Hatha Yoga : Principles and Benefits

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga primarily concerned with mastery of the body. Hatha in Sanskrit literally means ‘stubborn’. So Hatha Yoga practice means the stubborn practice of yoga, without the interference of the five senses and the mind. Generally, people think of Hatha Yoga only as asana practice. But it is the austere practice of asana, pranayama, dharana, and dhyana to achieve the sublime state of samadhi. In samadhi the yogi becomes free from the illusion of form, time, and space. Asana is just one of the six practices in this path.
Hatha Yoga originates from Raja Yoga. It is the simpler version (without Yamas and Niyamas) of Raja Yoga. In simple words, you can say all the yoga poses and pranayama exercises can be classified as Hatha Yoga. So if you practice any yoga asanas or pranayama exercises you are practicing Hatha.

History of Hatha Yoga

Around the early 15th century, some yogis from the Natha lineage did not want to wait so long and began practicing asanas before mastering Yama and Niyamas. As the mind was not ready for further practice they had to work harder. They called it their ‘stubborn’ practice of Yoga. These Natha Yogis kept practicing the asanas until they mastered them. This way of practicing Raja Yoga, not following the strict order of first mastering Yamas and Niyamas, was named ‘Hatha Yoga‘.
Swami Swatmarama, a 15th-century sage compiled Hatha Yoga Pradipika and briefly described six limbs of yoga to achieve Samadhi without the long process of the first two steps of the Yamas and Niyamas. Hatha Yoga is also known as Shatanga Yoga (six limb yoga).
Swami Swatmarama advised starting with the physical practices at first because most people will find it easier to master the mind through the body, than purifying their character, habits, and mind directly through the observance of the Yamas and Niyamas.
Hatha Yoga focuses primarily on the purification of the body as a path that leads to purification of the mind. The purification of the body and mind is essential also to be healthy. Being and staying healthy is a central goal in yoga because only then will you possess the best vehicle for your further spiritual development.

Six Principles of Hatha Yoga

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. Hatha Yoga is the six-limb yoga (Shatanga Yoga). These six limbs are:
  1. Asana – steady comfortable state of body and mind
  2. Pranayama – expansion of capacity to retain prana
  3. Pratyahara – withdrawal from the sensory input
  4. Dharana – bringing the mind to one single point
  5. Dhyana – observing the self
  6. Samadhi – becoming free from Maya
So the first two limbs of Raja Yoga; Yamas and Niyamas are excluded in Hatha Yoga.

Benefits of Hatha Yoga

There are numerous benefits of Hatha Yoga discovered by scientists and researchers. Many reports can be found in our book. I am mentioning some primary benefits below.

Physical Benefits

Some of the benefits of Hatha Yoga on the physical body are:
  • It improves mobility in the joints.
  • It improves flexibility in the connective tissue.
  • It stretches the fascia and improves its condition.
  • It improves metabolism.
  • It improves the functioning of all body systems.
  • It stimulates cell repair and regeneration.
  • It improves blood flow in the spinal cord and brain.
  • It rejuvenates the ligaments.
  • It helps to stimulate the lymphatic system and cleanses the body.
  • It improves the overall range of motion of the body.
  • It improves energy levels.
  • It improves the function of the lungs and heart.
  • It brings balance to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.

Mental Benefits

Some of the mental benefits are:
  • It helps to calm down the senses.
  • It helps to improve concentration.
  • It sharpens the focus.
  • It brings balance to the emotions.
  • It relieves anxiety and depression.
  • It removes mental fatigue.
  • It stimulates creativity.
  • It stimulates learning facilities.

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