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A Brief History Of Asanas In Hatha Yoga

Let’s talk about the history and evolution of asanas in hatha yoga!

Modern Yoga is synonym with asana, or postural practice: it is very common for the vast majority of teachers to base their classes on posture, even when offering meditation as part of their classes.

This makes it extremely easy for everybody to practice: just pick up a book, a video, or even an app on your phone, and you are good to go! No physical teacher needed!

There is a lot of talk about mindfulness, especially when it comes to movement. The implication is that meditation naturally arises during physical practice. It comes with being grounded, present, and achieving the perfect pose as fast as possible.

It may come as a surprise then to know that when Swami Vivekananda came to the West to teach yoga in the late 1800s, he was against the practice of asanas altogether! He claimed postural practice would lead the practitioner to cling to their own body even more, thus holding them back from achieving significant spiritual growth.

When Vivekananda introduced his vision of yoga in the West, there was also widespread prejudice around Indian yogins (especially haṭha yoga practitioners), shared by both Europeans and locals. Yogins and ascetics were the only ones who were seen practicing postures in public settings, and they were seen as ill-tempered mendicants.

According to some, modern yoga has been filtered so much that the term ‘yoga’ may no longer be appropriate at all.

So how is there so much focus on asanas in hatha yoga today?

Hatha yoga used to be considered a lesser practice

The term hatha yoga can be understood in two ways:

  • yoga of force“, due to the effort required to practice it, specifically referring to techniques such as prāṇāyāma (breath control) which are strenuous and may even cause pain;
  • the union of the sun (ha) and the moon (ṭha) in the body“.

Additionally, the term hatha yoga can be found in Buddhist tantras, but was understood as preliminary practice to meditation.

This same pattern can be found in later Vedanta and Yoga literature, where hatha yoga was presented in conjunction and with rivalry with raja yoga. Some texts claim that raja yoga is superior because it is effortless yet fruitful, while hatha yoga is an unnecessary effort. At other times, hatha yoga is understood as a simplified practice for second-rate students.

A few centuries later, the Haṭayogapradīpikā joined hatha and raja yoga into a complete system, still under the name of haṭha yoga, asserting that they are dependent on each other. This is the first instance where some spotlight is given to asana practice: previous texts only generally recommended firm and comfortable sitting postures for the purpose of the other ancillary parts of yoga. Even the Bhagavadgita, one of the most famous texts on yoga, skims over postural practice.

Traditional texts skim over the practice of asanas in hatha yoga

First of all it should be mentioned that not all texts that are considered to be part of the hatha yoga corpus openly refer to hatha, however all the techniques they present were later incorporated into the Haṭayogapradīpikā. Such techniques regarded:

  • pranayama
  • ten mudras (seals)
  • diet
  • the stages of yoga
  • samadhi

The satkarmas (or cleansing practices) and asanas other than seated meditation postures were also first brought up in the Haṭayogapradīpikā. However, the text still only teaches fifteen asanas, only six of which are non-seated.

Some texts define asanas as a comfortable posture “in which continuous reflection on brahman is easily possible.” (Aparoksanubhuti, v 112)

Other texts explain that the goal of asanas is fitness, health, lightness of the body, yet they only hold a preparatory and subordinate place in the pursuit of liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

There is no final agreement on how many asanas there are. Some texts claim 180, others claim it’s as many as species of living beings, others claim it’s 84 asanas as taught by Shiva. Older texts claim that of the 84 asanas, only a small number is actually important.

Only two texts talk extensively of all 84 asanas, and yet they accompany the performance of such postures with practices of meditation and pranayama. This highlights that even at this point, asanas in hatha yoga were not the only focus but rather a basic tool for a higher technique.

Vivekananda was against asana practice

As previously mentioned, the late 1800s saw a revival of yoga, especially due to the teachings of Vivekananda. However, asanas and other hatha yoga techniques were seen as unsuitable or distasteful by Vivekananda and many of his followers.

Postural practice was associated with unlikeable yogins, seen as street performers and symbols of all that was wrong in certain branches of the Hindu religion, and therefore asanas came to be associated with backwardness and superstition. Not to mention that contortionism was already a popular form of entertainment in Europe, meaning that Westerners would have further misunderstood the practice.

But if asana practice was not a feature of the yoga exported by individuals such as Vivekananda, how did it gain so much audience?

During the first half of the 20th century, the world gain interest in physical culture, and everybody wanted to improve their body. It was common belief that people had created an imbalance by focusing too much on intellect, disregarding spirituality and physicality. Thus, people were looking for wholeness.

Yoga became popular as a comprehensive fitness regime

Physical culturists had started experimenting with different techniques, until they established themselves as contemporary expressions of the hatha yoga tradition in the 1920s. Yoga had then become a comprehensive fitness regimen for physical, mental and spiritual growth.

