I would first like to draw attention to the fact that I have managed to reference Lost, Star Wars, AND a cross-dressing Marilyn Monroe movie with the title of this post. Boom. Although, in doing that, it does appear to have lost all meaning. image from here.
So this is going to be way oversimplified because nothing in yoga really sits in a vacuum far off from anything else. BUT, go with me. Basically, there are five paths you can walk in your yoga. None better or worse. Like different doors you can walk in to get to the same room. At your preference…
From the Bhagavad Gita ( interpereted by Madhusudana Sarasvati b. circa 1490)…
1. Karma yoga: The yoga of action, of good deeds
2. Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion, prayer
3. Jnana yoga: The yoga of knowledge
From Patanjali’s Sutras (between 100 BCE and 500 CE?)…
4. Raja Yoga: the Eight Limbs
From Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century by Yogi Swatmarama)…
5. Hatha Yoga:
“Hatha yoga is a holistic yogic path, including disciplines, physical postures (asana), purification procedures (shatkriya), poses (mudra), breathing (pranayama), and meditation. The hatha yoga predominantly practiced in the West consists of mostly asanas understood as physical exercises. It is also recognized as a stress-reducing practice.”
(from the eternally reliable and never biased Wikipedia)
Most of what we practice here in the United States falls first into the category of Hatha Yoga. Physical, corporeally based, movement yoga. We talk about the body, and about poses, and we need to wear athletic clothes to accommodate all that wacky moving about.
If you are taking
- a Bikram class,
- an Ashtanga class,
- an Iyengar Class,
- a Kripalu class,
- a flow class,
- a Hot Yoga class…we would probably call all of those things Hatha Yoga.
The phrase “Hatha Yoga” has become synonymous in the U.S. with either
- a fusion of styles so integrated as to become uncategorizeable, or
- an alignment-based class that errs on the gentle side.
That is too vague to know what the class actually is. Too vague to inform a potential student what they will actually do. Will we go through thirty sun-salutations? Or will we lie on the floor the whole class? Are we doing neti-pot stuff, breathing stuff, or meditation stuff? All could be technically classified as Hatha Yoga.
My own personal suspicion is that the term was, at one time, specific enough. Fifty years ago when there were scant few yoga teachers in the country, “Hatha Yoga” probably was even too specific for most potential students.
Now Hatha Yoga has blossomed into myriad genus and species. But better than that–potential students know about yoga. They are educated. And they want to know what they’re in for.
Let’s get rid of this strange label that at best is confusing and at worst is misleading to the point of inaccuracy. I think by accurately naming and describing our classes, we will be able to reach potential students who will be more likely try out our classes…
and then come back for more.