Traditional Hatha Yoga is a holistic yogic path, that includes disciplines, postures (asana), purification procedures (shatkriya), gestures (mudra), breathing (pranayama) and meditation. The Hatha Yoga is predominantly practiced in the West and mostly consists of asanas, which are understood as physical exercises. It is also recognized as a stress-reducing practice.
Hatha Yoga is one of the two branches of yoga that focuses on the physical culture the other branch is Raja Yoga. Both of these branches are commonly referred to as Sadanga Yoga (i.e., yoga of six parts, where ‘sad’ means six and ‘anga’ means limbs). Svatmarama emphasizes many times in his Hathapradipika text that there is no Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga and no Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga. The main difference is that Raja Yoga uses asanas mainly to get the body ready for prolonged meditation and, hence, focuses more on the meditative asanas: Lotus Posture (padmasana), Accomplished Posture (siddhasana), Easy Posture (sukhasana) and Pelvic Posture (vajrasana). Hatha Yoga utilizes not only meditative postures, but, also, cultural postures. Similarly, Raja Yoga’s use of pranayama is devoid of extensive locks (bandha).
Hatha represents opposing energies: hot and cold, fire and water, male and female, and positive and negative. It follows a format similar to yin and yang. Hatha Yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures or asanas, purification practices, controlled breathing and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced in order to improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation. However, if an individual has too much phlegm or fat, then purification procedures are a necessity before undertaking pranayama.
THE HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a classical text describing hatha yoga. It is said to be the oldest surviving text on Hatha Yoga. Swami Swatmarama, a disciple of Swami Goraknath, wrote the text in the 15th century CE, drawing upon previous texts and his own experiences. While the text describes asanas (postures), shatkarma (purifying practices), mudras (finger and hand positions), bandhas (locks) and pranayama (breathing exercises), it also explains that the purpose of hatha yoga is the awakening of kundalini (subtle energy), advancement to Raja Yoga and the experience of deep meditative absorption known as samadhi.
A balanced yoga class moves the spine in every direction in order to equally stretch each part of the body. At Qi-Yo Yoga, we teach a set of 12 exercises for beginners, 32 exercises for intermediate practitioners and over 200 asanas for long-time and advanced practitioners. The 12 basic asanas stretch the upper, middle and lower parts of the spine forward and backward. The final postures twist the spine and stretch it from side-to-side. Balancing postures are taught in every class as well.