Hatha Yoga: A Path of Healing & Empowerment

Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind. – Patanjali

I don’t know about you, but yoga began for me as “exercise,” with a hoped-for side benefit of some stress relief. In 2009, I was working at a job I LOVED, in an animal shelter — striving endless hours trying to save one more dog, one more cat, one more pit bull (banned within the city limits) from unfortunate circumstances. Jim, my husband, was working endless hours at a job he LOVED … & we had adopted two shelter dogs, whom we LOVE to this day. We were doing good work, crazy busy & burning out.

I can’t recall the first YouTube yoga video I tried, but it was flowy, challenging & I felt great afterwards. I couldn’t explain the feeling, & it’s only happened every so often since … a lightness, confidence, grounding, calmness, energy, clarity … hmm, all in one.

For 6 years I practiced the physical part of yoga (postures or “asana”) at home, following my favorite YouTube teachers. As an introvert, going to a studio class was out of the question – too intimidating at the time. I wanted to experiment & experience in my own time, in my own body that I’d pushed too hard for too long (decades really).

I’d been looking here & there at a yoga teacher training – not to become a teacher, per se, but to learn more about this “yoga” in everyday life. There had to be more to these poses. How’s the body really affected? Is this a religion? What the heck are chakras? Nadis? Yoga Sutras?

Teacher training at The Himalayan Institute in Pittsburgh was a perfect fit for my goals, style of learning & schedule. Two weekends a month for 9 months, I soaked in the philosophy & practice of the Himalayan tradition. With no desire to teach, it was amazing to experience a holistic view of yoga in every day life. Physical postures are such a SMALL part of yoga, though important for moving energy, & healing & stabilizing the body.

“Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.” What?! Patanjali devotes only TWO statements to yoga postures in his Yoga Sutras, from which our modern-day understanding of yoga originates. Two sentences. The overwhelming majority of his work is about yoga being the path by which we calm the mind, gain mastery over the mind, & reach the highest version of our selves.

And yet what do we see of Patanjali’s definition of yoga in the U.S.? (Insert bendy girl Instagram photo here)

All this to say that my journey has landed me in Hatha Yoga, specifically in the Himalayan Institute tradition … which I now strive to share with those who find benefit from this holistic path of asana, breath, concentration, meditation & daily lifestyle practices.

According to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, spiritual head of The Himalayan Institute & successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas:

Hatha yoga is a complete path leading to physical health, mental clarity, and spiritual illumination. Hatha yoga practices combine asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), concentration, and meditation. The word hatha is itself an indication of the goals and objectives of this practice: ha means “sun,” and tha means “moon.” Thus, “hatha yoga” is the practice that enables a practitioner to balance his or her solar and lunar energies. Hatha yoga practices create a state of harmony in body and mind by balancing the solar and lunar, masculine and feminine, active and passive aspects of oneself. Unless you combine the disciplines associated with breathing and meditation with the physical postures, you cannot expect to achieve this harmonious state. And without this inner harmony, we waste a great deal of our time and energy fighting the distractions and disturbances arising from both the inner and outer worlds.

When I was introduced to Hatha Yoga in teacher training I thought, “This hatha is too slow / not enough / too simple … what am I doing here?” My mind would be in a million places, thinking I “should” be exercising, getting my heart rate up, feeling some pain to know it’s working.

AND what I’ve come to appreciate is that the practices of Hatha Yoga support me in slowing down, doing just enough, & keeping it simple. Do I feel better in my body? Absolutely. Yet “better” is more than external. There’s an internal stability & ease I feel building in body, mind, spirit … which flows into my interactions (hopefully, most days!) with family, friends, colleagues. The mind fluctuation part that Patanjali talks about? Well, I have a long way to go there … more on that in later posts!

Yoga & fitness teacher trainer Jennifer Galardi says, “Yoga isn’t about fitness. It’s a powerful tool for balance, integration, and empowerment. It’s a tool not only for your body, but for your life.”

That’s what I love about the full spectrum that is Hatha Yoga – from asanas to breathwork to meditation to daily lifestyle practices. Hatha Yoga is a path toward self-healing & empowerment.

It’s a privilege to share these Hatha Yoga practices with others (with you!) now as a teacher. Yeah, on the mat we practice postures — in Hatha classes usually holding poses, with a slower, intelligent path of moving the body & breath. AND it’s so much more. We practice shaping the breath to calm the nervous system, energize the body & focus the mind. We consciously practice mindful relaxation – something our bodies & minds are woefully deprived of in modern society (I’m crushed when Savasana is cut short in yoga classes, aren’t you?). This relaxation is often the most challenging, yet most beneficial, part of physical practice. All of this work is simply preparation for meditation … where the juicy healing & empowerment takes place … & ultimately we move out into our spheres of influence with more calm, clarity, & empowerment.

There are many paths of yoga, with so many benefits to be experienced. I encourage you in your mind/body/breath/spirit practice on & off the mat. May you find healing & empowerment in your journey, so that you may support others in their journey as well. -E

P.S. Whew, made it through the first blog post. The pressure! Thanks for hangin’ in with me. See ya on the mat & in the world soon!

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