Yoga has lasted thousands of years because it works. Of all the approaches to yoga, Hatha Yoga is the most well known in the West. This is because of its comparative accessibility. Hatha Yoga works through the body. It involves moving the body into different, and novel positions, and relationships.
These changes in the use of the body bring about changes in the mind. Rather than trying to effect the mind directly, which is far more difficult, Hatha Yoga allows us to work from the tangible, familiar arena of the physical body.
Hatha Yoga is the only approach to yoga that offers a wide range of physical benefits. While these are not the purpose of Hatha Yoga, they are unavoidable. In using the body to transform the mind, the body is also transformed. It is recalibrated, revitalized, harmonized, brought to a functional peak, both anatomically, and physiologically, unreachable by any amount of diligent cross-training.
It is these physical benefits that make it so popular. But, because these incidental physical benefits are connected to the intended psychological benefits, Hatha Yoga has a remarkable capacity to deliver far more than one might originally intend.
Looking for a lithe, slim body, we also find a calm, clear mind. Hoping for strength, and stamina, we also find increased determination, and concentration. Wanting to be free of back pain, we find also, freedom from compulsive anxiety. Seeking relief from asthma, we also find unlimited reserves of physical, and mental energy. Trying to release tight shoulders, and a stiff neck, we find also a new fund of enthusiasm, and joy.
In fact, Hatha Yoga is capable of delivering a remarkable range of benefits. Though physical, and mental benefits are not Hatha Yoga’s primary purpose. This is simply to allow us to become fully in touch with who and what we are. This means not only our transient, conditioned characteristics, with which we only too easily identify. It also means our deeper, unconditional nature, which we rarely even glimpse.
It does this by bringing about a resolution of the conflict arising from the polarization of opposites within us. It allows us to experience, on every level of our being, the unity behind opposites. The relativity of all tendencies.
Then we can see that by imposing a dualistic either/or projection on reality, we feel isolated, exposed, and unsafe. The vulnerability of this dualistic projection generated the development of a complex, and deeply embedded structure of tension, both mental, and physical. This structure is designed to protect our vulnerability: to reduce the anxiety of being alive.
However, this structure itself easily becomes the major hindrance to our living a full, joyful life. It does so by restricting movement: of body, and of mind. Our ability to engage directly, fully, and freely with the dynamic of life is hindered by deep layers of tension. Rigidity, and inflexibility in body, and mind restrict us to a limited range of responses to life. Hatha Yoga is designed to free us from all limitation.
To do this it must dismantle these restricting structures through a simple, systematic recalibration of body, and mind. It does this through the agency of asana (alignment), vinyasa (connectivity), bandha (energetics), pranayama (breathing), and drushti (attentiveness). They are used to break down the patterns of holding, and limitation from which we live. As this structure is dismantled, the deeper, profoundly rewarding aspects of our being are revealed.
The main Hatha Yoga techniques individually express one of the five fundamental energies of life. These energies are symbolized as space, air, fire, water, and earth. Together they create an energetic model of the full potential of life. To use Hatha Yoga effectively all these energies, and their techniques, must be used and balanced. Dynamic (or Power) Yoga not only presents each of these techniques carefully, precisely and practicably, but within the dynamic framework of their natural inter-relationship.
Hatha Yoga is a remarkably fruitful process. It can be given many different emphasis, each offering quite different effects. It can be used as a form of exercise for developing a high degree of fitness. It can be used as a system of preventative, and even therapeutic medicine. It can be used as a form of relaxation. It can be used to develop a wide range of mental abilities.
The various “styles” of Hatha Yoga focus on a specific aspect and its effects; such as stretching for flexibility, continuity for stamina, or alignment for restructuring. This means that they offer only some of the benefits of yoga. Dynamic Yoga embraces, and unifies the different styles and emphasis, into a single whole. Within this unity the different parts are fulfilled in each other, without which even they themselves are likely to remain incomplete.
