Hatha Yoga: The White Bread of Yoga?

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You’re at a party. A cool party. It’s peopled with lots of groovy folks. Ones from hip yoga tribes.

Somebody sidles up to you and asks,

“What kind of yoga do you teach?”

“Um, well, I…I teach hatha yoga.”

The inquirer says not a thing. Gives you a blank stare. An un-understanding one, and then manages to gaze down their nose in a perfectly executed dristi and says,

“Oh. You just teach hatha?”

Your perfect posture shrinks. You find yourself, maybe just for a split-second, feeling like the lowly “red-headed step-child” of yoga. ParaYoga founder Yogarupa Rod Stryker refers to Cinderella when describing the sentiment expressed by people who look down on “just hatha,” and situations that make you feel like your plain ol’ vanilla hatha yoga is “less than” star-studded, name brand yoga.


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And there you are. The non-compete clause that is one of yoga’s hallmarks leeks out of you in what feels like your last, mindful, breath.

You find yourself feeling less worthy than someone who can state, “I teach Iyengar.” I am an Ashtanga teacher.” ” I do Bikram.” “I’m a certified 108 Drop-Backs-Every-Day yoga teacher.”

If you just found yourself looking for the brand of yoga I left out (why didn’t she mention Anusara, or Forrest, or Turbo to the Max Yoga), well, my point, exactly. What’s in a name? As Erich Schiffmann says, “The only person who can really do Iyengar yoga is Iyengar.” In point of fact, in the original usuage of the word, “hatha yoga” is anything but “just.” While in current times hatha yoga usually suggests a sort of eclectic cocktail of yoga styles, in its original context hatha yoga included a vast sundry of practices, many of them intense.

“The entire science of hatha yoga includes asana, pranayama, shatkarma (six cleansing techniques, using a neti pot is one of the milder ones), mudra and bandhas.”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yogi Swatmarama

I’ll share but a sampling of the entries set forth in the 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP):

  • Asana, the varieties of kumbhaka, practices called mudras and concentration on the inner sound (nada) comprise the sequence of hatha yoga. (Uh-oh, where does nada fit in the raging debate over music/no music during yoga class?)
  • When mind is still, prana is still, then bindu is still. By bindu being held still, there is always a sattvic state which produces steadiness in the body.
  • The middle nadi, sushumna, easily becomes established (straight) by the yogi’s persistent practice of asana, pranayama, mudra and concentration.

Whoa. And that’s just a child’s pose of a look at the HYP, yogis.

Rarely do I have to scout for so may explanatory links…just to describe, generic, no-name brand, white bread, hatha yoga. That’s some deep stuff, dude. Maybe hatha yoga ranks after all.

Anyone who can practice mayurasana (one of less than 30 poses in the HYP) while wearing glass slippers (metaphorically, but still) can go to the front-center yoga mat, in my book. Here’s another boon from the book: this practice is “the lion which conquers the elephant, death.” Gotta be a really big, flashy, pose to accomplish that, wouldn’t you think? No, it’s not standing on your hands in the middle of room, folks, it’s uddiyana banda. Put that in your navel chakra and smoke.


Creative Commons License photo credit: qwrrty

What do think?

Has “hatha” been dismissed as the red-headed stepchild of yoga brands? If you can say, “I teach hatha yoga, and I’m proud of it,” step up to the plate. And please. If you’ve ever seen a class schedule with a listing for a class called hatha and shunned it, or thought it beneath your level (and are brave enough to admit it), I’d love to hear about it.

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- who has written 41 posts on Yoga Modern.

Barbra Brady is the Art Editor at Yoga Modern. She holds an MA in Museum Exhibition Theory & Cultural Studies, which she has exercised as a museum curator of contemporary art, nationally published writer, leader of a venerated nonprofit yoga retreat foundation, and now, yoga with a slant on channeling creative energy. When not practicing or teaching yoga in the tradition of her teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker (as a Certified Level IParaYoga teacher) or as an iRest Yoga Nidra practitioner, Barbra practices the yoga of “curiosity.” The curiosity that fuels her imagination may be through writing, curating, a turn of leaf or phrase, cinema, a century ride on her road bike… She’ll be sharing her curatorial picks and original musings, as she whispers in the ear of the Yoga Modern community: “Hey, look at this!” She lives in Sonoma, California, an Eden which naturally prompts her reflections on nature, food, and yes, wine (in meaningful moderation).

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