As I embark on my next study of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it reminds me that sometimes certain words and terms are thrown around in our modern yoga vocabulary that might need a little explanation. “Hatha Yoga” is one of those. Even almost 20 years later into my own practice of yoga, I still get this question sometimes from students, or maybe they comment about something that makes me understand they see “Hatha Yoga” as something different than what we do in Iyengar Yoga.
First, I used the above image of The Yoga Poster because if you are interested at all in the intricacies and complexities of modern yoga and how we got here, I think that it is the most comprehensive info to be found in one place…plus it is just a beautiful poster to share with students if you have a space to hang it.
Now, just some very basic orientation…
A technical definition of Hatha Yoga can be found in the link supplied here. In general, it is described as any practice that utilizes the body as the tool for spiritual discovery and enlightenment, the terminology actually translated as “force” or “effort” or “exertion”. There is some who also refer to the meaning being “sun” and “moon”, but this is evidently a debatable topic in Sanskrit translation, though the idea is the “balance of forces” used within the body for yoga.
Hatha Yoga can be seen as the “umbrella term” for most of the yoga that made it here to the United States and the West in general. We see “Hatha Yoga” as the descriptor for so many teachers because there is a lot of yoga out there and not many folks have stuck to following one lineage or tradition. For instance, Iyengar Yoga is a specific form of Hatha Yoga with a specific guru. A teacher who teaches “Hatha Yoga” as their title might mix traditions and approaches, though follow the same idea that all that we do with the body is to better our understanding of our self and move us toward the goal of realization.
Some traditions ONLY do asana, some traditions ONLY work energetically, some traditions ONLY do breathing work, and some do it all, but no matter what, all require a body and some effort behind that body for the goal of enlightenment.
So, as we embark on the text that is to shed light on Hatha Yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I think it is an interesting thing to know how far we have come from this text as actual practice, what do we really mean when we talk about Hatha Yoga? , and where does our practice fit in the grand scheme of history and tradition?