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Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga (Sanskrit: हठयोग haṭhayoga, About this sound listen  IPA: [ɦəʈʰəˈjoːɡə]), also called haṭhavidya (हठविद्या), is a branch of yoga. The word haṭha (lit. 'force') denotes a system of physical techniques supplementary to a broad conception of yoga.[1] [2]

With its origins in Ancient India,[3] Hindu tradition believes that Shiva himself is the founder of hatha yoga.[4][5][6]

In the 20th century, hatha yoga, particularly asanas (the physical postures), became popular throughout the world as physical exercises, and is now colloquially termed "yoga".



According to legend, Lord Shiva is credited with propounding hatha yoga.[4] It is said that on a lonely island, assuming nobody else would hear him, he gave the knowledge of hatha yoga to the Goddess Parvati, but a fish heard the entire discourse, remaining still throughout. The fish (Matsya) later became a siddha and came to be known as Matsyendranath. Matsyendranath taught hatha yoga to his disciple Gorakshanath.

Earliest textual references

Some of its techniques can be traced back to the epics and the Pali canon.[1] The Pali canon contains three passages in which the Buddha describes pressing the tongue against the palate for the purposes of controlling hunger or the mind, depending on the passage.[7] However there is no mention of the tongue being inserted into the nasopharynx as in true khecarī mudrā. The Buddha used a posture where pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, similar to even modern postures used to stimulate Kundalini.[8]

Patañjali, a siddha of the 2nd century BCE, in his treatise on Yoga, The Yoga Sutras, describes asana and pranayama as two limbs of the practice of Ashtanga Yoga,[9] although many assert that Patanjali's sutras do not support the practice of asana as physical exercise.[10]

The Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati is a very early extant Hatha Yoga Sanskrit text which contains much content on the avadhuta, as Feuerstein (1991: p. 105) relates:
One of the earliest hatha yoga scriptures, the Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, contains many verses that describe the avadhuta. One stanza (VI.20) in particular refers to his chameleon-like capacity to animate any character or role. At times, it is said, he behaves like a worldling or even a king, at other times like an ascetic or naked renunciant.[11]

Principal texts

  1. Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama (15th century)
  2. Shiva Samhita, author unknown (1500 C.E [12] or late 17th century)
  3. Gheranda Samhita by Yogi Gheranda (late 17th century)

Aim of Hatha Yoga

According to these texts, the human body is made up of networks of subtle channels called nāḍı̄s. The Shiva Samhita numbers these channels at 300,000[13] and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika at 72,000.[14] According to the texts, purification and balancing of the nāḍı̄s is done through the process of ṣaṭkarmāṇi, āsana, prāṇāyāma and mūdra. Two of the three principal nāḍı̄s, iḍā and piṅgala, correspond with masculine and feminine energies in the body, traveling respectively on the left and the right sides of the central channel. The major cakras (“wheels”) or padmas (lotuses) of haṭha and Tantra yoga, usually numbered six or seven lie at intervals along the spine.[15][16] They are intersected by iḍā and piṅgala nāḍı̄s. The serpent kuṇḍalinı̄, is said to lay coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine where all the nāḍı̄s converge, is drawn up along the central channel, piercing the cakras as it rises. The breath (prāṇa) becomes absorbed in voidness and the practitioner attains the condition of samādhi[17] [18] [19] [20] [20][21][22] .[23]

Hatha Yoga & Asana

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika names āsana as the first accessory and its benefits as the attainment of steadiness, freedom from disease, and lightness of body.[24] It only mentions 15 āsanas. The Gheranda Samhita names āsanas second briefly describing only thirty-two of them. The Shiva Samhita, mentions that there are eighty-four āsanas , but describes only four postures.,[22][23][25]

There is much debate over the antiquity of advanced āsana practices, but "we can be sure that more than eighty-four āsanas were practised in some traditions of Haṭhayoga before the British arrived in India. The majority of these āsanas were not seated poses, but complex and physically demanding postures some of which involved repetitive movement, breath control and the use of rope." [26]

Some of the earliest extant textual evidence of vinyāsa practice (yoga poses arranged into sequences and synchronized to breath) is a text called the Sritattvanidhi, from the Mysore Palace. A copy was recently discovered in the Mysore Royal Library containing 122 postures with descriptions. It is believed that it's author, the Raja of Mysore, drew on other texts for the yoga system described. Some of the āsanas listed also appear in chapter 8 of a wrestling manual from the 12th or 13th century called the Mallapurāṇa. "This list contains asanas found in the SRiTATTVANIDHI and nowhere else.".[27]

Further evidence of the practice in Mysore is limited as "In fact, there are no Palace records earlier than 1897 of patronage or practice of yoga because of the fire of February 28, 1897 when large portions of the old Palace, including all the Palace archives, were destroyed. Therefore, even though the SRiTATTVANIDHI manuscript comes from an earlier period, the accompanying records that would have documented an accompanying tradition, patronage or even the circumstances connected with the manuscript do not exist." [28][29]

Older teachings of vinyāsa yoga are said to have existed in a book called the Yoga Korunta. Some accounts list it as a Gurkha language text, others describe it as Tamil. The book was given to Pattabhi Jois and supposedly was destroyed by termites.

