Hatha yoga

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Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga. The word haṭha literally means "force" and thus alludes to a system of physical techniques.[1]:770[2]:527

Hatha yoga is associated with the Dashanami Sampradaya and the mystical figure of Dattatreya.[3][4]

In the 20th century, hatha yoga, particularly asanas (the physical postures), became popular throughout the world as a form of physical exercise, and is now colloquially termed as simply "yoga".


Earliest textual references[edit]

Hatha Yoga textual relationship[5][6][7]

According to Mallinson, some Hatha Yoga techniques can be traced back to the epics and the Pali canon.[1]:770 The Pali canon contains three passages in which the Buddha describes pressing the tongue against the palate for the purposes of controlling hunger or the mind, depending on the passage.[8] However there is no mention of the tongue being inserted into the nasopharynx as in true khecarī mudrā. The Buddha used a posture where pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, similar to even modern postures used to stimulate Kundalini.[9]

Medieval systematization[edit]

In medieval times, teachings on Yoga were systematized in several texts:

  • The Amṛtasiddhi, which dates to the 11th century CE, teaches mahābandha, mahāmudrā, and mahāvedha.[1]:771
  • The Dattātreyayogaśāstra, probably composed in the 13th century CE, teaches an eightfold yoga that it attributes to Yajnavalkya and others as well as ten Hatha Yoga practices that it says were undertaken by the rishi Kapila and other ṛishis.[1]:771 The Dattātreyayogaśāstra teaches mahāmudrā, mahābandha, khecarīmudrā, jālandharabandha, uḍḍiyāṇabandha, mūlabandha, viparītakaraṇī, vajrolī, amarolī, and sahajolī.[1]:771
  • The ̣Śārṅgadharapaddhati is an anthology of verses on a wide range of subjects compiled in 1363 CE, which in its description of Hatha Yoga includes ̣the Dattātreyayogaśāstra’s teachings on five mudrās.[1]:772
  • The Vivekamārtaṇḍa, which is contemporaneous with the Dattātreyayogaśāstra, teaches nabhomudrā (i.e. khecarīmudrā), mahāmudrā, viparītakaraṇī and the three bandhas.[1]:771
  • The Goraksaśatakạ, which is also contemporaneous with the Dattātreyayogaśāstra, teaches śakticālanīmudrā along with the three bandhas.[1]:771
  • The Khecarīvidyā teaches only the method of khecarīmudrā.[1]:771

The methods of the Amṛtasiddhi, Dattātreyayogaśāstra and Vivekamārtaṇḍa are used to conserve bindu, although the Vivekamārtaṇḍa also involves raising kundalini.[1]:771 The Goraksaśatakạ and Khecarīvidyā involve raising kuṇḍalinī.[1]:771

The only other texts older than the Hathapradīpikạ̄ to teach Hatha Yoga ̣ mudrās are the Shiva Samhita, Yogabīja, Amaraughaprabodha, and Śārṅgadharapaddhati.[1]:771-772

Classical Hatha Yoga[edit]


The Hathapradīpikạ was composed by Svātmārāma in the 15th century CE as a compilation of the earlier hatha yoga texts.[1]:772

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda samhita are derived from older Sanskrit texts. In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama introduces his system as preparatory stage for physical purification that the body practices for higher meditation or Yoga. It is based on asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques).

Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists 35 great Hatha Yoga siddhas or masters; Adi Natha, Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath. It includes information about shatkarma (purification), asana (postures), pranayama (subtle energy control), chakras (centers of energy), kundalini (instinct), bandhas (muscle force), kriyas (techniques; manifestations of kundalini), shakti (sacred force), nadis (channels), and mudras (symbolic gestures) among other topics.

Post-Hathapradīpikạ̄ Texts[edit]

Post-Hathapradipika texts include Hathasaṃ̣ ketacandrikā, the Yogacintāmaṇi, the Hathatattvakaumudị̄, the Yogabīja anthologies, the Yoga Upanisads, and ̣ Brahmānanda’s Jyotsnā commentary on the Hathapradīpikạ̄', the Amaraughaśāsana, the Hatharatnāvalī, the Bṛhatkhecarīprakāśa, the Hathapradīpikạ̄ Siddhāntamuktāvalī, the Gorakhbāṇī, the Gheranda Samhita and the Jogpradīpakā.[1]:773-774

Modern popularization[edit]

Many modern schools of hatha yoga in the West derive from the school of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. Among his students prominent in popularizing yoga in the West were K. Pattabhi Jois famous for popularizing the vigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga style, B. K. S. Iyengar who emphasized alignment and the use of props, Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar.

Another major stream of influence within and outside India has been Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh (1887–1963) and his many disciples including, among others, Swami Vishnu-devananda – founder of International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres; Swami Satyananda – of the Bihar School of Yoga; and Swami Satchidananda of Integral Yoga. In India, Baba Ramdev of Haridwar has popularized yoga among the masses in the 21st century.

