Hatha yoga is the strength- and flexibility-building exercise you’ve probably never heard of but have almost certainly tried.
If you were to list all the types of yoga you have practiced, you could include a Power yoga session you signed up for through ClassPass, a free Vinyasa flow you attempted in the college gym, and the goat yoga class your friends encouraged you to go to (and you happily obliged).
If questioned directly, it’s likely that you wouldn’t bring up Hatha yoga or even know what it is. In actuality, though, you’ve probably practiced this kind of yoga without even being aware of it.
Exactly what is Hatha yoga?
Although one of the most well-known types of yoga today is hatha, the discipline has been practiced since at least 1200 A.D. Hatha is a Sanskrit term that means “sun” and “moon” while yoga is derived from the word “yug,” which means “unity.” According to Ashley Rideaux, a YogaWorks-certified teacher training, the word “Hatha yoga” collectively denotes a yoga practice that harmonizes the polarities—the sun and moon energies, the light and the dark—within the individual. Physical poses (asanas) and breathing exercises are used to create this equilibrium (pranayama). (Just so you know, yoga encompasses a variety of exercises. Two of the eight “limbs” or components of yoga are asanas and pranayama. Universal ethics, personal ethics, sense-control, focus, meditation, and happiness make up the remaining limbs.)
You’re not alone if that sounds a lot like practically every yoga session you’ve ever done. Actually, the term “hatha yoga” is used to refer to any forms of yoga, including Vinyasa, Yin, Ashtanga, Power, and Iyengar, that emphasize and balance the two elements.
According to Rideaux, “By definition, any physical posture in yoga [across styles] has a foundation or history in Hatha since it is seeking to balance the energy of the body via the exertion of the body.” It’s difficult to identify a single kind of yoga that doesn’t have elements of Hatha.
- Vinyasa: In vinyasa, the emphasis is on seamless transitions and flowing movement between asanas; postures are rarely held for extended periods of time.
- Yin: A deep stretch of your muscles’ connective tissue is encouraged by holding positions for anywhere between 45 seconds and five minutes in this slow-flowing form of yoga.
- Ashtanga: This vigorous form of yoga includes swiftly moving through a set of postures that, in comparison to other forms, call for more strength and flexibility. You’ll work up a decent sweat that will help your muscles and organs to cleanse.
- Power: Derived from Ashtanga, this fitness-focused style to yoga stresses progressing to more difficult poses to enhance muscular tone and flexibility. But unlike Ashtanga, you don’t perform the asanas in a predetermined order.
- Iyengar: This kind of Hatha yoga, created by B.K.S. Iyengar, emphasizes accuracy and alignment when executing poses. In this case, quality comes before quantity.
What happens in a Hatha yoga class?
Although the name “Hatha yoga” is a bit of a catch-all, you can still find Hatha-designated sessions at yoga facilities for all skill levels and abilities, and you may interpret the phrase to suggest it’s a comprehensive practice, advises Rideaux. Hatha yoga sessions are a good compromise between quick-moving Vinyasa classes and slow-moving, deeply stretching Yin classes since they incorporate aspects from many different styles.
She believes that Hatha yoga gives the instructor a little more leeway to experiment with what they’re providing in that setting. One Hatha yoga teacher could advise fluid, smooth transitions between poses, while another might place more emphasis on holding each pose for a few breaths before going on to the next.
Each 60- to 90-minute Hatha yoga session has an arc that is identical to one of your usual days, regardless of how leisurely or vigorous it is. Hatha yoga courses begin by waking up the body with asanas like child’s pose, cat-cow posture, and spinal twists as you start your morning with a strong cup of coffee. Sun salutations, forward folds, or downward dogs will be used to warm up and soften the body as you progress to the day’s more difficult positions (such as warrior poses, tree poses, or inversions). After reaching that pinnacle, you start to cool down your body and mind with poses like bound angle and sitting forward folds, concluding your practice with savasana (corpse position), according to Rideaux. Take a deep breath if the thought of doing a handstand or having to put your leg over your head makes you nervous; those poses are reserved for the intermediate and advanced students, she advises.
The emphasis on breathwork will never change, even if the asanas do. The instructor will walk you through each breath to make sure it’s in time with your movement. According to Rideaux, this link not only stimulates the muscles but also serves as a form of movement meditation for the body and can relieve stress.
She claims that if she can master breathing while performing the difficult poses she is given, “suddenly it starts to follow me off of my mat.” “Hopefully, the next time I face a challenging circumstance in life, I’ll know how to breathe through it and be present with it.”
Does Hatha yoga require any special equipment?
You may utilize a few yoga props to maximize the benefits of your practice, depending on your requirements. Even while most studios let you to rent or borrow props for a modest charge, you should think about buying your own if you intend to practice frequently or run through sequences at home. (Not to mention that it seems considerably cleaner.
- Yoga mat
- Yoga block
- Yoga strap
- Yoga blanket
What advantages does Hatha yoga provide for your health?
You’ll get more from taking up a Hatha yoga practice than just a full-body stretch. As for the activity’s advantages for physical health, Rideaux points out that it can aid with digestion, leg swelling, varicose veins, strength, and flexibility. Further evidence supports this: According to a tiny research, practicing Hatha yoga three times per week for six weeks greatly improved the flexibility and strength of middle-aged women’s muscles.
The benefits of yoga go beyond its outward appearance, too. A 90-minute Hatha yoga session dramatically reduced the perceived stress levels in middle-aged women, according to a research that appeared in the Journal of Nursing Research. Another study indicated that Hatha yoga was associated with increased self-esteem, a better quality of life, and less weariness. Rideaux returns to the mat every year because of these advantages.
Most of us do yoga because we want that “yoga booty”; we are drawn to it because of its physical advantages, she claims. The fantastic point is that if we stick around for a while, we frequently find out that we obtain all of these items in addition to the physical.