About Hatha Yoga
It can often be daunting for a beginner to understand and decipher the myriad of different styles of yoga available in today’s market and which one would best suit their needs.
Hatha Yoga is a traditional and orthodox style of yoga consisting of different âsanas (postures) which, when linked together, create sequences of movements. Together with correct alignment, breath control and stillness of pose, yoga has the ability to slow down the fluctuations (thoughts) of the mind, bringing the body and mind into a more equanimous and balanced space, essential qualities in a hectic and harried world which often over-saturates our senses and clouds our mental clarity.
The word Hatha comes from the ancient Indian language Sanscrit and can be divided into two parts, Ha and Tha. Ha corresponds to the right side of the body, solar energy, masculine energy and physical energy, whereas Tha corresponds to the left side of the body, lunar energy, feminine energy and mental energy. When you place these two forces together you obtain Hatha or “strength”. The aim of Hatha Yoga is to strengthen the body and thus the mind- in Hatha Yoga it is said that the body and mind are inextricably linked with each other- to create physical and mental harmony and therefore health, energy and vitality.
Traditionally the strength and flexibility gained by a regular yoga practice, opens the body allowing one to sit in meditation for many hours without discomfort. According to Patanjali Maharishi, a great sage who compiled one of the great yogic texts, “The Yoga Sutras”, Meditation is what leads us to Samadhi (a state of bliss) or self-realization, and is therefore an extremely important part of a yoga practice.
In the West, the word Yoga is synonymous with many things which rarely denote its true potential or significance, but relate more to a physical practice which can help us lose weight or keep our bodies toned, and whilst this may be true, it is interesting to note that it is just one very small aspect of the benefits both physical and mental that a regular yoga practice can bring. Some of the benefits that a regular yoga practice can produce include:
The opening of energy channels, chakras and psychic centres of the body, increased flexibility of the spine, muscles, tendons and ligaments, strengthening of the bones and stimulation of the circulatory and immune systems. It has a relaxing, revitalizing and balancing effect on the central nervous system. Along with proper breathing techniques or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. In time, performing the poses slowly and consciously becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation.
The difference between yoga and any other type of physical exercise is explained by Swami Vishnudevananda in his book titled
The Illustrated Book of Yoga
“The fundamental difference between Yogic exercise and ordinary physical exercises is that physical culture emphasises violent movements of the muscles, whereas Yogic exercises oppose violent muscle movements as they produce large quantities of lactic acid in the muscle fibres, thus causing fatigue. The effect of this acid and the fatigue it causes is neutralized by the alkali in the muscle fibres, as well as by the inhaling of oxygen.”
“…..Muscular development of the body does not necessarily mean a healthy body, as is commonly assumed, for health is a state when all organs function perfectly under the intelligent control of the mind. Rapid movement of the muscles causes a tremendous strain on the heart. In the yogic system, all movements are slow and gradual with proper breathing and relaxation”.
Swami Vishnudevananda also encouraged us to adopt five principles to incorporate into our daily routine to help us maintain a balanced lifestyle. These aspects include; proper diet, proper breathing techniques, proper relaxation, proper exercise and positive thinking.