When you talk about yoga in a generic sense, you are usually referring to a fairly specific aspect of the yogic tradition: physical yoga. Within the wide spectrum of elements that make up this philosophical and scientific system, the practice of postures, (also called asanas, which is its name in Sanskrit), sequences, breathing, cleansing, and mudras, has a particular name: hatha yoga.
The origin of the word Hatha is a good starting point to elucidate what this style of yoga really consists of, which is much more profound, spiritual, and powerful than one can come to believe. Its scope and reason for really exceeding those of a simple system of exercises. It is said that hatha could be translated as force or will. This, in a sense both in relation to the body and applied to life. Hatha yoga strengthens the body and the will as it is a discipline that requires commitment, but it also strengthens the capacity for equanimity and to listen to the wisdom of the universal consciousness. It is a way to explore the potential of the body and the mind.
But hatha yoga has another meaning that is essential to mention to understand the true meaning of yoga: ha means sun and the mean moon. Therefore, hatha yoga is the yoga of opposites and of balance. For this reason, it brings strength but also a lightness to the body and thoughts; it combines expansion with withdrawal; fills us with energy at the same time that it soothes us; balances our feminine aspects with the masculine ones; exercise with stillness; action with intuition; the physical bodies with the subtle ones; our right hemisphere of the brain with the left; the right side of the body with its opposite; restores the connection between mind and body; balances the excesses and deficiencies in each chakra.
This style of yoga is a spiritual work that begins from the body, because the body for the yoga tradition is the vehicle through which we live and achieve spiritual evolution, but it also constitutes a wonderful medicinal method, a system for longevity, the quality of life, the health of the body and mind, inner peace, personal confidence, and even the expansion of the heart. Its virtues are infinite.
These practices are only one component of the tradition and in order to have true spiritual progress, it is important to make changes in all aspects of the life of the one who aspires to become a yogi. Like all yoga techniques, they are a path to enlightenment or the encounter with universal consciousness. However, practiced on their own and without necessarily being part of a spiritual awakening, it also generates inner changes and general well-being.
What is a hatha yoga class like?
In the strictest sense of the word, hatha yoga is almost all physical yoga practices that are defined by other names: vinyasa, Anusara, ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda, kundalini, among others. The difference between one and the other is that they can include different contemporary adaptations of hatha yoga, or emphasize certain aspects of this classic yoga, or incorporate new elements and aspects of other philosophical traditions, or that they can consist of specific methods of postures and sequences derived from hatha yoga. In short, hatha yoga is the most authentic root of physical yoga techniques and its most traditional form.
When a class in a yoga school or studio is defined as “hatha yoga,” it is a leisurely and usually gentle practice. Throughout the class, the most traditional postures are carried out, in coordination with deep and conscious breathing. It is a meditative practice, in which attention is continually brought to the present moment, to body language, and to the browbones. You can also expect pranayama (breath control exercises), relaxation, and sometimes mantras and meditation practices. Hatha yoga is a good introduction to yoga because it constitutes the fundamentals of the discipline, although for some it may be a bit slow at first due to its meditative and spiritual emphasis.