Over the centuries, Hatha Yoga has fallen into disrepute by those who feared it might create too much bodily preoccupation and spiritual distraction. However, rather than dismissing it as an exercise only for the body, spiritual writings uphold that Hatha, one of the earliest traditions of Yoga, evolved as a spiritual practice to meet the connubial needs of the householder.
The legendary origins of its beginnings are said to date back to the mythological time of the great God of the Hindu pantheon of deities, Lord Shiva. It was during a dialogue between Shiva and his spouse Parvati that Hatha Yoga is believed to have emerged.Ha means sun and Tha means moon. In this instance, the sun, progenitor of light and life, is compared to the projectile energies of male and the moon to that of the receptive and special energies of female. The ancient scriptures are filled with symbolic names and meanings for the forces of sun and moon. This bipolar and magnetic relationship is representative of all opposing forces of creation such as day-night, light-darkness and positive-negative. It is even found within the dual balance of psyche-soma, masculine-feminine, logs-eros and yang and yin. On a physiological level, practitioners of both east and west speculate that this relates to the two hemispheres of the brain and their intellectual and intuitive correspondents as well as the balance between the two divisions of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic). It is this system that brings about alternating changes in constriction-dilation, acid and alkaline balance and catabolic and anabolic processes of the body. Hatha Yoga demonstrates the ultimate liaison between the autonomic and the central nervous system, which somatically control the voluntary and involuntary functions. Since the Yogi does not separate his mind from the body, this also shows the respective liaison between the conscious and subconscious reflexes of the mind.
Yoga is not commonly interpreted from its Sanskrit verb “Yugi” (meaning to yoke, bind, or join) as Union. As Yoga would be a unifying force of Ha and Tha, Hatha Yoga would imply a dynamic state of being in which there is complete equilibrium of the alternating and dualistic forces of creation. Hence, Yoga is not only a state of unified oneness, but it is also a method that can bring one to that state. In the west today, the word Yoga, by itself is usually taken to mean physical movements or body postures. However, there are six major branches of Yoga designed to evolve with man (and woman’s) needs whether they be emotional (Bhakti Yoga), intellectual (Gnana Yoga), vital (Tantra Yoga), mental (Raja Yoga), or physical (Hatha Yoga). Although the practices of Hatha Yoga, from all outward appearances, seem to be involved with the body, the body is used as an aid to understanding the mind. In the hierarchy of body and mind, which is like the cyclic distinction between the chicken and the egg, it is difficult to tell which has the most profound affect upon the other. When one is experiencing an ecstatic state of happiness, the body seems to remain relatively free from sickness and fatigue. However, when in a depressed mood, it becomes easily tired and susceptible to varieties of viral influences. As it is accepted and determined that the mind has a definite affect upon the body, in Hatha Yoga, it is found that the reverse is also vascular and respiratory systems and the brain, Hatha Yoga is found to be a therapeutic aid to lessen the physical pains, stress and illnesses that can serve as a detrimental distraction of ones mind and dedication.
In application, Hatha Yoga systems vary but in general, they could be considered to consist of five parts (1) asana (postural movements), (2) Pranayama (breathing), (3) Bandhas (locks), (4) Kriyas (cleansing processes), and (5) Mudras(selas and gestures).
It should be mentioned that these five steps have both an external and internal significance. Examples of this would be seen in the Nudras, which outwardly appear to be only ceremonious symbolic offerings performed with the hands. But, inwardly, on what may be considered a more esoteric level, they are experienced as the silent gestures of all Indian philosophy combined and are the seal of the mind with the soul. In Kriyam the external aspects can be seen in the expiration processes manually designed to remove toxins and blockages from the physical system. Internally, they can arise in breathing, movement and meditation. The Bandhas are not only muscular contractions of the anus, navel and throat, but they are meant to draw and direct energy from peripheral nerve channels to specified locations within the spine. Even though they are used mainly in Pranayama, they can spontaneously occur within some asanas.