Sage Patanjali (around the same time as Buddha, about 2500 years ago) composed 196 sutras (aphorisms) that provide eight steps leading to complete enlightenment. The eight steps are Yama (moral/ethical rules; Non-violence, truth fulness, non-stealing, chastity & non-avarice), Niyama (purity of speech & body, contentment, acceptance of others, persistence, study of Vedic literature, contemplation), Asana (body postures), Pranayama (breathing practices), pratyahara (withdrawal from external objects), Dharana (focus, concentration), Dhyana (Contemplation, meditation), samadhi (complete absorption into the ultimate, state of total bliss).
Buddha’s teaching had profound impact on India & other parts of the world. Five hundred years after Buddha (100 BC) a great university at Nalanda was established in the tradition of Hinayana (narrow path), the orthodox Buddhism system. However an another group did not agree with the orthodox interpretation of Buddha’s teachings and established an another path called Mahayana (Great path), through the establishment of another university “Vikram Shila”. This was based on open-mindedness & more liberal path. An another sect come out later from Mahayana called “Sahajayana”, the “spontaneous way” & Vajrayana that intended sexual matters borrowing elements of “Tantra”. After about 500 years the popularity & influence of Buddhism declined. Around 4th to 6th century AD, after the period of Buddhist decadence in India, some great yogis further innovated yoga. Prominent ones were Matsyendranath, Gorakhnath; picking up the useful & practical practices of yoga from the tantric system. They established the system of Hath Yoga.
There was a great problem in the practice of traditional yoga. The first two steps: Yama & Niyama are so difficult to practice that one was not able to go any further. Self-control & discipline are more easily said than done. In fact, many end up having mental problems as this can lead even to split personality, in the absence of higher states of consciousness. These great Yogi’s argued that one need not worry about discipline & self-control. They instead spoke of purifying the body; stomach, intestines, nervous and other systems. Hath Yoga begins with these practices, self-discipline of body. It lays emphasis on creating balance of physical body, mind & energy. Hatha (“Ha” represents Prana, The vital and life force or the ”Sun” and “Tha” represents mind, the mental energy/force) or the “moon”. “Prana” & “mental energy”, or energy & consciousness, these two forces constitute life. In yoga, energy & consciousness are known as shakti & Shiva, in Taoism yin & yang, in physics energy & matter. In Hatha yoga they are called pingala & Ida. Ida represents the flow of consciousness while pingala the flow of vital energy. The union of these two flows occurs at the eyebrow center. It leads to instant awakening at the base of spine, leading to primal kundalini energy.
The final purpose of Hatha Yoga is the establishment of kundalini energy at the eyebrow center (Third eye). This can finally lead to supreme consciousness by the union of Shiva (consciences) and shakti (kundalini energy) that occurs above the head, seated in sahasrara Chakra or energy Vortex. This final stage of achievement is beyond hath yoga and is the final milestone of Patanjali yoga.
Hatha Yoga says ”Do not worry about the mind”. Ignore it and practice Pranayama. It will bring about the balance between prana & mental energies that will purify & thus control the mind. This is the most significant enabler to reach higher states of consciousness.