All about Hatha Yoga
Hata yoga meaninig
To fully understand the meaning of the word Hatha yoga, it is necessary to analyze its translation from Sanskrit, which is the ancient Indian language to which yoga refers.
The word Yoga is derived from Yuj, and which means “to unite” or “to subdue,” and refers to the union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness.
The word Hatha, on the other hand, has a dual meaning. Literally it means “effort” and refers to the mental and physical effort required to practice yoga.
Mental effort is needed to practice yoga regularly and consistently over time, while physical effort is needed to practice asanas and all the other techniques that make up the universe of yoga, such as breathing and purification techniques. Hatha yoga can thus be translated as “yoga of effort,” but this is not the only interpretation.
In fact, the word Hatha also has another meaning.
In the earliest hatha yoga texts, beginning in 1,400 CE, the importance of the body’s energy channels, Ida (channel on the left side of the spine representing feminine and lunar energy), Pingala (right channel representing masculine and solar energy) and sushumna (central energy channel where the powerful kundalini energy, thanks to various hatha yoga techniques is awakened and traverses the spine to the top of the skull culminating in Samadhi, enlightenment (or connection with universal energy). And it is precisely because of this duality, these two important energy channels, that some ancient texts related to Hatha yoga associate the esoteric meaning Ha with “sun “and Tha with “moon.”
The word Hatha, then, represents in this case the two polarities, the opposite energies that are brought together to function in harmony. In fact, the ultimate goal of hatha yoga practice was precisely to awaken the yogi’s kundalini energy through various body purification techniques (satkarma), breathing techniques (pranayama), gestures (mudras), energy blocks (bandhas), physical postures (asanas) and chanting (mantra).
So we could say that the practice of Hatha yoga aims to keep these two polarities in balance and harmony, and that it requires physical and mental effort to do so.
This extraordinary concept, can guide us to understanding the internal balances that regulate our functioning, and to identifying the energetic aspects we need to work with to regain balance in body and mind.
For example, if at any given time or period we feel hyperactive, nervous or agitated, it is likely that there is an excess of masculine energy, (pingala) in our body, and to restore balance in body and mind, it is helpful to engage in a gentle, quiet, calm and relaxed yoga practice that stimulates feminine energy (ida).
(Such as the Chandra Bedha nadi breathing technique, which stimulates Ida nadi, the energy channel associated with moon energy or the parasympathetic nervous system.)
Conversely, when we feel lethargic, tired and lack enthusiasm and vitality it is likely that it is the female Ida energy that is in excess, and in this case, in order to restore balance in the body and mind, it is necessary to stimulate Pingala, the solar energy, through a more physical and more intense yoga practice, such as asanas that work on the abdominals and the third chakra (manipura) or even with a few vigorous rounds of Sun Salutations.
The purpose of Hatha yoga
According to the ancient teachings, There is a “higher level,” a more “elevated” evolutionary stage , the one that according to Patanjali’s Yogasutras (the first manual on yoga dating back to 300 B.C. ), should lead us to the ultimate goal of yoga, that is, Samadhi, or “bliss,” the state in which ego annihilation is attained, dualities becoming one, mental afflictions are silenced, and the mind is quieted (in fact, the second sutra, or verse, of Patanjali’s yoga sutras quote “Yoga is the end of the fluctuations of the mind”).
This ultimate goal is achieved through the practice of Hatha yoga and Raja yoga, a very “mental” and meditative style of yoga that requires a high degree of physical, mental and energetic preparation.
But let us clarify the difference between Hatha and Raja yoga. Although the two disciplines are linked by the common purpose of personal realization through enlightenment, more precisely we can say that Hatha yoga leads to “removing physical obstacles” in order to prepare body and mind for the practice of Raja Yoga, and thus the path to Samadhi, liberation.
The practice of the postures, in fact, in addition to the obvious physical benefits, is also intended to release tension in the body and purify the energy channels, allowing Prana, or life energy, to flow freely.
In addition to this, the practices of breath control or absorption of life energy (pranayama), allow us to calm the mind, control and manage emotions, having a positive effect on the nervous system.
All this, as we have said, makes us feel good, and on a spiritual level this effort serves to prepare the body and mind for a higher level of yoga.
Origins of Hatha Yoga
The ancient tradition of yoga is like a wide and deep river fed by many oral and written sources as well as iconographies, dances and chants.
It was thanks to Patanjali, and his famous text-the ” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” written about 3 cent. bc. -, that yoga began to take shape.
