Hatha is a term that includes many types of physical yoga. So, when I signed up for the yoga class, I made sure it was hatha yoga, not tantric, vinyasa, or hot, or whatever. Hatha is generally slower paced, more gentle, and a great introduction to basic yoga. And after going to two classes, I can tell you it is a great workout, using all of your body parts and muscle groups. I cannot imagine doing the hot (Bikram)yoga in 95 to 100 degree heat. Of course, my body can probably use the cleansing.
Now some basics. Hatha yoga generally refers to, and is used interchangeably with yoga. Yoga has eight limbs. One of those, asana, is involved in yoga poses. While hatha is a great place to start, some people feel it is too slow or meditative. In your case, vinyasa would be the yoga for you. I think hatha is just right for me.
Hatha was started by Yogi Swatmarama, not Yogi Berra and not the Sultan of Swat. He was a yogic sage in 15th century India, much like Yogi Berra is a baseball sage. This system of yoga is the most popular form. The word “hatha” comes from the Sanskrit term, “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon. As a result, hatha yoga pairs opposites, like the sun (positive), and the moon (negative). It also concentrates the third (asana) and the fourth (Pranayama) steps into the eight limbs of yoga.
Hatha tries to achieve balance between mind and body. It also tries to free the more spiritual parts of the mind through the physical poses or asanas, breathing techniques, or pranayama and meditation. It really helps to focus, rather than let me mind wander.
Asanas are the various body positions that help improve health and well-being. Asanas is Sanskrit for “seat”, primarily referring to the body position in relation to the divinity. Regular practice of asana will help muscle flexibility and bone strength, not to mention the less physical like concentration, will power, and self-withdrawal. Withdrawal?!?!?
Pranayama, not to be confused with man-eating piranhas, is Sanskrit for control of life force. In other words, it is the science of breath control. The yogis of old firmly believed that the mind could be unlocked by controlling one’s breath. This practice can also help release dormant energies trapped inside the body. I had a physical therapist who really believed in proper breathing and muscle relaxation. The breathing seems to help in both tennis and golf, especially in putting and on the 19th hole.
So what exactly will yoga do for you? Perhaps the most common element is to recognize hidden physical and mental potential. Along the way, greater flexibility and strength will come. And perhaps what I am looking for, learning to be more relaxed in stressful situations. So, I hope to begin opening my energy channels, to allow my spiritual energy to flow more freely. There are some yoga poses that help massage internal organs, perhaps a little dangerous in mixed company!
My more modest goals fall into the areas of dealing with stress and tension, as well as anxiety. I hope to help my mind focus better, not just for spiritual reasons, but in general. And I would like to gain back the flexibility that I had before my back injury of a year ago. But I am not going to become a pretzel. I leave that for those crazy masseuses in Thailand. They seem to think that Americans are as flexible as Romanian gymnasts. Or you double jointed freaks out there.
Yoga outfits can be very cute, not to mention functional. Our class is a motley crew of women and a few men who have decided that Salvation Army is the store of choice. Try Lululemon in Walnut Creek for upscale yoga gear. Oh, and many arigatos to Mel, Donna and Rosie for introducing me to yoga.