Tantric Hatha Yoga

by Jim Bennitt

Chances are, the yoga you and everyone else you know who is into yoga, have been practicing some style of Hatha yoga. In fact, any type of yoga that includes bodily postures and/or breathing techniques is Hatha yoga. The word Hatha is a combination of two separate "bija mantras" or single syllables. "Tha" represents mind or mental energy, and "ha" represents the vital life force or pranic energy according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the oldest and primary texts on Hatha Yoga. Yogi's also translate "ha" as the masculine or solar energy and "tha" as the feminine or lunar energy. Regardless, the point is that through this practice we bring balance to two opposing forces.

Most Hatha Yoga classes focus on asana or physical posture. Some with a strong emphasis on physical alignment to keep your body safe and injury free. Others focus on flowing from one asana to another to build stamina, strength and heat. While others have a more mellow approach to restore the practitioner and reduce the wear and tear of life on the body. All these are great approaches and need to be practiced at some point, but a Tantric Hatha yoga class will have a slightly different approach.

The word TANTRA (tantric is an adjective which describes something coming from tantra) is made up of two words: TANOTI and TRAYATI. Tanoti means "to expand, to stretch, to extend", while the word trayati means "to liberate or free". Therefore Tantra (tan+tra) means to expand one's experience and awareness of everything, to extend the frontiers of apprehension beyond the material, and hence to attain spiritual knowledge and liberation.

Wow! That's some serious stuff. How do we do that? The main difference you'll notice in a Tantric Hatha Yoga class is that they include something called ADHIKARA. Simply put, adhikara means "progression" and "a sensitivity to the subtle realms". There will be a little guidance on alignment. Also some "vinyasa" (flowing from one asana to the other) and even some restorative/supported work. However, it won't stop with the physical body. Through specialized breathing and meditation techniques, we build this "sensitivity to the more subtle forces" which is called prana or vital life force. The ancient Hatha Yogis believed through learning to control prana, one also learns to control the mind. You will leave a Tantric Hatha yoga class feeling like you've cultivated vital life force and a clear mind.