Understandably, the postural side of yoga was the most appealing to physical culturalists, and physical fitness became the ultimate goal of the practice. A century later, as the craze for physical culture has become less prevalent, postural yoga is still just as prominent.

Yoga classes are available to everyone, from the gym to the work places, in a variety of settings and added props. Modern yoga keeps being reinvented, but the only thing that never changes is the focus on the body.

Quoting Singleton’s book Yoga Body,

“the locus of yoga is no longer at the centre of an invisible ground of being, hidden from the gaze of all but the elite initiate or the mystic […] In the yoga body – sold back to a million consumer-practitioners as an irresistible commodity of the holistic, perfectible self – surface and anatomical structure promise ineffable depth and the dream of incarnate transcendence.” (pg 174)


Sources


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5 Tips To Deal With Anger

I have been approached a couple of times with a simple question: how can I deal with anger?⁠ So, I have compiled 5 tips to deal with anger through yoga!

Anger is a normal, yet complex emotion which usually covers up something else: embarrassment, shame, hurt, anxiety…
⁠Anger can also have a negative impact on your life, affecting your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships.

Remember, you have more control over your emotions than you think!

Cool down your emotions with ⁠Sitali and Sitkari breathing

Anger is a fire emotion, so we can do some breathing exercises to cool down.

I recommend Sitali and Sitkari breathing, which involve breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose. By inhaling cool air in this way, your body will quickly cool down and relax as you will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

I have released a full tutorial on these breathing exercises, which you can find HERE.

Practice forward folds to release tension

Child’s pose, standing or sitting forward fold, plow pose… any pose available to you that involves bending forward will do! Forward folds have many benefits, such as:

  • release tension in the back, shoulders and neck,
  • ease fatigue and anxiety,
  • ease headaches,
  • lower blood pressure,
  • soothe the nervous system, which gets you out of the fight-or-flight mode.⁠

Try progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is another method to relieve stress and tension: when your body is relaxed, your mind will follow.

Lay down, arms relaxed down next to your sides and legs slightly apart.

Slowly, bring your awareness and relax your body part by part, starting with your toes, your feet, ankles, calves etc…

Relax the jaw, separating the teeth and the lips, hinting a smile to relax the whole face.

Finish on the crown of your head.

This is a delightful exercise for falling asleep as well!⁠

Understand yourself through Svadhyaya

This means self-study. Typically it refers to study of philosophical texts, but it can also refer to the study of the self.

Here’s how you can make use of this tool:

  • Study yourself when you feel anger rising, writing down what you observe on a journal may be useful as well.
  • Take awareness of the emotion, notice where you feel it in your body, notice your breathing.
  • Try to identify your triggers, and reflect on how you can change them.

Practice empathy

Life is hard, there is no denying that. Also, everyone wants to be happy.

However, empathy and compassion are not always easy, especially towards people who are very different from us.

Through a practice of mindfulness, we can work to improve out empathy skills.

Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. When you change perspective you may gain a new understanding and become less angry.

Take a breath, and try to break away from this loop of anger.

What are your tips for dealing with anger?


If you found my work useful or entertaining and want to say thanks, you can always buy me a cup of tea!

6 Tips For Dealing With Anxiety

Anxiety is a common issue in many people, but it can be quite detrimental to our health!

Dealing with it can be daunting but there are little things you can do to help both in the short and the long run.

Here are 6 tips for dealing with anxiety that I find helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Abdominal Breathing

When we’re anxious we take short, shallow breaths through our chest.
However the lower part of our lungs is responsible for the majority of our oxygen intake, so breathing through the chest means not enough oxygen in our bloodstream!
This leads to tiredness, impaired thinking, altered moods, and can stir up anxiety and depression.
So sit with your spine straight or lay down, bring one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, and try to shift your breathing to your stomach. The hand on your chest should be barely moving. This will help lower your heart rate and oxygenate your body.

You can find a full tutorial HERE.

Guided Meditation

Meditation is one of the best tools to deal with anxiety and deal with our emotions. By focusing our thoughts, the mind eventually stops wandering and causing anxious thoughts.

A Guided Meditation is the easiest to go through, you can easily find one online. Just 10 minutes can make a big difference.

To start with, you can try THIS ONE.

Nature Sounds

Rain, ocean waves, forest sounds… These sounds are very even, have a pleasant pitch, and our brain interpret them as non-threatening.

This makes us feel safe, reduces our fight-or-flight response, and therefore reduces anxiety.

