What is Hatha Yoga? What does Hatha mean?

Updated: Sep 8

Yoga has many different interpretations and meanings, but what does Hatha mean? Often we confuse the word Hatha with a slow easy class, but is that so?

What does Hatha mean? Hatha translates actually as "force", "forceful", "insistence" and "stubbornness". According to Jim Mallinson, Hatha Yoga became first codified from the 11th to 15th Century, but this is not to say that certain physical practices associated with Hatha Yoga were not practised long before. In a text commonly known as Yogabῑja, the meaning of Hatha became modified. Those texts were written for the householder, that is, people like you and me. You may have heard that HA translates as the Sun and THA the Moon. This comes from Yogabῑja text. There are opposite forces in everything. Opposite forces are like Yin and Yang, Femininity and Masculinity, Cold and Heat, High Pressure and Low Pressure etc. For example, we are moving energy from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area. The physical force that generates heat is High Pressure, and the physical force that generates coolness is Low Pressure. Our body acts in the same way as the weather. Give it too much force, and it will be like a devastating storm, but with not enough force, no movement might take place, and it feels sluggish, heavy and stale. A body can get too hot or too cold. Through Hatha Yoga, we can regulate those forces and either encourage more heat or more coolness. Yoga gets translated as 'union', so it's also the union of opposing forces. We get the movement of information and energy when we practice hatha yoga effectively. We obtain this movement of information and consciousness not only through the pumping of the heart (the heart is not necessarily the most effective distributor of blood) but through effective muscle activation and relaxation, specific breathing exercises, gravitational pulling, applying of bandhas (co-activation of opposing muscle groups) and rapid movements. This movement of information or consciousness (Chitta) and vital energy (Prana) is said to flow through the channels (Nadis) in our body. To keep the pressure between any given two body parts in balance and not to overstimulate (i.e. work with the minimum effort to encourage maximum circulation), we must keep certain parts of our body soft and at low pressure (e.g. face, neck and heart). This is important as otherwise there might be increased blood and stressful and potential harmful pressure to this area. Increased blood pressure to the heart can result in an alteration of the heart rate. This combined with breath control can increase/decrease the rate. The movement of energy and communication throughout the body does not have to be through the cardiovascular fitness in yoga but can happen through other circulatory pumps (e.g. musculoskeletal or respiratory pump of circulation etc.)

"In fact, a yogi is said to measure his life by his or her heartbeat, but by the breath." A mammal has approximately 800 million heartbeats before death comes. A gerbil has 8 – 12 beats a second, an elephant has less and with a whale, you have to be patient to hear one heartbeat. If a human would only have about 800 million heartbeats, he or she would die with 22 years of age, but for some reason, a human has 3 x or more as many pulses. However, this does not mean we should let our heartbeat too much for no good reason! It beats when we fall in love and that seems a good enough reason for me. I personally am not a big fan of jogging, I love walking and being mindful instead. I think this is more important right now than ever, where social distancing is important and we don't want to infect others through our breath and jogging to close to people (often joggers seem to have a headphone on and seem absent-minded).

That's where yoga comes in handy as it is not the cardio exercise that pumps the blood throughout our body, but through other pumps, such for example the respiratory or muscular-skeletal pump (see above). The minimum physical effort gets the yogi the best results. Too much effort in attempting to move energy through the body can block the communication and distribution of energy throughout your body. "Hatha yoga serves us in bringing opposing forces within our body into balance for a maximum flow of information and energy so that we can realise yoga."

This is one method to achieve the goal, that is, yoga.

There are different types of Prana. There is heat energy, electrical heat or electromagnetic energy, physical heat, molecules that can carry, e.g. glucose and electromagnetic energy. Chitta (consciousness, information flow) can include electrical signals, electrochemical, electromagnetic fields or other information-carrying molecules, such as neurotransmitters and hormones, information molecules from one immune cell to another.

Nadis can be anything, such as blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, acupuncture meridians and connective tissue (applied Anatomy and Physiology of Synergy Yoga). Acupuncture meridians and pressure points (Chinese) overlap with the ayurvedic system of Nadis and marma points. The Indian ayurvedic system talks of Marmas (Sanskrit origin word 'mri' meaning 'death' and Marma hidden or secret). By definition, a Marma point is a junction on the body where two or more types of tissue meet, such as muscles, veins, ligaments, bones or joints. When a marma activates, it forms a chakra.

Our body is said to have more than 72,000 energy channels (Nadis), some other scriptures speak of more than 300,000, but commonly the most important ones mentioned are three along the spine:

Ida (left channel or esoterically called Shakti – the female power in nature, associated with the moon, being cold and colour white) Pingala (right channel and esoterically associated with Shiva or the male energy in nature, associated with the sun, being hot and colour red). Sushuma (along the spine or central channel) where energy moves through.

Another purpose according to yoga wisdom is to activate Sushuma and not to stay in the dualities of our mundane world. Those three main nadis start at the first energy wheel, and meeting point Muladhara kanda (see below) and ida goes out through the left nostril, pingala through the right nostril. Along the spine, they cross over five times and another two times above the spine like a spiral (eyebrow centre and crown of the head) and form the seven main chakras. Those are the seven main chakras (however some books speak of about 108 chakras, some 114 – 112 within the body and two outside – minor chakras are in legs, hands, elbows, tongue, clavicle, shoulder, eyes, ears and nose etc. Not all chakras are active; some are dormant. Want to learn more? Sign up for my next online lifestreaming yoga teacher training. Starting in September.

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Thanks to those who have already joined me on one of my lifestreaming classes. Let's practice together!

With love, Claudia www.sundaraygaflow.com

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