Most of the well-known styles of yoga that include postures, breathing practices and meditation can be classified under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. While any means or technique (exercise, devotion, service, etc) that leads one to a state of harmony with oneself can qualify as a yoga practice, the term Hatha Yoga refers to the system of postures, purification, breathwork and meditation as described in the classic Hatha Yoga texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
The word Hatha literally means union of the sun and moon; the Sanskrit term “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon. We can think of Hatha Yoga as a process of heating and cooling the system. Hatha Yoga promotes energy, strength, and vitality (qualities of the sun); at the same time it allows the practitioner to experience relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation (qualities of the moon). Therefore it provides the practitioner with a harmonious blend of seemingly opposite yet complementary aspects of activity and rest.
If you’re reading this, chances are you already practice yoga; I’m sure you’ve experienced the depth of relaxation at the end of a yoga session. As a yoga teacher, I’ve observed that the 10 to 15 minutes of relaxation after a well-rounded practice of postures brings everyone deep rest. Even those prone to fidgeting and restlessness experience profound relaxation and stillness.
The same thing can be said for meditation. When we attempt to be in meditation without doing active practices, unless we’re experienced meditators, we find ourselves stuck in the tendencies of the mind and body (“local minimum”). We experience uncontrolled thoughts, worries, and anxieties. We observe the discomforts of the body, and endure forced silence. While meditation performed this way certainly has its benefits, we can boost the quality of meditation by doing active practices first. When combined this way, the practice of postures followed by meditation culminates in deep silence and tranquility, accompanied by blissful rest and rejuvenation.
One can imagine the long-term benefits of practicing Hatha Yoga. When we introduce this practice in our daily lives, we allow an inner transformation to happen that takes us from a place of chaos to clarity — like the clarity of the crystals we produce from annealing.