Take a Walk

Walking is a cardiovascular activity and as such it boosts the production of endorphins, which reduce stress. Again, something as little as 10 minutes can be helpful. You can find more tips HERE.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is also called Yogic Sleep. These deeply relaxing sessions include body-scans and visualisation. This mimics REM sleep. Being sleep deprived has a noticeable effect on our ability to cope with emotional events and our moods in general. And guess what? Most people tend to be sleep-deprived, especially when suffering from anxiety!

Find an Outlet

Journaling, painting, playing an instrument, writing, sculpting, knitting, photography, woodturning, sewing, baking, origami, colouring books, make-up, pottery, scrapbooking, candle-making… Find a creative outlet that allows you to focus on something and express yourself without judgement.

Give these a try and let me know what you think!

I’m also curious to know, what are your methods for coping with anxiety?


If you found my work useful or entertaining and want to say thanks, you can always buy me a cup of tea!

What is Hatha Yoga?

Nowadays yoga styles like Vinyasa and Ashtanga are all the rage, while Hatha yoga is not as widely practised. It doesn’t have any strong defining traits, so some can be confused as to what exactly it entails.

Truly, Hatha is a practice of yoga that entails physical movement, meaning that all styles that include an Asana practice are types of Hatha yoga. There are instances of yoga styles that focus solely on breathing techniques and meditation, such as Raja yoga.

Generally, a Hatha yoga class entails a complete practice of poses, breathing and meditation. The poses are not practised back to back, but rather you are prompted to rest in recovery poses in between. As with all styles, Savasana is the most important pose.

Where does Hatha Yoga come from?

The term Hatha yoga can be understood in two ways:

  • the yoga of force’ due to the effort required to practice it, since techniques of breath control are strenuous
  • the union of the sun (ha) and the moon (ṭha) in the body.’

Some Buddhist texts and later medieval literature feature the term ‘hatha’, presenting it as a preliminary practice, often in rivalry with Raja yoga. A few texts claim that Raja yoga is superior because it is effortless yet fruitful. Hatha yoga, on the other hand, requires too much effort to reach the same goal. However, Hatha texts refer to practices with neutral words such as ‘carefully’, ‘diligently’, ‘gradually’, ‘gently’, sometimes ‘vigorously’, ‘energetically’ or ‘forcibly’.

Other sources saw Hatha yoga as a second-rate practice for second-rate students, since it wasn’t a purely intellectual practice. However, just a few centuries later the Haṭayogapradīpikā joined Hatha and Raja yoga into a complete system, still under the name of Hatha Yoga, asserting that they are dependent on each other.

Interestingly, no texts before the Haṭayogapradīpikā ever focused on asanas (or postures) in any significant way. This means we have no way of knowing how prevalent asana practice was.

The First Mentions of Asanas

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali calls asana any seated posture that is stable and comfortable to hold through the whole practice.

A later commentary of the Yoga Sutras specifies eleven asanas and indicates by an ‘etc.’ that the author knew additional postures. These are meditative asanas, which allow the practitioner to sit with a straight back for a long time.

Why the focus on seated postures? Simply, when you’re standing the mind cannot focus in the same way, and when lying down you could easily fall asleep!

The Innovation of Hatha Yoga

The goals of Hatha yoga, traditionally, are the same as those of other varieties of yoga: supernatural powers and/or liberation.

However, what made Hatha yoga different is the fact that the body does not function solely as a pneumatic system when it comes to breath control practices, it is not something that needs to be abandoned upon reaching liberation. The body is seen as a complete instrument, that can be perfected and retained after liberation, even cheating death with clever use of the advanced practice of Samadhi.

Is Hatha yoga then a superior practice? It depends on the practitioner’s goals. All yoga can be practised by all, regardless of their identity or beliefs, as it is practice alone that leads to success.


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6 Benefits To Using Singing Bowls In Your Yoga Practice

Many yoga teachers use singing bowls in their classes, or have full sessions called sound baths! There are many reasons why these experiences are so enjoyable, but in this post I will limit myself to listing 6 benefits to using singing bowls in your yoga practice.

If you have attended one of my classes you will know I love using Tibetan singing bowls at the end of class, walking around with one so that everybody can feel the vibrations. Like a mini sound-bath.

Of course, this is not an original idea of mine, as many teachers use either Tibetan singing bowls, which are made of metal, or crystal singing bowls.

I have tried both, but I find that I’m drawn to metal ones more. Materials aside, the main difference is in sound: crystal bowls have a lovely light and ethereal sound, while metal ones are more soothing and grounding.

What are they?

Singing bowls are like standing bells, you can play them by striking them or rotating the mallet around the rim.

They originated in China, and they were made of bronze or cast-iron. Traditional Tibetan bowls are said to be made of a bronze alloy containing copper, tin, zinc, iron, silver, gold and nickel, metals which are connected to the 7 planets of the Solar System.

Crystal bowls, instead, are usually made of crushed Quartz.

