by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Hatha Yoga is a form of meditation. Every posture, every breathing practice is a form of meditation. It calms your body, breath, and mind. After only an hour of practice, you walk away with all peace and serenity and usually feel relaxed for hours. It is a very great practice.
The asanas are completely different from other forms of exercise, which are usually done with quick movements and a certain amount of strain. Exercises accelerate your breathing, waste your energy, and draw your circulation to the surface of the body. They develop the muscular part of the body. That means your vitality goes to the muscles at the cost of the inner glands and nerves.
According to Sri Bhagavan Patanjali, the Father of the Yoga teachings, asana literally means a posture that brings steadiness and comfort. So, the Yoga asanas should be practiced with utmost ease and comfort. We are very, very careful not to make Hatha Yoga another exercise. That’s a great difference between many other types of Yoga and the Integral Yoga technique. Only very few do it in a nice, gentle way. It is not our interest to make you an acrobat or a gymnast and teach you 150 asanas. Still, they will give you all the strength you’ll ever need — and mental strength as well.
Never forget that health is much more important than muscular strength. You might be able to lift heavy weights, run long distances, jump to extreme heights, break chains, or swim for miles, but are you immune to illness? Even great mental ability comes second to health. Having phenomenal powers of memory is of no use without a balanced mind, one that can accurately weigh pleasure and pain, praise and censure; one that is fearless, residing in permanent peace and bliss.
Have some other kind of exercise if you want; it doesn’t matter. But if you don’t have time for that, at least do the Yoga practices. Hatha Yoga is a must. It is the main meal. The various exercises are like desserts, side dishes.
If you want to combine other exercises and asanas, do the exercises first, relax, and then do the asanas afterward. End with the asanas. If instead you practice the asanas first and then do the exercises, you will disturb what you have built by the asanas.
The Pradheepika, an ancient Hatha Yoga scripture, states that: “Anyone who practices Yoga properly and sincerely becomes a siddha (an accomplished one); be he young, old or even very elderly, sick or weak.” From prince to peasant, child to grandparent, ailing to robust, all can practice these Yoga postures with maximum advantage.