Hatha Yoga

Understanding Hatha yoga

What is Hatha yoga?

Hatha yoga is practised all over the world, but it is mostly associated with India because it derived from the practices of the Yogis of the Natha Sampradaya tradition, in particular, the teachings of its founder, Matsyendranath. In history, Hatha yoga has texts associated with it that go back to the eleventh century. However, the modern development of Hatha yoga, one that is especially focussed on physical postures known as asanas, really started to take off in the twentieth century. It has since been popularized around the globe as a form of physical exercise which does not always take into account all of its spiritual aspects. To many people, it is a modern form of the practice and is simply referred to as 'yoga' in its generic sense. The yoga school of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, an Indian ayurvedic healer and Hatha scholar who taught yoga from the 1920s onwards, is often considered to have been central to the rise of this form of yoga in the West.

 How old is Hatha yoga?

Although texts that refer to this form of yoga go back to 1200s in the Common Era, it is, in fact, much older. According to some references, the practice can be dated as far back as the first century. It is referred to in very early Sanskrit texts as well as in the Pali canon in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha, himself, is said to have related to specific postures in order to promote Kundalini, otherwise known as divine energy or shakti.

Is Hatha yoga a Hindu practice?

Although it is widely regarded to be something that is a part of Hinduism around the world, Hatha yoga should be equally associated with Buddhist traditions. As previously mentioned, references to it exist in both Hindu, Sanskrit texts as well as Buddhist ones. For instance, the Amṛtasiddhi, an eleventh-century document, describes many aspects of Hatha yoga, although it does not use that exact term. It is widely regarded as both a Hindu and a Buddhist tome because it was written in two languages, Sanskrit and Tibetan. In short, this form of yoga is a part of Hinduism, but not exclusively so.

Is meditation a part of Hatha yoga?

According to numerous Hatha yoga texts, meditation is the ultimate goal of the cleansing, asanas and other steps associated with the practice. In fact, scholars point out that a substantial portion of these texts – up to a third – is devoted to meditation rather than physical aspects of yoga. This meditation aims to obtain Samādhi, a state of meditative consciousness.

Is Hatha yoga different from Patanjali yoga?

Some people make few distinctions between the Patanjali yoga tradition and that of Hatha. However, Patanjali yoga is even older. In terms of its differences, it places less emphasis on pranayama, or breathing control, for example. Hatha yoga texts also spend more time distinguishing between different asanas.

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