The origin of yoga is a matter of contention and difficult to trace historically, with varying perspectives. Some authors consider that it has an antiquity of more than 5000 years, that is to say that it would be previous to the Vedas, the oldest books of humanity. Others claim that yoga originated from the Vedas. Some scholars argue that yoga was practiced in the ancient Indus civilization, which existed from the third to second millennia B.C. Archaeological excavations in the region from the Arabian Sea to the Himalayas support this claim. These cities, Mohenjo-Daro in the south and Harappa in the north, may have been the centers of this Indus civilization. Numerous artifacts have been discovered in the Indus region that demonstrate the practice of yoga long before the invasion of the Aryans in India around 1500 B.C. These artifacts include figures of people performing yoga postures and meditating. This provides evidence that yoga was established as a practice well before the arrival of the warrior-like Aryans. The ancient sages played a crucial role in the evolution of yoga, a millennial practice. In ancient times, yoga was passed down from master to disciple in a secretive manner that has continued down to the present day. Over time, much of the teachings were documented, but some remain secret and can only be learned through a master.
The Vedas, which are considered classical texts of yoga, make their first mention of the practice. They hint at basic concepts that are central to yoga, such as the presence of prana, or energy, and its direct relationship with breathing. This reference in the Vedas is significant in tracing the origins and evolution of yoga. The Vedas also mention the existence of psycho-energetic centers (chakras) and channels (nadis). The Upanishads, commentaries on the Vedas, hold the essence thereof. Here yoga begins to acquire a solid foundation and a definite form. The Upanishads convey the core message that the true essence of the self can only be attained through union with the divine, also known as yoga, and not through intellectual speculation. The physical practice of yoga has numerous benefits, including the prevention and treatment of physical issues such as back pain, neck pain, and discomfort in the lower back. These problems are often the result of poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, and a lack of body awareness. By incorporating techniques such as muscle stretching, joint mobilization, and increased tissue oxygenation, yoga can help alleviate these physical issues and promote overall well-being. The Yoga Cudamani Upanishad describes practical aspects of posture (asana), breath regulation (pranayama) and the psychic centers (chakras). However, although these texts develop a great deal of information, they do so in a structureless and never systematic way. Their interest is not to teach but to inspire and suggest.
Origin of Hatha Yoga
The ancient tantric schools of India were the place where what we know today as Hatha Yoga developed and emerged. It is known and there is evidence that it was also practiced by other cultures, such as the pre-Columbian cultures of America. Hatha Yoga is a medieval development. It was the followers of Tantrism who initiated the dynamic vision of the universe, creating a new attitude towards the human body and physical existence in general. In the Kularnava Tantra this attitude is expressed as: “How can the human goal be achieved without the body?” Thus, in possession of a body, meritorious actions (punya) must be performed. Within Tantra, the Siddha movement utilized techniques that later constituted the cradle of Hatha Yoga. Especially the schools of the Naths, in the Bengal area, and of the Mahesvaras, in South India. Specifically, the Hindu tradition associates the creation of Hatha Yoga with Gorakhnat and his master, Matsyendranatha, around the 10th century A.D.
The main objective of Hatha Yoga is to achieve the maximum balance between the physical body, the mind and the vital energy, or prana. It aims not only to strengthen the body, but also to harmonize and balance the entire nervous system with a series of exercises involving breathing (pranayama). It also includes certain bodily purifications (kriya) and gestural work (mudra). It acts mainly on the physical body and breathing, ensuring perfect health. Hatha actually consists of combination of two words: Ha (sun), Tha (moon). From the psychological and philosophical point of view “Ha” refers to the sun as a perpetual luminary, representing the atman (soul) which is always vibrant, divine and dynamic. “Tha” refers to the moon; it is the light reflected by the sun, the consciousness, the reflection of the soul. In contrast to Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga develops control of the mind through deep purification of the physical body, proper management of energy (prana) and asanas, the postures that balance the nervous impulses and the internal energies. Asana derives from the Sanskrit root as “to sit”. One must distinguish asana as a concept and asana as a technique. As a metaphysical concept it is interpreted as “to establish oneself in the original state”. While as a technique, its static nature denotes posture or seat whose effects are stability, health and awareness -both physical and mental.
The Techniques of Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga is based primarily on the performance of postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama), and for this reason it is considered the progenitor of all more modern styles of yoga, in which the physical aspect occupies a large part of the practice. In fact, the connection to the more meditative aspects of this discipline is inherent in the purpose of Hatha Yoga: in the opening verse of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the author makes it clear that this practice has as its goal the attainment of Raja Yoga, the real yoga, as also described by Patanjali. Yoga is always the end and the means of attaining the state of bliss, samadhi.
