In his book Ashtanga Yoga The Practice Manual, David Swenson writes ‘Ashtanga may be utilized as a method of keeping physically fit or it may be traversed as a pathway to explore the subtle realms of spirituality’, and in two words, I agree.
Hatha yoga (yoga based on the physical body), uses the body as a gateway into the yogic realm and all that it entails. Today, people are highly conscious of their bodies and their physical health and yoga is a popular way to get fit and stay toned these days.
That said, I used to be very strict in my classes about reminding students that yoga was more than exercise. I was a strong advocate for meditation and integration on all levels. Authenticity used to be my war cry. And now I find myself more flexible about what people want from yoga. Now timing is everything.
After giving birth to a little girl at the age of 42, and suffering lower back pain for about a year, I returned to a daily hatha yoga routine and discovered that I needed to heal my body. I needed to practice as frequently as time allowed, and I wanted my body to open up and start releasing all of the tension my pregnancy has given it. And although I prayed, and I meditated and I practice other types of yoga/unity/integrity, the key to my stability was through the physical body. As soon as my body began to heal and get stronger and more grounded, the rest of my practice began to blossom as well.
For me yoga is about alignment with your highest You, or alignment with God. But is hatha yoga in itself a spiritual discipline? No, it isn’t. Is hatha yoga a way to enhanced conscious spirituality? Yes, it can be. It depends on your needs, your teacher, your understanding and what you want.