Hatha Yoga

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Hatha Yoga

"When we respect our blood ancestors and our spiritual ancestors, we feel rooted." — ThíchNhất

Hatha YogaHatha Yoga Meaning: The word Hatha is a combination of two words: Ha and Tha. Ha represents prana, or vital force, and Tha represents the mind, or mental energy. So, Hatha yoga means the union of pranic and mental forces. When the union of pranic and mental forces takes place, a great event occurs in a human being. This event is the awakening of higher consciousness. Today, however, the real purpose of this great science has been forgotten altogether by many yoga practitioners. The original Hatha yoga practices, which were designed by the rishis and sages for the evolution of the mankind, are now being understood and utilized in a very limited sense. The Hatha yoga that is practiced today is often only physical yoga. Now, the time has come to correct the worldwide understanding of yoga and return to tradition. Traditional Hatha yoga is a very important practice for humanity today.

Hatha Yoga is the most ancient style of yoga

Hatha Yoga - Find about Hatha Yoga Meaning, Hatha Yoga Benefits and places where you can get Hatha Yoga Training in India Yoga originated over 4000 years ago in the Himalayas on the Indian subcontinent. Initially, Yoga began as a philosophy to help with concentration of the mind. Later on, the postures or Asanas were developed to aid in meditation. Hatha yoga was the first ever yoga system to combine asanas with deep breathing to assist in concentration.

Some reliable texts like the Hatha yoga Pradipika, Goraksha Samhita, and Gherand Samhita were written between the 6th and 15th centuries A.D. There are also references to Hatha yoga in the ancient Puranas and Upanishads. These texts give us a glimpse of the historical origins of Hatha yoga. For many centuries, these textually-based instructions on Hatha yoga have been guiding spiritual aspirants around the world.

Hatha Yoga aims to generate balance

The main objective of Hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of all interrelated activities and processes in the physical body, mind, and energy fields. When this balance is created, the impulses generated in the body and mind start to awaken Sushumna Nadi, the central force responsible for the evolution of human consciousness.

Hatha is the most popular form of yoga

Most yoga styles practiced around the world are different forms of Hatha yoga. Over the years, yoga has developed and evolved into various disciplines. Today, many styles of yoga like Yin Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa etc. are increasing in popularity, which can be confusing for students deciding which style is best for them. However, all these forms of yoga are simply modifications of Hatha yoga. In fact, any form of yoga that emphasizes postures and alignment originates from Hatha yoga. Therefore, Hatha yoga is considered the foundation for all such yoga styles. Yoga practitioners of any style can improve their practice through a better understanding of Hatha yoga in its original form.

Hatha is therapeutic

When the sages and rishis discovered the science of Hatha yoga, they did not yet consider Hatha yoga as a type of therapy. And yet, Hatha yoga has proven itself to be very effective in the treatment of many impossible and incurable diseases. Hatha yoga practices do require more time and effort from the patient than other modern and conventional therapies, but they also have more permanent and positive results. This makes Hatha yoga practices very worthwhile as a form of therapy, not to mention that they can save enormous expenditures on medicines and save one from their side effects. The yogic principles of harmony and unification are what makes yoga therapy so powerful and effective.

Hatha Yoga has more ancient texts than any other yoga style

There are many reliable texts available on Hatha yoga: the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama, Goraksha Samhita by Yogi Gorakhnath, Gherand Samhita by great sage Gherand, and Hatharatnavali by Srinivasabhatta Mahayogindra. These texts are must-reads for any dedicated yoga practitioner. In addition to these ancient books, contemporary gurus like Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga guru Yogeshwaranandji, and Guru Shri Kuvalyanandji have also written numerous texts with authentic proofs on the great tradition of Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga

Maximum scientific research has been done on Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga is a science that has been practiced for thousands of years. It consists of ancient theories, observations, and principles about the connection between mind and body, all of which are only now being proven by modern science. Substantial research has been conducted on the health benefits of Hatha yoga. These benefits arise in combination from posture practice, Pranayamas, and meditation on a physiological, psychological, and biochemical level.

More About Hatha Yoga

Hatha means forceful in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language that is the source of most of yoga's terminology. This term may have come into use as early as the 12th century. Though Hatha is considered to be on the gentle end of the spectrum these days, Stansell posits that it must have seemed strong in comparison to more subtle practices (meditation, for example) that were available at the time.

