History of Hatha Yoga

The Hatha Yoga or the Physical Dimension of Meditation

Hatha Yoga is the physical dimension of yoga, its two main disciplines being posture and breath work. But Hatha Yoga is not – or at least historically was not – a style of yoga that reduced it to the physical aspect. In the beginning there was only the one yoga, sometimes referred to as Maha Yoga, the great yoga. Before the one greater yoga broke apart into small factions, Hatha Yoga was the physical school through which all yogis had to pass. No yogi, however, remained at the level of Hatha Yoga or even reduced yoga to this level. Hatha Yoga was thus the ‘primary school’ of the yogic education system. In a similar fashion Raja Yoga was the meditation school of Maha Yoga, which all yogis attended during some part of their journey. We could liken it to today’s high school level of education. In the ancient days you did not start this level of yoga without the primary education.

Similarly we can look at Bhakti Yoga, the devotional discipline of yoga, as the tertiary education level. It was attended after proficiency in Raja Yoga had been gained: you would never go there straight from primary school or without any prior education. It is only in modern history that the link of these disciplines has been fractured and people practise one or the other exclusively.

The medieval yoga text Hatha Ratnavali states that, without success in Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga cannot be obtained. This statement means that spiritual realization has a physical dimension without which it is nothing more than self-hypnosis. Such self-hypnosis or belief can easily collapse in the next crisis. Yogis are not satisfied with belief; they want to know. For, if you believe, how do you know that your belief is not wrong?