Inquiry on Hatha and Raja Yoga

Hathasya prathamaangatvaadaasanam poorvamuchyate.
Kuryaattadasanam sthairyamaarogyam chaangalaagnavam.

Prior to everything, asana is spoken of as the first part of hatha yoga.
Having done asana, one attains steadiness of body and mind, freedom from disease and lightness of the limbs.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1:17)

Commentary (Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha -Saraswati)

?Asana means a state of being in which one can remain physically and mentally steady, calm, quiet and comfortable. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali there is a concise definition of yogasanas: ?Sthiram sukham aaasanam?, meaning that position which is comfortable and steady. So, we can see that yogasanas in this context are practiced to develop the practitioner?s ability to sit comfortably in one position for an extended length of time, as is necessary during meditation.

In raja yoga, asana refers to the sitting position, but in hatha yoga it means something more. Asanas are specific body positions which open the energy channels and psychic centres. They are tools to higher awareness and provide the stable foundation for our exploration of the body, breath, mind and beyond. The hatha yogis also found that by developing control of the body through asana, the mind is also controlled. Therefore, the practice of asana is foremost in hatha yoga.?

Dear Mukunda,

I am preparing for a yoga class, presenting guidelines for asana and meditation. Will be using the above, but was struck by the differentiation between Hatha and Raja Yoga. My own understanding of this was that the Hatha portion was the physical portion of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, through Pratyahara, and that Raja Yoga comprised the internal 3, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Wanted to dig deeper, so went to the
Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein, Ph. D.

There Hatha Yoga is connected to Tantrism, particularly that of the “Siddha cult”, but also stimulated by "Shaivism, Shaktism, Advaita Vedanta, and Tantric Buddhism. The key to the Hatha practice being the involvment of a body cultivating aspect, with an aim to embodied enlightenment, as opposed to Self realization which does not include a bodily experience of Samadhi (Vedantic meditation is given by GF as an example).

Feuerstein also comments, on pg 119, that “Hatha-yoga is often contrasted with raja-yoga, the “royal” eightfold path of Patanjali, also known as Classical Yoga. This distinction is relatively recent, however, and perhaps was first introdcutded by Vijnana Bhikshu. From the beginning, hatha-yoga included the higher yogic stages of concentration, meditation and ecstasy. Yet in the Gheranda-Samhita, the Hatha-Yoga Pradipika, and the Shiva-Samhita - the three most widely used manuals - hatha yoga is presented as a “stairway” to raja-yoga.”

In GF’s definition of Raja Yoga, he simply defines it as the Classical Yoga as per Patanjali’s YS. He says "It is often contrasted with hatha yoga, in which case raja yoga stands for the higher spiritual practices, whereas hathayoga is seen as a preparatory discipline. This distinction came into vogue in about the eleventh centruy CE as part of an attempt to integrate the more meditative, renunciative approach of the eightfold path with the new body-positive teachings of Tantric hatha-yoga. "

SO- I would ask for your comments on the following 3 points. (Although perhaps this Inquiry it is all just too much definition and not substantial to what we actually DO when we practice Yoga):

  1. Differences between Hatha and Raja Yoga. (When students ask "is this a Hatha class? I define my own teaching method as Structural Yoga, but understand it to be Classical Yoga based on YS, with a Tantric energetic portion relating to my connection to Spirit and to my students as all being of the same Source and Energy.) Is there a difference between Hatha and Classical Yoga in your opinion? Does Hatha include Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi?

  2. Hatha as a Tantric Yoga practice - and their relationship to Raja.
    Kind of the same question, but asking for more specific discussion of Tantra aspect.

  3. Does Tantric Yoga conflict with Classical Yoga? Again, pointing to the same distinctions…(I don’t think it does, and believe you present both Classical and Tantric practices as they meet the needs of the student…) any comments on the distinction pointed out in the definition?

