What is Hatha Yoga?

      "Yoga" refers to a group of related disciplines for improving one’s physical and mental health. Some yoga disciplines involve cognitive and philosophical matters. Others address the manner in which one conducts their daily affairs. The goals of these disciplines, however, are the same: robust health, personal mastery, and harmonious coexistence with the world in which one lives.

      Hatha Yoga, the most popular form of yoga practiced in Western culture, is the discipline that seeks to achieve these goals through direct action on the human body. Through postures, breathing exercises, and mind control, Hatha Yoga allows its practitioners to develop a more relaxed and healthful body and a more alert and creative mind. It enables its practitioners to face their day-to-day circumstances with more poise and equanimity.

      Individuals are usually introduced to Hatha Yoga by participating in yoga classes available throughout their community. Classes are sponsored by a variety of organizations, including community education centers, fitness centers (including YMCA), universities, hospitals, and holistic health centers. On-site classes are sponsored by the health/wellness departments of many corporations.

      A yoga class typically consists of a suite of stretches and postures of progressively greater difficulty. A posture is sometimes immediately followed by a counter-posture that stretches the formerly-contracted muscle groups, and that contracts the formerly-stretched muscle groups. Students are instructed to perform a posture by either following specific directions, by observing a demonstration, or by receiving a positional adjustment from the instructor. Another technique used in yoga classes involves the alternate creation and release of muscular tension.

      Breathing exercises include instruction on how to breath more efficiently (e.g., abdominal breathing). Other breathing guidance involves exhalation when a motion constricts the torso and inhalation when a motion opens the torso. Another technique employs rapid abdominal breathing (e.g., "breath of fire") for an extended period to produce aerobic-like effects.

      A Hatha Yoga class typically concludes with a period called "final relaxation." Lasting about five to fifteen minutes, final relaxation is a part-voluntary, part-induced state of meditation. It employs techniques such as visualization and progressive muscular relaxation to bring all parts of the body into full relaxation, while simultaneously reducing one’s mental chatter to evoke a sensation of calmness and well being.

      Hatha Yoga mind control techniques involve various forms of meditation. These techniques, when practiced regularly, allow one’s mental states to become more focused and self-directed. This, when combined with other Hatha Yoga practices, sometimes results in attitudinal changes in which practitioners feel that they have a greater degree of control over their life circumstances.

      Hatha Yoga is a popular form of stress management. Stress, according to one model, is a physical response to a life circumstance. The triggering circumstance is given a negative interpretation, which leads to the physical response of stress (e.g., shallower breathing, tightening of muscle groups, degradation of posture, etc.). Yoga can help reduce stress in two ways: (a) by creating a physical condition in which the body remains habitually relaxed, and (b) by reducing the likelihood that a life circumstance will be perceived as a threat.

      Yoga Therapy is the application of specific Hatha Yoga techniques to treat specific physical dysfunctions. Yoga Therapy can be performed in individual sessions or group sessions in which group members share a similar condition.

      Hatha Yoga is becoming increasingly utilized as a method for helping individuals who suffer from chronic pain. In that context, yoga participants report a diminishment in intensity of pain. Yoga and meditation sessions for chronic pain sufferers are likely to be held in a clinical setting and may be taught by a doctor or other medical professional.

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