Hatha yoga is sometimes called a "dual" type of yoga because it includes a duality between two opposites: the sun (in Hinda, "ha") and the moon ("tha"). Some who practice Hatha yoga call it a "yoking" yoga as it joins these two opposites together. This main established principle for Hatha yoga leads to specific structured poses and other activities that help with body and mind "purification" through principles like asana (postures), pranayama (subtle energy control) and more.

The practice of yoga is thousands of years old; within that time, numerous styles have evolved. Hatha yoga has been widely practiced throughout the Western world since yoga teacher T. Krishnamacharya, often referred to as the Father of Modern Yoga, brought the practice to southern India. Hatha yoga helps students develop balance and strength in the mind and body. It has influenced numerous renowned yoga masters throughout the world, including B.K.S. Iyengar, Indira Devi and T.K.V. Desikacher.

The Evolution of Hatha Yoga

One of the long-standing arguments amongst scholars and academics within the yoga world is when yoga itself actually began. 5000 years ago, the Pashupati seal was discovered, showing a figure sitting in what appears to resemble padmasana (lotus posture). Many consider this to represent the origins of asana and yoga practice, and that it even depicts Lord Shiva. Others disagree and challenge that whilst the stone carving indeed dates back 2350-2000 BC, there is no recorded history or anything to prove that yoga existed for an entire 1,500 years after that. Other thinking suggests the carved figure is of a Eurasian tree god or even a goddess. The next discovery of yoga after the Pashupati seal was in the ancient text the Atharva Veda. This discovery suggests yoga didn’t even exist until 1000 BC.

No matter how old yoga itself is, the Hatha yoga practices and asanas that accompany it are contested at length too. Chris Tompkins - with three degrees in religion and Sanskrit, whom lectures and leads courses widely about yoga – teaches that the suryanamaskar (sun salutation) practices of Hatha yoga originated from the ancient Vedic texts and were practised by yogis. These texts date back to 1700 BC, but others such as Mallinson and Singleton state that no one other than ascetics were practising yoga until the 20th century.

Whichever view you choose to follow, there’s no denying the rapid speed at which Hatha yoga evolved, morphed and adapted over time. From being buried alive, holding a hand in the air so long the nails grow long enough to curl around the palm, practising complicated breathing patterns and reciting mantras for religious, ceremonial and sacrificial purposes, we now find ourselves in a much more comfortable and safe variation of Hatha yoga in the modern world.

Many of the postures we see today didn’t exist until Sandra Carson in Half Lord of the Fishes posethe explosion of popular yoga within the past 50 years. Ancient asanas were not merely postures to begin with, but mudras – intended to seal and direct energy within the body. Savasana was originally meant as a way to practise deep and esoteric visualisation and encourage subtle energetic changes, going far beyond just five minutes of relaxation at the end of a sweaty class (although of course relaxation is highly beneficial in a busy modern world!).

Ardha Matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes) - is thought to have been born of the image of ancient Nath yogi and ascetic Matsyendranath, who can be seen sitting in a twisted position on top of a fish. Headstand was originally named Kapalasana, however, the name disappeared for hundreds of years and re-emerged as Sirsasana.

The well-known text on Hatha yoga – The Hatha Yoga Pradipika – can be thought of almost as an anthology of many Hatha texts combined. It includes fifteen primary postures, seven of which are seated and eight non-seated, as well as an amalgamation of additional postures, totalling 84 asanas. This is the first time we know of an asana being reimagined as something other than a seated position for meditation. After all, the word asana means ‘seat’, specifically a seat for meditation. 84 is a number used over and over again in spiritual practices, representing a connection between the individual practitioner and the universe.

From just one known asana in the 13th century, to 84 sacred postures, to 112 in the 18th and 19th centuries, we now have a plethora of postures in the new millennium, from the most gentle and restorative, to the most challenging and pretzel-like.

