Welcome to Hatha Yoga! Regular practice of Hatha Yoga is good for your health. It will also give you several personality benefits including improved self-discipline and self-control. Hatha Yoga uses the body as a gateway to your personality. Its practices are designed to calm the mind and align the body and spirit to prepare them for meditation.
Most popular forms of yoga in the west like Vinyasa, Iyengar and Power Yoga are all derivatives of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is suitable for both beginners and experienced practitioners. Read our blog post, What Is An Advanced Yogi to understand the real significance of experience.
Origin And History
Yoga originated about 10,000 years ago and has evolved over the centuries. Many people believe that it was a divine gift given to the ancient sages who then transferred the knowledge to others and it was passed on by word of mouth across generations. The ancient sages and teachers were able to guide people along the correct path without any confusion or misunderstanding.
Between the 4th and 6th century, two branches of yoga, the Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga originated. Although the ultimate aim of all schools of yoga is the same, Hatha Yoga somewhat differs from Patanjali yoga. Patanjali puts more focus on the mind; in contrast, Hatha Yoga puts more emphasis on the body. Hatha Yoga has Mudras (gestures), which are not mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. There is also a greater emphasis on Pranayama (breath control). Hatha Yoga is more detailed when it comes to Asanas (postures) whereas the Yoga Sutras give more importance to meditation.
The Five Elements Of Hatha Yoga
Although in the west the focus is almost entirely on Asanas and Pranayama, Hatha Yoga is actually composed of five elements.
1. Mitahara (Eating in moderation)
People often forget the purpose and their relationship with food. Food is mainly meant to give the body the energy and nutrients it needs. Humans discovered other benefits of eating like enjoyment, comfort and happiness. With the current busy and stressful lifestyle, bad eating habits, overeating and a preference for unhealthy foods is the norm. The result is obesity and increased incidence of related diseases like diabetes, which has now become a major health concern all over the world. Hatha Yoga tells you to eat in moderation. To put is simply, eat nutritious food and eat to live and not the other way round. Eat only if you are hungry and stop before your stomach is full.
2. Shatkarma (Cleansing)
Shatkarma is the process of cleansing various body areas like teeth, bladder, nasal passages, eyes, stomach and lungs. Specific procedures are prescribed for each type of cleansing.
3. Pranayama (Breath control)
Pranayama teaches you how to consciously control your breath. This helps you use the full capacity of your lungs. Most people use only a fraction of their lung capacities, which can result in problems like hyperventilation and anxiety. What is the most common advice that you have heard people giving when someone is very nervous or paranoid? “Take a deep breath”. Yes, that’s the right thing to do and Pranayama teaches you how to breathe properly.
4. Asanas (Postures)
According to Hatha Yoga, the perfect Asana position is one in which you are comfortable, can stay steady without pain or discomfort and focus on your breathing without any extra effort. Evidently, this is totally different from what most people think about Asanas, a gymnast like posture that is not possible for ordinary humans, but one that must be achieved to be a yogi. On the contrary, according to Hatha Yoga, it is better to stay in a less than perfect, but comfortable posture rather than attain a painful or shaking “ideal posture” that you can’t wait to get out of. Eventually, with regular practice, you will attain the ideal posture without any discomfort and you will be able to hold it for as long as you wish.
Meditation is the ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga which takes you to self realisation. All the other elements are meant to lead up to this goal. As a yoga student or practitioner, it’s very important to understand this higher purpose and work towards it.
What You Can Expect To Learn In Hatha Yoga Classes
Hatha Yoga purifies both body and mind, which allows perfect balance between body, mind and energy. This is necessary for realising the full potential of the self. This should be the ultimate objective of performing Hatha Yoga. Every element of Hatha Yoga is important and goes towards purifying different aspects of the body. However, due to practical limitations, the main focus in the classes will be on Asanas and if time permits, on Pranayama.
The Asanas are postures that are done standing or lying and are aimed at cleansing the inner body. Each asana has a final position. The aim is to attain that position or get as close to it as possible without pain and too much effort. In Hatha Yoga, each posture is held for a while and experienced before moving to the next posture. Many postures have several variants all serving the same purpose. So, if you find a particular variant difficult due to your body structure, you can try one of the alternatives. The goal is to have full body and breath awareness. You will be advised to listen to your body as it goes through each posture while observing your breathing. Initially, this may be a little difficult, but with practice, it will come to you naturally.
Due to the physical strain that Hatha Yoga puts on the body and internal organs, it is important to take some precautions before performing Asanas. Ideally, you should not consume any food or liquids for two to three hours before a session. This ensures that your stomach is empty and minimises the risk of injury or stomach problems. It is also important to consider any respiratory problems that you may have before practicing Pranayama.
Benefits Of Hatha Yoga
1. You can expect to attain a calm and balanced mind.
2. According to Hatha Yoga texts, it improves several aspects of your personality including, enthusiasm, courage, optimism, patience, curiosity for knowledge, sacrifice and resolve. It will also improve your self-discipline and self-control.
3. You can expect several health benefits like improved sleep, improved muscle health, increased energy, and better circulation. Pranayama calms the mind and keeps your heart rate and blood pressure in the normal ranges.