Hatha yoga encompasses the practices to do with the physical body: yoga postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama). Beginners benefit from increased health, flexibility and strength and very quickly are aware of the mental and emotional benefits: feeling of relaxation, increased well-being, greater clarity and better sleep and so on. So yoga also works on the level of the subtle or energy body too. Hatha Yoga works with the chakra centres and channels of energy called nadis.
The exercises free the flow of prana, the life force, in the body. As prana flows physical, mental and spiritual blockages are released. Ha and tha are two Sanskrit words meaning sun and moon. These refer to the two sides of the body and polarity: left/right, hot/cold, yang/yin, male/female, Siva/Shakti. Practising yoga brings balance and the feeling of union. This allows the whole system to come into harmony and is how yoga helps you feel in the flow. You come home to your true self – nice!
It is good to perfect postures, try new variations and hold the breath longer. There is the concept of asana jaya, steady practice towards mastering a posture. This process develops the nervous system. Developing muscle tone and muscle intelligence are a tuning of the nerves. All along mental strength is developed too. Through putting the body in challenging positions fear and anger – the two primal emotions from which others grow – are explored and understood. Mental and emotional strength, flexibility and resilience come with the practice.
Asana and pranayama keep the body healthy, flexible and young. It’s harder to meditate, be peaceful, positive or loving if you are ill or uncomfortable in your body. Physical stiffness can lead to mental stiffness. Maybe you know someone with an ‘old’ mentality: grumpy, intolerant, fearful. Yoga keeps you young! In yoga the physical body is the vehicle for the soul. You look after your body because it is the vehicle by which you are on this planet to learn and to raise yourself.
Asana and pranayama are steps three and four of eight in Raja Yoga, the classical path described by Patanjali, third century BCE. Steps 1 and 2 are ethics; 5 to 8 lead to meditation and samadhi, the bliss state. Indeed, Patanjali only mentions one yoga posture: the sitting posture. The training of the body, nervous and endocrine systems (ie mind and emotions) allow you to sit in meditation and go beyond the mind. Another classical text, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, also only mentions the sitting posture. Here pranayama techniques are described to raise the energy, bring power and transcend the body.
You don’t have to have a slim, lithe or young in years body to necessarily be an in-the-flow yogi. Certainly all students whatever their shape and level of experience are welcome at Viveka Gardens. High goals of the bliss state are nice, but practically it’s good to simply do the practise. You raise your vibration and take the relaxation awareness with you into your everyday life, making it easier for you and those around you. Hatha yoga is a wonderful tool for happiness. How do you know if yoga is working for you? You feel happier.
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