The Eight Limbs of Hatha Yoga Philosophy

The Eight Limbs called upon practitioners to observe eight disciplines meant to achieve this inner and outer harmony. Far from focusing just on the body, the first five disciplines address different aspects of physical and mental well-being, and the other three focus strongly on spiritual goals. The Eight Limbs are:

Yamas are the ethical code regarding treatment of others, hatha yoga philosophy asked for truthfulness, integrity, generosity and moderation.

Niyamas are practiced in order to better understand the self. Hatha yoga philosophy tasked the practitioner to be disciplined and humble, willing to surrender to higher thoughts than those of everyday.

Asanas are the poses we are familiar with today. Aside from being great for keeping the body limber and the blood flowing, the asanas were also meant to be practiced in mindful concentration, preparing the body for meditation.

Pranayama is a series of breathing exercises. Staggered and controlled breathing were used because it was believed that the breath was connected to life force in the body. For some perspective on this, Yama, and Niyama, “prana” means breath, and “yama” means control.

Pratyahara is the practice of focusing inward. To understand the self, one must observe herself. This is the discipline of looking inward to observe thoughts, emotions and beliefs.

Dharana is, on the surface, about concentration. However, the practitioner should be able to focus concentration at will, and also maintain it for long periods. This is more of a spiritual goal that leads into the next two.

Dhyana is pure mindfulness. The immediate result of increased self-awareness is the awareness of what’s around one, and the practice of being mindful of both without having to concentrate on doing so.

Samadhi is the long term result of enlightenment and harmony with the world. The practitioner understands how her interaction with her environment affects the world.

MUDRAS & BANDHAS IN HATHA YOGA

Mudra means a gesture showing particular state of consciousness or emotion or attitude. Bandhas are energy locks used to control the flow of prana. Mudras & Bandhas are very important discoveries by Yogis and Rishis. They used them to successfully alter the state of mind, thought process, emotions and control the higher awakenings of Prana. Some of these mudras allow the mind to become more focused, some are to deepen the awareness & to awaken the dormant energy or dormant potential or kundalini energy. Some of the mudras are described for achieving psychic powers and extrasensory perceptions.

In Hatha Yoga many mudras are described with a purpose to awaken the dormant kundalini energy and channelize it to reach the higher states of consciousness. These mudras have been described as destroyer of old age and death, and to realize a state of consciousness beyond time and space barrier. The body is made of matter and will transform one or other day and there is no immortality to the body but the awareness or consciousness or mind can reach higher dimension where there is no death and old age. This idea which is related to concept of time and space barrier is the subject of interest for the yogis, they described this state as total freedom or immortality, the same state was described by Buddha as Nirvana or Samadhi by Patanjali. In this state there is no binding of time barrier which makes past, present and future for a normal state of consciousness, and no space barrier which binds us to a particular place in the universe. Going beyond this is described as a blissful and eternal state of existence in all the Yogic texts by many great Rishis and Sages. Mudras in Hatha Yoga are used for this purpose.

Mudras and bandhas have profound effect on the body and mind. They affect the body in a positive way by bringing balance to nervous system and endocrine system, they regulate the flow of neurons in neural networks and affect the nervous system. When the nervous system is balanced the endocrine system is in harmony and in balance. Different important organs are also affected by practice of mudras & bandhas as different mudras and bandhas concentrate the pranic energy in the region of vital organs regulating their function and bringing increased health. These techniques have positive effect on the entire body-mind complex. They can be used to treat various health conditions, ailments and diseases.

Mudras in Hatha Yoga are recommended after mastery over Asana and Pranayama. Certain level of proficiency is needed to practice mudras, healthy body systems, stronger nervous system, better neuromuscular coordination, ability to concentrate. This is achieved with Asana & Pranayama practices and then one can have controlled flow of prana & stronger mind which are key to success in the study of Mudras and Bandhas.

Benefits Of Hatha Yoga

Like with all the yoga disciplines the benefits of Hatha yoga are vast. The purpose of the practice is to create complete health of your mind and body and to allow breath and energy to flow through you freely.

Hatha yoga uses physical poses to generate strength and flexibility and to drive energy into all areas of the body, removing any built up tension. The benefits include:

Increase in flexibility

This may seem like an obvious benefit of yoga but being flexible is so important to our physical health. Flexibility allows you to use the maximum strength of your muscles, decreases risk of injury and lubricates your joints.

