Hatha Yoga is seen today primarily as a course of exercise, intended to make the body supple and flexible, and thereby to enhance health and well-being. Yoga, as it is called in the West, has been touted for its ability to help one lose weight as well as improve the functioning of the body. For most people, this is what is meant by the term “yoga” and they do not appreciate the hidden intention behind the development of this science.
Sri Aurobindo provides insight to the true goal of Hatha Yoga: “Hathayoga aims at the conquest of the life and the body whose combination in the food sheath and the vital vehicle constitutes, as we have seen, the gross body and whose equilibrium is the foundation of all Nature’s workings in the human being.”
It goes far beyond this starting point. Sri Aurobindo explains that the body and its vital vehicle are set up functionally in the human being to provide a basis for the energy required to live a normal life on a more or less stable basis for a certain relatively fixed period of time. Because the aim of Yoga entails a dramatically higher intensity of energy, the Hatha Yogin focuses not solely on optimizing the normal functionality of the body, but rather, works to enhance the capacities to far exceed the usual case.
“Hathayoga therefore seeks to rectify Nature and establish another equilibrium by which the physical frame will be able to sustain the inrush of an increasing vital or dynamic force of Prana indefinite, almost infinite in its quantity or intensity.”
Even normal amounts of energy are difficult for most people to bear, and they find they must move, dissipate, off-load their excess energy (or tranquilize the energy in the course of their daily lives). The energy available to the advanced Yogin is far more intense and the body must be prepared to hold this energy and not “spill” it. The illustration frequently used is the “unbaked jar” which cannot hold the water poured into it. The “baking” of the “jar” in this case involves finding ways to increasing the holding and carrying capacity of the energy in a steadfast and calm manner.
“In Hathayoga, the equilibrium opens a door to the universalisation of the individual vitality by admitting into the body, containing, using and controlling a much less fixed and limited action of the universal energy.”
As progress is made in the practice of Yoga, the body becomes stable, balanced and solid as a basis for virtually any amount of new energy that descends into it. The increased health and radiant glow that most people seek in practicing Yoga in the West is actually a very early and relatively minor result of the practice as it was developed over its long history.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 4, The Systems of Yoga, pp. 28-29