Classical Hatha Yoga
Yoga means unity. According to Hinduism, every man has in him a part of the Absolute, the Creator of Universe. The goal of life is to stop the wheel of birth and death, break the chain of suffering, and become one with the Creator. This can be achieved by various means. First way, Jnana Yoga is studying Hindu scriptures, Vedas, using one's intellect to liberate oneself from the bonds of the material world. Second way is Raja Yoga, bringing mind under control to achieve higher states of consciousness. Third way, Bhakti Yoga, is love and devotion to a personal God. And, finally, Karma Yoga, selfless service to fellow man.
Hatha Yoga is a part of Raja Yoga. It serves to prepare body for the spiritual part of Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga includes
Hatha Yoga can be used outside of framework of Hinduism as a system for maintaining body in optimal condition, which is especially suitable for people doing mental work and people with spiritual interests.
What is the difference between Hatha Yoga and physical culture, for example, gymnastics, aerobics, or shaping?
First difference is in goals. Physical culture pursues development of strength, endurance, dexterity for physical labor and war, and, also, perfecting body shape, its movements to increase sexual attractiveness. Contrary to that, Hatha Yoga liberates mind from burden of the body and facilitates elevation to the transcendent. Body in Yoga is considered being only a shell for the soul in her journey to perfection. In practice, as physical culture helps to achieve health and mental concentration, so yoga helps to make body stronger and more attractive, although it does not state these goals directly.
Second difference between Yoga and physical culture is in methods. Practicing physical culture consists of performing various movements, practicing Yoga --- mostly in performing asanas, static postures. Yoga stresses development of flexibility, health of the joints. Special attention is payed to health, flexibility, and strength of the spine.
Unique - and often overlooked - feature of Yoga, without analogy in European physical culture, are exercises stimulating hormonal glands and performing massage of internal organs. The endocrine system is rejuvenated, helping to balance emotions, maintain vibrant health, and acquire optimistic attitude to life.
In addition to physical exercise, Yoga includes methods for purification of internal organs and establishes principles for correct nutrition.
What are the advantages of Hatha Yoga over European physical culture and sport?
An individual occupied by studying or mental labor does not necessarily needs to have big muscles or be able to run a marathon. However, it is difficult to concentrate on mental tasks when your spine hurts, stomach or head aches, when suffering from nausea or heartburns.
It is well-known that an athlete, even of high class, is not necessarily a healthy person. Even when they exercise, many people living Western lifestyle suffer from various illnesses and afflictions: back problems, headaches, digestive problems.
Yoga practice prevents and heals countless ailments, strengthens the body and creates a feeling of well-being. Yoga sharpens the intellect and aids concentration.
Is it possible to be healthy without high technologies?
One of the most carefully guarded secrets of the consumer society is that the best things in life are not those that are expensive, require high technologies, but the opposite, things that are inexpensive or even free. For example, for most people good health can be maintained at almost no cost, without any need for high tech medical technologies. However, in our society hardly anybody is interested in disseminating knowledge that will not bring any profits.
Speaking about Western commercial medicine, one of my teachers of Yoga in India told me: "What do you think, if a doctor knew a simple natural way to heal you at no cost, would he tell you about it or not?" As soon as the question is correctly formulated, the answer is clear. This attitude to natural health is not exclusively or, may be not even mainly, a result of the lack of integrity of individual doctors, rather it results from a whole set of institutionalized pseudo-scientific biases firmly ingrained in the educational system and the medical establishment, blind belief in pseudo-rationalism. Of course, Yoga and natural nutrition are not the answer to all possible medical problems. Only a surgeon can help an accident victim who has broken bones and mechanical damage to organs.
Does yoga develop strength and endurance?
Up to a certain degree, yes. However, a person practicing only Yoga will not be able to run, say, ten kilometer distance, or compete with a weightlifter. Nevertheless, possessing excellent general health which Yoga gives, it is very easy to develop strength and endurance.