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The heritage of Hatha Yoga, and how this practice could help you

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

There are many types of Yoga, and much variety of interpretation by teachers and students within each style; from chanting - part of Bhakti Yoga (the Yoga of devotion), to a rigorous and repetitive physical style like Ashtanga Yoga (popular with Type A personalities).

My introduction to Yoga came through a class of Hatha Yoga, one of the more classical forms of the physical practice. This route eventually took me to my Sivananda Yoga training in Rishiskesh, India, the land where Yoga originated. Unfortunately like too many other Yoga organisations, this is now an organisation under the cloud of abuse allegations.

After over a decade of practice, and receiving the teachings of hundreds of different teachers, I've developed my own style, that usually sits under the branch of Hatha Flow. As the name suggests, this is more flowing than the traditional Hatha style, and intended to address some of the challenges of modern Western lifestyles, such as; anxiety, a restless mind, and stiff and aching shoulders, backs, and hips.

Birthed in Ancient times

The term ‘hatha yoga’ has been used for over a thousand years to describe a methodology for preparing the body to reach higher levels of consciousness. The body is purified and energy is balanced using yoga postures (originally called asana in Sanskrit), breath control methods (pranayama), and bodily cleansing techniques (shatkarmas), so that the practitioner is ready for meditation.

There are references to hatha yoga practices from as early as the 6th century BC, and the system of hatha yoga emerged in India around the 6th century AD. In the 15th century it was documented in the text ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ by an Indian yogi named Svatmarama.

"Yoga succeeds by these six: enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of the truth, determination, and solitude."

Hatha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Brian Dana Akers

Modern types of physical yoga, such as Bikram, Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga, are all styles within this broader definition of hatha yoga.

The word hatha can be translated from the ancient Sanskrit language literally as willful or forceful, alluding to the fact that this system of Yoga is mostly comprised of physical techniques to prepare the body for meditation.

What to expect from a hatha yoga class?

Hatha yoga is now used as a term to describe a style of class of yoga asana (physical postures). These can vary greatly, but they are usually slower classes with an awareness of breath and some long holds in the postures. They may include periods of rest, to balance effort with surrender. They often include a form of the classical sun salutation.

What are the benefits of a hatha yoga class?

If you want your yoga practice to help you feel grounded, present and centered, then moving slowly, with your focus on a long, controlled breath - with time to feel into the experience of each posture - can be very beneficial. It can also be physically challenging and strength-building, as well as increasing flexibility over time.

Slowing down

Life is often hectic and rushed, and a slow, breath-focused yoga practice can bring us into our parasympathetic nervous system – the state of relaxation and healing for the body.​

A slower yoga practice gives an opportunity to explore the nuance of what is happening inside our body and mind. J Brown, a New York based teacher, who has advocated a ‘slow yoga revolution’ writes:

‘Slow Yoga takes the emphasis off accomplishing something and puts it more on experiencing something… (It) allows me to discover subtle variations in alignment ­ on both physical and energetic levels. It also allows me to tune in to any emotions that might want to come bubbling up.
Most importantly, this mode of yoga allows me to move deeper and deeper without injuring myself, and for the practice to truly be a meditation unto itself.”

Read my blog: 'Yin Yoga and the benefits of slowing down' about a recent addition to the Yoga world, focused on mindfulness and long-hold postures.

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