Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga

Achieve balance through dedicated poses, breathing and meditation

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How can Hatha yoga nourish you?

Instead of referring to a specific routine of yoga poses (asanas), or a school with a particular philosophical focus, Hatha yoga is more of an umbrella term that encompasses the physical aspect of yoga practices[1]. In other words, the various subcategories such as Anusara or Iyengar yoga are all varieties of Hatha yoga practice.

The word ‘Hatha’ is usually translated as ‘force’[2], and Hatha as an overall discipline is believed to have originated as a path towards mastering the physical body. In this respect, Hatha is sometimes agreed to be as old as yoga itself[3], although there is ongoing debate about its origins. Some scholars argue that the asanas we associate with Hatha yoga were not defined until somewhere between the 11th[4] and 15th centuries[5].

Hatha yoga is founded on breathing exercises[6] (pranayamas), asanas, and the coordination of breathing with transitional movements (vinyasas). Other aspects of traditional Hatha yoga include cleansing and purifying techniques[7] (shatkarmas) and chanting[8] (mantras).

Benefits of Hatha yoga

Because Hatha is such a broad category that includes most of the styles you might be familiar with, the benefits of Hatha yoga positions can be thought of as an ‘average’ of the different individual branches. In addition to regularly reported benefits such as improvements in chronic back pain[9], Hatha yoga practice is believed to have a meaningful impact on depression[10], although further research is recommended.

Hatha yoga weight loss is a low-impact fitness alternative to cardio training activities such as jogging, and may improve metabolic function, for example, significantly reducing LDL cholesterol[11]. Long-term Hatha yoga practice has been associated with a lower BMI (body mass index) and reduced medication[12] use in women older than 45, and Hatha yoga may also help reduce nicotine cravings[13] in people who are quitting cigarettes.

Hatha yoga may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

Anxiety
Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
Asthma
Back pain
Balance, stability and coordination
Brain fog and clarity
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
Concentration, focus and problem solving
Depression
Diabetes
Energy and vitality
Flexibility, endurance and strength
Hypertension
Immunity issues
Insomnia and sleep disorders
Mobility and movement
Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
Nervous system and neurological conditions
Posture and spine issues
Respiratory and breathing issues
Sadness
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Stress and tension
Stroke
Weight control and obesity
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What to expect from a Hatha yoga session

Because Hatha yoga positions encompass almost all of the popular disciplines currently being practised, ranging from Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga to the Iyengar style, it is only possible to provide a very broad overview of what you can expect. The therapy pages of the individual varieties will give you a more specific overview of what is emphasised in each particular style or school of yoga.

In general, a Hatha yoga program will include an exercise to direct your focus to the lesson, for example through a shared chant and/or breathing exercises, followed by a physical warm-up. The instructor will guide you through a series of asanas, which can be challenging and strenuous for advanced practitioners, or more gentle to cater for all levels of skill and fitness[14] if you’re trying Hatha yoga for beginners.

At its core, the one common aspect of all Hatha yoga practices is a focus on mastery of the physical body[15]. Nevertheless, many Hatha yoga classes will conclude with a relaxation or meditation session.

As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing Hatha yoga. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your instructor, who will be happy to address these and explore the option of tailoring the session to your individual requirements.

What to expect from a Hatha Yoga session

Hatha Yoga FAQ

What is Hatha yoga style?

Hatha Yoga is a school that translates from Sanskrit[16] as the discipline of force, tenacity, persistence and determination. Another meaning for Hatha is Ha (sun) and Tha (Moon) and this combination represents the omnipresent duality within, and around us.

Hatha yoga allows you to master your body and mind to unravel a deeper meaning of your existence. This practice is not just about movement, it is a complete lifestyle, starting with the correct attitude towards oneself and the environment around you, ethical behaviour, yogic diet, regular practice and purifying processes.

Traditional Hatha yoga is a slower style of yoga that emphasises endurance in positions, working with the breath through the entire practice. This practice requires full body and mind awareness as physical postures are just the first step on the journey. Focus, stability, stillness and capacity tosilence the mind are expected outcomes from Hatha yoga practice.

What is the difference between Vinyasa and Hatha yoga?

Vinyasa yoga, or Ashtanga yoga, is another popular yoga branch. This practice is significantly younger than traditional Hatha yoga, which has been practised for thousands of years. Ashtanga yoga, as one example of Vinyasa yoga, was created in the late 1950s by an Indian scholar named K. Pattabhi Jois.

Vinyasa yoga is a quick paced practice. When translated into English, Vinyasa means flow. In Vinyasa yoga classes, you can expect continued movement, yoga postures are practised in a specific sequence, where practitioners flow from one Asana yoga posture to another, using the breath to support movement and create inner heat to awaken one’s inner power.

Although Hatha yoga and Vinyasa share many similar poses, it is recommended to start with Hatha yoga to become familiar with proper alignment of the body. Vinyasa yoga is considered physically challenging and requires a certain amount of endurance and fitness levels. As yoga literally translates to 'yoking body and mind', it is better to start on slower forms of the practice before proceeding to Vinyasa. Capacity to remain in the moment when the yoga motion becomes faster flowing is enhanced in this way.