False association with the Nath[edit]

According to British indologist James Mallinson, some scholars have been falsely associating hatha yoga with the Nath, Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath. In actuality hatha yoga is associated with the Dashanami Sampradaya and the mystical figure of Dattatreya.[10][11]


Preservation of bindu[edit]

Early hatha yoga was used to prevent the dripping of bindu (semen) from the heads of men.[1]:770 The two early hatha yoga techniques were to stand on one's head (viparītakaranī) or make breath flow into the center channel which forces bindu up.[1]:770


In later Hatha Yoga, the Kaula visualization of Kuṇḍalini rising through a system of chakras is overlaid onto the earlier bindu-oriented system.[1]:770, 774 The aim was to access amṛta (the nectar of immortality) situated in the head, which subsequently floods the body.[1]:770, 774 This goal is in contradiction with the early hatha yoga goal of preserving bindu.[1]:770, 774


The goals of Hatha Yoga are siddhis and an immortal body.[1]:770

Health benefits ascribed to yogāsana practice[edit]

Students in a Hatha Yoga class practising the reclining bound angle pose, sometimes called bound butterfly pose

Yoga's combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements brings health benefits with regular participation. Yoga participants report better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, relief from muscle pain and stiffness, improved circulation and overall better general health. The breathing aspect of yoga can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.[12]

The 2012 "Yoga in America" survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Yoga Journal, shows that the number of adult practitioners in the US is 20.4 million, or 8.7 percent. The survey reported that 44 percent of those not practicing yoga said they are interested in trying it.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Mallinson, James (2011). Hatha Yoga Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol. 3 (pp. 770-781). Leiden: Brill.
  2. ^ Birch, Jason (2011). The Meaning of haṭha in Early Haṭhayoga Journal of the American Oriental Society 131.4.
  3. ^ James Mallinson (2014). The Yogīs’ Latest Trick. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series), 24, pp 165-180. doi:10.1017/S1356186313000734.
  4. ^ Yoga and Yogis. March 2012. James Mallinson. pg. 26-27.
  5. ^ Mallinson, James. "Siddhi and Mahāsiddhi in Early Haṭhayoga." In: Yoga Powers,edited by Jacobsen, Knut A. Leiden: Brill, 2012. pp. 327-344.
  6. ^ Sanderson, Alexis. "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period." In: Genesis and Development of Tantrism,edited by Shingo Einoo. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009. Institute of Oriental Culture Special Series, 23, pp. 124.
  7. ^ Sanderson, Alexis. "The Śaiva Literature." Journal of Indological Studies (Kyoto), Nos. 24 & 25 (2012–2013), 2014, pp. 1–113.
  8. ^ Mallinson, James. 2007. The Khecarīvidyā of Adinathā. London: Routledge. pg.17-19.
  9. ^ Mallinson, James. "Śāktism and Haṭhayoga." In: Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine, edited by Bjarne Wernicke Olesen London: Routledge, 2016. pp. 109-140. pg.120:"The Buddha himself is said to have tried both pressing his tongue to the back of his mouth, in a manner similar to that of the hathayogic khecarīmudrā, and ukkutikappadhāna, a squatting posture which may be related to hathayogic techniques such as mahāmudrā, mahābandha, mahāvedha, mūlabandha, and vajrāsana in which pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, in order to force upwards the breath or Kundalinī."
  10. ^ James Mallinson (2014). The Yogīs’ Latest Trick. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series), 24, pp 165-180. doi:10.1017/S1356186313000734.
  11. ^ Yoga and Yogis. March 2012. James Mallinson. pg. 26-27.
  12. ^ Jaloba, A. Nursing Standard. 2011. Vol 25, Iss. 48, pp. 20–21.
  13. ^ "Yoga in America Study 2012". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 


  • Mikel Burley, Haṭha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory, and Practice, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ., (1 January 2000)
  • Mallinson, James, The Shiva Samhita, A critical edition and English translation by James Mallinson. Woodstock, NY: YogVidya (2007), ISBN 9780971646650.
  • Alain Daniélou, Yoga: The Method of Re-integration, London:Johnson Publications (1949), ISBN 0892813016.
  • Bajpai, R.S. The Splendours And Dimensions Of Yoga 2 Vols. Set, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distri (2002), ISBN 9788171569649
  • Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, translated edition. Translated by Willard Ropes Trask, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (2009), ISBN 9780691142036.
  • Fernando Tola, Carmen Dragonetti, K. Dad Prithipaul, The Yogasūtras of Patañjali on concentration of mind. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass (1987).
  • Maehle, Gregor. Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series: Mythology, Anatomy, and Practice, Novato, CA: New World Library (2012), ISBN 9781577319870.
  • White, Ganga. Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books (2007), ISBN 9781556436468.
  • Richard Rosen, Original Yoga: Rediscovering Traditional Practices of Hatha Yoga, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications (2012), ISBN 9781590308134.
  • Swami Sivananda Radha, Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language, Secrets and Metaphors, Timeless Books (1 May 2006), ISBN 1-932018-13-1.
  • White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press (1998 reprint), ISBN 9780226894997.

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