What is Hatha Yoga?

  The practice and tradition of yoga throughout the ages encompasses many branches, schools, traditions, and theories that focus on various aspects. Some incorporate philosophy, some teach anatomy heavily, while some focus just on the asana (or poses) of yoga. Even certain yogic words might’ve meant one thing centuries ago that have now evolved to have different meanings or applications. The definitions and meanings of certain words make more sense in the context of history. So what is Hatha yoga, in the context of history and how is it used and understood in the Western world today? [wp_ad_camp_1]

‘Hatha’ Historically

The word hatha has numerous translations. It can be said to mean ha (sun) and tha (moon). Combined with yoga, “to bind, yoke, join”, it’s alludes to the balancing of our internal and external worlds. Practicing yoga helps us to find balance from within and in our lives. We all embody energies of the sun (fiery, masculine energy) and of the moon (calming, cool, feminine energy), which can seem to conflict at times. However, we are healthiest when our seemingly opposite parts are in alignment and work together to help us be our highest self. Yoga is a pathway towards finding balance on the mat, and then taking this balance into all aspects of our life (goals, dreams, work, relationships, social life, and more). We find balance between strength and flexibility, between effort and letting go, and between the masculine and feminine through a yoga practice. There is a lot more to learn about this by studying Kundalini, energy flow, and how our spinal column is involved in the process of creating balance. Another definition of Hatha is ‘willful’ or ‘forceful’. There are eight limbs in Yoga that serve as a framework to follow on the yogic pathway, which are at the core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Some aspects are physical, some are mental, and some are spiritual. The eight limbs are: Yama (one’s integrity and ethical standards), Niyama (self discipline and spiritual observances), Asana (or the yoga postures, most commonly practiced limb in the West), Pranayama (known as breath control), Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (a state of ecstasy). Historically, since Hatha is said to mean forceful, Hatha yoga can be used to describe any of the physical practices of yoga. Perhaps these methods seemed to require more willpower to do than the other limbs of yoga. In this context, Hatha yoga can be used to describe all physical practices of yoga including Iyengar, Vinyasa, or Ashtanga. The way it’s used by most yoga studios and teachers, especially in the West, is different than this historical usage, however. It has evolved to refer to something different.

What Hatha Yoga Means Today

Hatha yoga now commonly refers to classes without flows between the poses, and the classes tend to be basic or gentle in nature (though not always). Breath work is commonly taught and there is a focus on proper alignment and anatomy, and typically meditation or chanting is included. The majority of yoga classes that a yogi will take are sure to incorporate aspects of or sequencing from Hatha Yoga, as it is very influential to all forms of yoga.

What To Expect In a Hatha Yoga Class

The beauty of yoga is that we all have different interpretations of yoga and it’s teachings. A Hatha Yoga Class on a studio’s schedule can mean many different things based on the studio, who’s teaching it, the time of day, and the level. Hatha is said to be more traditional, so it’s a great way to get an introduction to yoga and to learn the poses (it will typically move slower that a vinyasa flow class would). That’s not to say it won’t be challenging, though! Holding poses for longer periods of time can be challenging on our ego and our mind, so this might be good for certain practitioners. Hatha Yoga incorporates many lessons through the sequencing of the classes, and the teacher might use Sanskrit names for poses, might teach a little bit of philosophy or history, and might have the class “Om” before and after the asana practice, as examples. You will find many different ways to transform through Hatha yoga and to be present in each and every moment.

 

Image via: @pickeringpick

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