When translated in Sanskrit, Hatha means, “force.” Similarly, when translated in English, yoga means, “force.” Therefore, the traditional meaning of Hatha Yoga can be applied to all physical types of yoga. Keep in mind that yoga incorporates 8 limbs. Only one limb refers to physical movement, known as, asana. (Remember, asana is defined as a physical yoga posture or position that is designed to help master the body and enhance the body’s functions).
The concept of Hatha Yoga can be difficult for new yoga practitioners to grasp. Newcomers learn about many, many different types of yoga. Most types of yoga are specific to a famous practitioner or a school of yoga. These styles may have their own sequences of poses, breathing techniques, principles and traditions. When learning about Hatha Yoga, many students are not taught about the origin of the word Hatha. This leaves them under the false impression that Hatha Yoga is specific to one style. Hatha Yoga is a general term that describes many different styles of yoga.
Hatha Yoga is one of the six original branches of yoga. It has become the most popular branch of yoga due to its physical nature. Previously, yoga was strictly a seated, meditative practice. In Hatha Yoga, the body was utilized as the vehicle for the soul. It incorporates physical poses (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation to unite the body and the soul. While the word Hatha has become popularly interchangeable with yoga, it is generally offered as a basic approach to learning poses and simple breathing techniques. Hatha Yoga is an excellent place to start for beginners. The practice of yoga as we know it derived from the Hatha practice. It was the formation of basic poses combined with relaxation techniques like breathing and mindfulness.
Intermediate and advanced students can benefit from the practice of Hatha Yoga in countless ways. Learning basic poses helps to create a solid understanding of proper alignment. Lining up your limbs, spine and neck is crucial in yoga, especially when increasing the duration of time spent holding the poses. The relaxation techniques taught in Hatha Yoga lay the foundation for a healthy mental state during class. Identifying the most optimal breathing technique for each student takes practice and patience. Attempting to keep up with a fast-paced power class, while mastering a breathing technique can be counterproductive to one’s practice.
In yogic terms, the Hinduism language of Sanskrit gives a second meaning to the word Hatha. Combining “ha,” or sun, with “tha,” meaning moon, suggests the connection of the opposites. This may ring a bell for those of you familiar with the philosophy of yin and yang. “Yin,” represents light or good. “Yang” represents dark or evil. The philosophy behind the concept of the opposites describes how two apparently contradictory forces are complementary and not opposing. When the two forces interact they form a system that is greater than its parts. When considering the meaning of Hatha, the conglomeration of the sun and moon creates day and night.
Due to its traditional purpose of prolonged meditation, Hatha Yoga was designed to release tension and stress in the body and the mind. The more habitual your practice, the more you will reap the benefits. Hatha Yoga strengthens the body while loosening muscles, creating more flexibility. Throughout your practice, you will make more space in your body. The “clearing” of this space creates opportunity for spiritual growth. As a result, your mind will feel less cluttered and your body will release stored tension. An issue many students run into is the feeling of being anxious during yoga classes. Instead of focusing on the physical aspect of Hatha Yoga strictly for fitness and exercise purposes, make room for the possibility of a full body and mind transformation. When practitioners make room for the physical poses, breathing techniques and meditation portions of yoga they attain a sought after level of equilibrium and liberation.
If you are used to attending heated and/or power yoga classes, wear something a little warmer to keep your muscles warm and loose during the slower parts of class. For those seeking to deepen their practice, remember the underlying parts of Hatha Yoga. When taking the overarching goal of yoga into account, meditation and breathing are just as important, if not more, than the physical movements.