Hatha Yoga: The Physical Path

What we commonly call yoga in the West is technically Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga (ha="sun" tha="moon") attains the union of mind-body-spirit though a practice of asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (yoga breathing), mudra (body gestures) and shatkarma (internal cleansing).   These body centered practices are used to purify the body and cultivate prana and activate kundalini, the subtle energies of the body.   Modern Hatha Yoga does not emphasize many of these esoteric practices and focuses primarily on the physical yoga postures.

In the history of yoga, hatha yoga is fairly recent technique that was developed from Tantra Yoga.  The tantrics embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment and developed the physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices that lead to Hatha Yoga. But Hatha Yoga is uniquely focused on transforming the physical body through purification and the cultivation of the life force energy of prana. And all of the techniques of Hatha Yoga are seen as preliminary steps to achieving the deeper states of meditation and enlightenment found in the path of Raja Yoga (meditation).

The oldest and most widely used ancient text on the physical practices of Hatha Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This book was composed in 15th century CE by Swami Swatamarama and is derived from older Sanskrit texts, the teachings from well-known teachers, and from Swatamarama’s own yogic experiences. The main goal of this text is to illuminate the physical disciplines and practices of Hatha Yoga and integrate these with the higher spiritual goals of Raja Yoga. Swatamarama begins with explaining the relationship between Hatha Yoga and Raja yoga, informing us that Hatha is a preliminary practice for Raja Yoga. He tells us that obtaining self-control and self-discipline is much easier when we start with the physical and energetic body, verses trying to directly control the mind as in Raja Yoga. Through the mastery of the prana, or energy of the body, we can then easily master the control of the mind and obtain success with Raja Yoga.

It was not until the 1920s when Hatha Yoga became popularized and promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya and a few other brave and determined yogis. Krishnamacharya traveled through India giving demonstrations of yoga poses and with other pioneering yogis promoted hatha yoga through its strong healing and other positive benefits. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.

Comments 12

  1. Namaste means “to bow, to salute”. When we say Namaste at the end of a yoga class we are bowing to and acknowledging each others Divine inner nature, as well as the Divine oneness of all beings.

  2. is yoga good 4 strenght training.i am13 years old is yoga good 4 the mind i stay depreesed and my mom recomeded this 4 me will this help.

  3. I always found that yoga helps with depression. I always feel better, at least. I use yoga as a stress releaving exercise.

    Yoga seems so free. You can mix and match… it really is peaceful.

  4. Hello:

    I have just started practicing Yoga for over a month now and I love it. Reading your articles are very informative and motivating. Coming with a background in martial arts I still find the practice challenging as I am using muscles and movements that I could not imagine myself doing previously. Please continue to write as there are many learners that are more than willing to read, learn and practice the work of Yoga on a continuous basis.

    Thank you so much,

    Victor Bonet (Rochester, New York)

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      Thanks for the encouragement Victor! We hope to continue to inspire and support your love of this practice.

  5. I’m interested in learning hatha yoga and practicing it, but can’t afford a class. I have no sponsor to pay for a class. So, is it possible to learn by yourself with online articles and videos? Is it too late to learn yoga at 18yrs of age?

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      Yes it is certainly possible to learn using books, websites and videos. 18 years old is not too late to start.

  6. Hello
    I have been diagnosed with neural forminal stenosis.. spinal stenosis. What are some good beginning poses to start with? The pain is moderate to severe still. Any other suggestions? I am tridoshic and follow mostly a raw fruit and veggie diet with (rarely….lean white meat) or fish. I take vitamins and minerals daily.

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