Hatha yoga uses the body to access the mind. Our body is our map of our self. It tells our stories. It is practical. Tangible. Here and now. When our body aches or hurts, our entire well being is affected. Likewise, when our body feels good, when everything inside us is functioning and performing as it should be, our energy reflects that good feeling.
During a Hatha yoga practice different postures are assumed. These postures allow us to use the body as a vehicle for inner exploration. In this way the practice of asana is really more like praying with the body in order to reach the Divine within.
Ones practice can be an offering. A complete surrender. A moving meditation. By constantly moving in to the observer seat, one becomes the watcher, watching the process without judgement. The body is active. The brain is passive. The body does. The mind is.
Hatha yoga is the process of penetrating from the outermost sheath of the body, the skin and the physical body, deep down into the inner most core of the body, the bliss body, the divine body.
Then we can pass through the porthole created in our practice, travel along this clear path and move into and out of this space at will.
It is an inner yearning and burning desire to free oneself from suffering and to reach a state of Samadhi, or blissful oneness with the universe and self-realization.
This is the goal of yoga, and ultimately our practice will take us to that place of spiritual bliss, down into the inner most core of the Self and then allow us to shine this light back out into the world.
The literal translation of Hatha is "force". But this force is not a physical force disrespecting the body, but rather an internal force involving an intense desire to connect to something greater and beyond. It is a force in the sense of inertia, in the sense of determination and discipline, "tapas".
Though "Hatha" appears to be one word, it can in reality be broken down to "ha" meaning effort, activity and "tha" meaning letting go, passivity. So in Hatha yoga we attempt to balance our effort with that of release; balancing pose with repose.
Going further into the depths of the word we find the "ha" as having masculine qualities while the "tha" has feminine qualities. Not only are the qualities of active and receptive balanced but also the masculine and feminine aspects of our being are balanced as well.
Finally, taking the process to a universal level, "ha" becomes the sun and "tha" the moon. The solar heat of our bodies and soul becomes balanced with that of the cool, lunar energies.
Hatha yoga cultivates a conscious awareness and sensitivity that balances out our natural tendencies for these dualistic qualities. We balance ourselves internally and calm the chaos of the conflicting impulses of the mind and thus prepare ourselves for meditation.
During a Hatha yoga practice different postures, known as asana are assumed. Through these poses we awaken the self, the self as the witness, watching the process and begin to understand our selves on a deeper level. We become the watcher watching, non-judging, observing and transcending that which we know of ourselves.
At the same time we begin to awaken a deep awareness and intelligence of our bodies. We learn to watch how the skin moves when the arm moves a certain way, how the muscles turn the bones when we lift a knee cap, how the organs are cleansed, replenished with fresh blood when we twist our torso.
We revive our cells, our micro-cells, our nerves and begin to create space in our bodies allowing for greater "prana", breath, energy or life force to move through us. By staying connected to the breath we are invited to stay present and live in the moment.
As master yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar says:
"Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present."
Not only is the breath constantly observed, but so is the mind and its thoughts.
Each time we practice we discover anew how different positions alter our experience of life and give us a greater understanding of ourselves.
Through observation and perhaps a change in thought, or a letting go of a certain thought pattern, the experience of the pose, and thus the self, may change. All the asanas have names that reflect the evolutionary process in life and allow us to feel part of this wholeness.
For example the flexibility of a serpent's spine in cobra pose; or the grace and strength of an eagle in eagle pose; or the playfulness of a dog as he stretches himself in upward and downward facing dog pose. We identify with geometric shapes as in triangle pose; and tools such as the plow pose.
We feel the wisdom of sages as in a seated twist pose, and experience our connectedness to nature in poses such as tree pose, and half moon pose, just to name a few.
Regardless of which asana one is practicing, it always has two qualities: alertness without tension, and relaxation without heaviness and dullness. In other words, every pose feels steady and joyful.
Yoga is for anyone and everyone. On the physical and psychological level the body reaps tremendous benefits. Yoga can help to cure ailments, prevent others, and strengthens, purifies and balances the endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems.
Regular practice gives one greater endurance, flexibility, and improves posture. The body's natural weight is maintained and the organs are detoxified.
Breathing becomes easier and energy is renewed, while blood pressure returns to normal and stress becomes easier to cope with. Thoughts become more pleasant and negative emotions diminish.
In essence we gain vibrant physical and emotional health and we feel calmed, peaceful and connected.
Written by Trishka Lemos