The Holistic Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Having Practiced Hatha yoga for Many Years...
I view Hatha yoga as a philosophy and a way of life. I particularly enjoy this form of yoga as it has a meaningful history and is also great for beginners who may benefit from a slower-paced practice where the main focus is on breathing and mastering the poses. Once considered to be the mother of all other styles, it has been adapted to suit a world where even though the original teachings have been tweaked to suit larger classes, it still plays a crucial role in today’s society where physical and mental health are so important.
As you practice this form of yoga your fitness levels will increase, stress levels will reduce, and it will enable you to effectively practice meditation. It can benefit people of all ages and is particularly suitable for children, as they can learn from a young age the importance of keeping fit both in body and mind. Therefore, due to its many attributes I fully endorse a system which brings harmony within diversity, respecting all cultures and creeds. Hatha yoga is not a political movement or religion, however, it nurtures those higher instincts of humanity which are so important: peace, compassion, acceptance and co-operation.
The History of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga originated in India and has been around for thousands of years. It was created as a total life philosophy, enabling those who practice this form of yoga to develop mentally, physically and psychologically. The original writings were in the form of yoga sutras and were written in Sanskrit in approximately 400 AD by Patanjali Maharishi. According to his writings, hatha yoga consists of eight disciplines known as ‘the eightfold path’. These disciplines form a moral and ethical code which, if followed, enables us to live more meaningful lives.
The Eight Disciplines
Yamas are expressed as the five moral constraints and their focus is on how we relate to others.
- Aparigraha (generosity)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Bramacharya (moderation)
- Ahimsa (non-harming)
Niyamas are expressed as five observances and focus on how we relate to ourselves.
- Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to the divine)
- Svadhyaya (self study)
- Tapas (self discipline)
- Sauca (purity)
- Santosa (contentment)
Asanas are yoga postures which enable us through discipline and concentration to master the body, enabling us to remain still for long periods of time when we meditate.
Pratyahara is the conscious effort to draw awareness away from distractions, which results in an internal focus, and allows us to see our internal processes such as emotions and cravings.
Pranayama are breathing exercises and techniques which help us feel self-aware, calm and alert.
Dharana is having the ability to focus the mind on any point or object by concentrating in order to blank out all distractions.
Dhyana is being fully aware and mindful without focus, which should be effortless, and has a calming effect.
Samadhi is referred to as enlightenment and is the ability to have a full connection with all living things.
Apart from the last three disciplines, it should be noted that the others need not be practiced in any particular order as they are all interconnected. With practice and commitment, these disciplines teach us that in order to understand our true existence we must first realise that we are all connected by a universal consciousness.
Physical Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Helps Prevent Heart Disease
The gentle postures ensure the muscles are stretched and exercised. As a result, there is an improvement in blood flow to the heart which decreases the chances of strokes. Hatha yoga practice can help alleviate high blood pressure and is effective in controlling hypertension, which is a heart disease and one of the major causes of heart attacks and related problems.
Provides Relief for Backache
Research has shown that practicing the hatha yoga postures on a regular basis are effective in providing relief for backache, particularly lower back pain. The gentle postures help to stretch out the spine, making it less prone to pain and injury.
Improving Core Strength
For those who participate in sports and want to avoid injury, or those who want to strengthen their core for general fitness, there are various hatha yoga poses which target the core area. Downward Facing Dog and Plank are the two main poses which strengthen the external obliques; Half-Life and Chair will strengthen your paraspinals, the muscles surrounding your spine.
Improves Bone Density
As we age we run the risk of developing fragile bones, commonly known as osteoporosis. Hatha yoga includes various weight-bearing yoga postures which, if practiced daily, can assist in building bone density and can help reverse bone loss in people with osteoporosis. Studies have shown that just 12 minutes of daily practice can build density in the femur and spine.
Joint Mobility and Flexibility
In order to avoid our joints becoming stiff and limiting your movement, it is necessary to work them on a regular basis. Hatha yoga poses will give your joints a great workout in multiple directions, which will improve mobility and flexibility.
The practice of yoga brings us face to face with the extraordinary complexity of our own being.— Sri Aurobindo
Psychological Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Helpful in Reducing Anxiety and Depression
Activities such as meditation, relaxation, socialisation and exercise have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. This is achieved by reducing a person’s stress levels, lowering blood pressure and improving respiration. Practiced daily, hatha yoga provides you with the means to deal with – and in many cases resolve – symptoms of anxiety which, if left untreated, can lead to depression.
Reducing the Effects of PTSD Symptoms
For those people who have suffered any form of abuse or military personnel in war zones, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder presents with symptoms such as constant nightmares and flashbacks. In particular where medication and other forms of psychological treatments have failed, hatha yoga has proved to be of benefit in reducing PTSD symptoms. With an array of poses which target the mental wellbeing of all those who practice, hatha yoga can be a great support mechanism giving hope to all those who have suffered the ravages of traumatic experiences.
Protecting Adolescents from Mental Illnesses
Psychological disorders diagnosed in teenagers are on the increase; hence, finding ways to prevent their onset is imperative. Hatha yoga has been seen as one method which can be used to assist teenagers through this very challenging and difficult time. By practicing a series of physical postures, meditation, relaxation and breathing, research has shown that teenagers, after a period of time, showed better anger control, decreased levels of anxiety, enhanced mindfulness and improved resilience.
Improves Concentration and Memory
By clearing the mind and calming the senses through meditation, hatha yoga affects the neural patterns in the brain enabling you to focus, concentrate and remember. Although not a cure, hatha yoga can also be beneficial for those people who suffer with dementia. Research has shown that by reducing stress, meditation can strengthen the brain in those ways that are directly linked to the areas affected by dementia. As a result, higher improvements in visual-spatial memory plus improved verbal memory skills were reported.
After practicing hatha yoga regularly you will start to feel more care-free than when you started. Through the various postures, breathing techniques and meditation, your mind will become focused, the body cleansed and the nervous system calm. Feeling that your mind is free, it is then much easier to view life in a happier, more positive way.
Ultimately, hatha yoga can be accommodated to suit your lifestyle, and this symbiotic joining of ancient and modern methods lay the foundation for a healthier and happier life. There is no age limit and your health, inexperience or lack of fitness should not hold you back. I find it particularly effective as it is holistic and tailored to suit the individual and their specific needs. Like any other discipline, committing to regular classes and practicing at home will reap lifelong benefits.
As a therapist, I highly recommend a discipline that brings mindfulness – which is a modern derivative of meditation – and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy together in such an effective way. The breathing elements of hatha yoga prepare the mind for meditation, and this calming state allows negative thinking patterns to be replaced with those thoughts which give greater clarity.
As you practice you will develop a sense of wellbeing, making you aware of something greater than yourself which you are ultimately connected to.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Lorna Lamon