The twisted art of Hatha yoga
When most people think of yoga they think of people twisted in various poses. This type of yoga is known as hatha yoga. First described by the 15th century Hindu sage Yogi Swatmarama in his ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika,’ it is the school from which most other schools are derived. Hatha yoga is a living, vital force with new schools and new approaches being developed to this very day.
The word yoga means “to unite” or “bind together.” Our word yoke means the same thing and is derived from a common root. Yoga seeks to bind the individual with their true nature. Hatha means sun and moon. The intent for the practitioner of traditional hatha yoga is to bring together opposites. In this sense the yogi seeks enlightenment or “God Consciousness.”
Eight steps must be taken to bring this about: In the first two, the yogi must obtain moral and physical purity. The third describes how the body is made fit for this spiritual undertaking. This is the point where modern schools begin to diverge. The fourth step with breathing techniques to calm the body and bring the mind under control. The remaining steps are concerned with meditation and how to bring about enlightenment.
The benefits of yogic exercise, breathing, and meditation are well documented. A newcomer must ask himself how involved he wishes to become with some or all of these. For many, the exercise is enough. Others wish to go further and learn breathing techniques and meditation. Most schools of hatha yoga provide instruction in all three.
It’s important to point out that yoga is not a religion. It is open to people of all faiths. It is, however, grounded in the great spiritual and philosophical traditions of Hinduism and Vedanta. Most schools place little emphasis on the enlightenment experience. Most do, however, emphasize that yoga is transformative. It is a lifestyle intended to deepen ones spirituality.
Hatha yoga is particularly effective in dealing with the stresses of modern life. The exercises keep the body supple and limber. The spine is flexed and oxygen rich blood delivered to the nerves. Breathing and meditation calm nerves and are effective in treating a wide range of ailments from depression to diabetes.
In choosing a school of yoga, first determine your needs, desires and limitations. Modern hatha yoga schools can be strenuous or gentle. Whether you wish to improve the quality of your life or immerse yourself in an ancient tradition, there is a school for you.