I hope you weren’t expecting a short and snappy answer to this question! Before I start to answer ‘What is Hatha Yoga’, I feel I should address the question, ‘What is Yoga?’
While yoga’s central theme remains the highest goal of the spiritual path, yogic practices give direct and tangible benefits to everyone regardless of their spiritual aim.
The word yoga means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’ and is derived from the Sanskrit work vuj which means ‘to join’. This unity is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. On a more practical level, yoga works by balancing and harmonising the body, mind and emotions. Yoga is the “science of right living” and is intended to be part of daily life.
…Yoga provides a means for people to find their own way of connecting with their true selves.
There are many branches of yoga: karma, bhakti, jnana raja, hatha (to name but a few). The common goal of all of these branches is as a path to ‘Self Realisation’. In the practice of yoga, Self Realisation is the the union of the individual consciousness/ your lower self (ego, mind, body,) and the universal consciousness/ your true self (Atman).
Each individual needs to find those yogas most suited to their particular personality and need:
Karma Yoga (Self Realisation through Actions)
Bhakti Yoga (Self Realisation through Supreme Love)
Jnana Yoga (Self Realisation through Wisdom)
Raja Yoga (Self Realisation through Meditation)
Hatha Yoga (Self Realisation through Asana)
What is Hatha Yoga?
Prior to everything, asana is spoken of as the first part of Hatha yoga. Having done asana, one attains steadiness of body and mind, freedom from disease and lightness of the limbs.
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In the ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali‘, asana is defined as a state of being in which one can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable. Asanas are specific body positions which open the energy channels. They are used as tools to provide a stable foundation for our exploration of the body, breath, mind and beyond. The Hatha yogis found that by developing control of the body through asana, the mind is also controlled.
Many of the asanas (postures) are named after and reflect the movements of animals. Through the observation of animals rishis (a term for a sage found in the Vedas) understood how animals live in harmony with their environment and their own bodies. Through imitating animal postures, the rishis found they could maintain health and meet the challenges of nature for themselves.
So Hatha yoga is the path of Self Realisation through physical postures (asanas). Hatha literally means ‘force’ and is more traditionally defined as ‘the yoga of force’, or ‘the means of attaining a state of yoga through force’. So Hatha yoga can be considered as anything you might do with the body, including:
- asana – yoga postures (practised in any style of ‘yoga’)
- pranayama – breathing techniques
- mantra – chanting or reciting
- mudra – hand gestures
- shatkarmas– cleansing practices
Under the umbrella of ‘Hatha Yoga’, there are many different styles. These styles include Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Bikram, Yin, or Kundalini, to name but a few! These have been developed and devised to help different types of people find Self Realisation in a way that works for them. If you’re curious about any of these others styles of ‘Hatha yoga’, DoYogaWithMe offers a really good range of online classes.
So in summary, Hatha yoga can be described any style of yoga that uses the body (asanas, breath etc.) as a path to Self Realisation, a path of discovering your true nature and preparing the ground for the ultimate experience of cosmic consciousness (samadhi). [More about this in future posts!]
Phew! We got there. Thank you for sticking with me.
If you skipped straight to the end here is a summary in picture form:
My plan is to use this blog is to go beyond the mat and explore the principles of Yoga, going deeper into the philosophies and teachings. I hope this post has inspired you and that you’ll you join me for more soon. Thank you for reading! 💚👌
NB: Quotations, unless stated otherwise, are from ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Yoga Publication Trust, 2013). This book is the main reference for the information in this post. It was the text I was given on my teacher training course and it is written in a very accessible and succinct style. I would recommend it anyone looking for a place to start reading more about the practices of Hatha yoga.