Yoga, as it first appears in the four Vedas (the earliest and most cherished scriptures of Hinduism) is described as a practice of disciplined contemplation cultivated in conjunction with sacrificial rituals. The Vedas are ‘revealed’ literature (dated between 1500 and 1000 BCE), which outlines the spiritual wisdom of the Vedic civilization, now referred to as the Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
The proto-yogic practices we see outlined in the Vedas gave birth to the pycho-spiritual technology we see in the Upanishads (800-500 BCE). These practices were marked by their meditative focus out of which (and over a period of centuries) grew a vast array of practices that, while disparate in their emphases, were – and are – all aimed at transcending the human condition.
These practices of ‘yoga’ are varied and often contradictory. We can think of them as trees in a forest – no two are the same – and within that forest sits the tree we are most familiar with; the practice of Hatha Yoga.
Although today, Hatha Yoga, is sometimes mistaken as a means to an end, a way to achieve ‘body beautiful’, to consider it as such is to do it an injustice. At heart, it too is a practice designed to move the committed practitioner toward an experience of self-realization.
The origins of Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga as a practice began to be systematized during Medieval times. It has as its focus the development of the body’s ability to withstand the force of a transcendental experience. While we often think of ‘transcendence’ (Samadhi) as something that occurs just in the mind, this experience is likely one that will place the body, and especially the nervous system, under a huge amount of stress. We practice Hatha Yoga to strengthen and fortify the body so that it can withstand the force of a transcendental experience, and also because it awakens us to the connection between mind and body.
Hatha Yoga embodies the essence of Tantra; the idea that self-realisation is not confined to those who live a life of renunciation. The body is not something that needs to be denied or overcome. Rather, it can, and should, can be conceived of as a tool for spiritual exploration.
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