What is Tantric Hatha Yoga?
The history of a life enhancing practice
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written around 400 AD, summarizes the ancient practices of yoga. Many scholars call this the “classical yoga tradition” and it primarily focuses on ‘chitta or mind’ stating that – “Yoga is the control of mental fluctuations”. The fluctuations are then stopped when the mind is controlled through mostly meditation and psychological philosophies.
Fast forward to 800 AD, the Tantric societies began a new approach. Until this point, beliefs and practices demanded that one renounce the body and mind to realize the ‘ultimate reality’, and to be free of suffering. The Tantrics saw the body as a vehicle to liberation, therefore they believed one doesn’t have to leave this world or renounce nature’s impulses. It was a grass roots movement that integrated the ideals of non-dualism and that the self and nature are not separate.
Tantric Yoga also started to attend to the feminine in a very masculine time. Through the body, one can watch the processes of the mind and the world can be experienced beyond the senses and workings of the mind.
Where classical yoga and Patanjali primarily focus on the control of the mental fluctuations – Tantric Hatha Yoga aims to control the fluctuations of prana, energy, or life force – with the body being the gateway to self-mastery.
It is more energetic than psychological… with the thought that when energy is disturbed, the mind is restless. Therefore any practice or experience that leads us to the union of our most revered expression of self that lies within could be considered a Tantric technique.
The Tantrics realized that there are 3 interrelated realms of being that are essential to our success as yogis: the mind, breath and the body. The reach and effect of the Tantric Hatha approach to asana is slow and the most vast and comprehensive.
- Improved physical systems: therapeutic for muscular, skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, visceral and the autonomic nervous system
- Psychological well-being and stability
- Preparation for meditation and balancing the subtle forces of mind and gunas
- Devotional and tool for self-reflection
- Purification of the nadi system: there are 72,000 nadis in the body (our energetic nervous system)
- Working with the Prana Vayus: specific expressions of energy in the body having mental and physical implications
- Working with the Chakras: the energy centers of the body
- Working with Adhikara: progressive refinement and development as far as our own energy and essence is concerned. We move from “I am this body” (a material approach) to see the self as energy “I am this life force, prana, energy” to no “I” and just boundless consciousness.
- Awakens Shakti (Kundalini): the primal forces of evolution and spirit
- Fortification: ensure that the body is a fit vehicle for divine energy to express itself
- A great practice for any level, as only beginning to intermediate poses are typically offered
Hatha Yoga, historically is considered a later development of the Tantric Yoga tradition and was developed as a fundamental enhancement or way of creating a foundation to pursue the more subtle practice of the Tantric systems.
Hatha Yoga is also a slower practice, where one pose is completed, and then another is explored – without being linked into a faster flow with one breath to one movement. There might be some pulsations throughout, but solely for the purpose of warming up major muscle groups prior to the practice of a specific asana.
Poses in Hatha Yoga are held for longer (a couple rounds of breath) allowing you to explore alignment, increasing range of movement, building stability into the physical body, and improving your proprioception (your body's ability to sense movement, action, and location). The word Hatha Yoga is a bringing together of two syllables: ‘Ha’ and ‘Tha’. ‘Ha’ refers to the firey, masculine and yang and is related to the sun or solar energy. ‘Tha’ refers to the cooling, feminine and yin and is therefore related to the moon or lunar energy.
A beautiful definition is: “The Illumination of the path that leads to the unification of opposites” ~ The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
A modern technical understanding of Hatha Yoga describes it as the physical or asana based yoga system, therefore all the following styles are examples of derivations of it: Iynegar, Ashtanga, Anusara, Kripalu, and Integral.