Hatha yoga

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Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that emphasizes physical exercises to master the body along with mind exercises to withdraw it from external objects.[1] The word haṭha literally means "force" in Sanskrit, and may have this association because the early Indians believed that its practice was challenging and "forced its results to happen" on the yogi.[2] The term "Hatha yoga" connotes a system of supplementary physical techniques within the broader concept of Yoga.[3]:770,[4]:527

The Hatha yoga origins have been credited by some scholars to the Nath yogi tradition of Shaivism, particularly to Gorakhnath.[1][5] However, according to James Mallinson, Hatha yoga has more ancient roots and the oldest known twenty texts on Hatha yoga suggest this attribution to the Naths is incorrect. Hatha yoga was a broad movement that developed over a range of sectarian yoga traditions in India, one that was available to all and practiced by the householders (grihastha).[5][6] Important innovations in Hatha yoga, for example, are associated with the Dashanami Sampradaya and the mystical figure of Dattatreya.[7][8]

The Hatha yoga practice emphasizes proper diet, processes to internally purify the body, proper breathing and its regulation particularly during the yoga practice, and the exercise routine consisting of asanas (bodily postures).[1] The methodology sometimes includes sequences such as the Surya Namaskara, or "salute to the sun", which consists of several asanas performed as a fluid movement sequence.[1]

The aims of Hatha yoga have traditionally been the same as those of other varieties of yoga. They include physical siddhis (special powers or bodily benefits such as slowing age effects) and spiritual liberation (moksha, mukti).[2][9] In the 20th century, techniques of Hatha yoga particularly the asanas (physical postures) became popular throughout the world as a form of physical exercise for relaxation, body flexibility, strength and personal concentration.[1] It is now colloquially termed as simply "yoga". It has also developed into new movements and styles, such as the Iyengar Yoga, but these are not same as the traditional Hatha yoga.[2]


Earliest textual references[edit]

According to Mallinson, an Oxford scholar known for his studies on Hatha yoga, its techniques can be traced back to the 1st millennium BCE texts such as the Sanskrit epics (Hinduism) and the Pali canon (Buddhism).[3]:770 However, the first explicit use of the phrase "Hatha yoga" appears for the first time in Sanskrit texts of about the 11th-century CE.[2]

The Vedic era sage Kapila of Samkhya school fame is attributed in section 29 of the Dattatreya yogasasta text to have developed early Hatha yoga techniques. Kapila's methods, states this text, contrasted with the eight fold yoga methodology of another Vedic sage named Yajnavalkya.[10] Hathayoga, states Mallinson, overlapped with major traditions of Hinduism of the 1st millennium, and elements of Hatha yoga can be traced to the Vedic religion, Vaishnavism and Shaivism of that era.[11]

Ancient Sanskrit texts do not use the phrase "Hatha yoga", but their verses describe physical exercises and postures (asanas) that appear in later Hatha yoga texts, though sometimes in a different poetic meter.[12] For example, the Agama texts of Vaishnavism called Pancaratrika teach non-seated asanas such as mayurasana in section 96 of Vimanarcanakalpa patala (9th-century[13]), section 1.21-22 of Padma samhita yogapada and section 12.31-37 of Ahirbudhnya samhita.[12] According to Nicholas Tarling, the Pancaratrika doctrines crystallized by the first two centuries of the common era.[14] Gerald Larson and other scholars date the yoga-containing Vaishnava Pancaratra text Ahirbudhnya Samhita to somewhere between 300 and 800 CE.[15]

In the earliest texts, Hatha Yoga is not opposed to Patanjali Yoga, nor is it ranked superior or inferior as it was presented in the 19th century.[3]:770-771 Rather it is supplementary, with a different aim. Hatha Yoga in these texts aim to conserve physical essence of life, which these texts call as bindu (semen) and far less discussed rajas (menstrual fluid). In contrast, later texts describe kundalini energy through a system of cakras. The texts state that being able to preserve and use this energy through Yoga is a means to achieve various siddhi (special powers).[3]:770-771

The Pali canon (Suttanipata) contains three passages in which Khecharividya, the practice of pressing the tongue against the palate, are mentioned. Two of these state that they help bring "mind under control", while the third passage states it suppresses thirst and hunger.[16] These Buddhist texts state that the Buddha tried the Khecharividya practice as well as a posture where pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, similar to even modern postures used to stimulate Kundalini. The canon also mentions the Hatha yoga-style practices of Ajivika ascetics – an ancient Indian tradition that became extinct.[17]

Medieval systematization[edit]

Prior to the composition of the Hathapradīpikā (also called the Hatha Yoga Pradipika), all medieval Hatha Yoga literature is in Sanskrit.[18][note 1]

Some medieval Hatha yoga-related texts include:

