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Intro to Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is the foundation of all Yoga systems. Hatha Yoga is the preparation for higher Yogas. Ha means "sun" and tha means "moon." Thus, Hatha Yoga refers to positive (sun) and to negative (moon) currents in the system. These currents are to be balanced and mastered so that vital force, prana, can be regulated, the mind cleared and super-conscious states experienced.

The ideal way to practice the Hatha Yoga poses (asanas) is to approach the practice session in a calm, meditative mood. Sit quietly for a few moments, then begin the series, slowly, with control and grace, being inwardly aware as the body performs the various poses selected for the practice session. Do not overdo the asanas or try to compete with others. Take it easy and enjoy.

Goals & Benefits of Hatha Yoga

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the most authoritative scripture of hatha yoga, opens by telling us that for those who cannot practice yoga (means raja yoga and implies those who cannot meditate successfully and therefore cannot control their mind) should practice hatha yoga.

The "raison d'etre" for this practice is to enable the practitioner to control his mind through techniques aimed at controlling the physical body and the prana or vital force.
It is noteworthy that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other hatha yoga scriptures go to great lengths to enumerate the health benefits of the different practices. This indicates the therapeutic nature of this system as well.

Hatha yoga can therefore been practiced as a wholistic spiritual lifestyle as well as a specific healing method. Of the two we believe that the former is more important but the best is to combine both approaches.

What is an Asana?

The Asanas are yoga postures. Traditionally asanas are positions which are held still for a certain amount of time - from a few seconds to a few hours! Usually the asanas will be held for an average of two to three minutes.

Besides being held steadily they should also be held comfortably. No pain should be experienced while holding the posture or in the hours or days that follow.

Three Types of Asanas

The scriptures recognize three types of asanas:

  1. Meditative Postures
  2. Cultural Postures
  3. Relaxing Asanas

 

Meditative Asanas

Postures are ordinarily used for the practice of meditation and pranayama. Relaxation is paramount. The yogi aims at holding the meditative asana for long periods of time (up to several hours) to allow prolonged sessions of pranayama and meditation in perfect stillness and comfort. Eventually the yogi transcends the asana, not feeling his body, and focusing on the inner, subtle aspects of the practices.

Meditative Asanas

These are cross-legged sitting postures which allow you to sit upright and relaxed for a longer time. They provide a stable seat for meditation. The aim is to train your body so you can sit a long time without moving any part of your body. This is important if you are practicing meditation or pranayama and want to come to a deep concentration.

You should choose the posture that is most comfortable for you and start practicing it for 15 minutes. You can increase the length gradually.

In the raja yoga sutras the asana is defined as a steady, firm, and comfortable posture.

There are five main meditative postures:

  1. Padmasana or lotus
  2. Siddhasana or adept's pose
  3. Swastikasana or locked-ankles pose
  4. Sukhasana or easy pose
  5. Vajrasana for people who cannot sit cross-legged

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The cultural postures

The cultural postures are practiced with more intensity. While doing asanas the hatha yogi is aware that there are three groups of muscles in the body. For each asana, some muscles are relaxing, some are stretching and some are contracting. The art consists in relaxing deeply the first two groups while contracting forcefully the last group. During the practice, the stretched muscles should be lengthened to the limit. The limit is the pain and one should stop the stretching just before feeling any pain. One should feel a good, intense stretch. During the practice the breath should always be kept under control.

Cultural Asanas

There are three important phases in the practice of cultural asanas — each of them equally important and should be paid equal attention:

  1. Coming into the position
  2. Holding the position
  3. Getting out of the position

 

This group contains by far the largest amount of asanas. It is said that there are 84 lakhs (8.4 million) yoga postures. Of these, 84 are more important and 12 of them constitute the structure of the Rishikesh sequence sometimes called Sivananda series or Yoga Vidya series.

The cultural asanas can be divided in seven groups:

  1. Dynamic sequences - such as the sun saltuation
  2. Inverted postures - such as the headstand or the shoulderstand
  3. Forward bending postures - such as the sitting forward bend aka Paschimottanasana.
  4. Backward bending postures - such as the cobra , locust , or bow poses
  5. Twisting postures - such as the half spinal twist
  6. Side ward bending postures - such as the triangle pose
  7. Standing postures including balancing poses - such as the tree pose.

 

Every yoga sequence should at least contain one out of every of the groups listed above. If you take one asana of every group, you will move your spine in every direction and use all the muscles of your body. Depending on the order in which you practice them you influence the flow of the prana in your body.

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The asanas for relaxation

The asanas for relaxation are designed in a way that there is no need to contract any muscle. It is important to practice them exactly so your body can come to a deep relaxation and is not just lying on the floor.

There are three main relaxation postures:

  1. Savasana or corpse pose
  2. Abdominal relaxation pose
  3. Garbhasana or child's pose

 

The first asana of this type, savasana, is also used for yoga nidra, the powerful system of deep relaxation, visualization and self transformation.



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