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Hatha yoga (Sanskrit: हठयोग haṭhayoga, listen (help·info) IPA: [ɦəʈʰəˈjoːɡə]), also called hatha vidya (हठविद्या), is a kind of yoga focusing on physical and mental strength building exercises and postures described primarily in three texts of Hinduism:
Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama (15th century)
Shiva Samhita, author unknown (before 1500 CE or late 17th century)
Gheranda Samhita by Yogi Gheranda (late 17th century)
Many scholars also include the preceding Goraksha Samhita authored by Yogi Gorakshanath of the 11th century in the above list. Gorakshanath is widely considered to have been responsible for popularizing hatha yoga as we know it today.
In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama introduces his system as preparatory stage for physical purification that the body practices for higher meditation or Yoga. It is based on asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). Several centuries earlier, Patañjali, a Shaiva of the 2nd century BC, in his treatise on Raja Yoga, Yoga Sutras, had professed seated asanas and pranayam as two limbs of the practice of Raja Yoga.
In the 20th century, hatha yoga, particularly asanas (the physical postures), became popular throughout the world as physical exercises, and is now colloquially termed "yoga".
According to legend, Lord Shiva is credited with propounding hatha yoga. It is said that on a lonely island, assuming nobody else would hear Him, He gave the knowledge of hatha yoga to Goddess Parvati, but a fish heard the entire discourse, remaining still throughout. The fish (Matsya) later became a siddha and came to be known as Matsyendranath. Matsyendranath taught hatha yoga to his disciple Gorakshanath and to a limbless man, Chaurangi. Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions many other famous hatha yogis. Hatha yoga was thus passed down in disciplic succession.
Many believe that Patañjali, a siddha of the 2nd century BC, in his treatise on Raja Yoga, Yoga Sutras, professed asanas and pranayam as two limbs of the practice of Raja Yoga, while others assert that Patanjali's sutras do not support the practice of asanas as physical exercise at all.
Sage Gorakshanath is widely credited with making hatha yoga popular. He authored several texts on the practice of yoga, such as the Goraksha Samhita, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, Gorakshataka, Yoga Martanda and Yoga Chinatamani. The Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati is a very early extant hatha yoga Sanskrit text which contains much content on the avadhuta, as Feuerstein (1991: p. 105) relates:
One of the earliest hatha yoga scriptures, the Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, contains many verses that describe the avadhuta. One stanza (VI.20) in particular refers to his chameleon-like capacity to animate any character or role. At times, it is said, he behaves like a worldling or even a king, at other times like an ascetic or naked renunciant.—
The two principal texts of hatha yoga are the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda samhita. These works are derived from older Sanskrit texts. Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists 35 great Hatha Yoga siddhas or masters Adi Natha, Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath. It includes information about shatkarma (purification), asana, pranayama (subtle energy control), chakras (centers of energy), kundalini (instinct), bandhas (muscle force), kriyas (techniques; manifestations of kundalini), shakti (sacred force), nadis (channels), and mudras (symbolic gestures) among other topics.
Many modern schools of hatha yoga in the West derive from the school of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. Among his students prominent in popularizing yoga in the West were K. Pattabhi Jois famous for popularizing the vigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga style, B. K. S. Iyengar who emphasizes alignment and the use of props, Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar.
Another major stream of influence within and outside India has been Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh (1887–1963) and his many disciples including, among others, Swami Vishnu-devananda – founder of International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres; Swami Satyananda – of the Bihar School of Yoga; and Swami Satchidananda of Integral Yoga.
Traditional hatha yoga is a holistic yogic path, including disciplines, postures (asana), purification procedures (shatkriya), gestures (mudra), breathing (pranayama), and meditation. The hatha yoga predominantly practiced in the West consists of mostly asanas understood as physical exercises. It is also recognized as a stress-reducing practice.
Hatha yoga is one of the two branches of yoga that focuses on the physical culture, the other one being raja yoga. Both of these are commonly referred to as sadanga yoga, i.e., yoga of six parts ('sad' meaning six and 'anga' meaning limbs). Svatmarama emphasizes many times in his Hathapradipika text that there is no raja yoga without hatha yoga and no hatha yoga without raja yoga. The main difference is that raja yoga uses asanas mainly to get the body ready for prolonged meditation, and hence focuses more on the meditative asanas: Lotus Posture (padmasana), Accomplished Posture (siddhasana), Easy Posture (sukhasana) and Pelvic Posture (vajrasana). Hatha yoga utilizes not only meditative postures but also cultural postures. Similarly, raja yoga's use of pranayama is also devoid of extensive locks (bandha).
Hatha represents opposing energies: hot and cold (fire and water, following similar concept as yin-yang), male and female, positive and negative. Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures or "asanas", purification practices, controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body's physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation. However if an individual has too much phlegm or fat then purification procedures are a necessity before undertaking pranayama.
Ashtanga is the yoga of Patañjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras. It is composed of eight limbs: yama and Niyama, which are ethical observations; asana; pranayama, which is breath control; pratyahara, which is sense withdrawal; dharana, which is concentration; dhyana, which is meditation; and samadhi, which is a high state of concentration, mastery of the mind. The eight limbs are more precisely viewed as eight levels of progress, each level providing benefits in and of itself and also laying the foundation for the higher levels. Frequently ashtanga yoga of Patanjali is being confused with raja yoga, Patanjali nowhere in his sutras uses the term raja yoga.
Hatha yoga consists of six limbs focused on attaining samādhi. In this scheme, the six limbs of hatha yoga are defined as asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samādhi. The basic text of hatha yoga is Hathapradipika by Swatmarama, a grand disciple of Sahajananda (from the lineage of Sopana, the younger brother of Dnyaneshwar Maharaj of Alandi near Pune). An important part of hatha practices is awakening of Kundalini. The signs of success in hatha yoga are slenderness of the body, cheerful face, hearing mystical sound, bright eyes, sense of well-being, control over the bindu, increase in gastric fire and purification of the nadis.
The words prāṇa (life-force) and ayāma (to lengthen or regulate) make up prāṇāyāma. Prāṇāyāma seeks to lengthen, control and regulate the breath. In one variation, the rechak (exhaled air), poorak (inhalation) and kumbhak (retention during normal inhaling and exhaling) are the three parts of the breath that are regulated. Pranayama is practiced to develop mental, physical and spiritual strength.
Yoga's combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements brings health benefits with regular participation. Yoga participants report better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, relief from muscle pain and stiffness, improved circulation and overall better general health. The breathing aspect of yoga can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.
The 2008 "Yoga in America" survey, conducted by Yoga Journal, shows that the number of adult practitioners in the US is 15.8 million, and 9.4 million people will definitely try yoga within the next year.