The word “hatha” is derived from two Sanskrit words: “ha,” which means “sun,” and “tha,” which means “moon.” “Yoga,” on the other hand, comes from the Sanskrit root, “yuj,” which means “yoke” or “union.” The term “hatha yoga” then, can mean “union of the sun and moon,” or “union of opposites.” Sometimes though, Hatha Yoga is also called “forceful” yoga. This particular branch of Yoga incorporates a great deal of physical exercise.
Yoga itself is a set of spiritual practices from India, based on ancient beliefs grounded in Hinduism. Because Hinduism itself is so rich, the ultimate goal of Yoga is itself unclear: yogic practices are focused on discipline and asceticism and are said to eventually lead a person to deep spiritual insight and eventual union with God, the universe, the ultimate reality, or whatever other transcendent concept the different branches of Hindu thought may have. There are five major branches of Yoga, namely, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Rama Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. Among these five branches, Hatha Yoga and Rama Yoga are the two branches that focus on physical culture.
Hatha Yoga believes that ultimate universal insight can be achieved by disciplining the self, physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. Hatha Yoga centers its focus on the physical, believing that once discipline of breath and body are achieved, discipline of the mind and spirit are within reach.
In most Western countries, the physical aspect of Hatha yoga alone is often what is associated with Yoga. Hatha Yoga’s practice of asanas, or special meditative postures, and pranayama, or special breathing techniques, are central to Hatha Yoga and its endeavor to sufficiently discipline, condition, and open the mind and body in order to achieve spiritual insight and union. These practices are done chiefly in preparation for meditation. In the West though, a lot of the focus of the practice of Hatha Yoga is on the more physical aspect of body conditioning and physical fitness rather than on the spiritual aspect.
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