi first learn the Hatha yoga from the instructions of the wise Guru.


*Very common in tantric text is the fusion of raja yoga with the hatha yoga practices towards the end – the Hathayogapradipika does exactly the same. Perhaps, a seeming contradiction of what has gone before, some suggest that this is to authenticate what might be seen as the non-orthodox practices described in the eyes of the brahmin-establishment. Or, perhaps, the two practices have always gone together.


  1. Let him practice this in secrecy, free from the company of men, in a retired place. For the sake of appearance, he should remain in society, but should not have his heart in it. He should not renounce the duties of his profession, caste or rank; but let him perform these merely, as an instrument of the Lord, without any thought of the event. By this doing there is no sin.


  1. Even the house-holder (grihastha), by wisely following this method, may obtain success, there is no doubt of it.

*As I mentioned in the introduction, other than that these practices must be done in seclusion, the instruction is very much in line with the democratic dissemination of yoga today to all people. Something that is still unique in hatha yoga texts at this time.