Understanding the origins of a timeless practise
There are so many different types of yoga infiltrating the health and wellness market these days. Every time I peruse my favourite wellness websites, I see something new. It’s nothing other than overwhelming and confusing. So where are these new ideas coming from?
New ideas come from market demand. If someone wants it, and money will pay for it, the service pops up (sometimes out of nowhere). New styles of yoga like the ever popular SUP yoga (stand up paddle board) seem like an adaptable and innovative way to practice whereas the newly invented Beer Yoga seems like a bit of a stretch. Whether these new trends are here to stay is another question. One type of yoga that has been around for the ages -and is commonly misinterpreted- is still making its mark: This is Hatha Yoga.
Back to Basics
Hatha yoga is often explained as a slightly easier type of classical yoga that is good for beginners. Ahh! Cringe! This is very incorrect…so incorrect that I struggled to type it. Since the traditions of Hatha yoga have been popularised in the west, they have been taken lightyears away from their original context.
You see, Hatha yoga is any type of yoga that is based around postural work or asana. It is the ‘exercise’ part of yoga. There are a variety of different types of Hatha yoga, mostly stemming from the yogic scholar, Krishnamacharya.
Krishnamacharya taught a myriad of successful yoga gurus including Indra Devi, TKV Desikachar, BKS Iyengar and Patabi Jois. He created and popularised Ashtanga yoga in the West and his students went on to create and popularise other types of yoga.
Any type of physical yoga practise centred around the asanas is a branch that has extended off the tree of traditional Hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga is traditionally practiced not as a form of physical exercise but as a means to prepare the body for higher possibilities by controlling and taming perceived energy flows within the body. It is understood as a step in the process for preparing the body for meditation. This aspect of Hatha yoga has been taken out of mainstream yoga in the West. We do not view spiritual enlightenment as on par with the physical (body) nature of health and wellbeing.
Yoga is like any other commercial product: It is organic and adaptable to consumer wants and needs. This is simply the nature of the world we live in. In some ways, it is a shame to lose the true philosophy of the Hatha yoga practice, but in many ways the it is still benefiting those who do it.
There are many claims that Hatha yoga has a variety of health benefits. Some obvious physical benefits are increased strength, flexibility and balance if done regularly. Other benefits that have been empirically studied are stress reduction, improved overall physical fitness, management of chronic conditions and increased self awareness.
It is important to remember that Hatha yoga has become highly commercialised and a variety of untested and unscientific health benefits (physical, mental and emotional) are sometimes touted for marketing purposes. Knowledge is power and conducting some simple desktop research before attending your first classes will give you more realistic expectations of the benefits of Hatha yoga compared to untested and sometimes fanciful marketing claims.
Quite obviously, if you are doing something you enjoy, you will get physical, mental and emotional benefits from it. Just trying something new like a yoga class gets you out of your comfort zone opening your eyes to new possibilities. This is a cause for a pat on the back!
So there you have it, a crash course in Hatha yoga that I hope you found insightful, practical and enlightening (no pun intended). If you are interested in some empirical studies and the science of yoga, this article titled The science of yoga - what research reveals is a great place to start.