Hatha Yoga is the physical aspect of the path to Self-Realization. The body is the vehicle which carries the Self on its journey through time and space. It is the temple wherein dwells the Divine. The body is not an obstacle or stumbling block in the spiritual life, but the means by which such a life is lived. Therefore, if we are really interested in our own evolution, we will want to maintain this vehicle properly. Through the Hatha Yoga practices of bodily postures (asanas), relaxation and breathing techniques (pranayama), this maintenance can easily be accomplished.
But there are as many approaches to Hatha Yoga practices as there are different temperaments in human beings. Many people take up Hatha Yoga in order to lose weight or develop a beautiful figure. Some are mainly interested in establishing or restoring their health and in maintaining a youthful vitality. Some hope to learn a certain amount of self-discipline. And still others want to awaken the kundalini and attain psychic powers. There are Yoga schools and teachers to accommodate all these different interests. And, in time, all these benefits can be attained by regular practice. But they are only by-products of developing an awareness of the higher aspects of existence.
The main purpose for the practice of Hatha Yoga is to teach us how to use the body and mind in an intelligent, practical and positive way. Our primary interest in life should be the gradual unfolding of our fullest potential as human beings—the realization of our own divine essence. If we are practical, we will not waste any time or energy pursuing things that cannot help us or that clearly hinder us from achieving this goal. And if we are positive about being alive, we will treat the bodily vehicle with the greatest love and highest regard.
To accomplish all this and to develop quickly and surely, we need to have the proper attitude. And this attitude, Swami Satchidanandaji teaches us, is to “Take it easy, but not lazy.” Always be at ease, be calm and relaxed. Do all those things that can maintain or add to such a state and do nothing that will diminish or disturb it. If you live in this manner, you will be established in peace, firmly rooted in your true nature. And Hatha Yoga is most helpful here. On the physical level, if you can be relaxed in the different asanas, your body will be free of all tensions. On the psychological level, if you can place yourself in a number of different positions and maintain the same calm state, you will have developed a strong and healthy mental poise which can guide you safely through any and all of life’s ups and downs. With such physical and emotional calm, strength and health, what then will become of the mind? It will also have these qualities.
That is why in the Integral Yoga Hatha classes, the instructors are always reminding the students to take it easy, to relax, bend gently, don’t strain, don’t pull with the arms, but let the gentle breathing loosen the tension. Don’t be concerned with whether the forehead can touch the knee; just be relaxed and you will get all the benefits. See the serenity on these students’ faces. Let us all be so serene, not only when we practice Hatha Yoga, but in all our daily actions. We must always remember that there is no way to peace; peace is the way.
Source: By Kumar Buchman, reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine’s first issue, December 1969