  • A wide range of Hindu texts from the 1st millennium CE, such as Nishva satattva samhita of Shaivism, Agamas and the various Puranas of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism, which do not use the phrase Hatha yoga, but teach asanas, mudras and meditation found in later Hatha yoga literature.[19] According to Mallinson, the systematization of seated asanas likely occurred in Shaivism, while non-seated asanas developed in Vaishnavism. However, these yoga practices widely overlapped and were adopted universally as a pan-India phenomenon.[19][note 2]
  • The Amṛtasiddhi is a Vajrayana Buddhist text[21] or possibly a Dasnami Sampradaya (Advaita Vedanta) tradition text.[22] One of its manuscript discovered in China is notable for being bilingual, with text in Sanskrit and Tibetan.[21] It is also notable for teaching how a yogi can become jivanmukta and identical to Hindu god Shiva, along with Vajrayana teachings that compete with Buddhist schools.[23][note 3] Amṛtasiddhi does not teach Hatha yoga, but teaches mudras and terminologies found in Hatha yoga. It is dated to the 11th century CE and teaches mahābandha, mahāmudrā, and mahāvedha.[24][25]
  • The Dattātreyayogaśāstra, a Hindu text, is named after a fusion Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva deity Dattatreya. This text was probably composed in the 13th century CE, and is the earliest known text that teaches systematized Hatha yoga.[26] It presents a set of ten practices as Hatha yoga attributing them to rishi Kapila and other ṛishis.[3]:771 The Dattātreyayogaśāstra teaches mahāmudrā, mahābandha, khecarīmudrā, jālandharabandha, uḍḍiyāṇabandha, mūlabandha, viparītakaraṇī, vajrolī, amarolī, and sahajolī.[3]:771
  • The Vashistha samhita (IAST: Vasiṣṭha saṃhitā), a Vedanta and Vaishnava Hindu text composed before 1300 CE, teaches asanas, pranayama and also incorporates Kundalini yoga. It, however, skips the discussion of mudras.[27]
  • Shiva samhita and Yoga bija, both Shaiva Hindu texts within a Vedanta framework, mention the phrase Hatha yoga and teach its techniques, along with Jnana (knowledge) as a means to Moksha. It was probably composed after Dattatreya yogasastra, but before Hatha Yoga Pradipika.[28][29][30]
  • The ̣Śārṅgadharapaddhati, a Hindu text, is an anthology of verses on a wide range of subjects compiled in 1363 CE, which in its description of Hatha Yoga includes ̣the Dattātreyayogaśāstra’s teachings on five mudrās.[3]:772 This text mentions two types of Hatha yoga, one taught by Gorakhnath of the Nath sampradaya, the other taught by Rishi Markandeya and others.[31]
  • The Vivekamārtaṇḍa, a Shaiva Hindu text by Gorakhnath written probably in the Deccan region (modern Maharashtra), contemporaneous with the Dattātreyayogaśāstra.[32] It teaches nabhomudrā (i.e. khecarīmudrā), mahāmudrā, viparītakaraṇī and the three bandhas.[3]:771
  • The Goraksaśatakạ, another Shaiva Hindu text also composed probably in the Deccan region by Gorakhnath, contemporaneous with the Dattātreyayogaśāstra. It combines Shaiva yoga techniques with Advaita Vedanta metaphysics (Atman is same as Brahman).[32] It teaches śakticālanīmudrā along with the three bandhas.[3]:771 This Sanskrit text contains some of the earliest teachings that are explicitly called Hatha yoga.[33]
  • The Khecarīvidyā, a Hindu text, teaches only the method of khecarīmudrā.[3]:771
  • The Amaraughaprabodha, another Shaivism text attributed to Gorakhnath, skips metaphysics and philosophical speculations, describes physical Hatha yoga techniques. Along with Vivekamartanda, Gorakshasataka, Dattatreya yogasastra and Vasishtha samhita, the Amaraughaprabodha is a significant source of verses that were borrowed by later Hatha yoga treatises.[34]

The methods of the Amṛtasiddhi, Dattātreyayogaśāstra and Vivekamārtaṇḍa are used to conserve bindu, although the Vivekamārtaṇḍa also involves raising kundalini.[3]:771 The Goraksaśatakạ and Khecarīvidyā involve raising kuṇḍalinī.[3]:771

The only other texts older than the Hathapradīpikạ̄ to teach Hatha Yoga ̣ mudrās are the Shiva Samhita, Yogabīja, Amaraughaprabodha, and Śārṅgadharapaddhati.[3]:771-772

Association with the Nath[edit]

According to British indologist James Mallinson, some scholars have been falsely associating the origin of hatha yoga with the Nath yogis, in particular Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath.[35][36] In his view, the origins of hatha yoga should be associated with the Dashanami Sampradaya of Advaita Vedanta[22] (Hinduism), the mystical figure of Dattatreya,[37] and the Rāmānandīs.[38]

Classical Hatha Yoga[edit]


The Hathapradīpikạ, also called Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is an important and one of the most influential texts of the Hatha yoga.[39] It was compiled by Svātmārāma in the 15th century CE from earlier hatha yoga texts.[3]:772 These earlier texts were of Vedanta or non-dual Shaiva orientation.[40] From both, the Hathapradīpikạ̄ borrowed non-duality (advaita) philosophies. According to James Mallinson, this reliance on non-dualism helped Hatha Yoga thrive in the medieval period as non-dualism became the "dominant soteriological method in scholarly religious discourse in India".[40]

Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists 35 great yoga siddhas starting with Adi Natha (Hindu god Shiva) followed by Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath.[41] It includes information about shatkarma (six acts of self purification), 15 asana (postures: seated, laying down, and non-seated), pranayama (breathing) and kumbhaka (breath retention), mudras (symbolic gestures), meditation, chakras (centers of energy), kundalini, nadanusandhana (concentration on inner sound), and other topics.[42]

Hathapradipika is the best known and most widely used Hatha yoga text. It consists of 389 shlokas (verses) in four chapters:[43]

  • Chapter 1 with 67 verses deals with setting the proper environment for yoga, ethical duties of a yogi, and asanas (postures)
  • Chapter 2 with 78 verses deals with the pranayama (breathing exercises, control of vital energy within) and the satkarmani (body cleansing)
  • Chapter 3 with 130 verses discusses the mudras and their benefits.
  • Chapter 4 with 114 verses deals with meditation and samadhi as a journey of personal spiritual growth.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda samhita are derived from older Sanskrit texts. In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama introduces his system as preparatory stage for physical purification that the body practices for higher meditation or Yoga. It is based on asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques).[citation needed]

Post-Hathapradīpikạ̄ Texts[edit]

Post-Hathapradipika texts on Hatha yoga include:[3]:773-774[44]

  • Amaraughasasana: a Sharada script manuscript of this Hatha yoga text was copied in 1525 CE. It is notable because fragments of this manuscript have also been found near Kuqa in Xinjiang (China). The text discusses khecarimudra, but calls it saranas.[45]
  • Hatha ratnavali: a 17th-century text that states Hatha yoga consists of ten mudras, eight cleansing methods, nine kumbhakas and 84 asanas (compared to 15 asanas of Hathapradīpikạ̄). The text is also notable for dropping the nadanusandhana (inner sound) technique.[45]
  • Hathapradipika Siddhantamuktavali: an early 18th-century text that expands on Hathapradīpikạ̄ by adding practical insights and citations to other Indian texts on yoga.[46]
  • Gheranda samhita: a 17th or 18th-century text that presents Hatha yoga as "ghatastha yoga", according to Mallinson.[46][47] It presents 6 cleansing methods, 32 asanas, 25 mudras and 10 pranayamas.[46] It is one of the most encyclopedic texts on Hatha yoga.[48]
  • Jogpradipaka: an 18th-century Braj-language text that presents Hatha yoga simply as "yoga", composed by Ramanandi Jayatarama. It presents 6 cleansing methods, 84 asanas, 24 mudras and 8 kumbhakas.[46]

Modern era[edit]

Historically, Hatha yoga has been a broad movement across the Indian traditions, openly available and adopted by anyone who wants to.[6]

Hatha Yoga, like other methods of yoga, can be practiced by all, regardless of sex, caste, class, or creed. Many texts explicitly state that it is practice alone that leads to success. Sectarian affiliation and philosophical inclination are of no importance. The texts of Hatha Yoga, with some exceptions, do not include teachings on metaphysics or sect-specific practices.

— James Mallinson, Hatha Yoga, Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism[49]

According to Mallinson, the Hatha yoga represented a trend towards democratisation of yoga insights and religion similar to the Bhakti movement. It eliminated the need for "either ascetic renunciation or priestly intermediaries, ritual paraphernalia and sectarian initiations".[6] This led to its broad historic popularity in India. Later in the 20th-century, states Mallinson, this disconnect of Hatha yoga from religious aspects and the democratic access of Hatha yoga enabled it to spread worldwide.[50]

Between the 17th and 19th-century, however, the various urban Hindu and Muslim elites and ruling classes viewed Yogis with derision.[51] They were persecuted in the Mughal era, with Aurangzeb beheading their leaders.[52] Hatha yoga remained popular in rural India. They were viewed as champions of the persecuted, their Hatha yoga practice becoming an alibi for training in militant resistance groups that were armed, violent "akharas" targeting the ruling officials.[53][54] Negative impression for the Hatha yogis continued during the British colonial rule era. According to Mark Singleton, this historical negativity and colonial antipathy likely motivated Swami Vivekananda to make an emphatic distinction between "merely physical exercises of Hatha yoga" and the "higher spiritual path of Raja yoga".[55] This common disdain by the officials and intellectuals slowed the study and adoption of Hatha yoga.[56][57][note 4]

File:Kailash Integral Yoga.jpg
Hatha yoga has spread in different branded forms, such as the Integral Yoga (above).

