The most prevalent type of yoga in the Western world is hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is characterized by the cleansing and empowering of body and mind through physical exercises starting from the breath. This physical dimension makes hatha yoga attractive as well as accessible, because it resembles something we have seen before – sport and training.
It is important to understand that hatha yoga in its original form was not only based on physical aspects, even though the very bodily centered asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama make up the central parts. Like other kinds of yoga, hatha yoga is built on a moral foundation, and the aim is to reach the highest form of meditation and fusion with the universal energy.
Traditionally hatha means “determined”, “stubborn”, “powerful or “effort”, and this type of yoga leads to control of the will. The body is used as an instrument to subdue thoughts and to control the mind.
Physical vs. mind
If only the physical aspects of hatha yoga are used, it is called ghatastha yoga (ghata means “physical effort”). Modern expressions like “fitness yoga” and “power yoga” that flourish within gym classes are within the same category, even if they do not derive from the original exercises’ rhythm and succession. In many instances “power yoga” has a positive effect on physical health; but if there is no aim to ease the mind, to gain self-insight and control of your thoughts, and to experience the divine within you and within the universe, the deeper meaning of yoga and - possibly life - is lost. On the other hand, it can be argued that the yoga styles that exclusively focus on a devotion to a God or knowledge (bhakti and jnana yoga) lack emphasis on the physical aspect. In the end it all comes down to finding a healthy balance.
The ultimate purpose is to gain complete bodily control, especially control of the breath, through strict discipline and the study of the scriptures over time. When the energy of life, prana, flows harmoniously and in complete balance between the two nostrils and the rest of the body, it is united with mind and soul in the divine. For prana to flow freely, it is necessary to cleanse the channels of energy (nadis), which directly correlate to the blood vessels, the lymphatic system, nerves, intestines, glands and spine.