The practices of Hatha yoga, the most popular and oldest form of yoga, are so powerful that they form the foundation of all the major yoga styles. Yet today, Hatha yoga is more commonly known through its poses, or asanas. We are all familiar with the downward-facing dog position. Other yoga branches may borrow from its pranayamas (meditation) or chakras (energy centers). Pure Hatha yoga, as it is intended to be practiced, holistically integrates all these practices to prepare you for a higher meditative journey.
But first, according to Yogi Swâtmârâma who wrote the first text of hatha yoga in the 15th century text, you must find a guru. In the “Hatha Yoga Pradipikâ,” Swâtmârâma pays honor to dozens of “great masters” who have helped to spread this ancient yoga. On your quest in the modern day yoga world, through yoga studios and yoga fests, choose a guru who practices the pure form of hatha yoga. By practicing the purest form of Hatha yoga, you will embark on a journey to a higher state of physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
The Yin and Yang of Hatha Yoga
Many of today’s yoga practitioners have borrowed parts of hatha yoga or cobbled them together with other practices, such as tantric or power yoga, to brand their own yoga style. Over thousands of years, Hatha yoga techniques have been carefully orchestrated to unify the body and mind and improve concentration. ‘Ha’ represents the sun—or one’s stronger, masculine side—and ‘the’ the moon—or one’s gentler, feminine side. These dualities are integrated through a series of techniques to achieve oneness of body, mind and spirit.
Unifying Practices of Hatha Yoga
You may be familiar with the core hatha yoga techniques through yoga offshoots.
- Âsanas are the most commonly used series of yoga poses to achieve health, good posture and “lightness of body.”
- Through daily breathing techniques, Pranayamas focus on achieving calmness of the mind through steadiness of breathing.
- Kundalini, focused in the spine and the center of all yoga practices, is stimulated through Hatha Yoga techniques. By awakening the kundalini, the chakras are activated.
- Prior to Kundalini, Shatkarma, or six purification exercises, are performed.
- Chakras are the seven energy centers that lie at the intersection of Nadis, or energy channels, through which life energy flows.
Hatha Yoga and Clean Living
The object of hatha yoga is to control the mind through yoga postures, diet and clean living (cleanliness; avoidance of stimulants, such as alcohol and tobacco). While this article is about practicing Hatha yoga in its purest form, you can follow today’s dietary guidance based on current knowledge. Yogi Swâtmârâma recommends eschewing meats for natural foods, such as honey, vegetables and dried ginger. In today’s food system, however, keep in mind that milk, sugar, butter and wheat could contribute to high-blood pressure and diabetes, among other ills, if not used in moderation.