Updated: Dec 9, 2020
I ask my yoga teacher trainees in one of the first lessons. What is Hatha Yoga? What is Yoga for you? and that's how we start the journey together to find out more, to enquire and investigate the various traditions and roots of yoga. We go deep!
Before I attempt to answer the question of what exactly does "Hatha" mean, I will discuss what one of the purposes of yoga is. Throughout history, the purpose and goal of yoga and hatha yoga have changed and evolved to mean different things to different people. It's not difficult to see how people nowadays have different opinions on what yoga or hatha yoga is for them.
What is the purpose of Yoga?
On a simply physical level, yoga means connecting within ourselves to encourage the free flow of energy and communication (Simon Borg Olivier calls it the loving flow of energy and communication) through subtle energy channels (nadis). That could be simply in the first instance connecting our brain to our body and being able to move our toes, or in a more subtle form, a neurotransmitter transmitting a signal from a neuron to a target cell. Energy is called in Sanskrit PRANA, and communication or consciousness is called CITTA. We support our physical body to live long enough to realise yoga. Yoga gets often translated as some form of "union".
If we think about a computer, the source that gives power to the computer is Prana and the complex circuits within the computer Chitta. Of course, we are more complex than a computer! We are a bunch of cells; in fact, the human body consists of some 37.2 trillion cells!
So, in a way to feel vital and full of energy is a sign that our communication and energy transfer is working or everything is communicating lovingly.
Hatha gets translated as "force" or a "forceful" way to distribute this energy and information in our body.
Hatha Yoga was codified around the 11th – 15th century. Texts started to be written for the householder rather than just the priestly or other elite.
Before that, specific physical techniques (mudras) existed for more than 1000 years that aim to manipulate the body's vital energies. They were and are some are still practised by ascetics. So, Hatha is a method by which "yoga" can be attained. i
In the 15th century, the meaning of "Hatha" was further watered down for the householder, by describing Hatha to the Sun (HA) and the Moon (THA), overriding the meaning of “force” or “forceful”. So, Hatha received a metaphorical meaning of balancing forces rather than the exercise of forceful techniques to achieve yoga. Those techniques were only accessible or are still accessible to the yogi par excellence and even then hard to achieve by the householder. I for myself admit that I don't feel ready for some of those austerities (tapas).
We also should remember that a "traditional body" has natural strength and flexibility that often is lacked by a modern body and let's face it, the yogis' par excellence used to be mainly men (there are some ascetics who used to be women).
Often nowadays, the more effort we put into stretching and tensioning our body, the more we actually can block the movement of energy and communication or on simpler terms blood flow.
In a natural body practising a physical form of yoga exercises, such as classical asanas, let's face it, seems easier and with less effort. Our bodies often haveing lost the natural tendency to be able to move, too much forcing us into those techniques might result in injury, especially to our joints.
Gradually, from the 14th century, the number of "postures" (asanas) increased, the Hatha Pradipika (itself a compilation of many other texts) listening 15 postures with more than 84 emerging in the 17th to 18th century to only the Yogi knows how many variations we can find in modern yoga classes!
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Also, enrollment is open for my next Hatha Yoga Teacher Training in 2021. Are you ready to transform from practitioner to teacher? Eleven weekends in Hove, in which I guide you on a journey through the history and philosophy of yoga and explain to you the functional anatomy and physiology of yoga so that you as a modern body can practice and feel nourished by this practice. Please email me for further information.