Hatha Yoga consists of seven parts:
– Shatkarma, the six purifying acts (dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli and kapalabhati)
– Asanas (physical postures)
– Mudras (gestures)
– Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from external objects)
– Pranayama (control of breath and energy flow)
– Dhyana (concentration and meditation)
– Samadhi (state of union, in which the differences between the one who thinks, the object of thought and the thought itself are lost)
The Benefits of Hatha Yoga
From what has been said so far, it is clear that the practice of Hatha yoga brings both physical and mental benefits to the practitioner. In the first case, the work of muscle stretching, joint mobilization and tissue oxygenation helps prevent and treat major physical problems, including back pain, neck pain or lower back discomfort, derived from poor postural attitudes, sedentariness or lack of body awareness. At a deeper level, yoga promotes the elimination of toxins, slows aging, and improves the internal functioning of the body’s organs and systems. Attention to breathing, especially diaphragmatic breathing, involves both physical and mental feedback: it relieves symptoms and perception of stress, it is effective against depressive disorders, anxiety and panic attacks, and it promotes management of emotions and increased ability to concentrate. In general, Hatha Yoga plays an important role in promoting positive changes in one’s habits and has a positive impact on the overall health and well-being of the body and mind. Regardless of the individual’s age or physical condition at the start of the practice, Hatha Yoga provides the necessary tools and techniques that allow the individual to modulate their energies and achieve a state of mental and physical balance. Through consistent practice and personal experience, individuals can improve their overall health and well-being and lead a more fulfilling life. Hatha Yoga emphasizes the importance of union between the body and mind and promotes a holistic approach to health and wellness.
In Hatha Yoga there are variations of many different exercises. This helps to simplify yoga positions or to promote more. In addition, breathing in yoga is extremely important. This helps to calm the mind. A deep exhalation, for example, calms the body and provides new energy. Hatha Yoga aims to enhance health and well-being and is effective in managing stress. In addition, it supports the positive development of body awareness, an upright posture and a basic tension throughout the body. Hatha Yoga also relieves tensions and increases the sense of energy. It is primarily concerned with gaining energy, becoming more calm and relaxed and getting to know yourself. Especially for those who want to start with yoga and have no experience in this area, Hatha Yoga is the perfect form. Hatha Yoga is suitable for beginners looking to start a yoga practice. This form of yoga primarily promotes harmony between exercises and breathing. Hatha Yoga is also ideal for beginners who want to keep fit and healthy through yoga. It also provides an effective overall package that brings an excellent balance for the whole body and mind. Because only those who pay attention to themselves can go through everyday life with a more relaxed attitude and can better master their tasks. Yoga for beginners usually starts with simple, light asanas. Thus, as a beginner, you get used to the exercises very well and the achieve steady results over time.
Hatha Yoga activates and strengthens body and mind. Hatha Yoga strengthens muscles and improves balance. Hatha Yoga also has a positive impact on mental health, as it can help to calm the mind, reduce stress, improve focus, and increase awareness of one’s thoughts and emotions. Through consistent practice, Hatha Yoga can lead to a greater sense of inner peace and well-being. It reduces stress and promotes inner peace. You learn to be more careful, to increase concentration and gain peace in everyday life because Hatha Yoga offers an ideal overall concept and covers all the important aspects of yoga in general, while being the perfect style for beginners. You can also practice Hatha Yoga at home. All exercises are easy to incorporate into daily life, making it a convenient and accessible form of self-care. Whenever you feel like and have time to do something for you or your body, you can practice the Hatha Yoga exercises at any time and do something extremely beneficial for you and your body.
Mental benefits: Hatha Yoga also has mental benefits such as calming the mind, reducing anxiety, promoting courage and willpower, improving concentration and enhancing intuition.
Spiritual benefits: Through the practice of asanas and pranayama, we gradually rise above the pairs of opposites. We go beyond the states of tamas (inertia) and rajas (agitation), to reach the state of sattva (balance). With balance achieved, the hatha-yogin qualifies for meditation.
In addition to all the benefits mentioned above, hatha yoga cultivates in the regular practitioner qualities of patience, temperance and humility. Hatha Yoga also has a holistic impact, promoting physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It is therefore, for many people, at the beginning of the third millennium, a true art of living. One is never too old to begin the practice of hatha yoga. Work progressively and regularly. Do not give in to discouragement at the first difficulties, but arm yourself with patience and perseverance. It’s important to note that the length of time needed to see benefits from practicing Hatha Yoga can vary for each individual, but generally consistent and regular practice is key to realizing its positive effects. You need to practice for at least three months to get real benefits. The more you practice, the more you will benefit.