Tag Archives: Hatha yoga

Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 7)

In this article we'll address the use and misuse of the word yoga: The misuse of the word yoga often involves what logicians call the “fallacy of composition” which basically is inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. Also this can mean projecting a characteristic assumed by a part to be the characteristic assumed by the whole or by others. Oftentimes this can lead to false conclusion that whenever a person is doing some action that is included in yoga, that person is necessarily doing yoga.

This is what happens when anyone says that Yoga is physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. Again, the goal of yoga is yoga, and this has to do with the realization or direct experience of the highest unity of our being.

Here are some obviously unreasonable and false arguments about the nature of yoga and the use of the word yoga. Some of the examples below might sound silly, but they are common illustrations of “fallacy of composition.”

  • Body flexing is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who flexes the body is practicing Yoga.
  • Breath regulation is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who intentionally breathes smoothly and slowly is practicing Yoga.
  • Contracting the anal sphincter muscles is a lock, which is part of Yoga; therefore anybody contracting those muscles is doing Yoga.
  • Cleansing the body is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody cleansing the body is practicing Yoga.
  • Purging the gastrointestinal system is a practice of Yoga; therefore, anybody taking an enema is practicing Yoga.
  • Concentrating the mind is part of Yoga; therefore anybody who concentrates is practicing Yoga.
  • Talking to yourself in a contemplative way is part of Yoga; therefore, anybody talking to himself or herself is practicing Yoga.
  • Lovingness is part of Yoga; therefore all people who love their family and friends are practicing Yoga.
  • Honesty is a part of Yoga; therefore, any honest person is practicing yoga.
  • Contentment is a foundation of Yoga; therefore, anyone who is content is practicing Yoga.
  • Eating healthy food is a part of Yoga; therefore, anyone eating fresh vegetables is practicing Yoga.
  • Attenuating attractions and aversions is part of Yoga; therefore, anyone reducing their habitual thoughts and emotions is practicing Yoga.
  • Sitting still is a part of Yoga; therefore, anybody who is sitting still is practicing Yoga.
  • Here are some other false statements about Yoga, which have unfortunately come to be widely accepted as true.
  • Since Yoga is beneficial to the body, Yoga is a physical fitness program. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)
  • Since Yoga reduces stress, Yoga is a stress management method. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)
  • Since Yoga has an effect on physical health, Yoga is a medical treatment. (Wrong; the goal of Yoga is Yoga.)

By understanding the fallacy of composition, and reflecting on these simple examples, it is easy to see through the numerous arguments and widespread misperception that yoga is all about physical fitness, stress management, or medical treatment. In fact, yoga is ONLY about the higher union relating to pure consciousness, soul, spirit, purusha, atman, or other such words. Other efforts for secondary purposes may be quite useful, but they are NOT part of Yoga unless these higher goals are the fundamental motive for the practices.

What does Yoga mean? According to The Sivananda Yoga Om Page yoga means union: "Although many people think this term refers to union between body and mind or body, mind and spirit, the traditional acceptance is union between the Jivatman and Paramatman that is between one's individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness. Therefore Yoga refers to a certain state of consciousness as well as to methods that help one reach that goal or state of union with the divine."

Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 7)

In ancient times, the word Yoga previously referred to the whole; now it refers to a part, the postures. Hatha in Sanskrit literally means “effort,” “force,” or “exertion.” Hatha Yoga was considered to be only a part, or aspect of the greater whole, which was called yoga. More precisely, postures were only a part of the part. In fact, Hatha Yoga itself only partially dealt with the practice of postures, called Asanas. Thus, the postures (or Asanas) were just a part of Hatha Yoga.

Furthermore, it is not absolutely necessary for someone to do the physical postures (Asanas) to be a practitioner of authentic Yoga.

Stay tuned, this series will continue – coming up next; “Approaches to the True Goal of Yoga (Part 8).”

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500

Hatha or Ashtanga Yoga? A Beginning Student’s Dilemma

It is often quite confusing for those interested in beginning a regular yoga practice to choose from all the yoga studios online. Which style of yoga would be best suited for them, can be a major concern. Before they figure out which class they’d be most interested in taking, they need to know what the differences are. Discounting Bikrams, which is controversial (besides, all Bikrams is hot yoga, but all hot yoga is not Bikrams), the differences between the other styles aren’t so clear. Hatha and Ashtanga yoga may appear to the novice as the same style, but yet they are often found to be very different when put into actual practice.

Let’s start with Intensity

Hatha yoga is often used as an umbrella term that encompasses all styles of physical yoga practice, including Ashtanga, but yoga studios that typically promote the slower, gentler yoga classes are known as Hatha yoga. These less challenging classes are generally considered more appropriate for beginners. Even though Hatha classes are commonly taught at a relatively low intensity level, it is still best to speak with each individual instructor beforehand to decide if the class is right for you. Some yoga instructors teach Hatha yoga classes at a more strenuous level than others. Some studios assign a numerical value to the difficulty level, such as 1, 2 or 3, with level 3 being the most demanding class.

