How can Hatha yoga nourish your soul?
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. 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’, 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, 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 and 15th centuries.
Hatha yoga is founded on breathing exercises (pranayamas), asanas, and the coordination of breathing with transitional movements (vinyasas). Other aspects of traditional Hatha yoga include cleansing and purifying techniques (shatkarmas) and chanting (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, Hatha yoga practice is believed to have a meaningful impact on depression, 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. Long-term Hatha yoga practice has been associated with a lower BMI (body mass index) and reduced medication use in women older than 45, and Hatha yoga may also help reduce nicotine cravings in people who are quitting cigarettes.
Hatha yoga may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
- Back pain
- Balance, stability and coordination
- Brain fog and clarity
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Concentration, focus and problem solving
- Energy and vitality
- Flexibility, endurance and strength
- 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
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Stress and tension
- Weight control and obesity
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 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. 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.