The word Haṭha literally means “force” and thus alludes to a system of physical techniques. According to the Dattatreya Yoga Śastra, there are two forms of hatha yoga: one practiced by Yajñavalkya consisting of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga and another practiced by Kapila consisting of eight mudras..
Hatha yoga practice has many elements, both behavioral and of practice. The Hatha yoga texts state that a successful yogi has certain characteristics. These characteristics are utsaha (enthusiasm, fortitude), sahasa (courage), dhairya (patience), jnana tattva (essence for knowledge), nishcaya (resolve, determination) and tyaga (solitude, renunciation).
Focussed on enduring extremes and self discipline in order to perfect the body and senses, these Hathayogis would perform difficult feats such as holding their arms in the air for decades, submerging themselves in cold water, never sitting down (not even to sleep), standing on one leg, or carrying out the ‘bat penance’ (hanging upside down). We may think these are part of an obscure and long-lost tradition, however these practices are still happening today, and there’s no sign of them becoming extinct any time soon.
History of Hatha yoga
The ascetic tradition of Hatha yoga emerged on the borders of India and Nepal, and aspects that came to be a part of Hindu tradition like reincarnation and karma were central to their thinking. These were the original Hatha yogis – and tapas, translated as ‘heat’, ‘glow’, ‘austerity’ or ‘discipline’ and referring to a sense of ‘burning’ off past karma and refining the body and mind, was their practice.
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