Classical Hatha yoga is the practice of Patanjalim’s 8-fold path called Ashtanga yoga. Along this path there are 8 stages starting from ethical practices and moral behaviors to train the mind for meditation, and reach a super conscious state known as Samadhi. While most of us may not come to know this higher state, it is possible to benefit from the many blessings Yoga offers. The yoga postures (the third stage) is often the most tangible way to prepare the mind for concentration and meditation.
Overall, Hatha yoga is an Indian set of exercises focused on body alignment, awareness of the breath and observing the mind. The use of the word ‘classical’ refers to a system of Hatha yoga that has been developed and taught by a Master teacher or Guru. It is not a hybrid or popularized version of yoga, but a lineage handed down to its students. Despite the differences among traditions such as Ashtanga yoga, which is a lineage within the body of Hatha yoga, the foundation of the practices share a lot in common. The physical postures consist of the sun salutations (11 asanas combined with the breath), balance and standing postures, back bends, twists and forward bends. The closing sequence (11 postures) ranges from inversions like the headstand and shoulder stand, to rest and relaxation.
I teach from a traditional stand-point in that my main focus is on the breath and the individual. The body has its limits while the breath is the vehicle to increase prana (energy). At present, the system I am practicing and studying is from Yogacharya Vinay Kumar in Mysore, South India, called Prana Vashya. My study began after a longer evolution starting from Sivananda yoga to Ashanga yoga. When I first came to study with Vinay told me, “Come and practice. This is your shala too.” It was a kind and beautiful way to welcome me, a new student; making me feel the embrace of the teacher and affirming how Yoga should have no bias, no prejudice and no ‘ego’ driven title.
The system of Prana Vashya takes its direction from the panic flow. It is practiced with retentions before and after the inhalation or the exhalation. These are formerly known as kumbhakas with antara (before the exhalation) and bahya (before the inhalation) and act as a way to control the breath. I have learned the primary and secondary series with Vinay, which involves both intermediate and advanced postures. Even the primary level is not a basic flow of simple postures, but a strong practice of arm balances, lotus positions and spinal twists. Breath retentions and a continual flow of movement are the inherent basis to the practice. However, the bedrock of the system rests in placing the mind in between the inhalations and the exhalations, and finding the space within these two forces.
As a sacred and spiritual tool in learning how to accept and work with limitations, the postures of Hatha yoga are remedies in dealing with chronic pain, injuries and emotional blocks. Hatha yoga is one way to discover your nature and the meaning of your life. It leads to meditation, which is the ultimate yoga.