Regardless, all bowls are tuned to specific notes, which are said to stimulate the corresponding Chakra.

singing bowl

The 6 Benefits of Singing Bowls

I often find that my mind is pretty volatile, I’m always thinking about the future or the past, generally overthinking. Similarly, students most likely come to class wanting to shake off the day. Here, the comforting vibrations and harmonic sounds of the bowls are of great help. We know it from experience, but there is some science behind it too!

It has been estimated that about 75% of illnesses can be attributed to stress, especially hypertension and cardiac disease. There is a handful of scientific articles presenting evidence for the benefits of meditation and the mantra Om, the vibrations of which are replicated by the sound of the singing bowls. The main recorded benefit is the effects of such vibrations on blood pressure and heart rate. Using these instruments, especially during a relaxation session, significantly decreases both, which is extremely helpful in treating hypertension! Additionally, using them to accompany meditation has been shown to significantly reduce the feeling of physical pain, as well as decrease negative moods such as tension, anger and depression!

singing bowl

So, here’s 6 benefits to using singing bowls:

  • Deep relaxation;
  • Reduces stress, anger, and anxiety;
  • Lowers blood pressure and heart rate;
  • Improves mood;
  • Better pain management;
  • Improves hypertension.

I hope you will include the use of these lovely instruments in your future practices!

Share this article if you’ve found it interesting, and let me know what your experience with bowls is!

Om Shanti


P.S. If you’re interested in reading the data-filled articles I mention in this post, you can find them here and here.

P.P.S. Enjoy some singing bowls music from my Instagram!


If you found my work useful or entertaining and want to say thanks, you can always buy me a cup of tea!

The Secrets of the Yogic Diet

Every time we go online or open a newspaper or magazine we will find a new ‘miracle’ diet that will supposedly allow us to lose all the weight in the blink of an eye and that will make us the healthiest we’ve ever been. These diets usually involve being very restrictive with the kinds of food that we eat, but having celery juice in the morning and a whole head of lettuce for lunch is not a good plan long term.

Achieving and maintaining physical health is, of course, one of the basic aims of yoga. If we lack physical health, we cannot advance mentally or spiritually. If you are sick and you try to meditate, what will happen? Well, Nothing. Your mind feels foggy, you feel sleepy, your back and your neck hurts, your foot is falling asleep, you need to cough, and you’re also getting a migraine.

Therefore, we have the 5 points of yoga:
– Proper exercise;
– Proper breathing;
– Proper relaxation;
– Proper eating;
– Positive thinking and meditation.

All of these are the tools to achieve health.

The Yogic diet is very simple, and follows the rules that doctors already recommend: have of freshly prepared, wholesome food that gives us energy (or Prana, a derivative of that universal energy which keeps us and the universe alive). You should eat slowly and chew properly. Avoid snacking. Do not overeat, rather leave some space in the stomach for stronger digestion. Eat with awareness, avoiding discussions or distractions of any kind. If we feel stressed while eating, it will impact our digestion. Have food that was prepared with love and care. Meat is greatly discouraged as we will absorb the last emotion that the creature felt before passing, which is usually fear, anxiety, or anger. The Yogic diet is therefore historically vegetarian, but many yogis nowadays prefer to take a step further and become vegan.

Eat to live, don’t live to eat.

Food is divided in three categories called Gunas, or qualities of nature:
Sattvic
 foods are fresh, in season, pure, and create balance. Sattva is the quality of light, knowledge, balance and purity. These are the kind of foods we should eat the most. These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk, grains, legumes etc.
Rajasic foods are stimulating and if taken in excess can make us aggressive and irritable. They give us a big rush and then have us crash. We should have these in moderation. They include spicy and salty foods, as well as sugar and caffeine.
Tamasic foods create dullness, they represent the principle of inertia. All stale foods are tamasic and even freshly cooked food becomes tamasic after couple of hours of preparation. They are hard to digest, and make us more prone to illness. These also include meat, alcohol, processed foods, onion, garlic etc. Tamasic foods are strictly discouraged for those on the spiritual path and even for those who aren’t, are best kept to a minimum.

Achieving health is not an easy task, but we should do all we can and not take it for granted.
Living in the hectic, modern world makes it hard to follow the rules of proper eating, because we’re stressed, we’re in a rush, we don’t know where our food comes from, we eat foods that cannot be grown without the aid of chemicals, and at the first sign of illness we rush to medicines and antibiotics that deal with the simptoms but not the root of the problem.

Having a perfect, proper diet is extremely hard, and food should not become such a big factor in our lives that it defines who we are.

Experiment with food, listen to your body, really try to understand what gives you energy, what makes you feel tired, but also try to gauge what is doable for you.

Be kind to yourself.