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Hatha Yoga – the only way out is through it

By - Lakshmi Vishwanathan | 2 Jan 2015

Often yoga is seen as a physical exercise to achieve mental balance and physical well-being. However, we often forget that yoga is a spiritual practice that stabilizes your system in ways a beginner can’t even imagine.

Even a practice as common as Hatha Yoga (yogic postures) has a scope that is far beyond physical fitness and flexibility. Each asana strengthens a particular state of mind. Let me explain this.

Have you ever observed the shoulders of a person who is sad? Are the shoulders squared or drooping? You will find them droopy, for sure. Likewise, when someone is brooding, it’s worth observing their body language. Merely holding their chin high is difficult for them. Now, pay attention to the same person’s posture when he is joyful. Needless to say, their postures are more erect and sharper. Hatha Yoga, at a physiological level, is practiced with this understanding. In Hatha Yoga, it is a case of body over mind – there is a willful aim to change the state of mind using physical postures. As a result of these yogic poses, the physiological chemistry at the physical and mental level goes through a change. Therefore, in Hatha Yoga, we use yogic postures / asanas that were designed by ancient Indian yogis and sages for overall human well-being.

It’s interesting to note that scientists, not very recently, found that a chemical called Oxytocin is responsible for mother-child bonding and bonding between lovers. It is famously called the ‘love harmone’. So, I rest my case. Every emotion, in itself, is a kind of chemical reaction in the mind and body. This holds good for grief, joy, love, hate, and pride.

There is, however, another aspect to it – Hatha Yoga also cleanses you mentally and emotionally due to changes happening at the level of your pranic energy. Read on.

Initially, many people, especially nascent practitioners, report that yoga has alleviated their anxiety and offered them relief from their chronic ailments. In this initial honeymoon phase, yoga serves as a balm for their difficulties in life but soon enough it is natural for the yogic practice to start to shove them out of our comfort zone.

We must know that this is a new phase in our sadhana. This is when yoga becomes a cause of tension instead, and we encounter the difficult and scary aspects of who we are and how we behave. At this point, we tend to lose heart and give up, believing that something is wrong with us or with the type of yoga we have chosen. We may even feel like dropping the practice forever, but this is the time we need to resolve to carry on.

During this challenging phase we have a chance to work towards knowing ourselves at a deeper level. For example, we may suddenly notice jealousy, anger, or fear arising, and worse still, we may even identify with them. We must sit up and tell ourselves, at this point, that we are going to remain aware during this cleansing process. As much as the word ‘posture’ refers to our body, it pertains equally to our inner world and mind. By working on the outer posture, the Hatha practitioner gains access to his emotions.

Well-known yoga guru Geeta Iyengar once said, when asked what we can do when this sort of fear crops up during our yogic sadhana, “When fear arises, you must lift your chest. You must lift your heart.” The answer is a great advice and holds insight for us on both a physical and emotional level. Fear has a posture and so does courage.

So, this is how deep Hatha Yoga is as a discipline. Hatha Yoga began with ancient sage Matyendranath who was an exponent of Hindu tantra. Legend has it that he was a direct disciple of Lord Shiva. In yogic lore, Shiva is known more as adiyogi, the first yogi to have walked this earth, than for his powers as a deity.

Many know Patanjali as the ‘father of modern yoga’. We must pay attention to the word ‘modern’. Yogic practices existed much before the emergence of Patanjali. He, a great intellect and an enlightened being, saw that yoga was already getting diversified into too many different forms and took it upon himself to put the discipline into a format. He thought that this format can be assimilated with better understanding by yoga aspirants. This is how Patanjali’s yoga sutras came to be. However, we must note that asanas were just a small part, or rather formed just one limb, of his literary work.

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