Hatha Yoga is what comes instantly to our minds when we talk about yoga in general terms. The practice focuses on breath, body and mind. Hatha Yoga helps to relieve stress, supports healthy habits and improves emotional health. Hatha Yoga also includes yoga asanas, pranayama or breathing exercises, mudras or hand gestures and includes meditation for personal spiritual growth. It is immensely popular as it includes a set of asanas for physical wellbeing and includes a spiritual practice for a healthy and peaceful mind.
Yoga is immensely useful for its calming effects and is known to improve conditions like anxiety and depression, arthritis and fibromyalgia, back pain, balance, emotional health, menopause, mindfulness, multiple sclerosis, neck pain, sleep and stress management. Pranayama is the control of prana, the breath or vital energy in the body that comes at birth. On a subtle level, prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force. Ayama means control. So, pranayama is control of birth. One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve a healthy body and mind.
The ancient yogis discovered that prana, our life force energy could be further subdivided into energetic components they called vayus (winds). The five vayus of prana (panchprana) all have very subtle yet distinct energetic qualities, and have specific functions and certain directions of flow. The Yogis were able to control and cultivate these vayus by focusing and being aware of their intense pranayama practice. Through this conscious control and cultivation, they were not only able to create optimal health conditions for themselves, but were also able to activate the primordial kundalini energy to obtain states of enlightened samadhi.
Hatha Yoga includes eight types of pranayama which make the body and mind healthy. Five types of prana are responsible for various pranic activities in the body — Prana, Apana, Udana, Samana and Vyana. Here is how they flow within the body as described by yoga experts:
- prana (inward, inspiring energy)
- apana (downward, eliminating energy)
- udana (upward, creative energy)
- samana (inward, churning energy) and.
- vyana (pervasive, circulatory energy)
Among these, prana and apana are most important. Prana is upward flowing and Apana is downward flowing. Practice of pranayama achieves balance in the flow of these two and contributes to the feeling of well-being experienced by the person who practices pranayama.
Hatha yoga is practised at a slower pace with focus on the breath, especially when performing controlled movements and stretching. Hatha yoga can be done every day, and as one uses his or her body weight while exercising, one becomes stronger and physically fit as all major muscle groups are strengthened. It takes both great strength and immense concentration to hold up certain poses that require coordination, poise and power.
Purification of the body is the primary function of yoga and especially of Hatha Yoga. Thus, before beginning the practice of asana and pranayama, a true yogi will also cleanse his body. The true Hatha Yoga aspirant is then eligible for further practice of both asana and pranayama.
The next, logical step will be to adopt the practice of yama and niyama, a code of conduct for oneself and society, followed by the practice of asana and pranayama. Ultimately, the aim of Hatha yoga is to bring about oneness, spiritual union with the Lord – Samadhi.
Hatha Yoga follows the principles of physical practice initially so that the practitioner or sadhak can gradually prepare himself for Raja Yoga. The aim of pranayama is to control one’s breath with awareness so that the mind is free from distractions. It is difficult to control one’s mind, hence pranayama enables one to control the breath first, thereafter helping to control the unstoppable train of irrelevant thoughts that create a nuisance in our daily life.
Dr. Sanjay Teotia is an eye surgeon and is Senior Consultant, Balrampur Hospital, in Lucknow (U.P.) He is a prolific spiritual writer and his articles appear regularly in Navbharat Times and in Times of India, apart from YoursPositively