Hatha Yoga – Origin and its Practice

hathaThe word hatha is made up of two words, ha and tha. The word ‘ha’ means Sun and ‘tha’ means Moon. Together, the word means to create a balance between the sun and the moon energies present in an individual.

HathaYoga is the science creating a harmony between the solar (Pingala) and lunar (Ida) energies within us so as to help us to achieve a higher consciousness in life. It is the science of initializing the central Nadi, Sushumna which leads to the path of enlightenment.

Origin of Hatha Yoga
Scholars have credited the origin of hatha yoga to the Nath yogi tradition of Shaivism, Gorakhnath in particular. It has also been found that hatha yoga is much more ancient as there have been texts on hatha yoga suggesting that it is much older than the Nath yogi tradition. Though the exact dates of its origin are unknown, the earliest occurrence of the textual references dates back to 1100 AD. It is believed that some of its techniques are thousands of years old. In the 15th century, yogi Swatmarama composed the hathapradipika, based on the eight scriptures, along with several traditions and their methods. Contrary to the popular belief that hatha yoga emphasizes mainly on physical postures, it was found that it stresses more on the importance of samadhi or meditation. It is meditation which is combined with postures, breathing techniques and energy locks.

Practice of Hatha Yoga
The practice of hatha yoga comprises of elements related to both behavior and practice. As per the hatha yoga texts, a yogi has to possess certain characteristics in order to become successful. Those characteristics involve enthusiasm (utsaha), courage (sahasa), patience (dhairya), essence of knowledge (jnana tattva), resolve (nishcaya) and solitude (tyaga).

When talking about the western culture, hatha yoga is mainly about the asanas. But in India, it goes beyond being just an exercise system and integrates other aspects such as diet, cleansing, ethics, meditation, pranayama, etc. a part of it.

  1. Proper Diet- The hatha yoga texts emphasize on moderate eating or consuming a measured diet. Hatha yoga pradipika suggests that one’s eating habits should not be driven by cravings. A proper diet is one which is tasty, likable and nutritious. The diet should be able to fulfill all the required nutritional needs of the body entirely. It also suggests that one should eat only when hungry and not otherwise.
  2. Proper Body Cleansing- Hatha yoga suggests a list of cleansing techniques known as shat-karmani, namely: dhauti (cleanse teeth and body), neti (cleanse nasal passages), vasti (cleanse bladder), trataka (cleanse eyes), kapala-bhati (cleanse phlegm) and nauli (abdominal massage).
  3. Proper Breathing- Pranayama, as well as the use of proper breathing techniques while performing an asana, is of utmost importance. The practice of consciously regulating your breath combined with focused muscles exercises is the true sense of performing hatha yoga. There are several ways in which one can regulate the breathing, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period, inhaling and then suspending exhalation for a period, consciously changing the length/time of breath, slowing the inhalation and exhalation, etc.
  4. Proper Postures- Before starting with the practice of the Asanas, it is crucial to find a suitable place for practicing the asanas. Once that is obtained, the yogi can start performing the asanas. When a new yogi starts performing these postures, he faces difficulty, has to endure pain and almost every pose is unbearable to achieve and hold. But with practice, the efforts are reduced and the yogi is able to acquire the posture. Once the effort disappears, it means the yogi has perfected the asana.
  5. Mudras and Vital Energies- Mudras or hand gestures are important while performing meditation as these are vital to reach out as well as manipulate the dormant vital energies in the body. The eleven mudras found in hatha yoga’s classical sysnthesis are mahamudra, mahabandha, mahavedha, khecarimudra, uddiyanabandha, jalandharabandha, viparitakarani, mulabandha, sakticalani, vajroli and yonimudra.
  6. Meditation- All the major texts of hatha yoga such as Hatha yoga pradipika, Gheranda samhita and Shiva samhita discuss meditation. In fact, almost one-third of the texts of the hatha yoga pradipika are dedicated to meditation only. All the texts explain meditation as the ultimate destination of the all the prior cleansing, pranayama, asanas, etc.