So while we may have upgraded from cow dung to lavender-rose cleaning sprays, and while our mats may be made out of PVC instead of grass these days, it's important to remember that the original purpose and practices of the Hatha Yoga system are still relevant today. In short:
1. Hatha Yoga is and always has been meant to be a system of spiritual development.
2. It employs techniques of cleaning, conditioning, and strengthening the physical body, in order to be able to handle the higher energy levels that come as a result of practice.
3. With the body in sufficient shape, the Hatha Yogi's focus becomes more meditative, with the eventual goal being complete mental stillness - samadhi.
With all this in mind, you can see that most folks today think of as Hatha Yoga is really just a tiny part of a highly robust, comprehensive system for taking care of the complete self - body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
And just as you wouldn't expect a recipe that's been handed down in your family for generations to taste as good if you substituted (or worse, left out completely) some of the ingredients, in the same way, we can't expect to get the full range of benefits from Hatha Yoga if we're only practicing bits and pieces.
If you're really serious about Yoga, make sure that the particular system you're following is teaching the whole kit and caboodle!
Okay, so now we're a bit clearer on what Hatha Yoga is, and how it's designed to work. But there are a still a few concepts that we've kind of snuck in there without really explaining them.
For instance, what's all this talk about subtle energy? How does working on the physical body also affect our mental and emotional states? What are these words that pop up here and there in Yoga classes - chakras, nadis, meridians, prana?
In the next part we'll look at how Yoga views the body - well, bodies, in fact...and what it means when we talk about subtle energy, and why having a good understanding of the body's energies is important to your practice.