The text collects in logical order all the previous teachings, which were often transmitted only verbally.
However, the yoga that Patanjali told us about, although still a benchmark for most schools of yoga training, is not about the practice of postures.
The Yoga Sutras, in fact, have a primarily mental feature, and it is as if they were a manual that describes and identifies in 8 anga or “steps,” the ultimate goal of yoga and that is Samadhi, or the state of bliss, and the only asana that is dealt with is the meditative sitting posture, which according to Patanjali must be sthira sukham asanam and that is “comfortable and stable.”
Thus, from the beginning of yoga history until Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the physical body is not considered as a tool for attaining bliss, or Samadhi.
Later, with the development of Tantrism (medieval times), people began to understand the value of the body, sensations and emotions as a means of transcending freeing the mind, and it was in this era that the term Hatha yoga was first used, which, unlike Patanjali’s yoga, also included physical exertion through the practice of postures.
Hatha yoga thus originated from Tantrism, and in this particularly creative era from the point of view of practices Mantra, Kundalini yoga, and Nada yoga (the yoga of sound) also became widespread.
The first official Hatha yoga text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (light on hatha yoga) includes detailed descriptions of postures and techniques attributed to Svatmarama and dates from around 1400 CE.
From that time on, Hatha Yoga has continued to be written and spoken about to the present day, and from the teaching and evolution of this discipline dozens of styles and schools of yogic thought have subsequently sprung up, all belonging to the same “root,” the one that first considered the body, and the practice of the postures, as the element to transcend the mind.
So, when we talk about Iyengar yoga (by Iyengar) or Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga (by Patthabhi Jois), or the more modern Bikram yoga (by Bikram Choudhury) and Yin yoga (by Bernie Clark), well, they are nothing but derivations of Hatha yoga.
At this point you may be wondering why, if all styles are derived from Hatha yoga, specific Hatha yoga courses are offered in some schools, differentiating them from other styles.
Very legitimate doubt-let’s find out the answer right now!
The Practice of Hatha Yoga
As we have seen, the word Hatha refers to any style of yoga in which postures (asanas) are practiced.
However, when we talk about yoga classes, the term Hatha is generally used to refer to a type of class that is slow-paced, in which physical exertion is reduced, and in which muscle stretching and endurance are taken care of much more than the intended physical exertion.
For this reason, Hatha yoga classes are easily sustained by most people.
A Hatha yoga class, in fact, includes mostly static and/or dynamic postures performed at a slow pace, and much emphasis is placed on breathing, emphasizing coordinated breath with movement and body alignment.
Generally, Hatha yoga classes follow a common structure, and begin with a moment of meditation standing, sitting, or on the floor.
At this stage we focus on breathing and begin to bring attention to the inner world. To emphasize internalization, you may use mudras, and/or chant mantras.
Next, we move on to static or dynamic asanas, which serve to warm up the body and unblock energy channels so that life energy can flow freely and unimpeded. Alternatively, a few rounds of Sun Salutations can also be performed as a warm-up.
The class normally continues with asana practice: standing, backward extension, twisting, forward bending, inversions. Following this, breath control techniques (Pranayama) are performed and concludes with the final relaxation Savasana, or alternatively meditation.
The class ends with a moment of recollection in which one repeats the mantra OM, (the sound thought to have originated the universe) or expressing gratitude towards something or someone, depending on the creativity of the teacher.
Obviously, the way a class is composed, and the pace at which it is performed, depends very much on the teacher, which is why one can participate in Hatha yoga classes that are completely different from each other, but this is good, as it gives us the opportunity to experience different practices and styles.
Yoga can also be offered in a “personalized” way according to a specific goal, and to adapt yoga to the needs of the “Western” lifestyle, there are specific sequences for the most common ailments (such as stress and insomnia), for sports, and for everyday life, precisely to give us the opportunity to experiment and choose what suits us best.
In general, the benefits of practicing Hatha yoga are the same or similar to those of other styles of yoga, and below we will see what the main ones are.
One thing, however, that sets this style apart from the others is that Hatha yoga, by placing great emphasis on breathing, is beneficial especially for the nervous system.
It is therefore very useful for eliminating stress, anxiety, fighting insomnia and all disorders related in some way to the nervous system.
This is all thanks to the development of proprioception that is acquired during the practice of the postures and breath control techniques, which teach us how to breathe correctly and manage the breath to promote mental well-being.