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond.
Jai Ma,

Georg Feuerstein is the scholar of yoga. His points are diffult to clarify due to the complexity of the history and the guesswork as to how each school interacts with others in questinably earlier periods. So to answer your questions

1 - Classical Yoga is the entire Yoga Sutras dilineated by Krishnamacharya into 4 archetypal paths one per chapter. Chapter one is for those adept at Samadhi. Two is for those wishing to purify themselves with sadhana. This chapter is subdivided into Kriya Yoga sutras 1-28 and astanga Yoga sutras 29-55. Three is for those seeking the full powers of their mind. Four is for those whose immediate goal is liberation of the true self from the material world. What is understood as Classical Yoga practice is the last portion of chapter 2, in practice only the first 5 of the 8 limbs. The last three limbs dharan, dhyana and samadhi are given to different archtype in chapter 3. some experience may come of these limbs but no sadhana is directed to their mastery. Contemporary hatha yoga includes asana, pranayama, and some pratyahara aspects of turning mind inward.

2 - The Tantrik texts are also the early texts of Hatha Yoga. these are the sourcebooks of information on the chakras, nadis and how to purify them for higher levels of consciousness. Tantra here is taken as practices that allow the prana to enter sushumna (the central) nadi and awaken the kundalini so it moves upward to the crown (sahasrar) chakra. This is cited in the HYP, GS and SS that you mention. these are basically Shaivism practices. Shakti is energy moving toward Shiva in the head. Shaktism and other Devi Puja practices of Tantra emphasize the descent of the feminine energy during initiation and from their the unfoldment into deeper nadis beyond the sushumna. In Kashmir Shaivism, there are progressions of the shakti into subtler realms than recognized by Hatha Yogis. From KS point of view Hatha Yoga is only describing the anatomy of the first two of 5 koshas. The other koshas are nadis within sushumna, that are not found until one can sustain an inward directed consciousness over a long period of time. This is done by help of surrender to Kundalini Devi or other forms not control or self discipline as cited in Hatha Yoga lineages.

3 - Yes they do conflict as mentioned in the last sentence. In my personal experience Tantrik Yoga is based on nondualism (advaita - not two) experiences and Classical Yoga is dualism. I recently did an extensive talk on this at Joan Borysenko’s Interspiritual Mentoring training - a transcript is being prepared. namaste mukunda


“1) Differences between Hatha and Raja Yoga.“

One should be too careful to fit the different strategies and approaches of yoga into fixed and firm categories. As far as practice is concerned, often times several forms of yoga will cross paths with each other in such a way, that it may even become absolutely impossible to detect exactly what kind of yoga one is practicing. But generally, if one is speaking of the distinction between hatha yoga and raja yoga, Hatha yoga is that approach which has been centered around the awakening of kundalini at the base of the spine and raising it to the top part of the brain between the brain hemispheres as a way to enter into nirvikalpa samadhi. Its whole concern is transformation of the various subtle energies of the body as a means of transformation of consciousness. So rather than dealing with the mind, the approach of the hatha yogis is largely to use the body as an instrument to bring about inner transformation. There is another aspect of it which goes deeper into occult work, which is the creation of a body of light which may become as a vehicle to transfer ones consciousness at the time of death. If such a vehicle can be created, then it may be possible to be liberated in another form which is similar to living in the physical body, but through a different kind of body. Rather than melting and merging with the source of existence, it has often been the case that many hatha yogis want to retain their individuality as part of their liberation beyond the body. So all of the various techniques of asana, mudras, bandhas, kriyas, and pranayam are just different techniques to transform the energy of the subtle body as a means to enter into samadhi.

Raja Yoga deals directly with the mind itself through meditation. That approach of using the techniques of Hatha yoga as preparation for Raja Yoga was a much later invention. Because if you try to sit for meditation immediately - one will find that unless one continues with one-pointedness in the practice, it will be almost impossible to enter into meditation, the mind is scattered in a million different directions. That is why, it may be tremendously helpful to first settle some groundwork and prepare the mind and body for meditation. But these were all later innovations. As far as the origins of “asana“ is concerned, it was originally just referring to the seat in which the yogi would sit for meditation.

