Yoga is the oldest and one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world. There are several different types of yoga, including Ashtanga, Bikram, power, and Yin yoga, and while all types share some similarities, they’re different enough that it’s worth knowing a little about each one, so you can choose the best one for you.
Hatha yoga is one of the most well-known types of yoga, and it is very popular in Western countries. It encompasses the physical and mental aspects of yoga and is ideal for beginner and intermediate practitioners.
Hatha yoga practices can vary from class to class, so it may be useful to contact the studio/instructor to find out more about the practice you want to attend. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at hatha yoga so you can decide if this is the right type of yoga for you. First you’ll need a yoga mat.
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha is a general term used to describe many of the types of yoga taught in the West. Rather than being a singular style, it’s more of an amalgamation of several different types of yoga.
Because of this, and unlike some more regimented types of yoga like Bikram, hatha yoga classes are very varied and do not follow a set series of poses or moves, called asanas. The instructor is free to create a free-flowing class based on the needs, wants, and abilities of the students present.
However, most hatha yoga classes include poses (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation. They tend to be relatively slow-paced and relaxed, making them ideal for novice and older participants.
History/Where Does It Originate From?
Hatha yoga, like most forms, originates in India.
In Sanskrit, hatha means force. Hatha yoga was first referenced over 500 years ago and was brought to America by yogi Swami Vivekananda in 1893.
Hatha yoga increased in popularity in the 1950s, when it was featured in the American TV show “Yoga for Health,” presented by Richard Hittleman.
The appeal of hatha increased again when it was revealed that the Beatles practiced this particular form of yoga. Despite being well over five centuries old, hatha yoga remains one of the most popular and widely practiced types of this form of mental and physical exercise.
Regular yoga has a number of accepted and proven benefits. Research suggests that hatha yoga can help with:
Reduce stress and anxiety – meditation, breathing exercises, and reducing muscle tension can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Stress is a leading cause of otherwise avoidable illness.
Less back and neck pain – 80% of American adults will experience back pain at some point. The flexibility and strength developed by hatha yoga can help reduce existing back pain and also prevent it in the first place.
Hatha can help treat mild to moderate insomnia. Not getting enough sleep will affect all aspects of your life, from your energy to your mood to your productivity.
Yoga helps remove the mental and physical barriers to sleep.
Improved balance – lack of balance, especially when combined with advanced age, can lead to falls.
Falls can cause serious injuries, such as hip fractures and head injuries. Many hatha asanas challenge and improve balance, reducing the risk of falls.
Lower blood pressure – high blood pressure is often known as the silent killer as it has no obvious outward signs. The only way to detect high blood pressure is through testing. The physical and mental aspects of hatha yoga can help lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious cardiovascular conditions.
Yoga improves flexibility and strength and also promotes core stability and balance.
This all leads to better posture.
Sitting and standing up straight takes stress off your lower back and neck, makes you look younger and slimmer, and also improves self-confidence.
What To Expect In A Hatha Yoga Class
This is no standard hatha yoga class, and each practice is different. Hatha classes differ depending on the teacher and the attendees.
That said, most classes last 45-90 minutes and include static poses, breathing exercises, and meditation.
The poses, called asanas, improve all aspects of your physical fitness, including flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance.
Each one is usually held for a set number of breaths. Some are done standing, while others are seated or lying on the floor. Asanas can often be modified to suit your abilities.
As you do the asanas, you must continue breathing, usually through your nose. You may breathe down into your belly (diaphragmatic breathing), or up into your chest, depending on the asana you are doing. Hatha may also include breathing exercises, such as alternating nostril breathing.
Most hatha classes end with a short period of relaxation and meditation. This may include guided meditation or just lying with your eyes closed and focusing inward on your breathing. Either way, you should finish your class feeling rested, refreshed, and relaxed.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Practice
While it is your instructor’s job to deliver a good yoga class, you’ll get more from hatha if you:
1. Arrive early – this will give you time to set out your mat, calm your mind, and get ready for the class to follow. Arriving late and flustered up will make it much harder to focus and relax.
2. Introduce yourself to the teacher – if you are new to hatha, make sure you let your teacher know. That way, they can offer guidance to make your practice more enjoyable and rewarding.
3. Dress for ease of movement – there is a reason most seasoned yoga practitioners wear yoga pants! Do not wear restrictive clothing or jewelry that will distract you.
4. Don’t overexert yourself – hatha yoga is NOT a competitive sport! Take it easy on yourself, and work within your limitations. If something you are doing causes pain, back off as you run the risk of doing more harm than good.
5. Hydrate – muscles stretch and move better when they are well hydrated. Drink water before, during, and after your hatha yoga practice.
6. Forget the outside world – treat your hatha yoga practice as a sanctuary from the outside world. Leave your phone out of reach with the ringer turned off. Focus on your body and your breathing, and do your best to forget about work, family, and friends for the duration of your practice. Instead, focus on your breathing and your movements.
Hatha yoga is a great way to stretch and strengthen your muscles while improving your balance and reducing stress. Cardio and lifting weights are excellent forms of exercise, but what those types of workout take out of your body, hatha yoga puts back in.
Yoga is also good for your mental well-being and is one of the most effective stress and anxiety-busters around. With lots of different types of yoga around, you may be wondering if hatha is the style for you.
If you want to find out if you even like yoga, hatha is an excellent place to start because it is a) gentle and b) a good introduction to many of the different types of yoga available. If you find that hatha isn’t energetic enough for you, you should step up and try vinyasa or power yoga. Or, if you want to slow things down, even more, yin yoga may be more your speed.
Hatha yoga falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, so it provides an ideal place to start your yoga journey. That said, there is nothing wrong with only doing hatha. It contains all the best bits of the other yoga styles, making it a lot like a yoga greatest hits!
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