Introduction to Hatha Yoga
We have 360 joints, 206 bones, 380 muscles, 150 trillion cells, and 14 trillion neurons. Yoga is the only complete system that can work at all these different levels of body and mind.
Hatha Yoga, is the traditional Indian name used to describe a set of practices that are intended to prevent physical problems, heal existing ones and maintain overall health and wellbeing.
Hatha Yoga has five parts that are practiced sequentially. Together they purify the body at a very subtle level. There is now a growing body of research to explain in clinical terms how these ancient practices are so effective.
The five main limbs of Hatha Yoga
- Shat Kriyas – Six cleansing techniques. More about Shat Kriyas
- Asana – Postures. More about Asanas
- Pranayama – Breathing techniques. More about Pranayama
- Mudra and Bandha – Energy locking techniques. More about Mudra and Bandha
- Kundalini – Purification of the neural network. More about Kundalini
The health benefits of hatha yoga are well known in the world today. In the West it is mainly used to give the body suppleness, strength and stamina and to exercise and relax the body and mind. Hatha yoga has a healing effect that can be used to treat a whole host of ailments from back problems, to diabetes, to infertility.
One of it’s lesser known branches, Kaya Chikitsa can be used as a therapeutic treatment for those who are unable to practice hatha yoga for themselves.
Hatha yoga, a generic term that encompasses a wide range of traditions and styles, was originally taught as a preparation for the subtler practice of working with the mind through meditation. Inherited over thousands of years, from generation to generation, teacher to disciple, yogi to yogi, Hatha Yoga was developed and preserved by the lineage of Nath Gurus in Northern India. Swatmarama, a descendent of that lineage, introduced the standard curriculum for Hatha Yoga practice, Hatha Yoga Pradeepika in around the ninth century.
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika was later followed by texts such as: Hatha Ratnavali, Siva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita, Kurantaka Yoga, Kapala Kurantaka Yoga, Yoga Ratnavali, and Shiva Yoga Deepika.
The Nath gurus developed a vast and subtle understanding of the body through their insightful practice of hatha yoga. Now modern science recognizes the accuracy of their findings. They developed techniques to cleanse the body at the microscopic level of neuron transmission channels, called in Sanskrit, ‘nadi’.
The entire system of Hatha Yoga is built around the system of nadis, or neural networks.
A nadi is a neuron transmission channel. The sound Ha relates to the Ida nadi of the parasympathetic nervous system and the sound Tha relates to the Pingala nadi of the sympathetic nervous system. Sushumna nadi is the central channel, canalis centralis. Hatha yoga is based on the balancing of these two systems and the channelising of the energies in the body. There are 14 principle nadis, that are sub-divided into 6000 nadis and further into 84,000 nadis.
The six chakras (wheels) are principle centres of neuron transmission channels or nadi centres, also called plexus. All these centres are supported by the muscular skeletal system and are located at various points along the spine. Each chakra is connected to a particular system of the body and it’s related element. For example, the swadishtana is located at the sacral plexus. It is the centre for the reproductive and urinary system which is dominated by the liquid element.
The principle chakras
|Sanskrit Name||English Name||System||Element|
|Muladhara||Coccygeal Plexus||Excretory System||Solid Element|
|Swadisthana||Sacral Plexus||Reproductive System||Water Element|
|Manipura||Solar Plexus||Digestive System||Fire Element|
|Anahata||Cardiac Plexus||Circulatory and Respiratory System||Air Element|
|Visuddhi||Pharyngeal Plexus||Autonomous Nervous System, Lymphatic, Thyroid, Parathyroid||Space Element|
|Ajna||Forehead Centre||Pineal and Pituitary Gland||Consciousness Element|
|Sahasrara||Hypothalamus Centre||Central Nervous System||Superconsciousness.|
Hatha Yoga cultivates awareness of the interrelationship of mind and body that is then developed much more profoundly with insight meditation. In the Yoga tradition this meditation is referred to as Raja Yoga meaning ‘King of the Yogas’ and is based on the methods outlined by Patanjali at around 100 BC. Although clearly Raja Yoga has an impact on physical health and Hatha Yoga has an impact on mental health, these two traditional systems are complementary but distinct. The purpose of Hatha Yoga was traditionally a way to keep the yoga aspirant healthy and free from disease in order to facilitate the practice of Raja Yoga as taught by Patanjali for the purification of the mind. Hatha Yoga cleans the physical channels and Raja Yoga cleans the mental channels.
Yoga means union. The term yoga originates in the Sanskrit word yok, the piece of wood that connects two bullocks pulling a cart. They need to be connected and perfectly balanced. When we build this union and balance within the body, within the mind and between body and mind, we live in perfect peace and happiness no matter what. A peaceful mind radiates only good will and creates harmony. It is full of compassion and has not only the will but also the means to help others. Yoga is the science of building harmony and overcoming disharmony in order to get on well with everything and everyone. It offers a means to achieve perfect physical and mental health.