Hatha Yoga

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Hatha Yoga Mean?

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga primarily concerned with mastery of the body, and it is arguably the tradition most familiar to Western culture. The term is derived from the Sanskrit ha, meaning "sun," and tha, meaning "moon," leading to the common interpretation that Hatha practices are designed to unite and balance these two energies. However, the literal translation of Hatha is "force," alluding to the physical techniques used within this tradition.

Traditionally, Hatha yoga offered a total life philosophy, incorporating how we relate to external and internal experience as a path to inner peace. One of the most prominent ancient texts on Hatha yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a series of 196 aphorisms written in Sanskrit around 400 AD.

Patanjali describes Hatha yoga as an eightfold path, consisting of eight mind-body disciplines to be mastered. All other physical practices of yoga such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Iyengar stemmed from the Hatha yoga tradition.


Yogapedia Explains Hatha Yoga

Originally an ascetic tradition, Hatha yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. With origins that can be traced back as far as the Sanskrit epics (Hinduism) and the Pali canon (Buddhism), the tradition emerged on the borders of India and Nepal.

Ancient Hatha yogis lived as renunciates, engaging in the disciplines of Hatha yoga as a means of self-experimentation. Hindu concepts such as reincarnation and karma were central to their thinking.

In modern terms, Hatha yoga has become associated solely with a physical practice, typically involving a sequence of asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques).

In this sense, Hatha yoga is generally practiced more slowly and with more static posture holds than found in styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa. However, the tradition of Hatha yoga encompasses much more than the physical practice which has become popular today.

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the eight limbs of the path of Hatha yoga are:

  1. Yamas – Five social observances: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness) asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).

  2. Niyamas – Five moral observances: saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), ishvarapranidhana (devotion or surrender).

  3. Asana – Yoga postures.

  4. Pranayama – Breathing techniques as a means of controlling prana (vital life force energy).

  5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses.

  6. Dharana – Concentration.

  7. Dhyana – Meditation.

  8. Samadhi – Enlightenment or bliss.

These eight limbs offer a systematic approach to calming the mind and finding liberation from suffering. Although the practice manifests itself as physical strength, physiological health and emotional well-being, the ultimate goal of Hatha yoga is to transcend identification with the body-mind-intellect complex in order to understand the nature of the true self.

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