Frequently Asked Questions About Hatha-Yoga
1. Is Hatha-Yoga the only kind of Yoga there is?
Far from it. The Yoga tradition comprises many distinct approaches,
notably Râja-Yoga (the "royal" path of meditation), Jnâna-Yoga (the
path of discernment and wisdom), Karma-Yoga (the path of
self-transcending action), Bhakti-Yoga (the path of devotion), and
Tantra (the integrative path developed in the medieval era). See our
FAQ about Yoga in general.
2. What is the difference between contemporary Hatha-Yoga and
Traditional Hatha-Yoga is a pronouncedly spiritual tradition, that is,
it is concerned primarily with the goal of liberation, or
enlightenment. The various physical practices all serve to create a
healthy, vital body that can withstand the rigors of an ascetical
approach to life involving the awakening of the "serpent power"
(kundalinî-shakti). The contemporary schools of Western Hatha-Yoga, by
contrast, are mostly geared toward physical fitness, strength,
flexibility, or beauty. They tend to ignore traditional Yoga's
spiritual orientation nor its ethical foundations. The distinct
feature of traditional Hatha-Yoga is its attempt to create a
transubstantiated immortal body of energy through the mastery over the
five material elements.
3. How old is traditional Hatha-Yoga?
Probably, yogins and yoginis discovered the health benefits of certain
yogic practices (notably breath control) early on, though their focus
was always on the spiritual benefit gained from consistently engaging
those practices. It was not, however, until around 1000 A.D. that,
under the body-positive tradition of Tantra, practitioners of Yoga
formulated the tenets of Hatha-Yoga and also developed the postures
and breathing techniques into psychosomatic devices for
self-transformation. Previously, postures (âsana) were used
exclusively for the purpose of stabilizing the body during meditation,
and breath control (prânâyâma) was used in order to deepen the
4. Who invented traditional Hatha-Yoga?
Traditional authorities associate Hatha-Yoga with Goraksha Nâtha,
whose teacher is said to have been Matsyendra, even though the latter
appears to have lived many centuries earlier. Goraksha, the founder of
the Kânphata ("Split-Ear") sect, lived in the 10th to 11th century.
The texts attributed to him do not show the elaborate postural
technology of subsequent schools of Hatha-Yoga. Rather, he focused on
breath control as a major transformative tool.
5. Can contemporary Hatha-Yoga be considered authentic?
This is a difficult question to answer. It all depends on the school
or style. To the degree that a school or style honors and preserves
Yoga's general spiritual and ethical orientation, it is likely to be
authentic. In its best manifestations, contemporary Hatha-Yoga can be
viewed as a modern adaptation of traditional Hatha-Yoga. But then
there are also schools and approaches that have very little in common
with traditional Hatha-Yoga. Caveat emptor!
6. Is contemporary (Western) Hatha-Yoga as potent as traditional
The answer to this question again depends on which school or style one
is talking about. But contemporary Western Hatha-Yoga does not (yet)
appear to have given rise to great adepts like Matsyendra or Goraksha,
which does not mean that this could not happen in the future. Even
accomplished Hatha-Yoga masters like B. K. S. Iyengar, who does not
consider himself a realized adept (siddha), have so far not emerged in
7. Is it useful to practice contemporary Hatha-Yoga?
Of course. Just be very clear on what sort of Hatha-Yoga you are
practicing and what its inherent limitations are. If you are looking
for health, fitness, or strength, the contemporary styles of
Hatha-Yoga will not disappoint. If you are looking for spiritual
fulfillment, you must look more closely at a system and its teacher(s).