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Hatha Yoga: What is it?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 381 views

It is one of the oldest and most popular styles of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga combines slow and easy-to-follow physical exercises. This yoga form is perfect for beginners. In a hatha yoga class, the yogi can strengthen his muscles, reduce stress and release blockages. Body, breath and relaxation come into harmony. Read more about it here.

What is Hatha Yoga?

The word “Hatha” can be translated as powerful and conscious. The syllable “Ha” stands for sun and “tha” for moon. In a figurative sense, this means that the energy can flow freely in the body.

Hatha yoga combines asana (exercise), pranayama (breath) and meditation. This allows the yogi to strengthen his body, calm down and find better access to himself.

The style is one of the oldest forms of yoga. A yogi named Goraksha laid the foundations. The Indian probably lived between the seventh and ninth centuries AD. He also wrote the so-called Goraksha Shataka, one of the oldest treatises on Hatha Yoga.

The verses still serve as the basis for this form of yoga today. Another basic work followed with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Written in the 14th century, the scripture contains four chapters detailing hatha yoga practices.

Colloquially, the term hatha yoga is also used today to emphasize that it is a gentle form of yoga – as opposed to physically intense orientations such as Ashtanga Yoga , Vinyasa Flow Yoga , Jivamukti Yoga or Power Yoga . Strictly speaking, these styles also belong to Hatha Yoga. For example, the sun salutation is practiced in classic Hatha Yoga as well as in Vinyasa Flow Yoga or Power Yoga.

The philosophy behind Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga focuses on the balance between body, breath and mind. Various elements play a role in achieving this state.

Gunas – Basic forms of energy

Gunas are basic forms of energy. Translated Guna means something like string, thread or quality. Three Gunas play a crucial role in Hatha Yoga:

rajas guna

This guna carries the properties of the elements fire and water . It stands for drive, energy and dynamism. Rajas initiate movement. Its energy enables a person to set things in motion.

Those under a strong Rajas influence are very active and like to rush from one thing to another. Those affected are ambitious and passionate. They find it hard to endure rest. In addition, they tend to be selfish.

Tamas Guna

Tamas is characterized by earth and water. Both elements stand, among other things, for the dark or for indolence. When Tamas is dominant, the person tends to be clumsy and lethargic. For example, he does not get up from the sofa, likes to eat fast food and feeds the mind with typical trash content. If the Tamas-Guna is strong, this can also be expressed by a lack of personal hygiene.

Sattva Guna

This guna represents light, clarity and purity. People in whom sattva is strong are peaceful, focused and balanced. They like peace and harmony. Their actions are characterized by love, selflessness and creative joy. They are sensitive and aware of what is happening around them. Also, they have a clear intellect and are not interested in things like looks, reputation, or prestige.

Triguna – the interplay of the three Gunas

The three Gunas are by no means to be viewed in isolation from one another. Rather, every human being has all the different types within them – in different forms. The aim of hatha yoga is to strengthen sattva guna. At the beginning of a lesson it makes sense to let the participants calm down. They should also learn to observe themselves through perception exercises.

In the course of the practice, however, Rajas and Tamas can also come into play – for example, by arranging various asanas in a flowing sequence (flows). These sequences can reduce stress or stimulate vitality. Backbends have a more stimulating effect, bending forwards has a cooling and calming effect, and rotations have a balancing effect.

The chakra system

In the yoga philosophy, the five envelopes called Pancha Kosha play a major role, writes Martina Mittag in her non-fiction book. Pancha stands for the number five, Kosha for layer or shell. Pancha Kosha is divided into four subtle layers that permeate the gross body.

  • Annamaya Kosha – the alimentary sheath (the physical body)
  • Pranamaya Kosha – the breath envelope, energy envelope
  • Manomaya Kosha – the mental sheath, thought sheath
  • Vijnanamaya Kosha – sheath of knowledge, sheath of wisdom
  • Anandamaya Kosha – the sheath of bliss

In the pranamaya kosha, the energy shell, there are the so-called nadis (invisible energy channels) and chakras (energy centers). Prana, the life energy, flows and flows through these nadis. Visually, this looks like a map made up of many small roads criss-crossing the body. The so-called Sushumna Nadi is the main traffic route. It originates at the base of the spine in the lower pelvis, runs vertically along the axis and within the spine up to the crown of the head.

