What is Hatha yoga?

Hatha yoga became known sometime around the 9th century and is a form of yoga that focuses on the body. In Hatha yoga the physical body is seen as the first step on the path to attaining the fundamental knowledge of yoga.

Hatha is rooted in Tantric movement. Tantrism is a religious movement and the Tantric texts describe the difference between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the universal and the individual soul, man and woman. It sees them existing not in duality but in undivided unity.

Tantrics regard the body as holy and physical rituals and practices are used spiritually:

  • To unify cosmic consciousness (Shiva) with cosmic energy (Shakti) within the body,
  • To unify Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter) in order to attain the highest level of happiness.

Hatha yoga is often translated as the yoga that brings union ‘of the pairs of opposites’. With ‘ha’ meaning ‘sun’ (male energy, warmth, motivation, drive) and ‘tha’ meaning ‘moon’ (female energy, coolness, passivity, emotion).

The science of yoga aims at the ultimate union of the soul with God or the merging of the individual soul into the universal soul.

What are the aims of Hatha yoga?

Hatha yoga concentrates on the practice of the third and fourth steps of the eight-fold path of Ashtanga yoga:

  • Postures (asanas),
  • Breath control (pranayama),
  • Locks (bandhas),
  • Seals (mudras), and cleansing rituals.

The above are concentrated on in order to energise the subtle channels (nadis).

Exercising asanas in Hatha yoga brings health and energy to the body and mind by opening the nadis. When such exercises are regularly performed the path of Hatha yoga is opened automatically although one still has to follow it further.

Hatha yoga teaches sitting postures in which it is possible to sit perfectly comfortably for longer periods of time. This is essential when practising meditation techniques. The sitting postures of Hatha Yoga are vital as ideal postures for the correct practice of Pranayama as well as meditation.  Sitting postures also warm up legs and hips, strengthen the back in addition to improving your posture. They are the most effective postures of the body to permit psychophysical energy to circulate freely with maximum relief of tension.

Exercising Pranayama in Hatha yoga is essential in mastering our breathing patters. If we can master breath then the mastery of the mind is within reach. Through breathing exercises, the flow of prana – or vital life force through the body – is regulated. Pranayama in Hatha yoga also triggers the Kundalini energy.

Hatha yoga also incorporates Shakti Karma (cleansing methods). Prior to Kundalini awakening, you must have purification of:

  • Body,
  • Nadis,
  • Mind, and
  • Intellect.

The aim of Hatha yoga is to eliminate obstacles (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) so that we can attain Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and ultimately Samadhi (inner freedom).

We start by practising asanas and pranayama and in doing so become more connected to ourselves and the influence we have on the world around us. So our practice moves forward to include the first two links of the yoga sutras – yama and niyama. As our lives become more joyful and peaceful we then go on to include the regular practice of Samyama (the last three limbs).

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