Most forms of yoga practised today like Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Power Yoga loosely fall under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. The word “hatha” can be translated two ways: as “willful” or “forceful,” the yoga of activity, or as “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha), the yoga of balance.
So, while Hatha Yoga generally means the practice of physical yoga postures, it is more than just asanas.
Components of Hatha Yoga
Classical hatha yoga has five parts.
The six purificatory or cleansing practices.These are neti, dhauti, basti, nauli, kapalbhati and trataka. The first three purify at the gross physical level, and the last three at subtler pranic and mental levels.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the purpose of asana as:
Kuryaat tadaasanam sthairyamaarayogyam cha anglaaghavam.
One must perform asanas to gain steadiness of body and mind, freedom from disease and lightness of limbs. (1:17:2).
Pranayama is control of the breath to purify and balance the nadis, the energy channels in the body.
Mudras or gestures are a combination of subtle physical movements which alter mood,attitude and perception and which deepen concentration and awareness. A mudra may be a simple hand gesture or it may involve the whole body in a combination of asana, pranayama, bandha and visualisation techniques.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika considers mudras to be an independent branch of yoga requiring very subtle awareness.
The Sanskrit word bandha means to ‘hold’, ‘tighten’ or ‘lock’. The definitions precisely describe the physical action involved in the bandha practices and their effect on the pranic body. The bandhas aim to lock the pranas in particular areas and redirect their flow to the sushumna nadi for the purpose of spiritual awakening.
The fourth and fifth parts harmonize the pranas and eventually lead the mind into meditation.
The word hatha is derived from two beeja(seed)mantras, Ham and Tham, which denote the pingala and the ida nadis, or the solar and the lunar energies in the human system. The goal of hatha yoga is to balance, harmonize and unite these two fundamental energies in our system.
Although the practices of hatha yoga begin with the physical body (anamaya kosh), if performed correctly, they impact the subtler layers of the energy body (pranamaya kosha), the mind (manomaya kosha) and the intellect (vijnanamaya kosha) as well.
Who is it for?
Hatha yoga is for those who are ready to expand their awareness and deepen their experience of asana, pranayama, mudra, and bandha. When components of breath awareness, visualization, mantras and chakras are added, the whole experience of yoga changes.
The practitioner begins to move from the physical experience limited to the body and the sensations of the body, to experiencing the pranic level, and from the pranic to the mental and psychic levels. This is the transition from yoga practice to sadhana.