Modern hatha yoga, of the type seen in the West, has been greatly influenced by the school of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. Among his students prominent in popularizing yoga in the West were K. Pattabhi Jois famous for popularizing the vigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga style, B. K. S. Iyengar who emphasized alignment and the use of props, Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar.[59]

Another better known school of Hatha yoga in the 20th-century has been the Divine Life Society founded by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh (1887–1963) and his many disciples including, among others, Swami Vishnu-devananda – founder of International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres; Swami Satyananda – of the Bihar School of Yoga; and Swami Satchidananda of Integral Yoga.[59] After about 1975, yoga techniques have become increasingly popular globally, in both developed and developing countries.[60]

The Bihar School of Yoga has been one of the largest Hatha yoga teacher training center in India, but is little known in Europe and the Americas. In the West, Krishnamarcharya-linked schools have been historically more well known.[61] Examples of other branded forms of yoga, with some controversies, that contain Hatha yoga methodologies include Anusara Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Integral Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Jivanmukti Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Siddha Yoga, Viniyoga, Vinyasa Yoga and White Lotus Yoga.[62]


Hatha yoga practice has many elements, both behavioral and of practice. The Hatha yoga texts state that a successful yogi has certain characteristics. Section 1.16 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, states these characteristics to be utsaha (enthusiasm, fortitude), sahasa (courage, optimistic attitude), dhairya (patience, persistence), jnana tattva (essence for knowledge), nishcaya (resolve, determination) and tyaga (solitude, renunciation).[41]

In the Western culture, Hatha yoga is typically understood as asanas and it can be practiced as such.[63] In the Indian and Tibetan traditions, Hatha yoga is much more. It extends well beyond being a sophisticated physical exercise system, and integrates ideas of ethics, diet, cleansing, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and a system for spiritual development of the yogi.[64][65]

Proper diet[edit]

The Hatha yoga texts place major emphasis on mitahara, which connotes "measured diet" or "moderate eating". For example, sections 1.58 to 1.63 and 2.14 of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and sections 5.16 to 5.32 of Gheranda samhita discuss the importance of proper diet to the body.[66][67] They link the food one eats and one's eating habits to balancing the body and to gaining most benefits from the practice of Hatha Yoga. Eating, states Gheranda samhita, is a form of a devotional act to the temple of body, as if one is expressing affection for the gods.[66] Similarly, sections 3.20 and 5.25 of the Shiva Samhita text on Hatha Yoga includes mitahara as an essential part of a Hatha yoga holistic practice.[68]

ब्रह्मचारी मिताहारी तयागी योग-परायणः | अब्दादूर्ध्वं भवेद्सिद्धो नात्र कार्या विछारणा ||

A brahmachari, practicing mitahara (moderate diet) and tyaga (renunciation, solitude), devoted to yoga achieves success in his enquiry and effort within half a year.

— Hathayoga Pradipika, 1.57[69]

Verses 1.57 through 1.63 of the critical edition of Hathayoga Pradipika suggests that taste cravings should not drive one’s eating habits, rather the best diet is one that is tasty, nutritious and likable as well as sufficient to meet the needs of one’s body and for one’s inner self.[70] It recommends that one must “eat only when one feels hungry” and “neither overeat nor eat to completely fill the capacity of one’s stomach; rather leave a quarter portion empty and fill three quarters with quality food and fresh water”.[70]

According to another Hatha Yoga classic Gorakshasataka, eating a controlled diet is one of the three important parts of a complete and successful practice. The text does not provide details or recipes. The text states, according to Mallinson, "food should be unctuous and sweet", one must not overeat and stop when still a bit hungry (leave quarter of the stomach empty), and whatever one eats should aim to please the Shiva.[71]

Proper body cleansing[edit]

Hatha yoga teaches various steps of inner body cleansing with consultations of one's yoga teacher. Its texts vary in specifics and number of cleansing methods, ranging from simple hygiene practices to the peculiar exercises such as reversing seminal fluid flow.[72] The most common list is called shat-karmani, or six cleansing actions: dhauti (cleanse teeth and body), vasti (cleanse bladder), neti (cleanse nasal passages), trataka (cleanse eyes), nauli (abdominal massage) and kapala-bhati (cleanse phelgm).[72] The actual procedure for cleansing varies by the Hatha yoga text, with some suggesting water wash and others describing the use of cleansing aids such as cloth.[73]

Proper breathing[edit]

File:Siddhasana mulher.jpg
Siddhasana is recommended for breathing exercises by Hatha yoga pradipika text.[74]

Prāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words prāṇa (प्राण, breath, vital energy, life force)[75][76] and āyāma (आयाम, restraining, extending, stretching).[77][76]

Some Hatha yoga texts teach breath exercises but do not refer to it as Pranayama. For example, Gheranda samhita in section 3.55 calls it Ghatavastha (state of being the pot).[78] In others, the term Kumbhaka or Prana-samrodha replaces Pranayama.[79] Regardless of the nomenclature, proper breathing and the use of breathing techniques during a posture is a mainstay of Hatha yoga. Its texts state that proper breathing exercises cleanses and balances the body.[80]

Pranayama is one of the core practices of Hatha yoga, found in its major texts as one of the limbs regardless of whether the total number of limbs taught are four or more.[81][82][83] It is the practice of consciously regulating breath (inhalation and exhalation), a concept shared with all schools of yoga.[84][85] This is done in several ways, inhaling and then suspending exhalation for a period, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period, slowing the inhalation and exhalation, consciously changing the time/length of breath (deep, short breathing), combining these with certain focussed muscle exercises.[86] Pranayama or proper breathing is an integral part of asanas. According to section 1.38 of Hatha yoga pradipka, the siddhasana is the most suitable and easiest posture to learn breathing exercises.[74]

