yoga warrior pose

By Force: The true meaning of Hatha Yoga

Posted on Posted in Hatha Yoga, Meditation, Mind, raja yoga, Samyama Yoga

 

Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga in our modern industrial societies. Hatha means ‘by force’ or ‘by violence’ and is interpreted in yoga as the discipline to apply focused effort in all physical activities involving yoga warrior posestrength, flexibility, balance, coordination, static-dynamic endurance, relaxation, and joint alignment. It also incorporates breathing (pranyama), internal muscular (bundha) and energetic (mudra) responses.

The term ‘hatha’ is a cunning reminder to yoga practitioners, that if we wish to have good mental and physical health throughout our whole lives, we must consistently apply effort and discipline. Most of us presume that maintaining mental health as we age will be easier than it actually is, and as a result, most get discouraged and allow ourselves to be derailed by indulgences and temptations through our emotional turmoil and loss of esteem.

You cannot maintain mental health if you do not maintain physical health. When you are ill, exhausted, injured, or under the influence of brain-altering chemicals such as alcohol or fructose, it is impossible to meditate or clear your head, and your emotions will tend to run riot. By naming the physical component of yoga as hatha, it is a way of reminding us that in order to experience self-love, joy, happiness and a higher sense of self, we firstly must discipline ourselves to maintain our physical health.

You may have read or heard that hatha means ‘sun’ or ‘moon’. This description of ‘hatha’ is quite common among the yoga fraternity, but is not what hatha actually means. The Sanskrit root ‘ha’ does not mean ‘sun’, nor does ‘tha’ have any association with ‘moon’. There are Sanskrit words for ‘sun’, such as the surya (in suryanamaskaram—the sun salutation). There are also Sanskrit words for ‘moon’, such as chandra, which is derived from the root ‘chand’ and means ‘to shine’.

So where does the idea that ‘hatha’ means ‘sun and moon’ come from?

While the archaeological evidence for yoga as a whole discipline goes back thousands of years, the emphasis on the physical side of yoga however is linked to about 1500 c.e. with the origins of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Compiled by Swami Svatmarama, the text details the primary practices of hatha yoga, as preconditions for meditation and its links to samadhi.
In Chapter 4, Verse 17, Svatmarama writes:

 “surya-chandramasau dhattah kala ratrindivatmakam bhoktri sushumna kalasya ghuhyametadudahrtam…”

…which interprets as:

“Time, in the form of night and day, is made by the sun and the moon. That, the Susumnâ devours this time (death) even, is a great secret”.

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svatmarama indicates that the physical yoga practices change the flow of energy in the body through the two primary energy channels (ida and pingala). This is an extension of the much earlier dualist philosophy of classical yoga linked to physical health. These channels are said to have complementary forces that allow life to occur by balancing the opposites, such as hot and cold, sleep and awake, activity and rest, or hormones for maleness and those for femaleness. Svatmarama explains that the hatha yoga techniques balance these two energies—uniting the ‘solar’ and the ‘lunar’ elements of the body. From this, the modern concept of the meaning of hatha has arisen.

This reference to the ‘sun’ and the ‘moon’ however is used as an analogy and not the literal meaning of the term hatha. The energies of the sun and the moon are forever changing, and hatha yoga must be regularly practiced to balance the ebb and flow of the energies giving us health in our bodies. Svatmarama indicates that we can also polish our ability to focus the mind on balancing the energy balance of the body which then assists the physical exercises.

Svatmarama also states (Chapter 4, Verse 79) that hatha yoga, of itself, does not encompass complete yoga—

“raja-yoghamajanantah kevalam hatha-karmina etanabhyasino manye prayasa-phala-varjitan”.

This interprets as:

“Those who are ignorant of râja-yoga and practise only Hatha-Yoga, will, in my opinion, waste their energy fruitlessly”.

Thus, like Patanjali before him in the Yoga Sutra, Svatmarama also indicates that the primary aim of yoga is to unite the facets of an individual’s mind, and in so doing, link with that which is beyond themselves.

In February 2016, I will be running a one-off comprehensive Samyama Yoga Teacher Training course.  This 12-month course will give you an in-depth understanding of yoga and open up your world to true transformation. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work closely with me and become a qualified Samyama yoga teacher, as I will not be offering this course again. If you’d like more information or to express your interest, please contact us.