There are many different yoga styles being taught in the Western world. And many people believe that Hatha yoga is just one of those styles, but actually it isn’t. Hatha yoga is the umbrella term for all of these different styles. Vinyasa yoga, Power yoga, Shivananda yoga, Anusara yoga, Hot yoga, Tantra yoga, Bikram yoga, Yin yoga, Jivamukti yoga… You name it! They are all Hatha yoga. Even Kundalini yoga is, despite the fact that Kundalini yogis don’t like to hear this. To understand what is the proper Hatha yoga definition, we need to examine the idea and history of yoga itself.
Ancient Integration of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga was one of the traditional ways to reach the goal of yoga. We call it the goal yoga as well. Confused yet? Just remember that we call the path AND the goal YOGA. To define yoga, we state the purpose of yoga in these easy words:
Yoga is a state of mental gathering and clarity. The flow of thoughts and feelings comes to a rest. Deep peace fills the heart. And the human realizes his intrinsic and timeless nature.
All the yogic ways in the long history of yoga lead to this experience called Self-Realization or Enlightenment. Each yoga style has its own preferences. Imagine a mountain that looks different from each side. A couple of paths are leading up that mountain, but they are all leading to the same mountaintop. The yogic ways for Self-Realization are Raja yoga, Hatha yoga, Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, and Jnana yoga. They all complement each other. Therefore, they invite humans to choose the best methods that fit his own individual personality and living conditions.
Raja Yoga Definition
Raja or Royal yoga focuses on meditation, self-discipline, and practice to achieve self-realization. The base of Raja yoga is the eight-limbed system that the sage Patanjali describes in his Yoga Sutras. Therefore, Raja yoga generally tends to attract spiritual and devoted practitioners. It had huge influences on Hatha yoga, and every Hatha yogi will, for sure, confirm that the Yamas and Niyamas are vital to him or to her. Thereover, I love to include in my own sessions the principles from the Yoga Sutras regarding the practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation.
Bhakti Yoga Definition
Bhakti yoga is a tradition of devotion and love towards a personal god or goddess. The Bhaktis – especially Hindus – pray, chant, and offer sacrifices, while being socially engaged and spending time with their guru. Practicing adoration was not a novelty and was always used in all the other yoga paths as well. This kind of yoga is considered the easiest way to achieve self-realization. It is a good fit for people that don’t have the mental capacity for Jnana yoga or Raja yoga. Not everyone can see love and unity in EVERYTHING. And so, it is simpler and easier to pray to one of the colorful Indian gods with their beautiful pictures. In the end, the devotee is trying to find the reflection of the personal god within himself.
In my classes, I bring you in connection with your Higher Self utilizing a heart theme that enriches every class. A heart theme could be, TRUST, HAPPINESS, COMPASSION, JOY, or the ABILITY TO WONDER. You will discover that you always have these abilities in abundance within yourself. You become able to shift from a victim to a creator’s mentality, whenever necessary.
Jnana Yoga Definition
Jnana yoga is the path of willpower and intellect. The devotee will study the texts of self-realization (Svadhyaya) and debate with his chosen guru (Satsang). He will meditate and dive deep into questions of who he really is on an intellectual level. The aim is to underlie this intellectual understanding with the absolute experience of the self while overcoming one’s ego. Finally, the person will realize that he is pure consciousness separated from time and space. Jnana yoga will always remain dry and serious, and you will get stuck if you don’t an element of Bhakti yoga. Famous Jnana yogis are Ramana Maharsi, Krishnamurti, and Jean Klein. Jean Klein, who was the former teacher of one of my teachers, wrote a couple of famous books couple of famous books about the self and our reality in a clear and lucid style.
I will add a splash of Jnana to my Hatha yoga classes by taking up an idea, hint, or story from some ancient or modern texts. Teaching you how to meditate is another important aspect for me.
Karma Yoga Definition
The root of the Sanskrit word Karma yoga comes from “kr,” which translates to “doing, making.” This relates to a tradition that gives our daily actions a special significance. Karma yoga builds a bridge between living in the ordinary world and our spiritual search. You don’t need to be a full-time yogi anymore! Conversely, you can find enlightenment while being a normal person, worker, partner, or parent. This was a novelty that was first described around 500 – 200 before Christ in the Baghavagita. Here we learn how to bring our worldly actions in harmony with our spiritual searching:
• our efforts need to be in accordance with our purpose of life (Svadharma)
• our actions should be impersonal and free of desire – always giving your best and then letting go of the attachment to the outcome
• we should act selflessly and serve towards the harmony of the greater good.
At the end of each class, we will talk about the transition of what we have learned on the mat to your daily life and I will give you a series of exercises for the coming week for you to practice. In the end, the art of yoga is to live a happier and healthier life during those hours when you are not practicing on your mat. I believe that these practical ideas that I will share with you will change your life for the better.
Definition of Hatha Yoga
Finally, we come to the definition of Hatha yoga, being the main form that we practice in our yoga classes. The word Hatha translates from Sanskrit to “violence, compulsion, necessity”. These words already show that this path will be demanding and energetic. It is the latest yoga path and it had its heyday between the years 800 and 1,200 after Christ. Therefore, there is a mystical interpretation that says that “ha” is meant to symbolize the solar and “tha” the lunar aspects of human beings, as well as the entire cosmos. In this sense, Hatha yoga invites us first to become aware, and second to transcend the duality of our existence. By bringing both aspects together, it becomes possible to reside in a state of calmness and wakefulness. Another name for Hatha yoga is Kayasadhana. Kayasadhana means that we involve both our tangible and our energetic body into the process of Self-Realization.
The Elements of Hatha Yoga
We define Hatha yoga by anything you might do with the body, including:
• body postures (Asana)
• breathing techniques (Pranayama)
• chanting or reciting of mantras
• using mudras, gestures with the hand or the entire body
• cleansing techniques
All of these exercises strengthen our psycho-physical entity. We practice them to have a healthier, happier, and longer life, which is a good foundation to achieve Self-Realization.
Development of Yoga
Like the practice of yoga itself, which has transformed significantly over the past 3,500 years, Hatha yoga has similarly evolved. Especially during the past 30 years, yoga has become a big business all over the world. To make money, one has to stand out amidst the growing crowd of yoga teachers, by developing his own yoga style and brand and learn to sell it to other yoga teachers. This approach has made the “market” for yoga very confusing for the general public, which has recently become overrun by dubious yoga styles such as beer yoga or goat yoga.
For my own part, I eventually found my way back to traditional yoga without a fancy name attached to it and without having to pay exorbitant membership fees. In my classes, I will still incorporate some of the more finely adjusted and mostly physical methods of modern yoga styles that I have learned in previous years. To put it simply, I call my own teaching style, Hatha yoga.