What is Hatha Yoga?
Outside of the culture of Hinduism, the word "yoga" is usually understood to refer to the practice of meditative movement and bodily postures. However, this is only one type of yoga, whose full name is Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is one of the paths that lead to the ultimate goal of Raja Yoga, or contemplation of the One Reality.
Hatha Yoga was first propagated by Swami Swatamarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India. Hatha (pronounced "ha-tuh") yoga is also known as hatha vidya or the "science of hatha" yoga; this word comes from combining the two sanskrit terms hat meaning "sun" and ha meaning "moon". The former refers to the solar nadi (pingala) in the subtle body and the latter to the lunar channel (ida).
The Practice and Meaning of Hatha Yoga
The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to locate and activate the chakras (centers of energy), thereby raising the kundalini (dominant spiritual power). This in turn is believed to help remove blockages (disease) in the mind and body.
Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures and exercises (asanas), controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance & strength and were originally (and still) practiced to improve the body's physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment.
It is common for yogins and tantrics of several disciplines to dedicate their practices to a deity under the Hindu ishta-devata concept while always striving to achieve beyond that: Brahman. Hindu philosophy in the Vedanta and Yoga streams, as the reader will remember, views only one thing as being ultimately real: Satchidananda Atman, the Existence-Consciousness-Blissful Self.
Very Upanishadic in its notions, worship of Gods is a secondary means of focus on the higher being, a conduit to realization of the Divine Ground. Hatha Yoga follows in that vein and thus successfully transcends being particularly grounded in any one religion.
By balancing two streams, often known as ida (mental) and pingala (bodily) currents, the sushumna nadi (current of the Self) is said to rise, opening various chakras (cosmic powerpoints within the body, starting from the base of the spine and ending right above the head) until samadhi is attained.
It is through the forging a powerful depth of concentration and mastery of the body and mind, Hatha Yoga practices seek to still the mental waters and allow for apprehension of oneself as that which one always was, Brahman. Hatha Yoga is essentially a manual for scientifically taking one's body through stages of control to a point at which one-pointed focus on the unmanifested brahman is possible: it is said to take its practicer to the peaks of Raja Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is still followed in a manner consistent with tradition throughout the Indian subcontinent. The traditional guru-student relationship that exists without sanction from organized institutions, and which gave rise to all the great yogins who made way into international consciousness in the 20th century, has been maintained in Indian, Nepalese and some Tibetan circles.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The most fundamental text of Hatha Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatamarama, a disciple of Swami Goraknath. In great detail it lists all the main asanas, pranayama, mudra and bandha that are familiar to today's yoga student. It runs in the line of Hindu yoga (to distinguish from Buddhist and Jain yoga) and is dedicated to Lord Adinath, a name for Lord Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction and renewal), who is alleged to have imparted the secret of Hatha Yoga to his divine consort Parvati.
Hatha Yoga in the West
In the West, Hatha Yoga has become wildly popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose. Currently, it is estimated that about 30 million Americans practice hatha yoga.
Western psychologists and physiologists have also taken an interest in Hatha Yoga with respect to its control of bodily processes, as advanced yoga practitioners have demonstrated remarkable abilities in regulalating their breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.
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- "Hatha Yoga." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The above article incorporates text from this source under the GNU free documentation license.
- "Hatha Yoga." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. Accessed January 2004.
- "Hatha-yoga." John Bowker, ed., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford UP, 2000), p. 234.