Join Yoga Journal now! Hatha yoga is one of six types of yoga, the others being raja, karma, bhakti, jnana, and tantra yoga. Each branch, with its distinct traits and functions, reflects a distinct way of life. Hatha yoga is the traditional path of yoga practice in India.
Hatha means "force" or "energy" in Sanskrit. The ashtanga vedanta (eight-limbed) school of hatha yoga developed in India consists of an order of postures known as asanas, or poses. These are used to stimulate energy flow in the body's nadis (channels), or veins. This process of energizing the body and purifying the mind through movement is central to hatha yoga.
The term "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means "to join, connect, or unite." Thus, yoga refers to any practice that aims to achieve union with something or someone. In ancient times, this something or someone was considered to be God. However, modern-day yogis often seek unity within themselves through meditation or self-development practices.
Yoga can be practiced by anyone at any stage of life. It can be done alone or together with others, as long as you follow certain guidelines.
Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga are the four primary streams of yoga. These four pathways are analogous to tree branches or river streams. They all come from the same location and end up in the same place. They are, in essence, all the same. The difference is just in their speed at which they reach that destination.
Karma Yoga is the most rapid route to liberation. It involves engaging in actions that are selfless, charitable, and aim to benefit others. This type of yoga is more commonly known as "holy work" or "service to humanity."
Bhakti Yoga is the second fastest route to liberation. It involves connecting with a spiritual guide or master and receiving teachings and blessings in return for one's devotion. The more common term for this type of yoga is "monastic life."
Raja Yoga is the third fastest route to liberation. It includes practicing certain physical postures (asanas) along with breathing exercises (pranayama) and concentration techniques (dharana). In addition, Raja Yoga requires the practice of meditation (dhyana).
Jnana Yoga is the slowest route to liberation. It involves learning about the mind and its activities through scripture study and debate with other teachers/masters. One then tries to apply what has been learned into daily life so that it actually changes something about him or her.
They all lead to the same destination, but each branch has its own purpose in life.
Karma Yoga is the first stage of yoga and can be considered a preparatory stage. It involves purification of the mind and body through action. This type of yoga is based on devotion to God. The goal of this path is to release oneself from the cycle of death and rebirth by performing good actions.
Bhakti Yoga is the second stage of yoga and can be considered a continuation of the first stage. It involves surrendering one's will to that of God. This type of yoga is based on love for God. The goal of this path is to realize Him completely by getting immersed in His feelings via meditation and other means.
Raja Yoga is the third stage of yoga and can be considered a completion of the previous two stages. It involves harnessing the energies of the mind and body to achieve superhuman abilities such as memory expansion, vision correction, hearing improvement, strength enhancement, and speed acquisition. This type of yoga is based on knowledge and experience. Its goal is to reach enlightenment.
Hatha Yoga is the basis for all other yoga systems. It combines asanas (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), meditation (Dharana & Dhyana), and kundalini (Laya Yoga) into a comprehensive system for achieving enlightenment or self-realization. Hatha yoga is the most popular form of yoga today, which means that it can be found in many types of yoga practices from Ashtanga to Iyengar.
Meditation is one of the six limbs of Hatha Yoga. Meditation involves focusing your mind on a subject that is good for you, such as love or peace, to achieve a state of consciousness called "Samadhi." Samadhi is the highest stage of meditation where the meditator realizes his or her identity with God/dess.
In Hinduism, meditation is considered important for advancing in spirituality and improving personal performance. Meditating helps one understand oneself better by clearing the mind of its distractions, especially negative thoughts, which lead to emotional turmoil and suffering. Meditating also enables one to connect with the divine more deeply, which in turn brings about spiritual growth.
The word "meditation" comes from the Latin meditatio, meaning "thought," because that is what happens when you focus your mind on something else beyond itself. Meditation is simply thinking about something else.