by Nadi Zaidi: Our mannerisms, which range from the way we sit, place our hands, or move, convey a great deal about us…
These gesticulations are generally subconscious. But did you know that they might kindle deeper mental and physical manifestations? According to the belief behind hatha yoga - one of the most popular yoga forms in the western world – our bodily stance is indicative of our holistic outcomes.
So what is hatha yoga, exactly?
Hatha yoga is a practice that includes asanas (place and posture in which one sits) and pranayama (breathing exercises), which brings peace to body and mind.
Hatha yoga is a type of yoga that focuses on postural form. Most types of yoga in the West focus on postural forms of the practice. According to some scholars, hatha yoga dates back as early as the 15th century. During those times, it was used as a stepping-stone to achieving prolonged meditation.
What makes hatha yoga so unique is that it encompasses a duality practice. The very word is compounded to mean two things. “Ha,” meaning “the sun,” and “tha” referring to “the moon.” Hatha yoga uses a combination of structured poses with activities that lead to cleansing of the mind, such as posture and energy control.
Hatha yoga is based on six limbs (asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samādhi), compared to other forms of yoga that generally include a focus on eight limbs.
Hatha means “willful” or “forceful.” It is about using body postures to align your energy in specific directions. People who study yoga, or true yogis and yoginis can interpret what someone is going through by observing how they are sitting. Hatha yoga uses the premise of “asana” which means posture.
Certain positions that the body naturally assumes when it is in pain, tired, or happy can determine the individual experience and overall longevity and prognosis. You don’t consciously think about how you touch your ear when you’re uncomfortable, or about the way you arch your head when you listen, but yoga can allow you to become more aware.
Through asana, one can elevate their consciousness to leverage good health and disposition. Yoga devotees maintain that the power that the physical body has on one’s entirety can work for, or against human experience.
Since hatha yoga is so postural-based and trains people to hold poses for extended periods of time, it builds strength, endurance and size of muscles. Many yoga enthusiasts chuck the overcrowded gym for sessions of yoga because it may even yield better physical results.
In a study done by the University of Wisconsin’s Human Performance Laboratory University, researchers noted an improvement in strength and endurance of those who practiced hatha yoga for 55 minutes three days a week over a period of eight weeks.
Western audiences were introduced to yoga in the mid-19th century by Indian gurus, but they did not want hatha yoga to enter mainstream consciousness. During that time, gurus associated hatha yoga with panhandlers called ‘yogins.’ Eventually, the popularity of physical yoga emerged into western culture in the late 19th century and propelled hatha yoga into mainstream practice.
Ironically, hatha yoga is considered a more gentle form of yoga today. If you’re considering trying it out, you can expect slow-paced stretching, with pranayama breathing and meditation at the end. These are good classes to work on physical alignment, building strength, flexibility, and honing relaxation techniques.