When Hatha Yoga is used as intended, as a spiritual practice, it encompasses, and transcends all of its partial possibilities. Dynamic Yoga is a presentation of Hatha Yoga as a spiritual practice. It has as its practical aim a deep self-acceptance. This is based on self-knowledge, self-validation, and self-empowerment.
This means that it acts as a mirror to reveal to us exactly what we are, on every level of our being; physical, emotional, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual. We can then use this revelation to harmonize these different aspects of ourselves, and live our lives from the rich, integrated wholeness of our being.
Dynamic Yoga is a practical method. The book “Dynamic Yoga” by Godfrey Devereux is the source for this information. And is one of my all time favorite Yoga books. The book is designed to give you a series of progressive self-practice formats. These are based on the Classical Hatha Yoga Chikitsa. These are a group of basic yoga postures sequenced so as to reharmonize the anatomical body.
The Yoga Chikitsa postures were first popularized in the West by B.K.S. Iyengar, who reintroduced them as the foundation of safe, effective Hatha Yoga practice. The yoga Chikitsa format is know in the West as The Primary series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Devereux book contains three of the four Dynamic Yoga series. They will allow you to progress gently, and safely towards the more challenging traditional practice formats of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and other more advanced practices.
However, personal instruction in the subtleties of the techniques is indispensable. You will benefit, therefore, from finding teachers who can instruct you personally on the details of the practice, such as alignment, the bandhas, entering, and leaving the postures, and breathing. But this should not become a substitute for your own self-practice. It is only within the silent experience of your own physical, and mental structures that you can glean the fruits of Hatha Yoga.
For guidance in alignment seek out an experienced Iyengar teacher. For help with vinyasa, and the bandhas, find an experienced Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher. For help with Vinyasa Krama, find a Vinniyoga teacher. However, do not allow the occasional prejudices of teachers of one style to undermine your confidence in the techniques emphasized by other styles. Ultimately, however, you must find your own way, and your own style of practice which suits you in all the changing circumstances and moods of your life.
Thanks to Godfrey Devereux for his insightful, and comprehensive overview of Dynamic Yoga.
More On Hatha
Hatha Yoga uses all the available aspects of the human being to access the subtle, elusive inner nature of being human. It uses the anatomical, physiological, neural, energetic, perceptual, emotional, rational, and intuitive aspects of our being to access our spiritual nature.
This is because they are not distinct from it but particular, limited expressions, of it. By accessing them fully, integrating and harmonizing them, our latent potential is released, our true nature revealed.
While the ultimate aim of yoga may seem profound, and daunting, it is far from being irrelevant. Our spiritual nature is not distinct from our social, psychological, or animal natures. It is the source, and sustenance of them. To engage in the process of yoga is not about turning our back on our conditioned selves. Quite the reverse.
It involves encountering, acknowledging, and accepting ourselves just as we are. To reveal, and express what we are in the deepest sense ‘our true nature’ we must learn first to reveal, and express what we are on all the other levels of our being.
Yoga is not a process of denial, but revelation. Nor is it a process of creation. Our true, spiritual nature exists. Our imagination, intelligence, enthusiasm, and energy however potent, are not capable of such a creative act: that is the domain of God.
All that we can do is clarify its existence through the practice of yoga; and then honor it in the living of our lives. This is what it means to be holy: to be whole. To live from the wholeness of our human being. This is the state of yoga.
While Hatha Yoga is a river of itself, it is one that has generated many rivulets. Thus, the different schools of yoga, which all have their own distinct styles. These differences are mainly of emphasis. What they all have in common is the use of the physical body, especially through the yoga postures known as Asana. Their distinctions arise because life is not a monotone.
It is a symphony of infinite variety: a tapestry of energetic interweaving that is constantly changing. Interpreting this pattern has led to many symbolic representations of it. One of the simplest, and most pragmatic is that of the five elements of the natural world.