the yoga of secrets, symbols and metaphors

If someone who has been swept up by the latest trends of what is now called 'yoga'—partners yoga, pool yoga, sweat-it-out-in-a-sauna-yoga, dance yoga, naked yoga, do it faster-longer-better yoga—walked into the middle of a Hidden Language Hatha Yoga class, they may be puzzled. Is this Hatha Yoga? Obviously it is, because people are on those colourful sticky mats moving into familiar positions. But the atmosphere is unfamiliar—quiet, self-directed, almost meditative, as if each person were alone on an inward journey. Yes, there is an instructor, but she is teaching with very few words. How will they know what to do if she doesn't lead them muscle by muscle into the perfect pose? What if they do it wrong? Another odd thing is the background music—a single voice singing over and over again a simple, incomprehensible song. Strangest of all is that everyone has a notebook and instead of just focusing on their stretches, they sit and take notes every now and then, as if conducting an experiment and recording the results.

So what is this Hidden Language and why would Hatha Yoga be called by such a peculiar name? What have 'Hidden' and 'Language' to do with Hatha Yoga? Isn't it just a physical exercise?

Obviously there is something more going on here, an intrigue, a mystery. What is hidden from the outside view is the internal process. As students move into the asanas, they are carefully listening to the language of their own bodies—their tension, sensitivity, even pain—and respecting what they hear rather than ignoring it or trying to push through. They are experimenting on their own—adapting, adjusting, discovering what helps their particular body to create ease and space. They are listening, too, for the emotion behind the tension. And they are watching their minds, capturing in writing the images, thoughts, and memories as they arise to check for clues about what is happening at a deeper, hidden level of their being. They are also reflecting on the symbolism of the poses—Mountain, Tree, Lotus, Lion, Fish, and so on—entering into the hidden worlds of plants, animals, reptiles, and discovering the interdependence of all life.

The Hidden Language approach offers a way to listen with care and to develop compassion. The place to start is with our own bodies. This process may not be exciting to view from the outside, but from the inside it has all the thrills of the wildest adventure vacation, and far more benefits.

Daring To Be Different: The Headstand (Shirsanana)

With its introspective focus, Hidden Language is like a headstand in the bewildering array of Hatha Yoga hybrids these days. The intention—not to perfect the poses or to create a beautiful body but to develop spiritually—is a surprise to many. Even what is meant by 'spiritual' is quite different from the often-advertised instant enlightenment or the much-sought-after ecstatic experiences. Spiritual development in Swami Radha's approach to yoga means creating a life worth living, establishing a foundation of character based on courage and awareness.

If Hidden Language is a headstand to what currently passes as yoga, it is an especially apt metaphor, because the Headstand is where this system started forty-three years ago when Swami Radha was given the seeds of this teaching. It was toward the end of her six months with her guru—a life-changing, culture-shock, Headstand sort of time—when Swami Sivananda asked her to discover the mystical meanings of six asanas and to report back to him in a week. Having no clue about how to approach this assignment, she went to the swamis who taught Hatha Yoga. They didn't have any ideas either, having never heard about mystical aspects of Hatha Yoga. In desperation, she returned to her guru and asked for help. He kindly gave her the illustration of one asana, the Headstand, telling her to reflect on the following.

In the Headstand, you see the world upside down. What would happen if your life was turned upside down? How would your familiar surroundings look? Can you turn your beliefs and convictions upside down and look at them from an opposing viewpoint without losing your balance? And he referred to the Kundalini system of which Hatha Yoga is an integral part, describing how in our usual stand, the subtle intuitive insights are easily destroyed by our emotional fires and sensual passions. But when we turn our world upside down and become rooted in heaven, the 'nectar and ambrosia' of intuitive knowledge can flow in, nourishing the mind like an open flower.

With this example, Swami Radha went on to examine and discover the physical, psychological and mystical dimensions of the other asanas. In 1987 she published her book, Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language,* to help others in understanding the potential available through this practice. She does not spell out her personal discoveries, however, but offers questions, inspiration and an invitation to find out for yourself.

Independence: The Mountain (Tadasana)

The challenge to be independent and to make your own discoveries is an essential part of the Hidden Language approach. The instructor will offer principles—such as spinal awareness, moving with the breath, relaxing in the movements, and observing with awareness your own physical, mental and emotional responses—but you are given responsibility for your own body.
Just as in the Mountain pose where you create a firm foundation that supports your stand, in Hidden Language you learn to trust your body and establish a firm foundation in your own intelligence. Like a mountain, you become straight, able to stand alone, and willing to take a stand for what you know. Learning to support yourself without depending on an outside authority brings a sense of balance and power, like returning to the sacred mountain at the centre of the world. In a world that has reached some radical imbalances, it can be quite a relief to know that there is a way back to centre.

The aim of Hidden Language Hatha Yoga is to find the centre. Yoga means 'yoking' or 'union,' and hatha comes from ha meaning 'sun' and tha meaning 'moon.' Hatha Yoga implies uniting the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, the rational and the intuitive, bringing the active and receptive into balance, making ourselves whole again.

