Hatha Yoga. Part I

We will deal with this path first because it generally precedes the other forms. In other words, to tread any path of yoga, physical, psychic and mental health is essential and these are the basic aims of hatha yoga. In fact, it is often regarded as the first part of raja yoga, for without the preliminary practice of hatha yoga, raja yoga becomes very difficult, if not impossible. The Hindi word hatha means ‘obstinate’. But the meaning of hatha yoga is not ‘obstinate yoga’, though some people might regard it as being so. The word hatha is composed of two syllables, namely ha and tha. Ha means the ‘sun’ and tha means the ‘moon’. Yoga means communion. Thus hatha yoga means the harmony between the sun and moon aspects of our being. The right nostril is connected with the sun aspect; the left is associated with the moon aspect. The moon rules over the mental functions, while the sun controls the vital and physical functions. This applies to everyone and is a basic tenet of yoga. The two nostrils have a deeper association with the llow of prana within our being. It is this flow of prana that ultimately influences the mental and physical functions. If the moon flow is predominant, then one tends to think too much. If the sun flow is predominant there is a tendency towards extroversion and physical activity. Throughout the day we tend to operate either more mentally or more physically. This is a natural process. However, for perfect mental and physical balance the sun flow should predominate for a total of about twelve hours and the moon flow for the other twelve hours in each day. This ensures a balanced personality – neither too much introversion nor too much extroversion. The balance of these two is essential and is the basic aim of hatha yoga. Not only this, but balance leads to perfect physical and mental health. Further, it is the period when the flow in both nadis is exactly the same (manifested by equal flow in both nostrils) that spontaneous states of meditation can arise.
In the ancient classical text, the Gherand Samhita , hatha yoga is referred to as ‘ghatastha yoga’. Ghata means a ‘pot’ or a ‘vessel’, representing the physical body. The word stha means ‘contents’. Therefore, ghatastha is an analogy for the contents of the physical body, meaning the yoga of that which is contained within the physical body. The text continues: “The physical body is like an unbaked pitcher which dissolves itself if filled with water. When the pitcher is fired, then it becomes strong enough to contain water. In the same way the body becomes strong when it is fired or hardened by the fire of yoga (hatha or ghatastha).” (1:8) This is a perfect description of the basic aim and philosophy of hatha yoga.
We have already introduced you to some of the basic practices of hatha yoga, which can be roughly divided into different groups, as follows:
Shatkarmas are in the main concerned with cleansing the body. Many diseases are caused by the build-up of toxins within the body. These practices are the first step in eliminating these waste products, and thereby regaining perfect health1.
Asanas are the physical postures of yoga. We have already introduced you to many of them, their rules and a few practices, so we will not go into any detail here2. We will mention, however, that there is much controversy between the different schools of yoga as to whether asanas are actually a part of hatha yoga, raja yoga, tantra yoga or of all three.
Pranayama has also been fully discussed and a few practices have already been given.
Mudras and bandhas are often classified with hatha yoga. Mudras are special physical positions of the body or parts of the boch which induce deeper physiological, psychic and mental changes in one’s being. Bandhas are physical locks which perform the same function.
These are very basic definitions. The practices will be fully discussed later in the book.

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