Flow (or pace)

In Sanskrit the word for flow is “Vinyasa” and this determines the difference between Hatha yoga and Ashtanga yoga in terms of the class’s structure. Whenever you see the word Vinyasa or flow added onto the end of the class or studio name, this probably means that you will be  moving from Asana (posture) to asana without stopping (or in a flow). This is usually the way Ashtanga yoga is taught. Hatha yoga, on the other hand typically goes into one asana, holds the pose, and then comes out of it after a determined amount of time. With Hatha yoga there isn’t any transition between each asana as there is in Ashtanaga yoga classes.

Primary Objectives of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga practice focuses on perfecting the asanas and doing pranayama (breath control), to increase the flow of prana (life force) through the nadis (channels throughout the body through which the prana flows). Prana is similar to the concept of chi (or Qi). Pranayama is the scientific practice of first controlling and then directing the prana through breathing exercises. Hatha works to balance increase this flow of energy. Asana and pranayama practice are part of Ashtanga yoga as well, but they are only two of the “Eight Limbs” (aka branches or objectives) of Ashtanga.

So basically, when you join a Hatha class it means that you will get an easy, gradual introduction to the most basic yoga asanas and then strive to perfect them. It’s unlikely you’ll work up a sweat in a Hatha yoga class, but you probably will end up leaving the class feeling taller, looser, and more relaxed. Posture is also usually improved.

Primary Objective of Ashtanga Yoga

A student or practitioner of Ashtanga yoga not only works on asanas and pranayama but also all the other six limbs which are; yama (the do not’s), niyama (the do’s), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (bliss or effortless meditatio). The Yamas & Niyamas are yoga’s ten ethical guidelines and are the foundation of skillful living. Pratyahara is a means of withdrawing all sensory perceptions. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are connected, being successive stages which lead to enlightenment.

Today, Ashtanga yoga is based on ancient yoga teachings that were popularized and brought to the West by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a more rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures similar to Vinyasa yoga (both styles links every movement to a breath). Ashtanga performs the exact same asanas in the exact same ordered sequence. This can a hot, physically demanding practice and you will break a sweat.


Hatha Yoga has become the most popular style of Yoga in the United States. It focuses on the physical well-being of a person and teaches that the body is the vehicle of the spirit. There are lot of different Yoga Styles that have their roots Hatha Yoga, but all these styles strive to balance the mind, the body, and the spirit through the asanas, although the emphasis sometimes varies. Some put the emphasis on the strict alignment of the body while others focus on the coordination of breath and asana.

Ashtanga yoga may be the perfect yoga for those who want a serious workout. Students and participants move through a series of flows, sequencing from one asana to another in order to increase strength, flexibility and stamina. This is not for beginners or anyone who taks a casual approach to fitness. Ashtanga Yoga Practice involves performing challenging sequence of poses with Ujjayi Breathing and vinyasas (a flow of postures). “Power Yoga” is based on Ashtanga.

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

Brain Function – Yoga VS Aerobic Exercise…

It’s time to give a little support to the yogis in the age old “yoga versus exercise” debate. A recent study shows 20 minutes of yoga beats out 20 minutes of aerobic exercise for overall positive effect on the brain’s cognitive abilities.

Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are soon to be published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health as a peer-reviewed article titled “The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function“, and will summarize their findings in regard to yoga’s effect on cognitive processes (I.e.; working memory, reasoning, problem solving, attention, planning, etc.). The study involved 30 non-yoga practicing undergraduate women who participated in 20 minutes of Hatha yoga, accompanied by meditation and deep breathing as well as 20 minutes of “aerobic activity” like running on a treadmill.

For most, worse than having to run on a treadmill for 20 minutes was the required test afterwards. Researchers had participants do cognitive testing following both the yoga practice and the aerobic exercises to measure working memory and inhibitory control (attention span). And surprisingly (or not), yoga beat the pants off aerobics, especially when it came to brain function.

Lead researcher Neha Gothe (currently a professor of kinesiology at Wayne State University) told the Daily Mail: “It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout.” This in opposition to when the participants, in Gothe’s words, “showed no significant improvements on the working memory and inhibitory control scores” after the 20 minutes of jogging or walking on the treadmill.

Now all the scientists’ light bulbs light up because this is cause for further research and investigation. Edward McCauley, co-author of the study and director of the Exercise Psychology Lab where the research was conducted, notes: “This study is extremely timely and the results will enable yoga researchers to power and design their interventions in the future. We see similar promising findings among older adults as well. Yoga research is in its nascent stages and with its increasing popularity across the globe, researchers need to adopt rigorous systematic approaches to examine not only its cognitive but also physical health benefits across the lifespan.”

Of course this is a small (but ground-breaking) study, and there is much more to be explored about the effects of not just physical yoga poses, but the meditation and breathing components of most Western yoga practices (this would be for guys, too). So regardless, this is good news! News, that most students of yoga probably already knew? And besides, you can simply nod your head and smile the next time your runner/jogger friends talk about how amazing their “runner’s high” is and how they don’t really need to do yoga because running is their meditation. (No offense meant for runners. Yoga students love endorphins, too!)

The study does conclude that more research needs to be done on non-traditional, mind-body exercises like yoga (and tai chi, for example) and just how much they seep into the rest of our daily activities when out of the studio or off the mat.

“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath,” Gothe told the Telegraph. “Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”