Yoga is a time-honored tradition that originated in ancient India - by some estimates, more than 5000 years ago. Ever since its inception, people have been using the discipline to help them achieve balance, harmony, and clarity in their lives.
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The Basics Of Hatha Yoga
Yoga is a time-honored tradition that originated in ancient India - by some
estimates, more than 5000 years ago. Ever since its inception, people have been
using the discipline to help them achieve balance, harmony, and clarity in their
Yoga has become very popular in recent years and we see it in the media and
hear about it in casual conversation all the time . Though we have all heard of
yoga, there are many misconceptions about the practice and confusion about
various styles that are available.
Many myths and misinterpretations continue to propagate that complicate the
basic tenets of the practice or cause people to shy away. Some believe that yoga is
a form of religion and that only Hindus can practice it. Others think of yoga as
just a fitness routine with little to offer beyond the physical postures.
In truth, yoga is really just a collection of varying techniques - some simple and
basic and others more complex and esoteric - that provide a holistic approach to
clarifying the mind and rejuvenating body. While yogic principles originally grew
out of the Hindu tradition, the practices themselves are non-sectarian and
accessible to all. When practiced regularly and with proper guidance, it can lead
to genuine insight and a wonderful sense of wellbeing.
How many forms or types of yoga are there?
In the big picture, the aim of yoga is expansive: it was designed to help us
understand ourselves and the world in which we live. Since there are multiple
paths that assist us with exploration, there are corresponding yogic systems that
address each of those paths. The system that is most familiar in contemporary
culture - and the one we will discuss here - is called Hatha yoga. It focuses
primarily on physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation, along with
other techniques. (Other primary systems of yoga concentrate on a variety of
alternate paths, including: intellectual understanding, energetic control, spiritual
devotion, visualization and ritual, and works of service for others.
As one can imagine with a practice that has evolved over millennia and spread
around the globe, Hatha yoga has changed and adapted over the years. Branches
and off-shoots have developed and this has led to a dizzying array of differing
styles that can seem confusing at first. In the end, most of these styles share
many common attributes and are - in their essence - more similar than different.
That doesn't mean that varying styles won't look or feel different. An Ashtanga
vinyasa class will feel very different from an Iyengar or Integral or Yin class. But
the core system of using physical postures, the breath, and focused concentration
to bring about clarity and well-being are fundamentally the same.
Each of these styles, along with numerous others that may vary slightly in their
approach, are all still included under the umbrella of Hatha yoga. They all utilize
physical poses and focused use of the breath.
Hatha yoga explained in a little more depth
The Sanskrit word Hatha, translates literally as "willful, forceful or determined".
Other interpretations choose to divide the word into its constituent syllables -
with 'ha' meaning 'sun' and 'tha' meaning 'moon' - symbolically uniting dualistic
energies into a holistic and universal system.
Hatha yoga is the fundamental basis for most yoga classes currently taught in the
western world. When participating in one of these classes, you will usually be
introduced to some basic yoga postures and breathing techniques. In entry-level
classes, these will be suitable for all abilities and most people will be able to
participate with little difficulty.
The postures, or positions, are designed in such a way as to open up the body’s
energetic channels – particularly along the spinal column - and allow energy to
flow freely throughout the body. These postures are designed to strengthen the
body and can often be mastered with regular practice.
In conjunction with these poses, the practice of 'pranayama' is also included in
most Hatha classes. Pranayama is a method of controlling and directing the
breath. Though breathing is something that we do naturally and unconsciously, by
bringing both attention and intention to our breath, we can change ingrained
patterns and access greater stores of energy. Pranayama is also a powerful
technique to create greater awareness of our unconscious habits and to encourage
calmness and equanimity.
Combining pranayama breathing with physical postures leads to an increased
awareness of how powerful and resilient the human body is, tapping into the full
potential of what it means to live a vibrant and energize life. These are the
fundamental building blocks of Hatha yoga that then set the stage for delving even
deeper through focused meditation.
Depending upon which of the varying styles you explore, Hatha yoga classes can
range from slow and methodical to active and physically challenging. While most
offerings will concentrate primarily on the postures, a well-rounded class will
focus attention on basic pranayama techniques and include some meditation as
All Hatha classes should leave you with a sense of relaxation and well-being. The
avenues to get there may diverge at times, but ultimately the techniques of Hatha
yoga were designed to help open your body and mind to greater understanding,
increased clarity, and a felling of equanimity.
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