Modern Hatha yoga

Many modern schools of hatha yoga in the West derive from the teachings of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. Among his students prominent in popularizing yoga styles in the West were K. Pattabhi Jois famous for Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga style, B. K. S. Iyengar,Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar. Other influencial students of Krishnamacharya include Srivatsa Ramaswami, A. G. Mohan, and Larry Payne.

Early Haṭha Yoga texts were written for ascetics whose main concerns were transcendence, enlightenment, achieving immortality or the materialization of magic.

In the development of modern postural yoga from the classical hatha, the most prominent change is the primacy accorded to āsana as a system of health, fitness, and well-being, and the decreased emphasis of other key aspects such as prāṇāyāma and the ṣaṭkarmas (The six purifications).

Haṭha Yoga is the umbrella under which most styles of postural practice fall as descendents of medieval haṭha yoga. The term “haṭha yoga” is now a generic term, routinely used among postural yoga teachers and practitioners today to indicate an eclectic array of postural practices. The term is used to distinguish it from meditative yoga, or in certain contexts, to indicate a more static practice (e.g. Bikram, Sivananda) as distinct from flow (vinyasa), ashtanga vinyasa, kundalini, and other styles that emphasize movement.

[20] [21][30]

Six Purifications

A first stage of the haṭha discipline is the six purifications (ṣaṭkarmas ),which are (1) dhauti , cleansing the stomach by swallowing a strip of cloth (2) basti , “yogic enema,” effected by sucking water into the colon (3) neti , cleaning of the nasal passages with water and/or cloth (4) trāṭaka , staring at a small mark or candle until the eyes water (5) nauli or laulikı̄ , forcibly moving the rectus abdominus muscles in a circular motion (6)kapālabhāti , forcefully expelling air through the nose [18][22]

Preservation of life force

In its earliest formulations, hatha was used to raise and conserve the physical essence of life, identified in men as bindu (semen), which is otherwise constantly dripping downward from a store in the head and being expended.[1] The female equivalent, mentioned only occasionally in our sources, is rajas, menstrual fluid.[1] The preservation and sublimation of semen was associated with tapas (asceticism) from at least the time of the epics, and some of the techniques of early Hatha Yoga are likely to have developed as part of ascetic practice.[1] The techniques of early Hatha Yoga work in two ways: mechanically, in practices such as viparītakaraṇī, “the reverser,” in which by standing on one’s head one uses gravity to keep bindu in the head; or by making the breath enter the central channel of the body, which runs from the base of the spine to the top of the head, thereby forcing bindu upward.[1]


In later formulations of Hatha Yoga, the Kaula system of the visualization of the serpent goddess Kuṇḍalini rising as kuṇḍalinī energy through a system of chakras, usually six or seven, is overlaid onto the bindu-oriented system.[1] The same techniques, together with some specifically kuṇḍalinī-oriented ones, are said to effect kuṇḍalinī’s rise up the central channel (which is called the sushumnạ̄ in these traditions) to a store of amṛta (the nectar of immortality) situated in the head, with which kuṇḍalinī then floods the body, rejuvenating it and rendering it immortal.[1]


The aims and results of Hatha Yoga are the same as those of other varieties of yoga practice: siddhis (both mundane benefits and magical powers) and moksha, the latter often understood as being attained in a body immortalized by Hatha Yoga practices.[1] In keeping with the physical orientation of Hatha Yoga practices, its siddhis are predominantly physical, ranging from the loss of wrinkles and grey hair to divine sight or the ability to levitate.[1] In common with earlier formulations of yoga, in particular Kaula ones, the techniques of Hatha Yoga can be used to effect kālavañcana (cheating death), utkrānti (yogic suicide), or parakāyapraveśa (entering another’s body).[1] As in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, siddhis are usually said to be a hindrance to or distraction from Hatha Yoga’s ultimate aim – liberation – but in some Kaula-influenced texts, the pursuit of specific siddhis through specific techniques is taught.[31]

Health benefits ascribed to yogāsana practice

Students in a Hatha Yoga class practising the reclining bound angle pose, sometimes called bound butterfly pose

