In today’s article we take a deep dive into Hatha Yoga!
As one of the most commonly used terms in the yoga community chances are you probably heard about it already. But do you really know what it means?
Contrary to common belief “Hatha” does not actually mean “sun and moon” and is not simply “western yoga” either. In this article we will explain in full detail everything you need to know about it!
Meaning and Definition of Hatha Yoga
The actual translation of hatha (Sanskrit: हठ) is “force” or “willful”. The term hatha yoga represents the physical division of yoga and is often also referred to as the “yoga of activity”.
Moreover, an interpretation for hatha is that for an improvement in ourselves, we also need to put in effort. It includes the mental and spiritual strength we need to refuse bad temptations and achieve our goals.
Please note that we have dedicated a whole section on its practices down below. So, make sure to check it out in order to understand its meaning in more practical terms!
Hatha Yoga means Sun and Moon: True or False?
Many sources state that hatha can be decomposed into two parts:
- Ha – supposedly meaning sun
- Tha – supposedly meaning moon
But beware, this is not true! Neither does “ha” mean sun, nor does “tha” mean moon. So, this makes us all wonder: Where does this widely believed interpretation come from?
Around 15th century CE Swami Svatmarama wrote a text called “Hatha Yoga Pradipika”, which is known as one of the most influential yoga texts available. The text states that the prime goal of hatha yoga is the attainment of “samadhi”, which translates to “total self-collectedness”: a state of meditative awareness.
Although Svatmarama goes on to talk about other aspects of hatha yoga, he emphasizes that these parts rend somewhat useless if not focused on meditation and the goal of “samadhi” as well.
We have seen above that hatha yoga describes the physical branch of yoga. In the text, Svatmarama says that it has an impact on the flow of energies in our bodies.
More specifically, he says that hatha yoga has an impact on the two primary energies: Ida and Pingala. These two forces are the forces to make up life: male and female, hot and cold, sun and moon.
Svatmarama tells us about how it is a means to balancing these two forces by uniting solar with lunar energies.
In conclusion, this is why some sources incorrectly translate “ha” as “sun” and “tha” as “moon“, which is not true.
The Origins of Hatha Yoga
Hatha techniques have been around since the 1st century CE, according to Indologist James Mallinson. However, it was not until the 8th century that it started to be mentioned in texts – often in a connection with tantric works.
Early Nath texts linked hatha yoga with raising and conserving bindu by controlling one’s breath through the central channel. After that, in later Nath and Sakta texts it developed into a more universal yoga that was open to everyone and did not require any specific studies.
During this time hatha yoga also focused on raising Kundalini, which is more in line with what we know nowadays. This is why this period is also known as the Classical Hatha Yoga era.
Modern Age Yoga
In the modern age, hatha yoga has grown into separating its insights with the underlying religion. In addition, there have also been several movements in Indian traditions that made hatha what it is today.
For example, this quote by Mallinson is a good representation of hatha yoga in contemporary times:
“Hatha Yoga, like other methods of yoga, can be practiced by all, regardless of sex, caste, class, or creed. Many texts explicitly state that it is practice alone that leads to success. Sectarian affiliation and philosophical inclination are of no importance. The texts of Hatha Yoga, with some exceptions, do not include teachings on metaphysics or sect-specific practices.” – James Mallinson (2011), Hatha Yoga in the Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 3. Brill Academic.
Madame Blavatsky and Vivekananda are among the people that introduced hatha to the West in the late 19th century. Today, hatha yoga is known worldwide for its spiritual as well as physical properties.
However, its practices are extremely broad, which a lot of people nowadays might not know. If you are interested in the practices in detail, make sure to read along.
Hatha Yoga Practices
Unknown to most people, hatha yoga does not just include exercising, but traditionally goes beyond that. To calify, this includes a specific diet, body cleanse, proper breathing and postures.
Diet – Mitahara
Firstly, an appropriate diet plays an important part of hatha yoga. Some hatha texts talk about “Mitahara” which essential means measured diet or moderate eating. For example, “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” expresses how the best diet is eating tasty and nutritious food that pleases Shiva. It is important to note that you should not overeat, the texts state that ¼ of your stomach should remain empty. All this is to enable a much more profound session, due to the strong connection between eating habits and hatha yoga.
Body Cleansing – Shatkarmas
Caring from within does not stop with the food you eat, but also with how you cleanse your body. But, there is a broad understanding on how this should be done. While some texts only mention simple hygiene practices others go a bit more detailed. The most common cleansing list found in texts is called “Shatkarmas”, which consists of the following six cleanses:
- Dhauti – Teeth and body
- Basti – Bladder
- Neti – Nasal passages
- Trataka – Eyes
- Nauli – Abdominal massages
- Kapalabhati – Phlegm
However, how this cleansing should be done varies from text to text. Often found methods include, for example, simply using water or adding a cloth to help the purification.
Breathing – Pranayama
As you might know, hatha yoga incorporates specific breathing techniques during its sessions. Some of you are probably familiar with the Sanskrit word for these breathing methods, which is “Pranayama”.
Pranayama can be decomposed into two parts:
1. Prana (प्राण) – breath, vital, energy
2. Ayama (आयाम) – restraining, extending
Be aware, however, that not all texts refer to its breathing techniques as Pranayama. Proper breathing is one of the key practices of hatha yoga. It consists of consciously harmonizing your breath with your movements. This is why Pranayama is an integral part of asanas, which we will explain in the next section.
Postures – Asana
Before any session, it is crucial to find a suitable place – a place where you are at peace during the exercises. After you feel comfortable the session starts with the posture exercises, also known as “Asanas”.
However, it is common that Asanas start of as somewhat painful. But once the pain fades and you can breathe calmly, you will have mastered the posture. After that point you can focus on your meditation. But be aware that this takes time, patience and effort of both body and mind.
Certainly, it is important to note that in these texts there are step-by-step introductions on how to master different Asanas.
Western Hatha Yoga Classes
Hatha yoga in the West usually includes most yoga styles. As a result, your standard yoga class is probably a hatha yoga class.
Western yoga classes usually include two of the four traditional practices explained above: Asanas and Pranayama. Classes are often beginner-friendly, relaxing and usually focused on mastering the different Asanas.
The classes are a great preparation for meditation and a great method for relaxing. This is why the classes usually last around 45 or 90 minutes. If you are looking for a way to release any physical and/or mental tension, this is a great option.
Remember that every teacher has a different style! Therefore, make sure you find a place you feel comfortable in and don’t be afraid to test out various studios before picking your favorite one.
Further, if you don’t feel comfortable going to classes, you can practice it at home by yourself or with your loved ones. The important thing is that you feel at ease.
3 Inspiring Hatha Yoga Quotes
Hatha is the sanctuary for those suffering every type of pain. It is the foundation for those practicing every type of Yoga.
– Svatmarama, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, translated from Sanskrit by Brian Dana Akers
Hatha Yoga teaches us to use the body as the bow, asanas as the arrow, and the soul the target.
– B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better you practice, the brighter the flame.
– B.K.S. Iyengar
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In case you liked our article, you can also check our Full Namaste Guide or the 10 Twin Flame Signs You Might Be close To Meeting “The One”!
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