The different Hatha yoga texts discuss pranayama in various ways. For example, Hatha yoga pradipka in section 2.71 explains it as a threefold practice: recaka (exhalation), puraka (inhalation) and kumbhaka (retention).[87] During the exhalation and inhalation, the text states that three things move: air, prana and yogi's thoughts, and all three are intimately connected.[87] It is kumbhaka where stillness and dissolution emerges. The text divides kumbhaka into two kinds: sahita (supported) and kevala (complete). Sahita kumbhaka is further sub-divided into two types: retention with inhalation, retention with exhalation.[88] Each of these breath units are then combined in different permutations, time lengths, posture and targeted muscle exercises in the belief that these aerate and assist blood flow to targeted regions of the body.[86][89]

Proper postures[edit]

Before starting yoga practice, state the Hatha yoga texts, the yogi must establish a suitable place for the yoga practice. This place is away from all distractions, preferably a mathika (hermitage) that is distant from falling rocks, fire and a damp shifting surface.[90]

Once a peaceful stable location has been set, the yogi begins the posture exercises called asanas. These Hatha yoga postures come in numerous forms. For a beginner yogi, states Mircea Eliade, these asanas are uncomfortable, typically difficult, cause the body shakes and typically unbearable to hold for extended periods of time.[93] However, with repetition and persistence, as the muscle tone improves, the effort reduces and posture improves. According to the Hatha yoga texts, each posture becomes perfect when the "effort disappears", one no longer thinks about the posture and one's body position, breathes normally per pranayama, and is able to dwell in one's meditation (anantasamapattibhyam).[94]

The asanas discussed in different Hatha yoga texts vary significantly.[95] Unlike ancient yoga texts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it is the Hatha yoga texts that provide step by step methodology on how to enter into an asana. The Hindu text Gheranda samhita, for example, in section 2.8 describes the padmasana for meditation.[96] Most asanas are inspired by nature, such as a form of union with symmetric, harmonious flowing shapes of animals, birds or plants.[97]

Mudras and vital energies[edit]

Hatha yoga texts discuss sahaja and chakras.[98]

Early hatha yoga aimed at preserving and raising vital energies, which was stated to be the bindu (semen) and the less discussed rajas (menstrual fluid).[99][100] In the early formulation of their methods, Hatha yogis aimed to use move this "physical essence of life" along their spine through breathing exercises. Alternatively, they would stand on their head to reverse the dripping down of their vital energies (viparītakaranī).[99]

In later formulations, they developed the concept of kundalini (sleeping serpent goddess) and a system of chakras within the body, and the exercises were a means to awaken the sleeping kundalini and rejuvenate the body.[101] The idea of vital energy or principle was linked to jiva (prana, life force), and the aim was to move this "vital energy" with mudras, access amṛta – the stated nectar of immortality – situated in the head and flooding it into the body.[99][102] The later formulations of Hatha yoga thus differed from the early hatha yoga aims of preserving bindu.[101]

Accessing and moving the stated vital life essence has been a part of the Hatha Yoga literature.[49] The two techniques they taught, one being mechanical asana and the other through pranayama, were linked to yogic mudra (literally, "seal"). These mudras in Buddhist and Hindu Hatha yoga literature are described as means to "access and manipulate the dormant vital energies within the body".[103] Eleven mudras are commonly described in Hatha Yoga’s classical synthesis, though only eight are found in the Hatha yoga pradipika. These are mahamudra, mahavedha, mahabandha, khecarimudra, jalandharabandha, uddiyanabandha, mulabandha, viparitakarani, vajroli, sakticalani and yonimudra. The last two in particular, sakticalani and yonimudra, are stated to awaken the kundalini. However, this awakening is the aim of all mudras according to the Hatha yoga pradipika.[49]


The Hatha yoga pradipika text dedicates almost a third of its verses to meditation.[43] Similarly, other major texts of Hatha yoga such as Shiva samhita and Gheranda samhita discuss meditation.[104] In all three texts, meditation is the ultimate goal of all the preparatory cleansing, asanas, pranayama and other steps. The aim of this meditation is to realize Nada-Brahman, or the complete absorption and union with the Brahman through inner mystic sound.[104] According to Guy Beck – a professor of Religious Studies known for his studies on Yoga and music, a Hatha yogi in this stage of practice seeks "inner union of physical opposites", into an inner state of samadhi that is described by Hatha yoga texts in terms of divine sounds, and as a union with Nada-Brahman in musical literature of ancient India.[105]


The aims of Hatha yoga in various Indian traditions have been the same as those of other varieties of yoga. These include physical siddhis (special powers, bodily benefits such as slowing age effects, magical powers) and spiritual liberation (moksha, mukti).[2][9] According to Mikel Burley, some of the siddhis are symbolic references to the cherished soteriological goals of Indian religions. For example, the Vayu Siddhi or "conquest of the air" literally implies rising into the air as in levitation, but it likely has symbolic meaning of "a state of consciousness into a vast ocean of space" or "voidness" ideas found respectively in Hinduism and Buddhism.[106]

