This blog is specifically dedicated to sharing some important facets of Hatha yoga. As most of you already know, Hatha Yoga originated from Raja Yoga. In its most traditional form, Raja Yoga is a state of peace and contentment that arises from sustained eight -limb-practices (Ashtanga Yoga. Hatha yoga practice is very much grounded in the principles of Raja Yoga.
What is Hatha Yoga?
In its truest essence, Hatha Yoga is a branch of yoga that prepares the body (Ghata) at a physical level. The word “Hatha” originates from “Ha” which means Sun and “Tha” which means Moon. “Hatha” means to bring a balance between the sun and moon energies within the individual. It is a practice of balancing and uniting the opposite forces inside the human body. By harmonizing these two opposite energies (active & passive), one can overcome the mind and build stability.
Meaning of Hatha Yoga
The Samskrutam word Hatha literally means “force”. But this is mostly the popular meaning. You should be looking at the contextual meaning also. Ha-Tha are the two Bija mantras and represent the 'appearing to be two different energies, i.e. Sun and Moon.
Life functions in duality. Every human has these two energies. One is represented by Ha/Shiva/Masculine/Earth energy. Another is Tha/Shakti/Feminine/Water energy. Both of these two are unified and assist in our daily life. You can not equate these to the physical representation of the genders. These energies are beyond physical gender and also represented by Intellect + Emotions respectively. Ha refers to Surya Nadi and Tha refers to Chandra Nadi. The balance of these two nadis is Hatha Yoga.
हकार कीर्तितः सूर्यः ठकारश्चन्द्र. उच्यते । सूर्य चन्द्र मसोर्योगात. हठयोगो निगद्यते ।।
Hakara Kirtitah Suryah ThakarashChandra Uchyate । Suryaachandramasoryogat Hathayogo Nigadyate ।।
The pioneers of Hatha Yoga
Lord Shiva is known as Adiyogi or the first yogi. Being closely associated with yoga he is also referred to as the first guru in the universe. According to the scriptures, Lord Shiva shared his knowledge of yoga first with Parvathi (Shakti) and then the seven sages (Sapta Rishis). These seven sages, in turn, traveled across the different parts of the world and spread the divine knowledge to mankind.
Matsyendra Natha is considered one of the first Hatha yogis. According to legends, Matsyendranatha was thrown into the ocean because he was born under an inauspicious star. He was then swallowed by a fish where he lived for many years. The fish swam to the bottom of the ocean, where Shiva was sharing the secrets of yoga with Parvathi. Matsyendranatha overhead the teaching of Shiva and began practising inside the fish. After twelve years, he emerged as an enlightened Siddha. Hence the name Matsyendranatha, meaning “lord of the fishes”
Matsyendranatha later taught Hatha yoga to his disciples. He lived around the 10-11th century. One of his most prominent disciples was Gorakshanatha, a pioneer in establishing Hatha yoga in India. Matsyendranatha and Gorakshanatha are considered the founders of Hatha yoga and authors of some of the earliest texts on this subject.
The texts of Hatha Yoga
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is considered as one of the most influential texts by Yogi Swatmarama. He advises starting with the physical practices first because most people will find it easier to master the mind through the body than purifying their character, habits, and intellect directly through observing the Yamas and Niyamas. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika comprises detailed compilations dating to the 15th century and also highlights the teaching lineage of Matsyendranatha. This influential text further elaborates on the aspects of yoga asanas and pranayamas in relation to Hatha Yoga.
Hathasya prathamangatvat asanam purvamuccate | Tasmat tadasanam kuryat arogyamcangalaghavam ||
He explains that the first limb of Hatha Yoga is asana and the practice of asana leads to the lightness of the body and keeps it healthy.
Classical Hatha Yoga is described primarily in three texts:
Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Svātmārāma (15th century)
Shiva Samhita, author unknown (1500 C.E or late 17th century)
Gheranda Samhita by Yogi Gheranda (late 17th century)
Other classical texts on Hatha Yoga
Amrutasiddhi is a text written by Madhavacandra in 11 CE. Dattatreya Yoga Shastra, written by Sage Dattatreya in the 13th century claims that there are 8,400,000 asanas. Hatha-Tattva-Kaumudi was another significant text written by Sundara Deva. Yoga Taravali is another short text written by Adi Shankaracharya on Hatha Yoga.
Goraksha Shataka is a significant 13th-century text written by Gorakh Nath. Amaraugha Prabodha is another 12th-century text attributed to Gorkha Natha. Viveka Martanda is another Hatha Yoga text written in 13th Century probably Gorakh Natha. This text was probably one of the first texts to combine Tantra practices with Jnana Yoga practices.
Hatha Ratnavali, a 17th-century book written by Srinivasa was the first one to mention 84 asanas. Jogapradeepika (also known as Jogapradeepyaka) written by Ramanandi Jayatarama in 1737 explains 84 asanas, 6 Kriyas, 24 Mudras and 8 Kumbhakas. Shat-Karma-Sangraha is another small 18th-century text written by Chidghanananda Natha focusing on kriya practices.
The Principles of Hatha Yoga
Did you know that asanas activate the energy centers in our bodies and channelize the flow of Prana (life force) through our Nadis (energy channels)?
They activate the energy centres (Chakras) and shift the flow of energy to the entire body. So the practice of Hatha yoga involves three essential elements, including asanas (physical practice), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (Dhyana).
You cannot restrict only physical movement through the practice of asanas to approach Hatha Yoga in its truest form. The mind has to be clean and equally focused. As your actions are purposeful with breath awareness and mindfulness; you become a witness of yourself. The result eventually is a yogic lifestyle that goes far beyond the practice of yoga on the mat & eventually translates to a way of being that resonates with your thoughts, words and actions.