“In my personal experience Tantrik Yoga is based on nondualism (advaita - not two) experiences and Classical Yoga is dualism“

When we are speaking of “yoga“ as a method, we are simply referring to a science and technology for the expansion of consciousness. It has very little to do with philosophy or belief systems, although it has been common that many traditions have used these techniques as part of a philosophy or a belief system. That is why you can be a Buddhist and practice yoga, a Sikh and practice yoga, a Jain, a Hindu, all have made use of the same technology alike. Perhaps if you are using something like tantra as a Buddhist- you may refer to yourself as a Vajrayana Buddhist, but you are still making use of the same technology of tantra. Or perhaps if you are a Hindu, you may be a follower of Shaktism or Shaivism, but you are still making use of the methods of tantra. Tantra and yoga are not belief systems or philosophies, they simply refer to various methods for the expansion of consciousness. And the problem that has happened is that many people, because these technologies have been associated with these traditions, have simply equated them with these traditions. There are even some people who insist that yoga is Hinduism, not understanding that whatsoever has been said by various masters was just an expression of their own direct experience of Truth. To say that yoga is Hindu is just like saying that gravity is Christian, or that general relativity is Jewish because Einstein was a Jew. Coming down to the essential matter - the whole spiritual process is to come to know yourself, through and through. For that - no philosophy is needed, no belief system is needed, just an inquire to investigate as deeply as possible into ones own being and come to the discovery of ones own original face.

Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are two major paths or branches of yoga, each with its own unique practices, techniques, and goals. Here's an overview of each:

  1. Raja Yoga:

    • Meaning: Raja Yoga, also known as the "Royal Path" or "Classical Yoga," is derived from the Sanskrit words "raja," meaning "royal," and "yoga," meaning "union" or "connection." It is often associated with the teachings of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which provide a comprehensive guide to spiritual practice.

    • Practices: Raja Yoga emphasizes meditation, concentration, and self-discipline as the primary means of achieving self-realization and union with the divine. It consists of eight limbs (Ashtanga) outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which include:

      1. Yamas (ethical guidelines)
      2. Niyamas (observances)
      3. Asanas (physical postures)
      4. Pranayama (breath control)
      5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
      6. Dharana (concentration)
      7. Dhyana (meditation)
      8. Samadhi (union with the divine)
    • Goals: The ultimate goal of Raja Yoga is self-realization, spiritual liberation, and union with the higher self or divine consciousness. Practitioners aim to transcend the limitations of the ego (ahamkara) and achieve a state of inner peace, clarity, and transcendence.

    • Benefits: Raja Yoga cultivates mental clarity, emotional stability, self-awareness, and spiritual insight. It helps practitioners develop greater concentration, mindfulness, and inner strength to navigate the challenges of life with equanimity and grace.

  2. Hatha Yoga:

    • Meaning: Hatha Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit words "ha," meaning "sun," and "tha," meaning "moon." It represents the balance of opposing energies within the body, such as masculine (solar) and feminine (lunar), hot and cold, active and passive. Hatha Yoga is often described as the "Yoga of Balance" or "Forceful Yoga."

    • Practices: Hatha Yoga focuses on physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and energy locks (bandhas) to purify and balance the body and mind. It includes a wide range of practices, from gentle stretching to more dynamic sequences, designed to promote flexibility, strength, and relaxation.

    • Goals: The primary goal of Hatha Yoga is to prepare the body and mind for meditation and spiritual practices. By purifying the physical body and balancing the subtle energy channels (nadis), practitioners aim to awaken the dormant spiritual energy (kundalini) and achieve higher states of consciousness.

    • Benefits: Hatha Yoga offers numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits, including improved flexibility, strength, and posture; stress reduction; enhanced focus and concentration; and a sense of inner peace and well-being.

While Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga differ in their emphasis and practices, they are both paths to spiritual growth, self-discovery, and inner transformation. Many practitioners incorporate elements of both paths into their yoga practice to create a holistic approach to health, wellness, and spiritual development.