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.[32]

The 2012 "Yoga in America" survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Yoga Journal, shows that the number of adult practitioners in the US is 20.4 million, or 8.7 percent. The survey reported that 44 percent of those not practicing yoga said they are interested in trying it.[33]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k James Mallinson, Hatha Yoga (accessed 6 January 2014)
  2. ^, "The Meaning of Haṭha in Early Haṭhayoga" (accessed 11 January 2015)
  3. ^ Anthony Carillo, Eric Neuhaus. Iron Yoga: Combine Yoga and Strength Training for Weight Loss and Total Body Fitness. Rodale. p. 3. 
  4. ^ Cite error: The named reference burley was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. ^ See Ganga White, pages 28–29.
  6. ^ See Introduction of Daniélou, pp 16–17.
  7. ^ Mallinson, James. 2007. The Khecarīvidyā of Adinathā. London: Routledge. pg.17-19.
  8. ^ James Mallinson, "Sāktism and Hathayoga," 6 March 2012. <URL> [accessed 10 June 2012] pgs. 20-21 "The Buddha himself is said to have tried both pressing his tongue to the back of his mouth, in a manner similar to that of the hathayogic khecarīmudrā, and ukkutikappadhāna, a squatting posture which may be related to hathayogic techniques such as mahāmudrā, mahābandha, mahāvedha, mūlabandha, and vajrāsana in which pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, in order to force upwards the breath or Kundalinī."
  9. ^ See Introduction of Tola, Dragonetti, Prithipaul.
  10. ^ See White, page 4.
  11. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (1991). 'Holy Madness'. In Yoga Journal May/June 1991(accessed: February 29, 2011)
  12. ^ See translation by Mallinson.
  13. ^ Shiva Samhita II.14
  14. ^ Hatha Yoga Pradipika IV.8
  15. ^ Hatha Yoga Pradipika, III.2
  16. ^ Shiva Samhita V.56–131
  17. ^ Hatha Yoga Pradipika, IV.9–10
  18. ^ Cite error: The named reference Yoga_Body_by_Mark_Singleton was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  19. ^ Cite error: The named reference ReferenceA was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  20. ^ Cite error: The named reference ReferenceB was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  21. ^ Cite error: The named reference ReferenceC was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  22. ^ a b c Hatha Yoga Pradipika
  23. ^ a b Shiva Samhita
  24. ^ Hatha Yoga Pradipika, (I.19)
  25. ^ Gheranda Samhita,
  26. ^ "Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the Practice of Numerous Āsanas in the 17th-18th Centuries" by Jason Birch, 9/26/2013, p.I
  27. ^ "The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace" by N. E. Sjoman, p.57
  28. ^ "The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace" by N. E. Sjoman, p.53
  29. ^ Sritattvanidhi (Śrītattvanidhi) ("The Illustrious Treasure of Realities") by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III
  30. ^ "Yoga Body" by Mark Singleton
  31. ^ Mallinson, J., “Siddhi and Mahāsiddhi in Early Hathayoga,” in: K.A. Jacobsen, ed., Yoga Powers, Leiden, 2011a, 327–344.
  32. ^ Jaloba, A. Nursing Standard. 2011. Vol 25, Iss. 48, pp. 20–21.
  33. ^ "Yoga in America Study 2012". Yoga Journal. Retrieved March 3, 2014. 


  • Mikel Burley, Haṭha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory, and Practice, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ., (Jan 1, 2000)
  • Mallinson, James, The Shiva Samhita, A critical edition and English translation by James Mallinson. Woodstock, NY: YogVidya (2007), ISBN 9780971646650.
  • Alain Daniélou, Yoga: The Method of Re-integration, London:Johnson Publications (1949), ISBN 0892813016.
  • Bajpai, R.S. The Splendours And Dimensions Of Yoga 2 Vols. Set, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distri (2002), ISBN 9788171569649
  • Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, translated edition- translated by Willard Ropes Trask, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (2009), ISBN 9780691142036.
  • Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, K. Dad Prithipaul, The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on concentration of mind. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass (1987).
  • Maehle, Gregor. Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series: Mythology, Anatomy, and Practice, Novato, CA: New World Library (2012), ISBN 9781577319870.
  • White, Ganga. Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books (2007), ISBN 9781556436468.
  • Richard Rosen, Original Yoga: Rediscovering Traditional Practices of Hatha Yoga, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications (2012), ISBN 9781590308134.
  • Swami Sivananda Radha, Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language, Secrets and Metaphors, Timeless Books (May 1, 2006), ISBN 1-932018-13-1.
  • White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press (1998 reprint), ISBN 9780226894997.

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