What is Hatha Yoga?

What is Hatha Yoga?

Hatha YogaHatha yoga, originally developed by Yogi Swatmarama during the Classical period in the 15th century, is based on the eightfold path codified in the Yoga Sutra. The eight limbs of this path consist of:

  1. Yama, ethical values
  2. Niyama, ritual observance;
  3. Asanas, positions;
  4. Pranayama, regulated breathing,
  5. Pratyahara, inwardness
  6. Dharana, concentration;
  7. Dhyana, meditation
  8. Samadhi, self-realization

Hatha yoga, from the Sanskrit  “ha” (sun) and “tha” (moon), incorporates the idea of the yin and the yang, a popular image in Eastern religion. This harmony is achieved primarily through controlled breathing and the asanas.

Hatha yoga is the most popular form of yoga in the Western world and is typically what we think of when we hear the word “yoga.” Many of the asanas in Hatha yoga are derived from other yoga disciplines, and classes are conducted at a slow, easy-to-learn pace, so this discipline is an excellent way for students to get a grounding in yoga before pursuing more vigorous classes, such as Bikram and Jivamukti.

The practice of Hatha yoga has two objectives:

  1.  to access the mind through concentration achieved by assuming and remaining in each position for extended periods of time;
  2. to restore vitality to the body by opening up inner pathways through the poses.

Hatha yoga, through the fifth, sixth and seventh limbs – Pratyahara (inwardness), Dharana (concentration) and
Dhyana (meditation) – enables the student to ultimately achieve Samadhi,
self-realization.

Pranayama comes into play in the meditative state of Hatha yoga as a way of mastering the mind, as well as accessing Prana, the universal life force. Moreover, modern practitioners of Hatha yoga believe that breathing alternately through the nostrils is a way of balancing the two hemispheres of the brain, which also ties into the yin/yang concept prevalent in Eastern beliefs. The breathing techniques are also a way to access the Kundalini chakra, an area in the lower abdomen that can awaken the Prana.

The asanas in Hatha yoga can be complex or simple due to the wide range available in the practice. The diamond pose is a variation of the lotus and is a good starting place for beginners or those who suffer from arthritis. As you get into each pose, concentrate on your breathing; the word “asana” literally means “seat,” so you should be able to comfortably remain in this position at some point. In this manner, you can then focus inwardly, to cleanse both the mind and the body.

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