“Soon the body falls apart, like pots of clay to bake thrown into water. Strengthen and purify the body by cooking it in the fire of Yoga.” (In Gheranda Samitha – Treaty of Hatha Yoga, 15th Century)
Hatha Yoga is the most practiced and known branch of Yoga in the West, involving a very complete system. Composed of physical postures (Asana), techniques of breathing (Pranayama), purification (Kriya) and relaxation (Yoganidra) that benefit the whole body, these techniques also promote a greater mastery over the mind and consciousness, and stimulate the flow of vital energy (prana) throughout the organism.
There are several Hatha Yoga schools, which differ greatly in teaching method and practice style, but all follow the same basic Yoga principles.
In Aravinda Yoga Shala we practice Hatha Yoga, in the versions of Dynamic Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Flow. See the respective sections for more information on each style.
Meaning and Origins of Hatha Yoga:
The word Hatha is composed of Ha (Sun – vital energy or Prana) and Tha (Moon – mental energy and consciousness or Chitta), which represent the opposing and complementary forces that exist throughout the universe. Hatha Yoga leads to the balance of these two energy flows and their union with spiritual energy. It thus enhances the ascension of a latent energy (Kundalini) by enlarging the consciousness of the individual.
The earliest written references to Hatha Yoga are found in the ancient writings of the Upanishads and Puranas (sixth century BC), but their systematization only occurred around the sixth century AD.
Hathayoga Pradipika is a practical treatise on Yoga, compiled by Svatmarama (circa fifteenth century), which gives practical guidance on the course to be taken in the Hatha Yoga system. This principle is that of holding energy (Prana) through the control of the breath to dominate the mind and thus the state of liberation (Kaivalya) and hyper-consicence (Samadhi) can be attained.
The Hatha-Yoga methodology revolves around the development of the body’s potential so that it is able to withstand the weight and power of transcendent realization. This is because the states of ecstasy or mystical states of consciousness are not purely mental, but have a profound effect on the nervous system and on the body in general. Hatha-yogin works to strengthen the body and make it a “diamond body”.
Many criticisms are woven around the methodology of Hatha Yoga pointing out its dangers:
Narcissism (or self-centeredness toward the body) and extreme attachment to life and body, certainly leading the practitioner to sacrifice his highest aspirations and to be bound to smaller goals, put at the service of his ego personality. In this situation, the Yoga practitioner does not transcend the ego, but on the contrary, it feeds it.
This may occur in popularized versions of Hatha-Yoga which are based on the “cult of the body,” but do not apply at all to the doctrine and authentic masters of this tradition, which stipulate that Hatha Yoga should be understood as a posited psycho-spiritual technology to the service of transcendent realization. The means of Hatha-Yoga are a preparation and are aimed at the attainment of the perfection of Raja-Yoga (mastery of mind and consciousness through meditation and mental disciplines).
The practice of postures (asanas) must be continuous and laborious until mastery and perfection are attained. It translates into the absence of effort in the execution of these postures and in the unification of body and mind. The asanas then become meditative and spiritual, leading to a state of “dynamic meditation.”
“Some students only pay attention to the physical aspect of Yoga. This practice is like a stream of fast flow, stumbling and tumbling, lacking depth and direction. By looking at the mental and spiritual side, the true Yoga student becomes a kind of tranquil river, which helps to irrigate and fertilize the soil around him.” B.K.S. Iyengar