If the life energy in the Nadi system is blocked or blocked, this can result in tension or pain. The aim of hatha yoga is for it to flow evenly through the body. A practice session helps the yogi to direct his attention to his body through physical and breathing exercises, mindfulness or concentration.

Wherever large and small energy channels meet and are interwoven in the body, there are very strong energy centers, the chakras. Behind them are subtle energy and consciousness centers. Subtle elements are characterized by being invisible to the eye. For example, the soul floats on the subtle level.

There are seven major chakras and countless minor chakras. They are both transmitters and receivers of energy. All chakras are connected to each other via the main energy channel Sushumna Nadi and are in constant exchange with each other. The lower three chakras cover existential areas such as food intake, emotions and sexuality. They also affect the energy balance and mental strength. The top four chakras are related to feelings, relationships, communication, wisdom, sensitivity and intuition.

  • Muladhara Chakra, the root chakra: It is located in the lower pelvic area, i.e. at the lower end of the spine. The dominant theme there is survival.
  • The Svadhistana Chakra (Sacral Chakra) is located in the lower abdomen at the level of the internal sex organs. Everything revolves around emotions, sexuality and enjoyment.
  • The Manipuea Chakra (solar plexus) is at about the solar plexus level. The dominant themes there are power, perseverance, self-esteem or will.
  • The Anahata Chakra (Heart Chakra) is located in the center behind the breastbone. It is about love, compassion, openness and balance.
  • The Vishuddja Chakra (heart chakra) is located in the throat. The dominant themes are communication, sound and purification.
  • The Ajna Chakra (brow chakra) is located between and slightly above the eyebrows. It’s all about intuition, wisdom and clairvoyance.
  • The Sahasrara Chakra (Crown Chakra): This chakra is located at the top of the head. The dominant themes are higher knowledge and higher consciousness.

This is how hatha yoga works

A hatha yoga class usually begins with a slow warm -up , followed by a flow phase before moving on to final relaxation. Behind a flow phase is the merging of different asanas – connected by the breath. The trainer can determine which exercises are suitable for this depending on the level of fitness of the yogi.

Some classes also contain elements of meditation or short mantra recitations. The purpose behind it is to get deeper access to the inner voice.

Effects of Hatha Yoga on the body

The human body benefits from Hatha Yoga exercises on various levels. They affect the following areas:

musculoskeletal system

  • improvement of bone structure
  • Strengthening of the core muscles
  • Straightening and stabilization of the vertebral column
  • Strengthening and stretching of the skeletal muscles
  • Improvement of mobility, coordination, balance

cardiovascular system

  • Improving blood circulation and blood flow to the internal organs
  • regulation of blood pressure

digestive system

  • Massage internal organs and improve organ health
  • stimulation of the metabolism

Atemsystem

  • Improving breath awareness
  • opening of the breathing spaces
  • Deepen breathing and improve tidal volume
  • Deacidification of the body through a deeper exhalation
  • Increased intake of oxygen

nervous system

  • calming of the nervous system
  • development of relaxation skills

Hormonal system

  • release of endorphins

Mental and emotional effects

  • Improving the ability to concentrate
  • improvement of perception
  • Improving body awareness

For whom Hatha Yoga is suitable

Since the exercises in hatha yoga are slow and easy to follow, this type of yoga is very suitable for beginners. But even advanced skiers will find their balance here. For example, you can choose more difficult asanas or increase the intensity of the flows.

Where to find hatha yoga classes

Hatha yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga in the West. Accordingly, numerous courses are also offered in Germany – in the gym or in special yoga facilities. Certain health insurance companies even cover the costs for this. At workshops and retreats, those who are interested can get a closer look at the yoga form within a short period of time.

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