What is Hatha Yoga?
What is hatha yoga and why should we know what it is? Not sure, but maybe because over 30 million Americans and around 60 million worldwide practice yoga (and most of it is Hatha Yoga) and many more interested in trying--maybe even you?
I decided to google the term Hatha Yoga to get a Hatha Yoga description. I ended up in a Sanskrit glossary, actually a few of them as they are not all in agreement. Most of my research pointed to the word “force“ as “Hatha“ English translation. Now, “force“ can be used in many different contexts, and its use in the term Hatha most likely would be purely speculative, seeing that this practice predates the written language.
Yet I have been instructing and leading Hatha Yoga classes for the past 32 years, so I can define Hatha Yoga in the way I’ve learned it and share it. Basically, Hatha Yoga is physical yoga.
The story I have heard and most relate to is that the yogis of old spent most of their time meditating, as they found meditation the pathway towards insight, wisdom and enlightenment. These yogis were meditating all day long, and they noticed their bodies were atrophying. They figured out they could benefit and stop the atrophy with exercise. Which means these people are probably the first people on earth to ever exercise. When creating an exercise, they were not interested in beauty, they were interested in wellness. Everyone knows you cannot take care of a something you do not touch, which is why each morning and night (hopefully) you brush every tooth in your mouth; so when you exercise, why not brush every place in your body? Thus you have all these different movements in Hatha Yoga called asana. These asanas create activation throughout the body, which facilitates circulation, which is the prerequisite of regeneration. They can also help dissolve tension and facilitate tone.
My guess is, at one point or another some yogis became enamored with this physical practice of asana or poses and started emphasizing it until eventually it became its own practice and lineage called Hatha Yoga. Since then, there have developed many styles or types of Hatha Yoga taking on many different names, from Ashtanga yoga to Bikram yoga to Iyengar yoga, all these different flowing yoga classes and yes, even Power Yoga. Likewise, our Hot Yoga is really hot hatha yoga!
So it’s really just a physical yoga practice - but are there always benefits to doing hatha yoga?
These exercises and movements have been analyzed, dissected and discussed. Loads of opinions on how to do Hatha Yoga correctly. You know, basically what us humans do to everything, sometimes even to the degree we lose the essence of the practice's original intentions.
The Hatha Yoga benefits can be immense but also the detriments, depending on how Hatha Yoga is used. Use it to develop benevolent qualities like focus, humility, gentleness, calmness, patience and it becomes not only a practice for caring for our body yet also our mind, and the benefits transcend the daily practice and permeate the entire life and all its relationships. Yet if you bring to your Hatha Yoga practice stress-inducing qualities like competitiveness, criticalness, judgementalness, force or aggression, you WILL be counter-productive. To read more on how you can get the most benefit out of yoga, check out the health benefits of yoga.