Flexibility is built up by holding postures that force us to stretch and twist muscles that we otherwise wouldn’t reach in our day to day activities.

Lowers stress levels

This benefit you may notice immediately after your first class. The way breath is used during your practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest state. This enables us to still the busy mind and lower the heart rate.

One study taken by UCLA revealed a reduction in the proteins responsible for increased inflammation which trigger stress in the body.

Strengthens and tones the body

Working with your own body weight is an excellent way of building strength and tone in the body, and this is exactly what you do in a Hatha yoga class. A lot of the poses taught will be held for longer periods of time, will engage your muscles and be repeated throughout the class.

Core Strength

Many Hatha poses improve your core strength — that's the center of your body, consisting of the spine, abs and hips. A strong core keeps you functional and wards off injury; it also improves your performance in sports and fitness. Poses such as Boat, Plank and Downward-Facing Dog strengthen your external obliques; Chair and Warrior I target your buttocks; and Chair and the Half-Lift improve the strength in your paraspinals, which are the muscles surrounding your spine and assist when you twist and bend.

Joint Mobility

When you don't work your joints to their full range of motion, they tend to stiffen up and limit your movement. Hatha yoga poses work your joints in multiple directions, thus improving your mobility and flexibility. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Sciences from 2015 found that just one 90-minute yoga session per week greatly improved mobility in the joints, especially the spine, of women aged 50 to 70 years.

It Improves Back Health

Modified Hatha yoga poses are an effective way to treat the symptoms of low back pain, and prevent disability associated with this condition. A review of the research in the Journal of Orthopaedic Rheumatology published in 2016 concluded that Hatha yoga can be as effective as other non-drug treatments in treating low-back pain and may actually be better than usual care methods.

It Aids Good Balance and Posture

Hatha yoga poses can improve your ability to know where you are in space — that's your balance and proprioception. Good balance keeps you from being klutzy and potentially falling and hurting yourself when you encounter an icy street or change in terrain. You also stand taller and look more confident as balance and proprioception impact your posture.

Boosts your immune system

Twisting and stretching your body stimulates your lymphatic system and increases the drainage of toxins in the body. This helps the body to fight infection and illness and improve overall health.

Mood Elevation

Many studies have been performed to show how beneficial yoga and meditation can be on our mental health. The Harvard Medical School recognizes the positive effect yoga has on reducing anxiety and depression.

Hattha Compared To Other Yoga

Hatha Vs Vinyasa

There isn’t a huge difference between these styles as the practice of Vinyasa stems from Hatha. The word Vinyasa means flow and this is the biggest difference between the styles.

With Hatha you will practice similar yoga poses as those in a Vinyasa class but you will approach them in a slower paced and more gentle way without flowing from one pose to another.

Vinyasa is more dynamic and has a focus of building heat in the body, whereas in Hatha you will work deeper into the pose and hold the positions for longer breath counts without the need to quickly jump to the next position.

Hatha Vs Kundalini

With the focus of Hatha being predominantly on the physical side of yoga, Kundalini has a strong focus on the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga.

The intention of Kundalini is to awaken the energy that lays dormant at the base of the spine, this results in the energy coiling up through the spine and aligning our energy centres. With Hatha you work through asanas to get energy flowing freely through the whole body.

Hatha Vs Yin

Yin yoga is a very passive form of yoga where most of the postures are performed seated or lying down on the floor. You would hold the poses for 3 - 5 minutes with the intention of working into the deeper layers of the body.

With Yin there is no emphasis on warming up the body. Although Hatha is a slower paced form of yoga it is still a yang style of practice working the superficial layers of the body, building strength as well as flexibility.

Hatha Vs Iyengar

Iyengar yoga has a strong focus on alignment, spending time working on the small details of each pose and breath control. With Iyengar you will hold poses for longer periods and use a variety of props to aid your practice.

You may also use props in a hatha class but not in such a detailed way and only to assist in the asanas you may find challenging.

Hatha Vs Ashtanga

Ashtanga yoga is a set sequence of yoga postures that are always taught in the same order. You would be led through the class with little or no description of the posture and encouraged to use your breath to flow from each movement.

Ashtanga is a very dynamic, fast paced and strong form of yoga with the intention of creating a moving meditation with the flow of movement and connection to breath.

