In the book by Vivekananda, The Yogas and other works
He speaks of the teachings of Hatha yoga as “a system for a healthy body.” In his book of 955 pages, Vivekananda devotes less than one page to the subject of hatha yoga. In this one paragraph he says “The result of hatha-yoga is simply to make men live long,” he goes on, “A banyan tree lives sometimes five thousand years, but it is a banyan tree and nothing more. So if a man lives long he is only a healthy animal.”
When I first started teaching I was in my early 20’s, since then I have managed to delve into the deeper teachings of Yoga. It wasn’t until I began meditation and graduated to other teachings of yoga, sparked by my hatha yoga practice, did my practice finally change my life and who I was. Since 1971 I have surfed the different teachings and teachers of yoga. I consider these teachings “expressions” of one’s internal experience. The experience that BKS Iyengar has shared with millions was his experience as was all of the other great teachers who have generously lived up to their own personal calling to share with others.
It all evolves from years of education, practice, experience and sharing which begins to come alive within your own body, soul and mind.
When faced with yet another “label” or another “style” the question for me is, “so what is it?” Isn’t it all Yoga? How does one style in this growing garden of Yoga in America differ from another? Every day I see another “school” of Yoga. Yogalates, yin yoga, partner yoga, sunrise yoga, sunset yoga, yoga for animals, yoga for athletes, yoga for babies. Each one carrying with it, it’s own specialized discription.
Vivekananda writes about Hatha Yoga, asana practice: “A series of exercises, physical and mental to be gone through every day until certain higher states are reached.”
The most serious student of Hatha yoga may or may not enter into these “higher states,” But no mater what, there will be something special that begins to guide a dedicated student into a direction that can bring them into a higher awareness of life.
Hatha Yoga has its offshoots. Some yoga teachers want to market yoga poses as their own. Some only teach a certain series of poses and label that series their own. The asanas alone can stand up in any yoga class regardless of who is the teacher. A teacher inspires and awakens a student to the possibilities within themselves. Let us not forget the simplicity of where Hatha yoga began from a handful of teachers passed down from a narrow lineage. In our modern world it takes a new gimmick to attract new seekers.
In practicing Hatha Yoga, keep in mind that the greatest gift a teacher gives to the student is the gift of self-reliance. Yoga Asanas are for all of us and nobody owns them. How Asanas are expressed is the art of yoga shared through practice and inspiration to students so that they too may find their own individual inspired experience.
The definition of Hatha Yoga covers the physical exercises within the teachings of yoga. It is not separate from all the labels of different styles of yoga; it is the umbrella for them all.
Whatever style you prefer or begin with, Be aware that eventually you will find the beauty of the asanas regardless of how they are packaged.