While the word ‘hatha’ means forceful or willful, today’s hatha yoga is a series of gentle asanas (or poses) with no flow between them. This means that one pose does not flow into the next one.
History of yoga
Patanjali is believed to have lived around 1700 BCE in India, and to have collected the entire body of knowledge about yoga into the Yoga Sutra, which is a collection of 195 informational pieces serving as a guide for all of yoga.
The Yoga Sutra
According to the Yoga Sutra, there are eight limbs of yoga that help practitioners of yoga refine their behavior and focus inwardly until they reach enlightenment
(Samadhi). These limbs are:
1. The yamas, or restraints, are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not taking what is not given freely), brahmacharya (control over physical excesses), and aparigraha (non-attachment to worldly objects).
Ahimsa includes physical, emotional and mental non-violence toward both the self and others. Judgements, name calling, harsh criticisms, anger, and irritation are examples of mental violence that accrues negative karma. Mental violence includes psychological abuse such as bullying, creating a power imbalance, verbal aggression, dominant behaviors, and jealous behaviors.
Asteya includes not only not taking something (theft) but also not approving of another’s theft. Asteya overcomes greed and engenders generosity.
Practicing brahmacharya leads to conquering both physical and emotional excesses and addictions, with the goal of achieving balance and moderation in all things, which frees our energy and spirit to move into a higher consciousness.
With aparigraha, when we let go of our attachment to worldly things, we are no longer controlled by neediness, self-esteem that is attached to what we have or don’t have, and we become open to the goodness that is there for all of us.
Through the yamas, yoga practitioners begin to live a conscious life, intent on spiritual growth.
2. Niyamas, or observances, are shaucha (purification of mind and body), samtosha (freedom from craving and coveting), tapas (intensive self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-realization of self and of self as part of the Divine), and ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).
With shaucha, yoga practitioners rid themselves of both mind and body impurities that lead to ill health. They employ tapas to rid ourselves of cravings.
3. Asanas, or yoga postures, include standing poses, twists, forward bends, asanas that work knees, hips and lower back, and poses to alleviate health challenges.
4. Pranayama, or control of the breathing exercises, which include breath retention, the channel cleaning breath, the conqueror breath, the deer seal, the lion pose, and the single nostril breath.
5. Pratyahara, or sensory withdrawal from a distracted mind, is a form of deep relaxation that disengages the mind from the body and places the participant into a state of oneness with the universe.
6. Dharana, or singular focus, involves placing the mind on an idea or thing and allowing the stillness within to reveal answers.
7. Dhyani means conquering the five problems of the mind, which include: delusion and ignorance, anger and hatred, pride and miserliness, lust and desire, and fear and jealousy.
8. Samadhi, or enlightenment.
Many yoga experts feel that ‘hatha’ refers to all forms of yoga, as they all embody the joining of mind, body, and spirit.