In this comprehensive guide to the fundamentals of hatha yoga, yogi and mystic Sadhguru introduces us to this phenomenal science. In a series of articles, he corrects many misunderstandings about the process and explores how we can reap the maximum benefits hatha yoga has to offer.
Sadhguru: When you experience everything as oneness in your consciousness, then you are in yoga. To attain that unity within you, there are many ways. You work with the body, then you move to the breath, then to the mind, then to the inner self. Like this, many steps have been created, but they are only different facets of yoga. It is important that all of them are addressed in a very balanced way, all at once, as one single unit. There is really no division as such; yoga employs all aspects of who you are.
The body is a very large part of who you are right now. The science of using the body to hasten your evolutionary process is hatha yoga. The body itself has its own attitudes, its own ego, its own nature. Let us say you decided, “Starting tomorrow, I will get up at five in the morning and go for a walk.” You set the alarm. The alarm rings. You want to get up, but your body says, “Shut up and sleep.” It has its own way, doesn’t it? Hatha yoga is a way of working with the body, a way of disciplining, purifying and preparing the body for higher levels of energy and possibilities.
The Science of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is not exercise. Understanding the mechanics of the body, creating a certain atmosphere, and then using body postures to drive your energy in specific directions is what hatha yoga or yogasanas are about. “Asana” means a “posture.” That kind of posture which allows you to reach your higher nature is a yogasana. There are other dimensions to this, but to put it in the simplest way, just by observing the way someone is sitting, you can almost know what is happening with him, if you have known him long enough. If you have observed yourself, when you are angry, you sit one way; if you are happy, you sit another way; if you are depressed, you sit another way. For every different level of consciousness or mental and emotional situation that you go through, your body naturally tends to assume certain postures. The converse of this is the science of asanas. If you consciously get your body into different postures, you can elevate your consciousness.
The body can become a means for your spiritual growth or it can become a major barrier. Suppose some part of your body – your hand, leg or back, for instance – is hurting. When it is hurting badly it is hard to aspire for anything higher because that becomes the biggest thing. Right now if you have a backache, the biggest thing in the universe is your backache. Other people may not understand that, but for the person who is going through it, that is the biggest thing. Even if God appears you will ask for your backache to go! You will not ask for anything else because the physical body has such a power over you. If it is not functioning well, it can take away all other aspirations from your life. Whatever you may fancy, all your longings just disappear once the body starts hurting – because to look beyond that takes an enormous amount of strength, which most people do not possess.
There are thousands of people who have come out of spinal problems by doing simple asanas. Doctors had told them they would definitely have to go through a surgery, but they never had to. Your back can be restored to such an excellent condition that you will never need to go to a chiropractor. It is not only your spine that becomes flexible; you also become flexible. Once you are flexible, you are willing to listen, not just to someone’s talk; you are willing to listen to life. Learning to listen is the essence of a sensible life.
Dedicating a certain amount of effort and time to see that the body does not become a barrier is important. A painful body can become a major obstacle, and so can a compulsive body. Simple compulsions, whether they are about the body wanting to relieve itself or of lust, can rule you so strongly that they will not allow you to look beyond; the physical body becomes a major entity. Body is only a part of you; it should not become the whole of you. Asanas level the body down to its natural place.
Hatha Yoga Prepares the Body
Another aspect of hatha yoga, when one wants to move into deeper dimensions of meditation, is that it allows for a higher possibility of energy. If you want your energies to surge upwards, it is very important that the pipeline of the body is conducive. If it is blocked, it will not work, or else, something will burst. Preparing the body sufficiently before one goes into more intense forms of meditation is very important. Hatha yoga ensures that the body takes it gently and joyfully.
For a lot of people, spiritual growth happens very painfully because the necessary preparation does not happen. Most human beings have unfortunately let themselves live in a condition where the external situations mold them and direct them. Whether it is wisdom of the world or spiritual possibilities, they get the point only when they are knocked around by life. Even then, only some become wise; others become wounded. It is this possibility of transforming a potential wound into a source of wisdom that leads one to a state of freedom. If one has put in the necessary preparation, it can be a very pleasant and wonderful experience of growth. But for a majority of the people in the world, growth happens painfully; very few people grow blissfully. It is becoming a norm in the world that growth must be painful. It can be done blissfully, but because both the body and mind have not been prepared, all change happens painfully. So, asanas prepare you for growth and transformation by equipping you with a solid foundation.
Today, the hatha yoga that people are learning is not in its classical form, not in its full depth and dimension. Largely the “studio yoga” that you are seeing today is unfortunately just the physical aspect of it. Just teaching the physical aspect of yoga is like having a stillborn baby. That is not only no good, it is a tragedy. If you want a live process, it needs to be taught in a certain way.
