Hatha yoga: origins, practice, benefits

Hatha yoga: origins, practice, benefits

Hatha Yoga, also known as Yoga of strength, is a discipline that acts on the physical body and on the energy body, in order to restore balance between all parts and lead to the ultimate goal of all yogic approaches: liberation in life.

Virasana, Hatha Yoga


  • Meaning of Hatha yoga
  • Origins and philosophy  of Hatha Yoga
  • The techniques of Hatha Yoga
  • The benefits of Hatha Yoga
  • The masters and schools of Hatha Yoga
  • The practice of Hatha Yoga today



Meaning of Hatha Yoga

Hatha is a Sanskrit noun meaning vigor or strength , hence the classic translation of Hatha Yoga as Yoga of strength . However, it is not uncommon to hear also defined as Yoga of the sun and the moon : Ha refers to the male energy of the sun, Surya , which flows in the right energy channel of our body, called Pingala, while  Tha represents its female counterpart. and lunar, Chandra, present in the left energy channel, Ida. 


The central channel where their union takes place and along which the energy of the Kundalini-Shakti can rise is the so-called Sushumna, Bringing these two polarities back into harmony, rebalancing the opposing Yin and Yang energies that animate everything, transcending duality is therefore part of the purpose of Hatha yoga.



Origins and philosophy  of Hatha yoga

The origins of Hatha Yoga are very ancient: it is traced back, together with Kundalini , Laja and
Mantra yoga , to the branch of Tantrism, according to which the world is a field of supernatural energies that animate everything and there is no separation between the Universal Principle and every being in the Universe.


The founder of Hatha Yoga is believed to be Swami Goraknath , who lived around the 12th century and, according to legend, was a direct student of Matsyendra, as well as a manifestation of the god Shiva . Two works are attributed to him: the Hathayoga , which has not come down to us, and the Goraksasataka , which consists of 101 verses that describe the salient points of the discipline.


Among the main texts dedicated to this doctrine, fundamental is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which literally means ” the lantern of Yoga “, composed around the fifteenth century AD by Swami Svatmarana, a disciple of Goraknath. Two other classical texts of reference are the Gheranda Samitha, the “compendium of Gheranda”, written in the seventeenth century, and the Shiva Samitha, “the compendium of Shiva”, which develops in the form of a dialogue between the divinity and his consort Parvati.


The techniques of Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is mainly based on the execution of positions ( asanas ) and breathing techniques ( pranayama ) and for this reason it is considered the progenitor of all the most modern yoga styles, in which the physical aspect occupies a large part of the practice.


In reality, the connection with the more meditative aspects of this discipline is inherent in the purpose of Hatha Yoga: in the initial verse of Hatha Yoga Pradipika the author clarifies that this practice has as its goal the achievement of Raja Yoga , the real yoga, as also described by
Patanjali . 


Yoga is always the end and the means to achieve the state of bliss, samadhi . Strictly speaking, Hatha Yoga consists of seven parts:

  • satkarman, the six purifying acts (dhauti, vast, neti, trataka, nauli and kapalabhati);
  • asanas, positions, often accompanied by the use of bandhas;
  • mudra, gestures;
  • pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses from external objects;
  • pranayama, control of breath and energy flow;
  • dhyana, concentration and meditation on one point;
  • samadhi, state of union, in which the differences between the thinker, the object of thought and the thought itself disappear.


Compared to previous texts, in which the yogic positions known were mainly meditative ones, in Hatha Yoga Pradipika fifteen physical postures are described, which include eight sessions (including svastikasana , siddhasana , virasana and padmasana ) and one of relaxation ( savasana ) .


These are accompanied by a series of breathing techniques or, rather, to control the energy levels ( prana ) within the body, because the close connection between the physical body and the energy body and the mutual influence that these they have two aspects.


To guarantee balance and harmony between the polarities, both physical and mental effort is required , which can gradually lead to freedom.


The benefits of Hatha yoga

From what has been said so far, it clearly emerges that the practice of Hatha Yoga brings benefits to the practitioner both on a physical and mental level .


In the first case, the work of muscle lengthening , joint mobilization and tissue oxygenation helps to prevent and treat the main physical problems, including back pain , neck pain or lumbar discomfort, resulting from poor postural attitudes, from a sedentary lifestyle or lack of body awareness. . At a more subtle level, it promotes the elimination of toxins, slows down the aging processes and improves the internal functioning of the various organs and systems of the body.


Attention to breathing, especially  diaphragmatic breathing , involves both physical and mental feedback: it relieves symptoms and the perception of stress , is effective against depressive disorders , anxiety and panic attacks and promotes
management of emotions and a greater ability to concentrate .


In general, it favors the change of some habits and brings positive effects to the well-being and health of the body-mind system, whatever the age and physical condition of departure, and provides tools and techniques thanks to which the individual is able , through practice and
experience, to modulate energies and rediscover one’s psycho-physical balance.


Find out how to get the right energy down the spine with yoga


The teachers and the schools 

Historical figure. Disciple of Gorakhnath, who lived in the 15th century, and author of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a reference text for all modern Hatha yoga masters.

Contemporary Master. Indian master born in 1887. After practicing the profession of doctor for some time, he began a spiritual search that led him to the foothills of the Himalayas, in the city of Rishikesh, where he met Swami Vishwananda Sararvati and began
his life as a Sannyasin.


Although he rarely moved from Rishikesh, his teachings went around the world, also thanks to his disciple Devananda, to whom he entrusted the task of spreading yoga in the West: ” There are people waiting for you “, were the his words. 


In Rishikesh today is the headquarters of the Divine Life Society, which is the inspiration for many yoga centers around the world.
Contemporary Master. A direct disciple of Swami Sivananda , he met his Guru at the age of 19 and has since devoted himself body and soul to spiritual growth. After 12 years in Rishikesh, Satyananda embarked on a long journey through India, Afghanistan, Burna, Nepal and Cylon and in 1963 he settled in Bihar (India), where he founded the International Yoga Fellowship movement and the Bihar School of Yoga, to help people along their spiritual path. 


Today the teachings and method developed by Satyananda are followed throughout the world and his disciples continue the work he has undertaken.


The practice of Hatha yoga in the present day

Although Hatha Yoga can be considered the root of all modern yoga styles , based on the execution of asanas sequenced one another, these days it is easy for this label to indicate a yoga class with a rhythm. slower, less fluid, little “flow”, in which the positions are maintained for prolonged times, much attention is paid to
breathing techniques and practitioners, even inexperienced, can gradually approach the physical and energetic work that yoga involves.


Broadly speaking, the classic structure of a Hatha Yoga class involves:

  • a moment of initial meditation;
  • a warm-up (e.g. some Sun Salutation cycles);
  • the actual asana practice (generally the order requires standing positions, back extensions, twists, forward bends and inversions);
  • a final relaxation and / or a part of meditation.


Hatha Yoga has been variously declined in the different systems developed starting from the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya (Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Krama) and has assumed different characteristics in all subsequent approaches, even more physical, intense and western than the practice ( Power Yoga , Prana Flow, Rocket Yoga, Forrest Yoga, Dharma Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Anusara Yoga and so on).


Regardless of how many nuances and different methods of execution one may encounter, the root of yoga and the point of origin to return to is always the one that leads to a journey of discovery , awareness and full presence.

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