THE MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WORDS “HATHA” And “YOGA”
Would you say as an alpinist, for example: “I practise Mount Everest”. It sounds a bit confusing and it would provoke immediate questions to clarify your position. Then, you would probably have to explain that you practise climbing and related skills with the goal to reach the top of Mount Everest one day.
Yet, in everyday parlance, we often say “I practise Yoga” or “I do Yoga” – it is similar to our climber stating he practises Mount Everest.
It is because the word Yoga on its own, more correctly delineates the goal of practice, rather than the type of practice itself.
Yoga means “union, to yoke, to bind together, to unite”. Thus, that noble goal can mean the practitioner’s union with his/her highest state of Life. The devotee’s union with God. The union of the individual soul and of the Cosmic Soul. The union of the finite life with the Infinite Life.
That being said, there is nothing wrong in using a word Yoga as means and end at the same time. We commonly use it today to denote that we do something from the vast spectrum of yoga practices and it has become part of everyday parlance and a household word.
Hence, from here, we can try to explain what Hatha Yoga is, was or should be.
The word “Hatha” means “effort”, “force”, “exertion” even “stubbornness”. So “Hatha Yoga” can mean something like “ Way of exertion, physical and mental effort and directed will power to reach the Highest Goal of Life.”
Linguistically, the word Hatha has nothing to do with the Sun and the Moon – a very widespread misconception though. It has something to do with Ida and Pingala channels that are one field of the Hatha Yoga theory and practice.
To go back to the original meaning of the word Hatha, Hatha Yoga is a way of self development and ultimately self transcendence through applied effort and discipline and through physical and mental control and manipulation of subtle energies.
Hence we can see similarly that Bhakti Yoga is a path to union through devotion and love for God or Highest Being, Raja Yoga path to union through intense and deep meditation, Gyana Yoga through knowledge, correct understanding and insight and so on.
When Hatha Yoga texts started to appear between the 10th and the 15th centuries, it was understood mainly as a potent spiritual path and discipline involving our body, energies, mind and spirit – in other words our total being.
Today in the West, Hatha Yoga is understood predominantly in its aspect to promote health, well being and to counter negative effects of stress of our often unnatural way of life. The benefits that Hatha Yoga can offer in these fields are numerous and not yet fully explored. The practice of postures – Asanas and special breathing patterns – Pranayama, have a deep, profound and healing effects on our mind/body complex. When applied properly and adopted to our individual needs and situations, they can take us to another level of health and strength, both physical and mental, one that we could not have imagined before. These beneficial effects and holistic approach of Hatha Yoga to human beings have been tested and proven through centuries.
Yet, in this modern revival of Hatha Yoga, we should remind ourselves again of the original meaning of the word, described in the first part of this short presentation.
Namely, these beneficial effects are there to be discovered and enjoyed by earnest application and sufficient effort and discipline from the practitioners.
Occasionally visiting yoga classes and half-hearted effort will not produce the desired changes and benefits. It does not mean that one should turn one’s life upside down and devote one’s whole life to yoga.
It means though, that reasonable, sustained and earnest effort and initial faith are needed to enable us to experience and unblock our riches and potentials, that were either hidden or suppressed by us, others, or circumstances of our lives. If we do that, we will have a chance to develop a greater resistance to negative influences in our lives and liberate and discover inner treasures and strengths to live happier, healthier and much more fulfilled lives. This should be the goal for both teacher and student to strive together to reach and to experience these transformative beneficial changes and to apply them in their daily lives.
To those who want to go even further is promised that the realities behind the words Hatha Yoga will reveal innumerable meanings and layers of experience culminating in Sat Chit Ananda – spiritual liberation of soul from suffering and uncertain transmigrations.