Some traditions such as the Kaula tantric sect of Hinduism and Sahajiya tantric sect of Buddhism pursued more esoteric goals such as alchemy (Nagarjuna, Carpita), magic, kalavancana (cheating death) and parakayapravesa (entering another's body).[2][107][108] James Mallinson, however, disagrees and suggests that such fringe practices are far removed from the mainstream Yoga's goal as meditation-driven means to liberation in Indian religions.[109] The majority of historic Hatha yoga texts do not give any importance to siddhis.[110] The mainstream practice considered the pursuit of magical powers as a distraction or hindrance to Hatha yoga's ultimate aim of spiritual liberation, self knowledge or release from rebirth that the Indian traditions call mukti or moksha.[2][9]

The goals of Hatha yoga, in its earliest texts, were linked to mumukshu (seeker of liberation, moksha). The later texts added and experimented with the goals of bubhukshu (seeker of enjoyment, bhoga).[111]

Differences from Patanjala yoga[edit]

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga. It shares numerous ideas and doctrines with other forms of yoga, such as the more ancient Yoga system taught by Patanjali. The differences are in the addition of some limbs, and different emphasis on other limbs.[112] For example, pranayama is crucial in all yogas, but it is the main stay of Hatha yoga.[80][113] Mudras and certain kundalini-related ideas are included in Hatha yoga, but not mentioned in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali.[114] Patanjali yoga considers asanas important but dwells less on various asanas, unlike Hatha yoga texts. In contrast, the Hatha yoga texts consider meditation as important but dwell less on meditation methodology, unlike the Patanjali yoga.[115]

The Hatha yoga texts acknowledge and refer to Patanjala yoga, attesting to the latter's antiquity. However, this acknowledgement is in the passing, and the Hatha Yoga texts offer no serious commentary or exposition of the Patanjali's system. This suggests that Hatha yoga likely developed as a satellite branch of the more ancient yoga.[116] According to P.V. Kane, Patanjala yoga concentrates more on the yoga of the mind, while Hatha yoga focuses on body and health.[36] Some Hindu texts do not recognize this distinction. For example, the Yogatattva Upanishad teaches a system that includes all limbs of the Yogasutras of Patanjali, and all additional elements of Hatha yoga practice.[117]

Health impact studies[edit]

Students in a Hatha Yoga class practising the reclining bound angle pose, sometimes called bound butterfly pose

The impact of Hatha yoga on physical and mental health has been a topic of systematic studies. Some scholars state that a regular and proper yoga practice yields health benefits.[118][119][120] Others state that the results of these studies have been mixed and inconclusive, with cancer studies suggesting none to unclear effectiveness, and others suggesting yoga may reduce risk factors and aid in a patient's psychological healing process.[121][122]

Yoga's combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements brings health benefits with regular participation. Yoga participants report better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, relief from muscle pain and stiffness, improved circulation and overall better general health. The breathing aspect of yoga can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.[123]

The 2012 "Yoga in America" survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Yoga Journal, shows that the number of adult practitioners in the US is 20.4 million, or 8.7 percent. The survey reported that 44 percent of those not practicing yoga said they are interested in trying it.[124]

See also[edit]