The process is like climbing a mountain: it takes time and effort and means facing the challenges. But as you climb you are rewarded with a wider perspective, greater vision and understanding. And you can also see where you've come from and begin to acknowledge with gratitude the outstanding people who have helped you on your way, those who stand above the ordinary like mountains on the plains.

Opening to the Light: Lotus (Padmasana)

Wherever we are is acceptable. A single Hidden Language class may include people with a wide range of physical abilities. Classes are kept small and the focus is on personal insight rather than performance. In the Lotus pose, for example, some students may be flexible enough to enjoy the full pose, while others will find the Half-Lotus or another cross-legged sitting position more manageable. It is the spirit of the pose rather than the technique that is emphasized.

Visualization is often a powerful key. Sitting and imagining the lotus rooted in mud, growing through murky waters, opening and blooming in the sunlight can bring a sense of receptivity and connection. Wherever we are is perfect, even in our imperfection. The Light is available to everyone. Visualizing Light filling the body is often even more effective than a series of the most vigorous warm-ups.

Drawing Within: The Tortoise (Kurmasana)

I can only guess from some of the yoga magazine ads that there are some very extroverted types of 'yoga' out there—with techno music, huge classrooms, tiny outfits, bodies contacting bodies, and teachers tying students to props and shouting instructions. Hidden Language, even when done in a group, is quiet and solitary. Only at the end of class do students gather together to read their reflections. This sharing can help to expand understanding of others and also reveals each person's uniqueness. Even if the whole group does the same pose with exactly the same question in mind, every person will have a different response, precise and perfect for them in that moment.

Through the Hidden Language process we can learn to be alone and to find a quiet place within ourselves. Like a tortoise withdrawing into its shell, we can retreat inwardly, renouncing our desire to be seen and summoning the courage to face our fears. We can seek protection through spiritual practices such as Mantra (sacred sound). In the Hidden Language classes a Mantra, which means 'the thought that liberates and protects,' is played in the background to nourish the cells of the body, to give the mind a higher focus and to offer refuge. Like the tortoise finding a cool place on a hot day, we can retreat into our own sacred space to renew ourselves and to withdraw from the need for approval and acceptance.

Revealing What Has Been Hidden: The Plough (Halasana)

Why did Swami Radha call her approach to Hatha Yoga by a name that is so evocative and mysterious? The subtitle of the Hidden Language book—Symbols, Secrets & Metaphors—only creates a deeper desire to know. What are these secrets? How can I decode my Hidden Language?

What I know from practicing Hidden Language Hatha Yoga is that it is always about where I am at that moment. When I use it as a tool, like a plough, I can dig deeply and upturn my own secrets. What is revealed can be a delight—perhaps a glimpse of my potential, or a hidden passageway that leads from a cramped, dark space to a place of Light. I may discover a treasure of knowledge that I had concealed long ago and forgotten. But I may also unearth less appealing things, such as fears I've never dealt with, or pride hastily hidden behind a fragile front, or other old psychological 'stuff' that has not been sorted through.
The human body is the holder of all the secrets, the teller of truths. And when the truths are revealed—good or not so good—they are gifts. Yoga is a path of awareness. When we gain awareness we have choice. Seeing a pattern that creates pain, do I want to keep it or let it go? Can I decide on a new course of action by inviting in a new way of thinking? The value of Hatha Yoga is not just in stretching the muscles but in stretching the mind.


Swami Radha said that Hatha Yoga is a tool for making us independent and for redeeming ourselves. I often wondered what could she mean by 'redeeming'? I see now what it could be. Through discovering our own secrets and making our own choices, our lives are put back into our own hands. We do not need to look outside ourselves for a rescuer or savior. We have gained access to an inner wisdom that is real and accessible through the body.

Hidden Language brings the spiritual aspect back to yoga. The focus is not on performing perfect asanas, but on expanding awareness of ourselves at every step of the way. Hidden Language leads us to the vibrant symbolic nature of the asanas, waiting to be unsealed like royal letters. The combination of body, mind and symbol is a magical catalyst that inspires insights to emerge. What has been hidden—our fears and our potential—is now revealed. What is offered is the chance to evolve, to move closer to the Light of our inner nature or essence.

The Hidden Language approach is not for everyone. But it is for those who may be looking for a gentler, deeper, more profound approach to Hatha Yoga, and for those seeking the elusive 'something more.' It is also for those who are courageous enough to enter the biggest adventure of all—discovering who you are.
Swami Lalitananda's latest book,The Inner Life of Asanas,is a collection of her hidden language hatha yoga columns, from timeless books . She is a resident teacher and part of the collective at radha yoga & eatery - a yoga centre, cafe, arts and events venue at 728 Main Street in Vancouver, BC. Contact her at .

   read more of swami lalitananda's past columns

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