Hatha Yoga: Integral Yoga Form For Physical Exercise
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  • Nitika Mehra

Hatha Yoga: Integral Yoga Form For Physical Exercise

Hatha Yoga in sanskrit means 'force' and is a branch of yoga. Historically, Hatha yoga has been a broad movement across the Indian traditions, openly available to anyone regardless of sex, caste, class, or creed. Many texts explicitly state that it is practice alone that leads to success. In the Indian and Tibetan traditions, Hatha yoga is much more. It extends well beyond being a sophisticated physical exercise system and integrates ideas of ethics, diet, cleansing, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and a system for spiritual development of the yogi.


In the 20th century, a development of hatha yoga, focusing particularly on asanas (the physical postures), became popular throughout the world as a form of physical exercise. This modern form of yoga is now widely known simply as "yoga".



In the Western culture, Hatha yoga is typically understood as asanas and it can be practiced as such. Yoga as exercise, of the type seen in the West, has been greatly influenced by the school of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. He combined asanas from Hatha yoga with gymnastic exercises from the physical culture of the time, dropping most of its religious aspects, to develop a flowing style of physical yoga that placed little or no emphasis on Hatha yoga's spiritual goals.


The Hatha yoga texts place major emphasis on mitahara, which connotes "measured diet" or "moderate eating". For example, sections 1.58 to 1.63 and 2.14 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and sections 5.16 to 5.32 of the Gheranda samhita discuss the importance of proper diet to the body. They link the food one eats and one's eating habits to balancing the body and gaining most benefits from the practice of Hatha yoga. Eating, states the Gheranda Samhita, is a form of a devotional act to the temple of body, as if one is expressing affection for the gods. Similarly, sections 3.20 and 5.25 of the Shiva Samhita text on Hatha Yoga includes mitahara as an essential part of a Hatha yoga holistic practice.


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