Hatha Vs Bikram

Bikram yoga is a set of 26 postures that are performed in a room heated to105 degrees Fahrenheit and with a humidity of 40%. The aim here is to sweat out toxins and warm the body up so much that you are able to get deeper into poses.

A Bikram class will be the same 90 minute class wherever you go. Whereas there is so much more freedom in a Hatha yoga class to explore different asanas and techniques.

Hatha Vs Restorative

Restorative yoga is another form of passive yoga, holding stretches for as long as 10 minutes. The aim of this style of yoga is to completely let go, using the aid of props to support the body and to allow you release fully into the posture.

How to Start Your Hatha Yoga Practice

Many people begin a Hatha practice naturally when they are first starting their yoga journey. You can attend a Hatha class in a studio, or follow along with Youtubers, but if you want to begin your practice at home start with the following outline:

Breathe: Notice your breath. Once you feel grounded, begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales, and maybe place a hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall. Continue for about 3-5 minutes.

Meditate: Once you feel completely present through the breath, you can begin to breathe naturally and allow the mind to be at ease. If your thoughts drift, it’s okay! It’s part of the practice! Just bring it back to the breath or present moment.

Beginner Asanas: If you are familiar with any poses, work your way through a few and hold for at least five breaths. This part of the practice can be as short or as long as your body is comfortable with.

Savasana: At the end of your asana practice, dim the lights and maybe put on a calming song. Allow your body to completely relax and completely soak up the Hatha practice.

What to Expect During a Hatha Yoga Class

If you see “hatha yoga” on a class schedule, it will most likely be more gentle than the other classes and suitable for beginners.

Regardless of your level if you’re seeking a whole-body stretch and sense of balance in the body and mind, hatha yoga can be helpful.

Many intermediate and advanced yogis engage in hatha yoga through the practice of vinyasa flow, which is rooted in Ashtanga yoga.

Vinyasa essentially means to move a part of your body in a mindful way. Vinyasa is also synonymous with the idea of linking movement with breath. For each movement, there is one breath.

Ashtanga yogis say this practice purifies the body and mind due to increased circulation.

Key hatha sequences of vinyasa flow are the sun salutations which has a focus on syncing movement with breath. Linking your breath with your movement turns your practice into a moving meditation. This allows you to cover all of the elements of hatha yoga in one fell swoop!

The Best Hatha Poses

There are so many awesome yoga poses that it’s hard to narrow down which ones are really “the best,” because they’re all the best! However, some poses are great for specific things. Here are a few:

Tree pose (Tadasana) - this one is specifically meant to increase focus and the connection between body and mind, and you have to concentrate to maintain balance.

Locust pose (Salabhasana) - holding this pose works the back of the legs and the buttocks, reducing the symptoms of sciatica and strengthening the upper spine.

Cat-Cow poses (Marjari-Asana) - in Cat pose, you are on all fours, arching your back. In Cow pose, you also tuck your chin in. This is a great stretch for the back that also relaxes you.

Warrior pose (Virabhadrasana I-V) - the three traditional Warrior poses are about lengthening the spine, and two more variations have emerged that enhance this classic.

Hatha today usually is a slowly-paced class, consisting of asanas. It does not have the flow one might find in Anusara or Vinyasa but its a great place to start if you are new to yoga or to advance or deepen your practice. You get the time and space to become familiar with yoga poses and relaxation techniques. A Hatha Yoga class would most likely include asanas, breathing techniques and meditation. The practice of Hatha historically, was used to prepare the body for extreme and prolonged meditation so it is designed to release tension and stress in body and mind.

Hatha Yoga is the basis for all contemporary, physical yoga practices. When you do Iyengar, this is hatha yoga; when you do Ashtanga, as different as this may seem, it’s Hatha too!

Try a Hatha class if the idea of gentle yoga appeals to you or seems right for your body. It can be a great introduction to yoga, but shouldn't be mistaken for easy yoga since it can still be challenging both physically and mentally. Hatha classes provide an opportunity to stretch, unwind, and release tension, providing a good counterpoint to both busy lifestyles and cardio workouts. If you go into a Hatha class and it feels too slow or not active enough, don't give up on yoga completely.