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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Hatha Yoga

A system of physical exercises that raise the Kundalini to the head


HATHA YOGA is a branch of tantric yoga that uses physical exercises to raise the Kundalini to the head, resulting in samadhi and liberation.

The word hatha means "force" or "violence" in Sanskrit, so Hatha Yoga means forceful or violent yoga. It can also be translated as "force yoga," i.e., a technique for controlling forces.

Like many tantric terms, the phrase also has an esoteric or secret symbolic interpretation: ha means sun and tha means moon, hence Hatha Yoga is a technique for combining the "sun" (the Kundalini) and "moon" (high energy center of the head).

Hatha Yoga may be distinguished from other kinds of yoga by its emphasis on:

  • physical exercises, especially pranayama (breathing exercises);

  • deliberate effort; and

  • the Tantric idea that realization is synonomous with the merging of Kundalini (the "sun") into the high energy center of the head (the "moon").

In short, Hatha Yoga is physical Kundalini Yoga.


History of Hatha Yoga

The individual techniques and ideas of Hatha Yoga probably go back thousands of years, but they only began to coalesce into a discrete branch of yoga about twelve hundred years ago.

At that time, a sort of religious fad swept India which historians call the Siddha Cult. Indians of all backgrounds -- Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains -- became fascinated by siddhas, tantric masters who had perfected themselves and developed magical powers by practicing a distinctive form of yoga called kaya-sadhana or "body cultivation."

The most important branch of the Siddha movement in northern India was the Natha School centered in Bengal. The word natha means "master" or "lord;" a natha was an accomplished yogi who had attained both liberation and supernormal abilities. Most or all of the nathas were probably real people, but their biographies have been obscured by mythologizing storytellers, and today they are often regarded as immortal demi-gods who roam the Himalayas.

The Natha School was probably founded by a yogi named Matsyendra Natha, and one of his disciples, Goraksha Natha, is probably the founder of Hatha Yoga. Both were Bengalis. Goraksha was probably born towards the end of the tenth century.

According to tradition, Goraksha founded the Kanphata ("split-ear") sect of the Nathas, so-called because its followers insert rings in their earlobes. There are still a few Kanphatas in India. It is believed that the Kanphatas were the first practioners of Hatha Yoga.


The Classical Texts of Hatha Yoga

The earliest text about Hatha Yoga was called simply Hatha-Yoga and written by Goraksha. Unfortunately, it has been lost.

Other works by Goraksha survive, including the Goraksha-Paddhati. A complete translation of this text is included in Georg Feuerstein's famous book, The Yoga Tradition.

According to Feuerstein, a number of post-Patanjali upanishads are devoted largely to Hatha Yoga, including the Yoga-Kundalini-Upanishad, Yoga-Tattva-Upanishad, Yoga-Shikha-Upanishad, Varaha-Upanishad, Shandilya-Upanishad, Tri-Shikhi-Brahmana-Upanishad, Darshana Upanishad, and Yoga-Cuda-Mani-Upanishad.

The most widely read classical book on this subject is the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika written by Svatmarama Yogendra in the mid 1300s. A good English version of this book with commentary is on the web at this address.

Another widely read classic on Hatha Yoga is the Gherandha-Samhita (Gherandha's Collection) which was probably written at the end of the 1600s.

For a discussion of additional classical works on this subject, see Chapter 18 of The Yoga Tradition by Georg Feuerstein.


The Basic Ideas of Hatha Yoga







The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice
By Georg Feuerstein

An enormous one-volume encyclopedia of yoga by the noted contemporary scholar of yoga Georg Feuerstein, who calls this book his most important to date. It covers history, practices, and beliefs of all major schools and includes numerous translations of classical texts. There is nothing else like this book in English, and although it has annoying faults, it is indispensable for people with a serious interest in yoga. The publisher offers paperback and hardcover editions at almost the same price, and because the book is so big and heavy, we recommend the hardcover.





This page was published on May 26, 2000.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.