The Modern Legacy of Hatha Yoga

Close your eyes and let your mind travel back in time to a land of jungle, sacred mountains, holy rivers and living Gods. Picture the white peaks of the Himalayas, in total silence undisturbed but by the singing of birds and the waters of the nearby Ganga, mother of all rivers in India. You see a yogi standing on his head, while with his eyes closed, he meditates in a Reality beyond his senses. Pure consciousness amidst the stillness.


Photo from Flickr

Open your eyes. It’s 2012, the time of scientific discoveries that grows on an exponential basis, a world dominated by people constantly looking for something new or different. Overwhelmed by stress, they look for ways to relax. But most of us won’t find a place next to a turquoise river, nor the stillness to keep a pose for long with our mind resting on the Infinite.

Originally a physically oriented technique that takes the body as a starting point to reach transcendence, proportionally few are the people nowadays which engage in Hatha Yoga as a serious spiritual practice. In its journey to our modern world, this ancient tradition has undergone many changes, mainly to fit the needs of the Western cultures. Most of them have actually only taken place in the past few decades. Different “yoga styles” with unique names have risen as so have the prices, while the gap that separates them with the original tradition in many cases continues to widen.

What we are left with is with a variety of practices under the name of yoga, and they have grown and developed in a way that many people would think today that yoga is about fitness, stretching and beauty. Some other people are aware of their health effects in the body and of the deep relaxation a good session produces, but there’s not much more that they could say about it. “Yoga” is even offered at many gyms, where the instructors are probably not really aware of what yoga really is.

From the great number of newborn styles, some of them have gained a lot of adepts around the world and have consolidated as big and well-known schools. Some might be closely related to the original Hatha Yoga, and some might be more remote to its original purpose, but in their own way they all offer great benefits.

Hatha Yoga in the Contemporary World
Among the great variety of Hatha Yoga styles find today, the following are the most famous:

  • Iyengar Yoga: its creator, B.K.S. Iyengar, was the brother-in-law of Sri Krishnamacharya. He developed what would become probably the most world-wide recognized approach to Hatha Yoga. What characterizes this style is the precision of its movements and the aid of props, such as benches, wood blocks, cushions and straps. In 1974 he founded the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India.
  • Ashtanga Yoga: its founder was Pattabhi Jois, born on 1916 . He became a disciple of Sri Krishnamacharya, who taught him the sequences known as Ashtanga Yoga. These are supossed to be based on the great ancient sage Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, but they actually differ a lot from it. His Ashtanga Yoga Institute is located in Mysore, India.
  • Bikram Yoga: Bikram Chodhury originated this style, which is performed in a standard sequence of 26 movements in a room heated to 100-110 degrees Farenheit. He teaches at the College of India in Bombay and all around the world. His hot yoga rooms have become so popular that he even teaches famous Hollywood stars.
  • Kundalini Yoga: besides from being an independent approach to yoga, Kundalini yoga is also the name of a Hatha Yoga style created by Yogi Bhajan. By a series of breathing techniques, postures, chanting and meditation, it focuses on awakening our so-called “serpent power” or kundalini, a powerful energy that lies dormant in the base of our spine. Yogi Bhajan went to the United States in 1969 and founded the Healthy, Happy and Holy Organization in Los Angeles, which later developed many branches all around the world.
  • Viniyoga: this style was founded by Sri Krishnamacharya. As the teacher of both the creators of Iyengar and Ashtanga, and having developed his own style, one can consider the great popularity yoga has in today’s world as the work of Krishnamacharya. Viniyoga works with what is called vinyasa-krama, or sequential process. It’s focus is on the possibilities and particularities of each one’s body, more than on achieving a certain result when performing a pose. There’s also an emphasis on the breath in relation with the poses. His son, D.K.V. Desikachar, continues to transmit his teachings in Madras, India.
  • Ananda Yoga: it’s based on the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, great yogi and the big propagator of Kriya Yoga in the modern world, who traveled to the United States on 1920 to spread the knowledge on yoga on the West. This style, was developed by one of his disciples, Swami Kriyananda, to prepare the student for meditation. Its characteristic feature are the affirmations related to the postures. The ananda World Brotherhood Village is located in Nevada City, California.

The list goes on and on, including Integral, Anusara, Shivananda, Kripalu and Jivamukti, to name a few more. New styles and schools will continue to change and develop to meet the modern man’s demands, and how their relation to the traditional Hatha Yoga will be, only time will say. But as of today, besides the ever increasing new options, traditional Hatha Yoga, based on the knowledge of ancient rishis, described in old scriptures and practiced for hundreds of years by devoted yogis is still an option if you are looking to experience the essence of a millenary practice.

Author: Sharon Liao

Sharon was born in Lima, Peru. She studied Clinical Psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú -PUCP- (2009). Her traveler spirit took her to discover different cultures around the world, and it was in India were she was introduced to the world of yoga in Hari Hari Peeth ashram in Rishikesh (2010). In 2011 she co-founded Psicomunitaria, a Psychology center in Lima, and taught at PUCP. In the meanwhile, she has continued to deepen her yoga practice, and has learned from teachers in Peru and in Agama Yoga school in Thailand. Also in Thailand, she completed a certification at ITM in traditional Thai massage (2012), a healing art which shares the same roots of yoga, providing her a more profound understanding of energy work.

Comments

  1. I didn’t know about Hatha yoga until I read this article, lot of amazing information about this yoga.
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. Pam Brown says:

    I didn’t know about Hatha yoga, what is the advantage of this compared to regular Yoga?

    • Hatha Yoga is in fact what people refer to normally as “regular Yoga”. But among “regular Yoga”, nowadays there are many different styles, like the ones I mentioned in the post. Differences between traditional Hatha Yoga and most modern styles is that traditional Hatha Yoga is normally practiced at a slower pace, holding the poses for longer and not forcing one’s body. It’s focus is spiritual evolution using the body as a starting point.

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