Hatha begins with asana practice, physical poses to enhance and relax our body, align our skin, muscles and bones. In particular, it stimulates our nervous system and internal organs. It brings awareness to our nadi, energy channels and our spine to open up our body.
As the last and second equinox of the year looms, when the northern and southern hemispheres equally radiate sunlight and moonlight, both day and night are present for the same length of time. Two opposites will appear in balance, an emblematic occurrence which illuminates the meaning of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha is a Sanskirt word of two parts: ‘Ha’ for sun and ‘tha’ meaning moon. Characteristics related with the sun are passion, masculinity and strength, while moon qualities are freshness, femininity and surrender. Together (sun, moon, male and female) contain physical qualities of hot and cold, firm and fluid. It is in our physical bodies that we strive to cultivate a balance of strength and flexibility, learning to balance our effort and surrender in each pose through breath and mind control. The knowledge Hatha expresses is that both sun and moon energy exists within us all. Hatha is a unification of 2 opposites to illuminate all existence into totality and create balanced harmony from within.
Balance is one of the most desired things we crave for in our lives; a balanced diet, balanced bank account, balanced work/life commitments. When I am balanced I am content, I am grounded, present and I am still. When I am off balance I can be destructive, but my experience has taught me that such moments of extremities must exist. It is such a contrast exploring a spectrum of polar opposites, yet I wonder how it can be any other way. How can we realise equilibrium without firstly discovering how to fall or how to rise? This is true when living life and in Yoga asana practice. Through our experiences we are given a choice, to remain ignorant or return to the path of grace with newfound wisdom and knowledge in our hearts. Actually it’s pretty awe-inspiring when you recognise the interconnection that exists between EVERYTHING.
Could this be why so many divergent variations of Hatha Asana Yoga exist today? Bikram, Iyengar, Astanga! The list is growing and evolving all the time and this is a hugely comforting thought. There is a style for everybody, with guidelines sure, but I would boldly advocate that there isn’t a right or wrong way, just your way. Ultimately any form of movement or contemplative stillness is good because it harnesses and creates energy. As Yogis, you have the power to strike that balance, find what feels good, bad or just right, this is the essence of Yog.
Hatha Yoga bridges the gap between the ancient sages and modern practice yet it is so much more than a physical exercise which we tend to associate in the west. Hatha Yoga integrates the classic Yoga path consisting of asanas (postures), shatkriya (purification rituals), mudras (gestures), pranayama (breathing) and dyana (meditation). It is the first root of all modern day Yoga asana variations and deeply embedded with the eight-limb path to attain Samadhi, enlightenment.