Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hatha Yoga - a definition


Hatha Yoga refers to the physical based yoga that is predominant in the west.

Hatha Yoga includes the practices of asanas (poses), pranayama (breath control), dhyana (meditation), yama and niyama (behavior guidelines based on action and non-action).

These practices have developed over time to help students of yoga reach their goals.

The original and ultimate goal of traditional yoga is described in the word – samadhi.

As far as I can understand*, it infers union with, or a merging consciousness, with the supreme consciousness.

The supreme consciousness
The supreme consciousness is one. The goal to merge with it, infers that we are not part of it now, but after practicing the philosophy of unity (as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras), we are able to unite with the one.

The one can be called many names, but, it is not any of these names. Labels help us to conceptualize an idea, but they can become a hindrance to understanding also.

The practices of yoga are as diverse as there are people who practice. This is the nature of humanity. We have similar goals, but we use different paths to get there. The path you take can be chosen for you (you were born into it), it can be recommended (by a guru, a friend or any out side influence), or you can try to find your own way.

All paths are valid, if the goal of unity is the same one.


The concept of unity is broad. It is, as with the practice of yoga, as diverse as there are practitioners. Your unity maybe expressed in devotion and submission to a guru. It maybe just trying to feel your body as one living whole. It maybe to merge yourself with the one consciousness (regardless of what you call that one consciousness). All practices of yoga (unity) are valid.

Asana-based yoga
Today, most of the people in the west practice hatha yoga. Although there is a growing interest and study in addressing traditional yoga goals, most people study yoga for fitness and health. This type of yoga, I call asana-based yoga.

Living yoga off the mat
On the other side of the pendulum, we have people who want to explore the very nature of yoga in all aspects of their life. This practice, I term, ‘Living yoga off the mat’.

We are all yoga practitioners. We are all drawn to some aspect of yoga. For the sake of unity, let us allow each and every one of us the same respect in their chosen path, whether its asana-based, or you have immersed yourself in the philosophy of yoga.

* I am not a scholar of Sanskrit, so rely upon other people’s translations of ancient texts.


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