Below are the main benefits:
* Improve the oxygen of all the cells of the body, improving also the function of organs and tissues
* Generates strength, energy and vitality
* Improves the flexibility of the body
* Detoxifies the body
* Slows down aging
* Improves balance and concentration
* Prevents and treats back pain and other conditions.
* Maintains a healthy cardiovascular system.
* Increases the quality of breathing, improving respiratory capacity.
* In pregnancy it is good for mother and baby
* Gives mental clarity and tranquility, reducing the flow of thoughts.
* Reduces anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
* Helps manage emotions
* Eliminates stress
* Helps to stop smoking
* Fights insomnia
* Improves sexual performance
* Helps with problem solving
* Develops concentration
* Helps control weight and manage nervous hunger
* Helps control weight
References Books and Schools
Although there are millions of books about yoga in the modern publishing world, there is one text in particular that is recognized worldwide as the earliest text on Hatha yoga, and it was written by Svatmarama in about 1400 AD.
It is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or, The Light on Hatha yoga.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a short treatise by which the author clarifies the purpose of yoga, that is, the attainment of Samadhi, emphasizing the fact that it is not possible to attain Raja yoga, or mental yoga (or meditation), without having learned Hatha yoga, or the yoga of effort (or the practice of postures), and vice versa.
This text, for the first time in the history of yoga, describes in detail the asanas or postures necessary (It describes 15 of them) to prepare the body and mind for the higher evolutionary stage, namely the practice of meditation. .
Another fundamental text, which came at a later time but is no less important, is the Gheranda Samhita, or The Gheranda Collection.
This book describes the largest number of practices, with 32 asanas and 25 mudras (energy gestures), and contains Guru Gheranda’s teachings to disciple Candakapali, in which the master describes a yogi’s path to attain enlightenment, broken down into 7 moments or lessons.
Another important reference text is the Shiva Samhita, or, The Collection of Shiva. Of unknown author and uncertain age, the work is divided into five sections and is presented as the revelation of Shiva himself, recounting the teachings of yoga to Parvati, his companion.
These texts are the most historically important, and I believe they should become part of every yoga teacher’s library.
In a modern context, if the intention of the yoga practitioner is to delve into how to perform asanas correctly, then it is best to opt for more current books such as Light on Yoga (Iyengar) or APMB (Satyananda).
As for the schools of reference, if we can identify any in particular where the teacher has declined Hatha yoga postures and transformed them into his or her own style, such as Iyengar or other modern styles such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Anusara, and Bikram, then we can attribute the authorship of Hatha yoga to master Sivananda and his disciple Satyananda.
Sivananda (1887 -1963)
Sivananda is a contemporary Indian master who, after practicing medicine for some time, began his spiritual quest that led him to the foothills of the Himalayas in the city of Rishikesh, and thus began his life as a Sannyasin, or “Renunciate.”
Sivananda contributed to the spread of yoga in the West, and he was also the originator of the Rishikesh Series, which is a succession of predetermined postures based on actions and reactions that can stimulate fundamental points of the body such as the back, abdomen, and breathing.
Rishikesh today is home to the headquarters of the Divine Life Society, which is an inspiration to so many yoga centers around the world.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1923- 2009)
Satyananda is a contemporary Indian master and disciple of Sivananda.
Satyananda met his master at the age of 19, and has dedicated himself to spiritual practice ever since.
After a period spent with his guru, he traveled for nine years through India, Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, and Ceylon.
During this time he met great saints and yogis and spent much time in seclusion, working out yoga techniques with the aim of alleviating the suffering of humanity.
In 1968 Satyananda embarked on a world tour during which he helped spread the ancient yogic practices among people of all castes, creeds, religions, and nationalities.
His dynamic and scientific approach to yoga and spiritual life has guided and inspired thousands of spiritual centers and seekers around the world. In 1968 he founded the Bihar School of Yoga.
Satyananda has written numerous texts including: Asanas, Pranayama, Mudras, Bandhas, one of the most popular texts and used by most Hatha yoga teachers, in which he describes postures and practices in detail.
In addition, taking cues from techniques used in Tantrism, he developed the very famous guided relaxation technique Yoga Nidra.
In conclusion, Hatha yoga gives rise to the many facets of modern yoga, and whatever kind of yogic path one chooses to take, the ultimate goal, as in many Eastern disciplines, is always the same: raising awareness and consciousness living in harmony with oneself and others.