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
- 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.
of Hatha Yoga
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
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."
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.
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
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.
Classical Texts of Hatha Yoga
earliest text about Hatha Yoga was called simply Hatha-Yoga
and written by Goraksha. Unfortunately, it has been
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.
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,
Darshana Upanishad, and Yoga-Cuda-Mani-Upanishad.
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
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.
Basic Ideas of Hatha Yoga