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Hatha Yoga: Body Toning Trend or Spiritual Practice? (Answer: Both)

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A common criticism of Hatha Yoga (the kind you no doubt see being taught at your gym or local studio) is that it is not really a spiritual practice, but solely a body/health regime--and therefore the serious spiritual aspirant need not bother with it.

I offer a different viewpoint: That it can serve and foster the health of BOTH mind and body. The Yoga tradition teaches us that our bodies manifest our samskaras (inherent tendencies) carried into this life from our previous lives, and these samskaras predetermine much of our behavior—some good, some harmful.  By consciously manipulating the body with breathing practices and postures, we can change the crooked course of our samskaras—like the tail wagging the dog—altering the path of our life.

Healing is Healing
We hold our personal past emotional experiences, energetically, in our bodies. So many of us become inexplicably stuck on our path, not from lack of effort, but by the chains of the past known as anger, grief, and fear.  These buried emotions, like splinters in the heart, can be ultimately crippling to our spiritual practice because when we are in pain, we become self-centered and myopic.  When we heal, we become more empathetic, self-less, and sympathetic to the pain and welfare of others.

Through the practice of Yoga, in particular the breathing practices, we can liberate these buried emotions and experience a rapid and meaningful transformation. Our spiritual intent, fueled with breath and powered by our will, ultimately realigns an emotionally misaligned body.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
It's worth it to keep your body in top shape. Why? Because it's the vehicle that transports and carries our minds. If your mind is a jet engine, but your body is a run-down 1969 Volkswagen bus, then the jet engine will be unable to make you fly.  A pain-free and vital body is the foundation to support meditation, all other practices, and daily life itself.

Yes, there are Hatha Yoga practices that are simply body toning workouts disguised as a spiritual practice. But there are also wonderful and amazing and sincere teachers available. Just like looking for a good doctor, ask around, dig a little until you find the real thing.

No matter what you believe or disbelieve spiritually – it doesn’t matter.  Yoga works, regardless of your belief system.  Try it and see for yourself.

Note: The ideal practice for someone over 40 years old is one hour a day, 5 days a week.  But do what you can with what you have and where you are.  Even just twenty minutes a day will have an impact.

Max Strom is a teacher, speaker, and author who teaches personal transformation and yoga. His latest book is "A Life Worth Breathing". Please visit his website at MaxStrom.com.

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Comments (12)

  • I agree. It certainly depends on the teacher. The best teacher for me is one who reinforces that everyone's practice is different, and that your flexibility & approach is perfect for you. This is a tough one for a type A personality to grasp, but it certainly makes a practice more rewarding!

  • Thank you for the great post, Max. With focus and openness, it is definitely possible to have both.
    Also, establishing better perception and trust of our bodies through asana can generate a stronger awareness and understanding of the mind.

  • [...] Hatha Yoga: Body Toning Trend or Spiritual Practice? (Answer: Both … [...]

  • Thanks u... Very serene place, peaceful, with an individual attention which is highly needed in tainning for hatha yoga.

  • [...] http://wholelivingdaily.wholeliving.com/2011/03/hatha-yoga-is-it-really-a-spiritual-practice.html [...]

  • It was good to see you in London, Max. Your workshops and lecture seminars are inspiring, life-affirming and full of snippets of wisdom.

    I look forward to seeing you again in the summer!


  • I so often agree with Max. When I started my journey in the 70's, in the tradition I leaned towards, hatha yoga was not instructed as integral, as was meditation. Being primarily spiritually oriented, I became fuzzy about what the fuss was all about regarding postures. Years later, finally, for me the postures became the missing link to a healthier relationship with my body. I gained a profound respect and a whole new way of seeing the impact of mind expressing in body, and the layers of healing that can take place inside and out. Thanks, Max, as always for the insights.

  • Thanks for the wonderful writing and teachings. I keep hearing the comment that yoga is not spiritual. Personally, I have found yoga as nourishing and powerful for my spirit as my body and mind. Keep reminding us, Max!

  • You put so beautifully into words what I feel, and what we (I) need to be reminded of. Yoga works for anyone of any spiritual or nonspiritual belief. I know it has helped me to deepen my spirituality; in no way has it ever conflicted with my belief system. Life has presented to me, as I am sure to everyone, many physical and emotional challenges. The synergy between my spiritual belief and yoga has enabled me to move through and past these challenges with my optimism, joy, and grace still intact. Thank you, Max, I so appreciate your thoughts and insights. They are always supportive, insightful, compassionate, and truthful. I hope to take one of your workshops again in the near future. Peace and blessings to you and yours.

  • Thanks for great post. I am tired to explain that yoga is not sport!

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    Crocs are also not a good option for a zombie apocalypse.

  • t have all day to work out (I sure don. This is also an upward rowing type
    of shoulder exercise except that your hands are wider than shoulder width.
    I keep 8% body fat percentage cardio throughout the year using this approach.

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