Hatha Yoga, also known as Hatha Vidya, is a holistic yoga practice comprised of sequences of asanas, or postures, which attempt to purify and balance the mind and body. The word Hatha is commonly translated as willful, although the term also denotes a sense of duality, as its Sanskrit roots translate to ha, meaning sun, and tha, meaning moon. The latter translation is central to the practice as it correlates to the balance of masculine aspects (hot, active) and feminine aspects (cool, receptive) or, in other words, the balance of yin and yang. The chief aim of Hatha Yoga is to achieve balance by uniting these counterparts.
Hatha Yoga is commonly referred to as Sadanga Yoga, or yoga of six parts. While many disciplines are built on the eight limbs outlined in the Yoga Sutras, then, this branch of yoga is comprised of only six:
(1) asana, (2) pranayama, (3) pratyahara, (4) dharana, (5) dhyana and (6) samadhi.
According to Hindu tradition, the Deity Shiva introduced Hatha Yoga and then passed his wisdom down to a succession of disciples. The two fundamental texts on this system are Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita, both of which were derived from earlier Sanskrit scriptures. However, many scholars accredit Sage Gorakshanath, an 11th-century yogi and author of Goraksha Samhita, with the system’s increased popularity.
Written by 15th-Century-Yogi Swami Swatmarama, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is allegedly the oldest surviving document on the subject. In the text, Swatmarama delineates the 35 siddhas, who initiated disciples into Yoga, as well as information regarding the asana, pranayama, kriyas, chakras, nadis, and other components of yogic philosophy.
As Hatha Yoga became popularized in the West, it began to signify a stress-reducing practice rather than a primarily spiritual one. Numerous disciplines branched out from the classical Hatha system, but they all retained an emphasis on purification of the body and mind.
Practicing Hatha Yoga, or any of the disciplines descending from it, may result in improved fitness—specifically, increased strength, balance, movement and flexibility; accordingly, it lessens the risk of physical injuries. Yoga also reduces the risk of many chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and insomnia (mayoclinic).
Hindu scripture prescribes Hatha Yoga as a means of purification, through which the individual can achieve union with the Divine. In Western society, yoga does not always signify a similarly religious practice, and yet it is prescribed for a similar reason: union of the mind and body. Thus, the psychological benefits of yoga appear to be analogous, regardless of cultural differences. Such benefits include decreased anxiety, stress, mood swings, pain and fatigue.