  1. According to Mallinson, two non-Sanskrit Hatha yoga sources that some suggest predate the Hathapradipika, the Marathi language Jnanesvari, and the Tamil language Tirumantiram, but their age is uncertain because critical editions of their manuscripts are yet to be prepared.[18]
  2. This universalism is found in many medieval Hatha yoga texts, with verses such as, "Whether a Brahmin, an ascetic, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Skull-Bearer or a materialist, the wise man who is endowed with faith and constantly devoted to the practice of [haṭha] yoga will attain complete success" (Dattātreyayogaśāstra 41-42, Transl: James Mallinson); or, "Hathayoga success can be attained by the young, old, very old, ill or weak" without mentioning any particular deity (Matsyendra samhita).[20]
  3. The most Buddhist version of the Amṛtasiddhi manuscripts, also includes teachings on tantric goddesses such as Chinnamasta, suggesting a link to the medieval era goddess and tantra traditions.[23]
  4. Cartoons in the first half of the 20th century mocked "Hindu holy men" in Hatha yoga poses, accompanied with stories of weaknesses of Western women who fall for their yoga routines.[58]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Encyclopedia Britannica 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 James Mallinson 2011, p. 770.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 Mallinson, James (2011). Hatha Yoga Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol. 3 (pp. 770-781). Leiden: Brill.
  4. Birch, Jason (2011), The Meaning of haṭha in Early Haṭhayoga Journal of the American Oriental Society 131.4.
  5. 5.0 5.1 James Mallinson (2009), The Nath order has long been credited with being the originators of hatha-yoga and the authors of the Sanskrit texts on its practice, The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford University
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 James Mallinson 2012, pp. 26-27, Quote: "Many of the texts of hatha yoga explicitly state that it can be practised by anyone. Written in simple Sanskrit and free from the abstruse metaphysics of the Yogasūtra and its exegesis, or the esoterica of Śaiva texts on yoga, they are the first texts on yoga that are accessible to all."
  7. James Mallinson (2014). The Yogīs’ Latest Trick. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series), 24, pp 165-180. doi:10.1017/S1356186313000734.
  8. Yoga and Yogis. March 2012. James Mallinson. pg. 26-27.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 44-50, 99-100, 219-220.
  10. James Mallinson (2016), "Śāktism and Haṭhayoga." In: Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine, edited by Bjarne Wernicke Olesen London: Routledge, pp. 128-131, Quote: "The first formulation of the practices distinguishing it from other methods of yoga is taught in the Dattātreyayogaśāstra where it is said to be the doctrine of the school of Kapila and other siddhas; the practices are taught as an alternative to the way of the kavi, the eightfold yoga practised by Yājñavalkya."
  11. James Mallinson 2014, pp. 225-226.
  12. 12.0 12.1 James Mallinson (2016), "Śāktism and Haṭhayoga", In: Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine, edited by Bjarne Wernicke Olesen London: Routledge, pp. 128-131 with footnote 82
  13. James Mallinson 2014, pp. 225-227 with footnote 9.
  14. Nicholas Tarling (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 291. ISBN 978-0-521-66369-4. 
  15. Gerald James Larson, Ram Shankar Bhattacharya & Karl H. Potter 2008, p. 142.
  16. Mallinson, James. 2007. The Khecarīvidyā of Adinathā. London: Routledge. pg.17-19.
  17. James Mallinson (2016), "Śāktism and Haṭhayoga." In: Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine, edited by Bjarne Wernicke Olesen London: Routledge, pp. 109-140. pg. 128-131: "The Buddha himself is said to have tried both pressing his tongue to the back of his mouth, in a manner similar to that of the hathayogic khecarīmudrā, and ukkutikappadhāna, a squatting posture which may be related to hathayogic techniques such as mahāmudrā, mahābandha, mahāvedha, mūlabandha, and vajrāsana in which pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, in order to force upwards the breath or Kundalinī. Elsewhere in the Pali Canon these same practices are associated with tāpasas and Ājīvikas, who, together with other austerities, are also said to practise the “bat-penance” (vagguli-vata), (...) not dissimilar to the hatha yogic viparītakaranī mudrā".
  18. 18.0 18.1 James Mallinson 2011, p. 771.
  19. 19.0 19.1 James Mallinson 2014, pp. 225-228 with footnotes.
  20. James Mallinson 2014, pp. 226-228.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Mallinson, James; 2016. SOAS, University of London. The Amṛtasiddhi: Haṭhayoga's Tantric Buddhist Source Text, pages 1-3 with footnotes
  22. 22.0 22.1 James Mallinson 2011b, pp. 331-332 with footnote 22.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Mallinson, James; 2016. SOAS, University of London. The Amṛtasiddhi: Haṭhayoga's Tantric Buddhist Source Text, pages 7-10 with footnotes
  24. James Mallinson 2011, p. 771, "Other texts that predate the Hathapradīpikā and describe Hatha Yoga mudrās (without teaching Hatha Yoga as such) include the Amritasiddhi, which dates to the 11th century CE and teaches mahābandha, mahāmudrā, and mahāvedha.".
  25. Mallinson, James; 2016. SOAS, University of London. The Amṛtasiddhi: Haṭhayoga's Tantric Buddhist Source Text, pages 10-11 with footnotes
  26. James Mallinson 2011, p. 771, "The earliest text to teach a systematized Hatḥa Yoga and call it such is the Dattātreyayogaśāstra, which was probably composed in the 13th century CE.".
  27. James Mallinson 2014, pp. 227-231 with footnote 33.
  28. James Mallinson 2011, pp. 771-772.
  29. James Mallinson 2014, pp. 227-231.
  30. James Mallinson 2007.
  31. James Mallinson 2011, p. 772.
  32. 32.0 32.1 James Mallinson 2014, pp. 229-232.
  33. White 2011, pp. 257-272.
  34. James Mallinson 2014, pp. 229-232 with Appendix.
