Yoga and its Origin
Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means to unite or integrate. It is a discipline which binds both the body and the mind. The Indian sage Patanjali is thought to have written the book Yoga sutra combining all the available practices of yoga.
This is the guide boon to yoga that is followed today. Yoga is said to be made up of 8 limbs. They are the yamas or restraints, niyamas or observances, asanas or postures, pranayama or breathing, pratyahara or withdrawal of senses, dharana or concentration, dhyani or meditation and samadhi or absorption. Asanas are the most widely form of yoga today. Asanas are a number of body postures which help tone the body and strengthen the muscles. These postures are so designed to purify the body in preparation for meditation.
Hatha Yoga – meaning & benefits
Hatha means forceful in Sanskrit. Whether we practice Iyengar yoga or Ashtanga yoga, these are all variations of the basic Hatha Yoga.
Hatha also has another meaning. ‘Ha’ meaning the sun ans ‘tha’ meaning the moon. This is a reference to the balance between opposing energies like hot and cold, masculine and feminine etc. The masculine aspects like active, hot and sun balance the negative aspects like receptive, cool and moon. So it is a balance between the body and the mind through energizing physical exercises or asanas (sun) and breathing and calming the mind through relaxation and meditation (moon). Asanas help improve our physical body building stamina, strength and poise and prepare the body for meditation.
Hatha Yoga also helps strengthen the mind. It combines breathing with the physical exercises to control the fluctuations of our mind and increase concentration. This physical and mental balance helps in the positive transformation of ourselves.
Yoga in general and Hatha Yoga is particular believes that our body is made of intricate energy systems. Insufficient energy makes us dull and listless and also lethargic. When there is excess energy, we become restless, angry and irritable. So there should be a proper balance of energy to maintain good health and vigor. Practicing Hatha yoga makes us achieve and maintain maximum health benefits for both the body and the mind.
Hatha Yoga is a set of physical exercises known as asanas or postures which help align our skin, muscles and bones. The basic text of Hatha Yoga is a text called Hathapradipika by a yogi named Swatarama from India. It is a system that is developed to open up the main channels of our body, especially the spine so that energy can flow freely. Hatha yoga is the basic form of Yoga and is easy to learn. It has slow gentle and easy movements. It also focuses on breathing and meditation. It is like Raja Yoga which also emphasizes on the physical aspects of yoga, but the difference between Hatha yoga and Raja yoga is that, Raja yoga is to mainly practiced to prepare our body for long stints of meditation whereas Hatha yoga does not give that much of emphasize on meditation but more on the postures or asanas.
Hatha Yoga has six limbs namely, asanas or postures, pranayama or breathing, pratyahara or withdrawal of senses, dharana or concentration, dhyana or meditation and samādhi or absorption.
How Hatha Yoga is different from regular exercises
When we exercise we only tone up our body. It is the controlled breathing that we do along with the physical exercises in yoga that make yoga different from other physical activities. The controlled breathing helps us to focus our thoughts inwards, making us more aware of our thoughts and and like our body, our minds too become more flexible and we will have better control over our thoughts. So even if we do not practice pranayama or meditation regularly, the breathing practiced through the postures or asanas will help our mental health.
Practicing Hatha Yoga
The Hatha yoga should be practiced slowly and carefully. There is no need to strain ourselves while stretching and doing postures. If we practice regularly and are patient, we will be able to do most of the difficult postures in due course of time. So, it is safe to wait for some time until our body is ready to attempt the difficult postures. We should not attempt to do any posture which we are not comfortable with as falling while doing postures will injure our body by causing sprain and pain. We should move easily into postures and hold on to each posture for 10-12 seconds breathing normally. Between postures, we should take deep breaths allowing the diaphragm to open and expand.
Postures of Hatha Yoga and their benefits
Hatha yoga incorporates basic exercises and are easy to practice. It is very good for beginners. This form of yoga has very slow paced stretching and very simple breathing exercises. Each posture is different from the other and there need not be a flow between postures.
The different poses in Hatha Yoga have varying benefits. They are mainly bends and stretches. Bends can be forward, backwards, or even sideways. There is also the popular ‘Surya Namaskaram’ or salutation to the Sun. Some bends have an energizing effect while others have a calming effect. Backbends are said to have an invigorating effect, whereas forward bends are calming. Hence back bends are not recommended at night as it may affect our sleep. Forward bends can be done when we are over excited or over stimulated to calm ourselves. Sun salutations are flowing movements with breath control and generate heat making us sweat. Standing postures help us build strength and stamina and balancing poses help improve our concentration. There are a number of twisting postures in Hatha Yoga. These postures help relieve tension in the head, neck and back and help in the detoxification of our bodies. Inverted postures have a lot of health benefits and help us understand the world and its transitory nature.
Savasana is the resting posture of Hatha yoga and should be done mandatorily for 2 minutes after all strenuous standing and stretching exercises and also at the end after completing all the asanas. ‘Sava’ means corpse and the body is kept still without any movement. When the body is still, the circulatory system improves and it delivers all the essential nutrients, oxygen and white blood cells to where it is needed. All these help in the healing process and adds to the therapeutic benefits.
As discussed above, there are a number of health benefits when we practice Hatha Yoga regularly. The postures will increase our flexibility and movements. All the stretching, balancing and energizing make us calm and relaxed and will improve our sleep. We also get relief from muscle pain and stiffness, better blood circulation and better heath. Breathing exercises regularizes our breathing and improves our heart rate and blood pressure. Yoga is said be beneficial for arthritic patients and those with muscular and joint pain. Regular breathing exercises help asthmatic patients and those suffering from respiratory diseases.
Successful practitioners of Hatha Yoga hasve a slender frame, cheerful face, bright eyes and a experience a general sense of well-being.
When to practice Hatha Yoga
There is no perfect time to practice yoga. While some people are active in the mornings, others prefer a late start of the day. Some like the cold and outdoors, while others prefer warmer settings. So it is better to rely on our own instincts to find an appropriate time to practice yoga. Some of the postures like backward bends are more energizing these can be avoided in late evenings or night. Early mornings and early evenings are the best time to practice yoga.
Hatha Yoga is for everyone
There is no specific time or age to start practicing Hatha yoga. Some people who do not exercise regularly or whose bodies are not very flexible fear that they may not be able to do Yoga. But, our bodies need not be flexible when we begin to practice Hatha yoga. Regular yoga practice will make us flexible. Apart from flexibility, yoga practice will make stronger with better cardio vascular health and overall feeling of well being. Over a period of time, practice will improve our coordination and confidence. Hatha yoga is the ideal form of yoga for beginners and is slow paced. There are other forms of yoga like the Vinyasa yoga which is fast paced and for power building. Alternatively if we have been practicing Hatha yoga for some time and are comfortable with the postures, we can hold on to each pose longer and deeper time to get better benefits. Depending on the instructor, the postures will vary slightly for different from instructor and classes.