Hatha Yoga relates to the restraint of breath (pranayama), asanas, bandhas and mudras. “Ha” and “tha” mean the union of the sun and the moon, union of prana and apana vayus. “Hatha” means any tenacious practice till the object or end is achieved. Hatha Yoga is inseparable from Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga begins where Hatha Yoga ends. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are interdependent. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are the necessary counterparts of each other. No one can become a perfect Yogi without a knowledge and practice of both the Yogas. Hatha Yoga prepares the student to take up Raja Yoga.
A Hatha Yogi starts his sadhana with body and prana; a Raja Yogi starts his sadhana with his mind; a Jnana Yogi starts his sadhana with buddhi or intellect and will. A Hatha Yogi gets siddhis (psychic powers) by uniting prana and apana and by taking the united prana-apana through the six chakras (centers of spiritual energy) to sahasrara at the crown of the head. Kriyas [yogic cleansing practices] viz., neti, dhauti, nauli, basti, tratak and kapalabhati belong to Hatha Yoga. All need not practice these kriyas. Learn these under an expert Hatha Yogi.
Health is wealth. Health is indeed a covetable possession. Good health is a valuable asset to one and all. It can be achieved by the regular practice of Yoga asanas. The practice of asanas controls the emotions, produces mental peace, distributes prana evenly throughout the body and different systems, helps in maintaining healthy functioning of the internal organs, gives internal massage to the various abdominal organs. Physical exercises draw the prana (energy) out but the asanas send the prana in. The practice of asanas cures many diseases and awakens Kundalini Shakti. These are the chief advantages in the Yogic system of exercises, which no other systems have.
Practice a few asanas daily at least for a period of fifteen minutes. You will possess wonderful health. Be regular in your practice. Regularity is of paramount importance. Bhujang, salabh and dhanur asanas will remove constipation and muscular pain of the back. Sirsh, sarvang and hala asanas will help you in maintaining brahmacharya, rendering the spine elastic and curing all diseases. Paschimottasan will reduce fat in the belly and help digestion. Relax all muscles in savasana in the end.
Asanas should be done on empty stomach in the morning or at least three hours after food. Morning time is best for doing asanas. Be moderate in your diet. Practice of brahmacharya is very important for success in Yoga asanas. Start with minimum time for each asana and then gradually increase the period. Answer the calls of nature before you start the practice.
Hatha Yoga is not the goal. It is only a means to an end. Take to Raja Yoga after possessing good health. Do asana, kumbhaka, mudra and shake the kundalini. Then take it to sahasrara through chakras in the sushumna. O children of light! Will you drink not the nectar of immortality? Attain good health. Without health how can you live? Without health, how can you earn? Without health how can you get success in Yoga or any undertaking? Possess wonderful health through the practice of Hatha Yoga.
~By His Holiness Sri Swami Sivananda
Excerpted from Essence of Yoga by H. H. Sri Swami Sivananda, with kind permission of www.dlshq.org