Sunday, February 1, 2015
The meaning of hatha
I was recently asked about the meaning of hatha in hatha yoga.
"I've read it means sun and moon" my questioner said.
"I've read that too" I replied, "But I don't think it is true."
However that is as far as I could really go at the time as my memory failed me on the derivation of the word, or where indeed these ideas about sun and moon come from, or indeed why I felt my doubt so strongly in my belly.
So of course, I had to come home and look it up.
Hatha is the style of yoga we say we practice. The fact that all yoga of asana is hatha yoga is a confusing point when folk say, "I've practiced Ashtanga, but never hatha" (or Iyengar, or Dru or any of the other names of styles and traditions that yoga goes under. "Well actually" I might say, "You have been practising hatha yoga all along, and there are many different traditions and styles within hatha."
So what is "hatha" in fact?
Look it up in a Sanskrit dictionary and you'll discover that it means forceful.
Oh, and the pronunciation of the th is not like the th in that, and the a sounds are not like the a sounds in that either. If you say the hat like the English word hut, then say it again without the ending t, repeat this and speed it up, you'll arrive at something like it should be pronounced.
Hatha yoga is forceful yoga. Bearing in mind that yoga is union, and in the ancient philosophy yoga is a path to and the result of the path, to a transcendent union with Highest Consciousness, sometimes characterized as God.
Different yoga paths are described in the ancient literature. The Yoga of Patanjali is the called Raja Yoga, the King Yoga, and is a path of meditation. The Bhagavad Gita describes four types of yoga, Karma Yoga, the yoga of selfless service, Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge, Raja Yoga, the practices of concentration and meditation, and Bhakti Yoga, devotion to God.
In later times Tantric practices brought a more body centred awareness into yoga practices. It was seen that physical practices could manipulate the flows of energy in the body and forcefully create shifts that would break through psychoenergetic barriers to union. Thus the physical practices came to be called Hatha Yoga, or forceful yoga.
In response to the constantly arising claims we read that hatha means sun and moon, I decided to probe further by seeking in the Sanskrit dictionary the meanings of the syllables on their own. Many meanings came up for ha, and there amongst them was "moon", even though many of our yoga sources say in authoritive tones that ha means "sun"!. I was very excited and fully expected tha to turn up "sun", and finally solve the puzzle.
It did not, instead, amongst various other meanings for tha, was also the meaning of "the disc of the moon".
So at this stage, though it might seem desirably poetic and redolent with meaning for the word hatha to contain the meanings of opposites as in sun and moon, I have not yet found evidence that it does, apart from all the yoga sites saying so.
If any readers can shed more light, please do let us know.