Hatha yoga does not mean twisting your body, standing on your head, or holding your breath. There was a time when I was personally teaching hatha yoga as a two-day program. People would burst with joy; tears of ecstasy would flow simply doing asanas. That is the way yoga needs to be done. Unfortunately, the hatha yoga in the world today brings peace for some, is healthful for others is and a painful circus for many.
Most yogis just use the simple postures to break the limitations of who they are. That is all I learned when I was eleven years of age – just a few simple postures. It is just the way it is done that makes the difference.
Hatha Yoga Guide
An Introduction to the Origin of Yoga
Sadhguru tells the story of Shiva, the first yogi and guru, and how he transmitted yoga to his first seven disciples, the Saptarishis.
The Guru-Shishya Paramparya
Sadhguru looks at the importance of the Guru-shishya or Master-disciple relationship, and how it has continued unbroken to the present day.
The Science of Hatha Yoga
Sadhguru explains that Hatha Yoga is not a physical exercise system but a phenomenal process to prepare the body for greater possibilities.
Asanas and Surya Namaskar
Surya Namaskar – How It Really Works For and Benefits You
Sadhguru looks at how Surya Namaskar is a powerful yogic process, and gives a few tips on reaping the maximum benefits from your practice.
Surya Kriya and Surya Shakti
Sadhguru speaks about Surya Kriya and Surya Shakti, two little known "siblings" of Surya Namaskar, that offer different benefits.
Surya Kriya – Living Without Friction
Surya Kriya is much more involved and powerful "sibling" of Surya Namaskar. Sadhguru explains how it can help us create a life free from friction.
Yoga Asanas – Align With the Divine
Sadhguru looks at how an asana is a dynamic form of meditation, and not some impressive gymnastic maneouvre.
Yogasanas – Creating Health, Joy and Blissfulness
Sadhguru looks at how yogasanas are a powerful process to enhance perception, and create a chemistry of health, joy and blissfulness.
Why Yogic Practices are Often Done in Sets of Three
Sadhguru explains the science behind why "3" is such a significant number for yogic practices, and why many asanas are performed in sets of three.
Things You Should NOT Do
Why You Shouldn’t Speak During Asanas
Sadhguru explains why speaking while in your asana not only disturbs the practice but can also cause great harm to your system.
Why You Shouldn’t Drink Water While Practicing Yoga
Sadhguru looks at how asanas can generate "ushna" or heat in the body, and drinking water during asanas could cause damage to the system.
Why An Empty Stomach is Essential for Practice
Sadhguru looks at how doing yoga with food in the stomach can inhibit your practice and the upward flow of energies.
Deepening Your Practice
Classical Yoga: The Right Conditions
Sadhguru looks at how we can establish the right conditions to begin and continue our practice - from showers, frequency of practice to using mirrors.
What Kind of Clothes Should You Wear For Yoga?
Sadhguru looks at how organic clothing can make a phenomenal difference in one's practice and experience.
Flexibility During Asanas
We look at what causes inflexibility in the body, and what we can do to reduce this rigidity in body and mind.
The Sequence of the Asanas
Sadhguru looks at how the sequence of asanas thought in the Isha Hatha School of Yoga arises from a close observation of how the human system functions.
Sitting Still – Settling the Mind and Body
Sadhguru looks at what it takes to sit utterly still, and how modern society is culturing human minds in a completely wrong way.
Supporting Your Practices
The Benefits and Uses of Neem, the “Wonder Leaf”
The neem leaf has several medicinal benefits and uses and is a versatile natural compound. Sadhguru looks at how it is good for health as well as useful for those in yogic sadhana.
Four Remarkable Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is another very beneficial natural product that can be very supportive for one's health and also in one's sadhana.
How Is Honey Good For You – A Yogic Perspective
Sadhguru looks at the many uses of honey, and the best ways in which to consume it.
Foods to Avoid
We look at a few common foods that may not be suitable for good health and offer a few alternatives to these.
5 Tips For Healthy Eating
Sadhguru looks at how it's not just about what we eat but also how we eat.
Isha Hatha Yoga Practices
Angamardana – Mastering Your Limbs
Angamardana is a a unique system of yoga offered at Isha that strengthens both the physical and energy system.
Upayoga – Understanding Your Body
Upayoga or "sub"-yoga is an introductory system that activates the body, mind and energies, allowing one to live a full-fledged life.
Learning in the Right Ambience
Sadhguru speaks about how learning hatha yoga in the right space can have enormous benefits, and can be a great support in one's journey.
21-Week Hatha Yoga Teacher Training: A Week-by-Week Journey
We follow the trainees through their 21-week Isha Hatha Yoga Teacher Training, and explore how their lives and perspectives on yoga have changed through the program.
21-Day Isha Hatha Yoga Program
Participants of the intensive 21-day Isha Hatha Yoga program share their experiences.
Editor’s Note: Isha Hatha Yoga offers a 4-day as well as a 21-day intensive hatha yoga program at the Isha Yoga Center. Individual hatha yoga modules are also taught by teachers across the world. Find a teacher near you.