What is Hatha Yoga?
A Beginner’s Guide to Hatha Yoga: What You Need To Know About This Practice
There are many different styles of yoga out there, so many that it might seem a bit confusing when it comes to choosing the right type for you. The different types of yoga are usually named after the yoga guru that developed that specific way of practicing. For example, Bikram yoga is was created by Bikram Choudhury, a well-known yoga guru. Hatha yoga is another style of yoga that we will be exploring further in this post.
So where does Hatha Yoga come from, and what benefits does it provide? How can you start your very own Hatha yoga practice? The answers can be found below!
By Teresa Mason
What is Hatha Yoga?
In Sanskrit, Hatha means “forceful.” So, Hatha yoga is created through physical force (asana/postures) rather than the more subtle meditation practice.
Another way of popular thinking is that Hatha yoga is all about balancing the body and mind. Some say “ha” represents the sun and “tha” the moon, so the practice of Hatha yoga aims to join, yoke, or balance these two energies.
With either definition, Hatha yoga is a physical practice. But aside from the asana, it can also include pranayama breathing, chanting mantras, or creating hand gestures called mudras.
But wait, don’t all yoga classes include at least some of these aspects? In short, yes they do! Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and similar styles are all variations of Hatha yoga. Hatha takes place in a non-heated room with unprescribed postures and a gentle pace.
Let’s Break It Down: Hatha Yoga vs. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa and Hatha yoga are very similar because Vinyasa itself is a version of Hatha yoga. The main difference between Hatha yoga and Vinyasa, however, is the flow between poses.
Hatha doesn’t have much “flow,” and holds each pose for a longer period of time before moving on to the next. Due to this, the main difference you might notice in a Hatha class is that the tempo of the class is a bit slower than Vinyasa.
However, there is a very fine line between flowing with your breath and breathing through the poses. So, in some cases, a very flowy Hatha class might feel like Vinyasa class. If you need more clarification of what to expect, ask the studio or teachers themselves how the classes differ or, better yet, try them to find out for yourself.
Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga has innumerable benefits. Hatha classes specifically are a great place for beginners to start on their yoga journeys. The slower pace, when compared to Vinyasa or Power yoga, can feel less intimidating and allow the practitioner to gain familiarity with the poses.
In class, you will have an opportunity to work on your alignment, learn relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with doing yoga while building strength and flexibility.
Hatha yoga practices, including the asana, pranayama, mudras, and mantras promote powerful energy to create change both mentally and physically. They can change how we feel in our spirit and in our body.
Not only can Hatha yoga improve feelings of happiness and wellbeing, but it can also help release sadness and grieving as well as encourage relaxation. Overall, we can use our yoga practice to become more connected to ourselves and more engaged with world we live in.
It is thought that the yoga postures and breathing techniques in Hatha yoga purify the physical body. The Sachidananda Ashram states on their website that, “Even if you have developed some bad habits, by practicing Hatha Yoga you will lose all the undesirable cravings. All the cravings for drugs, smoke, and alcohol are caused by the toxins that are already in the body.”
Hatha yoga and it’s variations have also been shown to improve immunity, reduce signs of aging, regulate hormones, and promote healthy blood flow.
How to Start Your Hatha Yoga Practice
Many people begin a Hatha practice naturally when they are first starting their yoga journey. You can attend a Hatha class in a studio, or follow along with Youtubers, but if you want to begin your practice at home start with the following outline:
Breathe: Notice your breath. Once you feel grounded, begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales, and maybe place a hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall. Continue for about 3-5 minutes.
Meditate: Once you feel completely present through the breath, you can begin to breathe naturally and allow the mind to be at ease. If your thoughts drift, it’s okay! It’s part of the practice! Just bring it back to the breath or present moment.
Beginner Asanas: If you are familiar with any poses, work your way through a few and hold for at least five breaths. This part of the practice can be as short or as long as your body is comfortable with.
Savasana: At the end of your asana practice, dim the lights and maybe put on a calming song. Allow your body to completely relax and completely soak up the Hatha practice.
Hatha Yoga: The Takeaway
Hatha can be a great introduction to yoga, but shouldn’t be mistaken for “easy” yoga. It can still be challenging both physically and mentally. Hatha yoga classes provide an opportunity to stretch, unwind, and release tension – which is vital to both busy lifestyles and recovery after intense workouts.
If you go into a Hatha class and it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t give up on yoga completely! There are always the many other styles of yoga that stem from Hatha, like Vinyasa or Power yoga which might be more your style.