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Hatha yoga (Sanskrit: हठयोग haṭhayoga, listen (help·info) IPA: [ɦəʈʰəˈjoːɡə]), also called haṭhavidya (हठविद्या), is a kind of yoga. The word haṭha (lit. 'stubbornness') denotes a system of physical techniques supplementary to a broad conception of 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 the 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.
Some of its techniques can be traced back to the epics and the Pali canon. The Pali canon contains three passages in which the Buddha describes pressing the tongue against the palate for the purposes of controlling hunger or the mind, depending on the passage. However there is no mention of the tongue being inserted into the nasopharynx as in true khecarī mudrā. The Buddha used a posture where pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, similar to even modern postures used to stimulate Kundalini.
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.
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.
In mediaeval times, teachings on Yoga were systematized in several texts:
The practices of the Amṛtasiddhi and Dattātreyayogaśāstra are used to raise bindu or prevent it from falling. The mudrās of the Vivekamārtaṇḍa work on bindu, not kuṇḍalinī, even though raising it is an important part of the yoga it teaches. The mudras of the Goraksaśatakạ and Khecarīvidyā are used to raise kuṇḍalinī (they mention bindu only in passing).
In its section on Hatha Yoga, after teaching a traditional eightfold yoga that it attributes to Yajnavalkya and others, the Dattātreyayogaśāstra describes ten Hatha Yoga practices that it says were undertaken by the rishi Kapila and other ṛishis in addition to those of Yājñavalkya (DYŚa. 52–61). These practices, which will be examined in more detail below, are of the variety that came to be known collectively as mudras (lit. seals) in later Hatha Yoga. The Dattātreyayogaśāstra teaches the following such mudrās: mahāmudrā, mahābandha, khecarīmudrā, the three bandhas (lit. locks; jālandharabandha, uḍḍiyāṇabandha, and mūlabandha), viparītakaraṇī, vajrolī, amarolī, and sahajolī.
The Goraksha Samhita was authored by Yogi Gorakshanath of the 11th century. Gorakshanath is widely considered to have been responsible for popularizing hatha yoga as we know it today. He authored several texts on the practice of yoga, such as the Goraksha Samhita, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, Gorakshataka, Yoga Martanda and Yoga Chinatamani.
In the early modern, Hatha Yoga was further developed into the classical system as it is known today.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda samhita are derived from older Sanskrit texts. 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).
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.
Post-Hathaprakipika texts include Hathasaṃ̣ ketacandrikā, the Yogacintāmaṇi, the Hathatattvakaumudị̄, the Yogabīja anthologies, the Yoga Upanisads, and ̣ Brahmānanda’s Jyotsnā commentary on the Hathapradīpikạ̄', the Amaraughaśāsana, the Hatharatnāvalī, the Bṛhatkhecarīprakāśa, the Hathapradīpikạ̄ Siddhāntamuktāvalī, the Gorakhbāṇī, the Gheranda Samhita and the Jogpradīpakā.
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 emphasized 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.
In Sierra Leone, the "Yoga Strength" organization headed by Tamba Fayia, a former child soldier who has become "the country's first qualified yoga teacher", focuses on "taking yoga to the people who need it ... on the streets, in the slums, in the schools."
Hatha yoga has some important principles and practices that are shared with other methods of yoga, such as subtle physiology, dhāraṇā (fixation of the elements), and nādānusandhāna (concentration on the internal sound).
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. It includes 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.
In its earliest formulations, hathạ was used to raise and conserve the physical essence of life, identified in men as bindu (semen), which is otherwise constantly dripping downward from a store in the head and being expended. The female equivalent, mentioned only occasionally in our sources, is rajas, menstrual fluid. The preservation and sublimation of semen was associated with tapas (asceticism) from at least the time of the epics, and some of the techniques of early Hatha Yoga are likely to have developed as part of ascetic practice. The techniques of early Hatha Yoga work in two ways: mechanically, in practices such as viparītakaraṇī, “the reverser,” in which by standing on one’s head one uses gravity to keep bindu in the head; or by making the breath enter the central channel of the body, which runs from the base of the spine to the top of the head, thereby forcing bindu upward.
In later formulations of Hatha Yoga, the Kaula system of the visualization of the serpent goddess Kuṇḍalini rising as kuṇḍalinī energy through a system of chakras, usually six or seven, is overlaid onto the bindu-oriented system. The same techniques, together with some specifically kuṇḍalinī-oriented ones, are said to effect kuṇḍalinī’s rise up the central channel (which is called the susumnạ̄ in these traditions) to a store of amṛta (the nectar of immortality) situated in the head, with which kuṇḍalinī then floods the body, rejuvenating it and rendering it immortal.
The aims and results of Hatha Yoga are the same as those of other varieties of yoga practice: siddhis (both mundane benefits and magical powers) and moksha, the latter often understood as being attained in a body immortalized by Hatha Yoga practices. In keeping with the physical orientation of Hatha Yoga practices, its siddhis are predominantly physical, ranging from the loss of wrinkles and grey hair to divine sight or the ability to levitate. In common with earlier formulations of yoga, in particular Kaula ones, the techniques of Hatha Yoga can be used to effect kālavañcana (cheating death), utkrānti (yogic suicide), or parakāyapraveśa (entering another’s body). As in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, siddhis are usually said to be a hindrance to or distraction from Hatha Yoga’s ultimate aim – liberation – but in some Kaula-influenced texts, the pursuit of specific siddhis through specific techniques is taught.
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 2012 "Yoga in America" survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Yoga Journal, shows that the number of adult practitioners in the US is 20.4 million, or 8.7 percent. The survey reported that 44 percent of those not practicing yoga said they are interested in trying it.