Hatha Yoga seems to be a rather confusing term for many poeple. What does it really mean? I had a poster up last year for my hatha yoga classes and had many people ask me, “but what kind of yoga is hatha yoga?” I studied traditional hatha yoga in India and was taught that hatha is an overarching term used for any yoga that includes physical postures, or asanas. So really anyone who does any kind of yoga class nowadays is generally practicing hatha yoga. Ashtanga, vinyasa, bikram, yin, Iyengar, kundalini; these are all different styles of hatha yoga! Even Wizard yoga is hatha yoga 😉 But what does hatha yoga really mean?
Ha-tha can translate to sun and moon, while yoga translates to union in many cases. But the Sanskrit language is a complex one! I recently read a wonderful book called Original Yoga by Richard Rosen which goes into depth about the many translations of hatha yoga.
Richard begins with a translation of the word yoga. He finds “union” to be an unsatisfactory translation and says that in order to get the whole history “we have to go back a few thousand years when, once upon a time, in a galaxy halfway around the world, the Sanskrit word yoga referred in general to the yoking of animals to a cart, particularly warhorses to a chariot.” In Sanskrit dictionaries the following definition can be found.
1. The act of yoking, joining, attaching, harnessing, putting to (of horses)
2. A means, expedient, device, way, manner, method.
As for the definition of hatha we find something even more bizarre in my opinion.
Violence, force; obstinacy, pertinacity; absolute or inevitable necessity (as the cause of all existence and activity.)
Rather different than the flowery “union of sun and moon” that I initially learned was the meaning of hatha yoga! But “the force” I can work with! (Star Wars Yoga anyone?) I don’t know about you but I love learning the intricacies of words and their etymologies. I actually studied languages for my undergraduate degree and after all I am a big nerd so I lap this stuff up!
If I didn’t like Rosen enough already he goes on to answer my thoughts about the “force”, as if by magic. “The force here isn’t what Luke Skywalker put to good use in Star Wars; it is the mysterious kundalini or as in the title of the classic study by John Woodroffe, the “serpent power”. (side note: is this an opportunity for me to channel my inner Taylor Swift during yoga?! hmm…) He goes on to say, “Literally the “coiled one”, kundalini is best thought of for the time being as our dormant spiritual potential, the awakening fulfilment of which is a central concern in Hatha Yoga. In either case, the practice involves some measure of force, whether we exert that force on ourselves in service of the transformation or transform ourselves through the power of a force (which can be unleashed by appropriately forceful means) that is considered our most precious possession.”
He goes on to share more about the inner meanings of hatha yoga, talks about the seemingly magical and mythological stories that accompany the beginnings of hatha yoga and ponders whether they are allegories of deluded men or that yoga actually caused such shifts in reality for these yogis that so many miracles were in fact possible. It is a very interesting read and I highly recommend it! I bought my copy in Dervish in Cork City, such a wonderful little shop, but you can also find it here on Amazon!
Rosen’s final translation of hatha yoga is “forceful union method”, but regardless of the literal translation what you need to know is that hatha yoga is pretty much all the yoga that we do in Ireland and in the Western World today. It is any practice that involves asana, physical postures, but it’s also so much more! Like anything there is only so much you can learn by reading about it. Why not try some hatha yoga for yourself and see what hatha yoga means to you! I run weekly public hatha yoga classes in Dublin and also offer private and corporate session! Just simply get in touch to find out more!