  35. James Mallinson (2014). The Yogīs’ Latest Trick. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series), 24, pp 165-180. doi:10.1017/S1356186313000734, Quote: "That these Nāth Yogīs were the originators and foremost exponents of haṭhayoga is a given of all historical studies of yoga. But these Yogīs were in fact the willing and complicit beneficiaries of the semantic confusion which has caught out White and many other scholars."
  36. 36.0 36.1 Gerald James Larson, Ram Shankar Bhattacharya & Karl H. Potter 2008, p. 140.
  37. Yoga and Yogis. March 2012. James Mallinson. pg. 26-27.
  38. James Mallinson 2012, pp. 26-27, Quote: "Thee key practices of hathayoga — including complex, non-seated āsanas [...] whose first descriptions are found in Pāñcarātrika sources — originated among the forerunners of the Dasnāmīs and Rāmānandīs.".
  39. Bjarne Wernicke Olesen (2015). Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism: History, Practice and Doctrine. Taylor & Francis. p. 147. ISBN 978-1-317-58521-3. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 Mallinson, James (2013). "Hathayoga's Philosophy: A Fortuitous Union of Non-Dualities". Journal of Indian Philosophy. Springer Nature. 42 (1): 225–247. doi:10.1007/s10781-013-9217-0. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 Svatmarama (Sanskrit); Brian Akers (English Transl) (2002). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Yoga Vidya. pp. 1–7. ISBN 978-0-9899966-4-8. 
  42. James Mallinson 2011, pp. 772-773.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 6-7.
  44. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 27-28.
  45. 45.0 45.1 James Mallinson 2011, p. 773.
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 James Mallinson 2011, p. 774.
  47. Mark Singleton 2010, p. 28.
  48. James Mallinson (2004). The Gheranda Samhita: The Original Sanskrit and an English Translation. Yoga Vidya. pp. ix–x. ISBN 978-0-9716466-3-6. 
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 James Mallinson 2011, p. 778.
  50. James Mallinson 2011, pp. 778-779.
  51. David Gordon White 2012, pp. 8-9.
  52. Shail Mayaram 2003, pp. 40-41.
  53. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 99-104.
  54. William Pinch (2012), Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1107406377, pages 204-206, 219-221
  55. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 69-72, 77-79.
  56. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 77-78.
  57. White 2011, pp. 20-22.
  58. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 78-81.
  59. 59.0 59.1 James Mallinson 2011, p. 779.
  60. Michelis, Elizabeth De (2007). "A Preliminary Survey of Modern Yoga Studies". Asian Medicine. Brill Academic Publishers. 3 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1163/157342107x207182.  , Quote: "Modern yoga has emerged as a transnational global phenomenon during the course of the twentieth century and from about 1975 onwards it has progressively become acculturated in many different developed or developing societies and milieus worldwide."
  61. Mark Singleton 2010, p. 213 note 14.
  62. Gerald James Larson, Ram Shankar Bhattacharya & Karl H. Potter 2008, pp. 151-159.
  63. Richard Rosen 2012, pp. 3-4.
  64. Mikel Burley 2000, pp. ix-x, 6-12.
  65. Thubten Yeshe (2005). The Bliss of Inner Fire: Heart Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Wisdom Publications. pp. 97–130. ISBN 978-0-86171-978-5. 
  66. 66.0 66.1 Richard Rosen 2012, pp. 25-26.
  67. Mircea Eliade 2009, p. 231 with footnote 78.
  68. James Mallinson 2007, pp. 44, 110.
  69. Hathayoga Pradipika Brahmananda, Adyar Library, The Theosophical Society, Madras India (1972)
  70. 70.0 70.1 KS Joshi, Speaking of Yoga and Nature-Cure Therapy, Sterling Publishers, ISBN 978-1-84557-045-3, page 65-66
  71. White 2011, pp. 258-259, 267.
  72. 72.0 72.1 Gerald James Larson, Ram Shankar Bhattacharya & Karl H. Potter 2008, p. 141.
  73. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 28-30.
  74. 74.0 74.1 Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 199-200.
  75. prAna Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Koeln University, Germany
  76. 76.0 76.1 Richard Rosen 2012, p. 220.
  77. Monier-Williams, Āyāma, Sanskrit-English Dictionary with Etymology, Oxford University Press
  78. Mark Singleton 2010, p. 213 note 12.
  79. Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 9, 29.
  80. 80.0 80.1 Mark Singleton 2010, pp. 29, 146-153.
  81. Alain Daniélou 1955, pp. 57-62.
  82. Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 8-10, 59, 99.
  83. Richard Rosen 2012, pp. 220-223.
  84. Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 8-10, 59-63.
  85. Hariharānanda Āraṇya (1983), Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0873957281, pages 230-236
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  93. Mircea Eliade 2009, p. 53.
  94. Mircea Eliade 2009, pp. 53-54, 66-70.
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  96. Mircea Eliade 2009, pp. 53-54.
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  98. James Mallinson 2008, pp. 231-237 notes 400, 433-434.
  99. 99.0 99.1 99.2 James Mallinson 2011, pp. 770, 774-775.
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  102. James Mallinson; Mark Singleton (2017). Roots of Yoga. Penguin Books. pp. 228–239. ISBN 978-0-14-197824-6. 
  103. James Mallinson; Mark Singleton (2017). "Glossary (entry for Mudra)". Roots of Yoga. Penguin Books. pp. xv–xviii, 439. ISBN 978-0-14-197824-6. 
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  105. Guy L. Beck 1995, pp. 107-110.
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  110. James Mallinson 2011b, pp. 329-330.
  111. James Mallinson 2011b, p. 328.
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  113. Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 10, 59-61, 99.
  114. Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 6-12, 60-61.
  115. Mikel Burley 2000, pp. 10, 59-63.
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External links[edit]