Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is the youngest of yoga practices and the most popular in the western world. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning to bind, yoke or join. In philosophical terms, this refers to the union of the body with the mind, and the mind with a pure state of consciousness. ‘Hatha’ in Sanskrit refers to the sun and the moon, or the balance of yin and yang energy. Hatha Yoga implies effort in disciplining the mind, body and emotions toward disengaging from identification with the ego and achieving a state of higher consciousness. The physical postures and breathing exercises of Hatha Yoga were developed some 2,000 years ago for the specific purpose of self-realization, i.e. realizing one’s true nature or self. The first writings on the origins of the practice and philosophy of Hatha Yoga were outlined in the Yoga Sutras by the Indian sage, Patanjali, sometime between 200-300 AD.

Hatha Yoga involves a sophisticated system of exercises and stretches, or postures (asanas) combined with conscious breathing (pranayama) that can create a strong sense of physical, mental and emotional well-being. The practice improves physical balance, flexibility and stamina while mentally and emotionally generating self awareness and a sense of calmness. Unlike other forms of exercise that can strain muscles and bones, the traditional intention of Hatha Yoga is to rejuvenate the body and free the mind from tension brought about by the stress of life.

Postures (ASANAS)

The postures or asanas that are employed in the practice of Hatha Yoga are commonly associated with what Yoga is in America. The regular practice of the stretches, twists, bends and inversions that comprise the asanas, along with conscious breathing (pranayama), are intended to cleanse and purify all the systems of the body removing obstructions to the flow of life force energy. While appearing to deal with the physical body alone, asanas and pranayama actually influence the nervous system and the chemical balance of the brain. So practicing Hatha Yoga not only restores strength and stamina to the body but also can help to rectify physiological and psychological disorders.

Probably the most well recognized series of asanas is Surya Namaskara, or Sun Salutations. These could be commonly described as ‘yoga calisthenics’, and variations of these are included as a part of almost all yoga classes.

Conscious Breathing (PRANAYAMA)

Pranayama, which is conscious control of breathing, is another main component of Hatha Yoga. Prana is the yogic word for Chi or the life force energy that permeates the individual, all living beings and life forms, as well as the air we breathe. Ayama is the storing or movement of that energy. So Pranayama is the practice of influencing the flow of life force energy in and through the body using the breath.

Our main source of Prana comes from the air we breathe, and the amount of Prana we circulate through our bodies greatly impacts our overall vitality. The very basics of Pranayama involve focused awareness of both the inhale and exhale, breathing through the nose, and relaxing and stabilizing the breath to support the asana practice. Exhalation becomes consciously identified with releasing. Beyond the fundamentals of Pranayama for practicing Hatha Yoga, there are various other exercises involving inhalation, exhalation and/or retention of the breath intended for specific purposes (such as increased energy, calmness, clarity, etc.). However, these need to be practiced with careful guidance and are recommended for students with experience.