What does Hatha yoga include?

Hatha Yoga is a complex practice that includes:

  • A moderated diet based on healthy eating. You should eat healthily and only when you’re hungry, making sure to leave the dinner table without feeling full. In Hatha yoga, your body is your temple, and nourishing it is similar to an act of worship.
  • Purifications. Inner body healing consists of several cleansing methods. Some include standard hygiene practices, such as tongue scraping and neti pot nasal cleansing, while others, like retaining seminal fluid flow, are more controversial.
  • Breath control. Breath control, aka Pranayama, assumes that breathing correctly extends your vital energy, healing and balancing your body. Holding your breath is just as important as exhaling and inhaling deeply; while your thoughts move during inhalation and exhalation, holding your breath promotes stillness and dissolution. That’s why proper breathing is part and parcel of all asana or yoga poses. 
  • Posture. Before beginning the actual exercises, you should pick a quiet place away from possible distractions. Then, you can start doing your asanas. The poses will feel difficult and even unbearable if you’re a beginner, so you have to exercise your patience and execute to your ever increasing level of ability. Continually finding space within your movement and focusing on the upward lift of your inhalation and downward pull of your exhalation will contribute to your posture
  • Meditation - the physical yoga, breathwork and purification are all designed to lead you to meditation. Finding stability and stillness in your everyday life provides detachment from the physical matter and allows you to tune into more subtle energy fields.
What does Hatha Yoga include?

Which is harder - Hatha or Vinyasa?

Vinyasa may seem harder than Hatha yoga because you have to move sometimes very quickly between poses. As such, you’re raising your heart rate and challenging your endurance along with working out your muscles.

At the end of your Vinyasa session, you may feel winded and sweaty, although satisfied.

Hatha yoga allows you to hold certain positions for longer, which is easier on your heart rate but harder on your balance. Some of these asanas can become truly uncomfortable after some minutes, especially for beginners. 

If you’re twisting your limbs, your joints will feel the pressure too.

However, it’s essential to listen to your body and avoid anything that triggers acute pain. Some muscle soreness is normal, but intense pain isn’t.

How many poses are there in Hatha yoga?

Hatha yoga had just one posture (asana) in the 13th century.

That changed over the centuries.

Hatha Yoga Padipika, the famous anthology on Hatha yoga, discusses 15 central positions. Seven of these are done while seated, and the other eight are not seated. The collection examines a blend of different postures that amount to 84 asanas.

The number 84 is frequent in spiritual practices because it symbolises the bond between each person and the universe.

However, Hatha yoga is a fluid approach, explaining why its number of asanas continued to grow. Since the 19th century, there have been 112postures to master, though the variations are infinite.

What is beginner Hatha yoga?

Beginner Hatha yoga focuses on restorative movements that promote mobility and flexibility. These movements require less balance and are easier on your muscles and joints.

The purpose of beginner Hatha yoga isn’t just to tone your body for more advanced poses. Even if these asanas are relatively easy, they still help you channel healing energy and connect with the universe.

As such, you will feel happier and more mindful. You will also see significant improvements in your mindset, breathing and muscle tone.

Beginner Hatha yoga provides a better understanding of the basic yogic principles and proper alignment of the body. It is absolutely necessary to build a strong foundation and prepare the body and mind before approaching more advanced postures and other spiritual practices.

References

  1. Hatha Yoga | Yoga Journal
  2. What is Hatha Yoga? | Ekhart Yoga
  3. The History of Hatha Yoga | Yogapedia
  4. Hatha Yoga | Britannica
  5. A Concise History of Hatha Yoga | Yoga Teacher Training
  6. What is Pranayama? | Definition from Yogapedia | Yogapedia
  7. Shatkarma | Purification Techniques in Hatha Yoga | Yogic Way of Life
  8. Beginner | Guide to Common Yoga Chants and Mantras | Sanskrit Chants | Yoga Journal
  9. Effectiveness of Hatha Yoga Versus Conventional Therapeutic Exercises for Chronic Nonspecific Low-Back Pain | The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers
  10. Hatha Yoga for Depression: Critical Review of the Evidence for Efficacy, Plausible Mechanisms of Action, and Directions for Future Research | Journal of Psychiatric Practice
  11. Effects of 8-Week Hatha Yoga Training on Metabolic and Inflammatory Markers in Healthy, Female Chinese Subjects | A Randomized Clinical Trial | downloads.hindawi.com
  12. Increased Hatha yoga experience predicts lower body mass index and reduced medication use in women over 45 years | PMC | National Center for Biotechnology Information
  13. Acute Effects of Aerobic Exercise and Hatha Yoga on Craving to Smoke | Nicotine & Tobacco Research | Oxford Academic
  14. Pilates and yoga | health benefits | Better Health Channel
  15. Hatha yoga on body balance | PMC | National Center for Biotechnology Information
  16. Hatha Yoga | Britannica