Hatha yoga (Sanskrit: हठयोग haṭhayoga), also called hatha vidya (हठविद्या), is a system of yoga compiled in 15th century as Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Traditional Hatha yoga is a holistic yogic path, including disciplines, postures (asana), purification procedures (shatkriya), gestures (mudra), breathing (pranayama), and meditation. The hatha yoga predominantly practiced in the West consists of mostly asanas understood as physical exercises. It is also recognized as a stress-reducing practice.
Hatha yoga is one of the two branches of yoga that focuses on the physical culture, the other one being Raja yoga. Both of these are commonly referred to as sadanga yoga, i.e., yoga of six parts (‘sad’ meaning six and ‘anga’ meaning limbs). Traditional Hathapradipika text emphasizes many times that there is no Raja yoga without Hatha yoga and no Hatha yoga without Raja yoga. The main difference is that Raja yoga uses asanas mainly to get the body ready for prolonged meditation, and hence focuses more on the meditative asanas: Lotus Posture (padmasana), Accomplished Posture (siddhasana), Easy Posture (sukhasana) and Pelvic Posture (vajrasana). Hatha yoga utilizes not only meditative postures but also cultural postures. Similarly, Raja yoga’s use of pranayama is also devoid of extensive locks (bandha).
Hatha represents opposing energies: hot and cold (fire and water, following similar concept as yin-yang), male and female, positive and negative. Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures or “asanas”, purification practices, controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation. However if an individual has too much phlegm or fat then purification procedures are a necessity before undertaking Pranayama.
The words prāṇa (life-force) and ayāma (to lengthen or regulate) make up prāṇāyāma. Prāṇāyāma seeks to lengthen, control and regulate the breath. In one variation, the rechak (exhaled air), poorak (inhalation) and kumbhak (retention during normal inhaling and exhaling) are the three parts of the breath that are regulated. Pranayama is practiced to develop mental, physical and spiritual strength.
Yoga’s combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements brings health benefits with regular participation. Yoga participants report better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, relief from muscle pain and stiffness, improved circulation and overall better general health. The breathing aspect of yoga can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.