‘Is Ashtanga Yoga Hatha Yoga or is Patanjali Yoga something quite different?’

A week or so ago, in an email exchange with (name drop) Eddie Stern, I told him that Guy Donahaye’s website is one I check out frequently, except that it had been quiet for quite some time.

No longer.

Guy on Wednesday put up a post that — given Bobbie just talked about our scholarly interests — is one we’ll likely be reading a few times through.

The title is pretty simple: “Ashtanga Yoga is not Hatha Yoga.” Here’s a few bits and pieces to convince you to read it all:

But setting aside the of question of age or origin, we notice that this debate has distracted us from a much more important question:

Is Ashtanga Yoga Hatha Yoga or is Patanjali Yoga something quite different?


Most of our vocabulary about yoga comes from the hatha yoga texts – nadis, chakras, kundalini – these are Hatha Yoga concepts. The hatha yogi is pursuing a tantric, ecstatic experience of his physical and subtle body through various practices including asanas, ultimately desiring to free himself from all attachments and merge with higher consciousness.


While the hatha yogins pursue ecstasy as the medium of their sadhana, the South Indian tradition which flourished with Krishnamacharya, was focused on an internally focused path towards stilling the mind. Asana in this context is viewed as therapy – preparation for sitting and the internal practices.

That is not even, really, the tip of the iceberg of the post. As the above snippets suggest, it makes a clear and strong distinction between Hatha and Ashtanga yogas — it goes into much greater detail, suggesting ways that Pattabhi Jois approached his Western students, among other topics.

Go check it out. It does make me realize I may have gotten on to the wrong path. I need to do some thinking… where’s this “tantric, ecstatic” stuff?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “‘Is Ashtanga Yoga Hatha Yoga or is Patanjali Yoga something quite different?’”

  1. Like Guy says, the vocabulary of the Ashtanga Vinyasa method comes from Hatha yoga. In Yoga Mala, KPJ quotes Hatha Yoga Pradipika numerous times. But in Hatha Yoga Pradipika Svatmarama repeatedly states the purpose of Hatha Yoga (Akers’ translation):

    I.2 Yogi Svatmarama, after saluting the Lord and guru, explains the science of Hatha for one reason—Raja Yoga.

    II.76 Raja Yoga will not be complete without Hatha, nor Hatha without Raja Yoga. Therefore practice the pair to perfection.

    III.126 Asanas are not useful without Raja Yoga. Kumbhaka is not useful without Raja Yoga. Even various mudras are not useful without Raja Yoga.

    IV.79 I consider those practitioners who only do Hatha, without knowing Raja Yoga, to be laboring fruitlessly.

    Raja Yoga being synonymous with Patanjali’s method, insofar as the intention is to reach the state of samadhi.

    Singleton asserts that Krishnamacharya’s Hatha method is a synthesis intended to be a uniquely modern expression of Raja Yoga, which seems logically consistent with all of the above.

  2. Thanks for sharing. That post clarifies and verifies things for me. For a while i have thought that practicing yoga asana is really, if i’m honest with myself, not overly spiritual for me, and it’s not really “ecstatic.” What it is, truly, is therapeutic, on many levels.

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