Hatha Yoga is an ancient powerhouse of knowledge of the cleansing and purifying practices of the body still practiced today. The Vedas, one of the most ancient and influential texts today, especially for Hinduism, mainly speak of moksha (liberation) and suggest yoga as one of the vehicles to attain this goal.
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, known as the father of modern yoga developed a movement ‘orientated postural system’ which is now widely used in Yoga practices. He focused on the purpose of yogabhyasa (yoga or abstract devotion) and it’s high influence on the well-being of the mind and body. He explains that Yoga’s philosophy is to draw the minds’ focus inward which helps reach deep concentration and develops mental strength believed to be higher than the amount gained from sleep or meditation. His most influential time was during his residency at the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore from 1930-1950 where he developed a more acrobatic system of asanas, most similar to Yoga today.
Traditional Vedic Yoga revolved around the idea of sacrifices to be able to connect with the spiritual world. The traditional yoga period which followed the sacrificial ideas of yoga lasted for about 2,000 years, until the 2nd century when the Upanishads (also a part of the Vedas) started teaching the unity of all things which ultimately branched out to the practice of yoga. The traditional system of yoga practices started to become outdated and was not received well by most people. Good yoga practice is one that creates focus as a way to transcend the limitation of the mind and the ability to tap into the wisdom of higher selves. Krishnamacharya set out to teach this spiritual system of yoga throughout India. Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrating siddhis (supernormal abilities of the yogic body). To gain attention and interest in yoga, he demonstrated lifting heavy objects with his teeth and performed difficult asanas. When Krishnamacharya worked with the Maharaja of Mysore, the Maharaja was very committed to promoting the ‘Indian Physical Culture Movement”. Krishnamacharya’s yoga teachings had to be greatly inspired by aerobic due to the Maharaja and the popularity of exercise, as a result, hatha yoga gained wide popularity compared to the traditional yoga practices, which ultimately led to the vast arrangement of yoga forms that are present in India and North America today.
Hatha yoga or “yoga of force” is a practice that utilizes posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) as a way of transforming the body’s energy to influence spiritual transformation (Starbacker 105). The physical nature of hatha yoga is what influenced its appeal in the 19th century as calisthenics became popular in India and around the world.