What are Hatha Yoga and Why Do You Need It?
The ancient yoga style that originated over thousands of years ago, ‘Hatha Yoga’ translates to “union of the opposites through a force.” Hatha Yoga is a powerful and transformative practice of postures (asanas), breath (pranayama), gestures (mudras), locks (bandhas), meditation sounds (nadausandhana), and cleansing process (Shat kriyas) for magnifying the physiological functions of the body in order to prepare it for attaining mental steadiness and realizing spiritual goals. There are several benefits of hatha yoga known to humankind, but it is important that we understand the concepts of this form before we discuss them.
The word ‘Hatha’ comes from the Sanskrit terms “Ha” meaning sun and “Tha” meaning ‘Moon’. Thus, it is right to say that Hatha Yoga is the science of balancing the solar-lunar and pair of opposites that exists within each of us for a more intimate connection to the Self. And, according to the sacred texts on Hatha Yoga, it is the art of opening the Sushumna Nadi, thus awakening the Kundalini that is the path to higher consciousness and enlightenment.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
There is textual evidence of some of the practices of Hatha Yoga dating back to the 1st century, and archaeological evidence that may date back even further. However, the first complete systematized exposition of the posture, breathing, purification and meditation practices that constitute Hatha Yoga was a compilation of text known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika dates back to the 15th century and was written by Yoga Swami Svatmarama. It was originally intended to be a collection of several early texts that have not survived. The work is divided into four chapters that are meant to outline a gradually deepening practice of yoga that focuses on the physical body, and gradually moves in layers towards the more subtle aspects of embodied experience.
Among the techniques outlined are a series of postures intended to develop the physical body and cultivate awareness of the subtle body. These postures are called Asana, and they are the closest thing to what most now conceive of as Yoga, but they are just the beginning. The book also outlines a series of breathing exercises, called Pranayama, and a series of exercises intended to manipulate the energies of the subtle body, called Mudra, and Bandha. It also gives an account of the workings of the Chakras, the energy centres, and the Nadis, or energy channels, of the subtle body.
The History of Modern Hatha Yoga
The popularity of Hatha Yoga in the west can be more or less traced back to two men: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and Swami Sivananda Saraswati. Krishnamacharya was heavily influenced by physical culture and adapted the techniques of earlier yogic texts into simple systems of exercise that could be done on a daily basis by normal people in order to keep them physically and mentally healthy.
He is also known as the teacher of Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, and the father of T.K.V.Desikachar. These three sages are accredited with later popularizing Krishnamacharya’s version of yoga around the world through the popular systems of Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Viniyoga.
Hatha Yoga styles
Most of the yoga we practice in studios today can be attributed to him, though “Vinyasa” classes are generally based on the Ashtanga system and “Hatha” classes are based more on the Iyengar and Viniyoga systems. Sivananda, on the other hand, taught a more spiritually focused yoga system that integrated contemplative, devotional, and philosophical and lifestyle practices. He also taught a number of important gurus who would go on to become popular promoters of Yoga to a western audience. These include Swami Satyananda, who founded the Bihar School of Yoga and Swami Vishnudevananda who founded the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and developed the style of yoga now known as Sivananda Yoga.
The systems of yoga that developed from this lineage also taught Asana practices. These may have been influenced in part by Krishnamacharya but placed a much larger emphasis on the earlier classical texts and the other aspects of yoga outlined in sources like the Bhagavad Gita. These styles are often referred to nowadays as “Classical Hatha Yoga,” and may also describe the style seen in many yoga classes that are called, simply, “Hatha.”
Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga, with its diverse practices, is designed to bring in health, joy, and harmony of the body, mind, and soul. Putting the body to practice the variety of Hatha Yoga postures does wonder for the organs, muscles, mind, and spirits. Let us take a look at some of the most popular benefits of hatha yoga:
- Healthy Heart: The dedicated practices of Hatha Yoga postures are effective in controlling the disease of hypertension– one of the major causes of heart problems and heart attacks. Hatha Yoga improves blood flow to the heart and decreases the chances of anginal episodes in people and maintaining a healthy heart.
- Enhanced Bone Density: The Hatha Yoga system includes several weight-bearing yoga postures like Tree Pose, Warrior Pose, Triangle Pose, etc., that help in reversing bone loss by building bone-density. Healthy bones are extremely important for people of any age to minimize the risk of developing fragile bones– medically known as osteoporosis and osteopenia. The benefits of Hatha yoga practices on a regular basis include building bone mass in the spine and femur.
- Clear and Shiny Skin: The Hatha Yoga Shat-kriya practices deeply purify the body inside-out. Additionally, the postures work as detoxifying agents at some levels, eliminating toxins and granting inner well-being, lustrous skin, and a peachy glow.
- Builds Core Strength: Adopt the Hatha Yoga for fortifying your core. The core is the midsection of the body consisting of the traverse abdominis, erector spinae, obliques, and lower lats. To stay away from any injury, to perform well in sports, and to manifest a robust body, it is essential that your core is strong and flexible. The Hatha poses such as boat posture, downward dog, and plank asana strengthens the external obliques whereas postures such as Warrior I pose work on hips and Chair Asana targets the paraspinal muscles.
- Lubricate the Joints: Among the significant benefits of hatha yoga is its ability to effectively work on multiple joints of the body helping them get their full range of motion. In a sedentary lifestyle, the joints are not worked to their full capacity. As a result, they tend to stiffen up. So, greatly improve your mobility in joints with Hatha Yoga.
- Treats Backache: According to several types of research, the practice of Hatha Yoga poses along with its variations and modifications are potent in treating symptoms of lower back-pain and many other back problems. This natural science is highly effective in treating a backache and providing a long-lasting relief.
- Improves Balance and Posture: The improved posture benefits of Hatha Yoga are highly alluring. Hatha Yoga poses facilitate balance. Hatha Yoga allows you to stretch the spine making you look taller and confident.
- Stress Reliever: A natural way to ward off stress is to show up on a yoga mat and to perform some Hatha Yoga poses. Every Hatha Yoga asana directs the individuals to mental peace and positivity. Practice for gaining the mental health benefits of Hatha Yoga.
- Enhance Quality of Prana: Pranayama is central to the Hatha Yoga Style. The diverse breathing techniques improve the quality of life force–prana and nourish the body and mind thereby increasing your lifespan.
- Overall Well-being: The regular practice of Hatha Yoga enhances multiple aspects of physical, mental, and spiritual being honoring the practitioners with an efficiently working healthy body, mind, and spirit.
While we have mentioned a handful of benefits of hatha yoga, there are multiple other facets of life that can be improved by regular practice of this ancient form of yogic discipline. If you are looking forward to train yourself in this discipline, we encourage you to take a look at the courses we offer for Hatha yoga teacher training in Goa.