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How Hatha Yoga Paves a Path to Better Meditation

Hatha Yoga as a Path to Better Meditation
Hatha yoga was originally designed to prepare the body and mind for meditation practice.
Buzzle Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
By Anastacia Mott Austin

Hatha yoga, the most popular form of yoga practiced in the United States, is mostly practiced today as a means of mild exercise and mental well-being. Yet, its original purpose was to ready the body and center the mind for meditation. As part of Ashtanga yoga, or the "yoga of eight parts," Hatha was the first step on the way to the more enlightened, meditative Raja yoga.
The word "yoga" means a spiritual union between the human and the universal soul. The combination of asanas, or poses, and pranayama are used in Hatha yoga create a state of relaxation in the body and mind.
Meditation which follows a session of Hatha yoga is more centered, focused, and clear than that which is attempted without first quieting the mind. The needless chatter that enters the brain and can interfere with meditation is calmed after a Hatha yoga practice.
In addition, Hatha yoga strives to attain a balance in both mind and body, bringing increased strength, stamina, and balance.
The postures or asanas, each have a specific aim in centering the mind and body. They are usually fairly simple to perform, and are often named after animals (the downward dog), parts of nature (the tree), or that which they seem to mimic (the plow, the triangle). The poses are meant to reflect the qualities given by the name of each one.
In balancing the different systems within the body, the asanas are meant to clear physical obstacles that might get in the way of meditation, such as a growling stomach or a headache. Yogis also believe that emotional and mental difficulties will express themselves through the body, and that relieving the blockages in the body's systems will allow the yogi to meditate without distractions.
The breathing techniques in Hatha yoga are called Pranayama. "Prana" means life force, and "ayama" means to prolong. The three parts of breathing - inhalation, exhalation, and holding of the breath - are what constitute pranayama. The control of the breath leads to awareness and control of the life force, or energy in the body. One can then move the energy around, retain it, or release it. In addition, the quiet, controlled breathing exercises can be a valuable tool for becoming aware of one's surroundings, increasing mindfulness.
When participating in Hatha yoga to precede a meditation session, several recommendations are suggested. The yoga asanas and pranayama should be practiced in a quiet, yet well-lighted room that has adequate ventilation. The practitioner should avoid heavy meals before a session of asanas or meditation. It is also recommended that the practice should be done in the morning, on an empty stomach.
Paramahansa Yogananda, in his book The Essence of Self-Realization, emphasizes that through regular asanas, one's pranayama practice will take on more of an emphasis in creating a state that can help the yogi achieve the mind-body-spirit union that one strives for in meditation:
"Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy-control,' writes Yogananda. "Prana means also 'breath.' Yoga teaches how, through breath-control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but also to merge his consciousness with the Infinite."