Are you stressed out and looking for a way towards increased vitality and mindfulness? Hatha yoga might be the answer.
It’s scientifically proven that yoga can create a healthier body and calmer mind, but where do you start with so many styles out there? You can’t do headstands or inversions (upside down poses) yet and don’t want to embarrass yourself at a yoga studio. You might not be fit enough and the sweaty yoga types like hot vinyasa, power or Bikram yoga sound like they might be a bit too much.
Hatha yoga is suitable for almost anyone and ideal if you’re looking for beginner’s yoga. The focus of hatha yoga is to help you settle into your body as you melt deeper into asanas or poses.
In this article we’ll find out what Hatha yoga is, discover some of the most popular hatha yoga poses, learn about some yoga benefits and find out why it’s good for any level of yogi.
Yoga can be a life-changing experience and, by introducing you to Hatha yoga, we hope that you are motivated to go out and take your first yoga class.
You could soon be the one doing a tree pose on Instagram.
Hatha Was the Start of Physical Yoga
Hatha yoga has roots in the tantric movement and is probably one of the most traditional forms of yoga.
Hatha yoga flowed from Raja yoga and its consequent ancient Ashtanga forms. During 350 – 1600 it was proclaimed to be the form of yoga rising above all other methods.
Hatha yoga has become known as postural yoga as this was the first type to focus on asanas or physical postures.
Patanjali’s Yoga sutras, the oldest dating comprehensive text on yoga made mention of the importance of physical postures in his explanation of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga. These eight types of practices were developed into four focus areas in the Hatha practice that followed:
- Mudras (seal/marks/gestures)
- Asana (Postures)
- Kumbhaka (Breath retention)
- Nadanusandhana (Concentration on internal sound)
The physical or asana aspect of hatha developed into 15 postures (mostly the seated meditation type) which we can still see in some of today’s poses. It also laid the foundation for all physical forms of yoga and sparked a hatha revival that was led by Krichnamacharya, the father of yoga. His teachings and wisdom influenced two of his students to become key figures in the history of yoga; BKS Iyengar created Iyengar yoga and Pattahbi Jois started the Ashtanga yoga we know today.
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Today we know hatha yoga to be a more relaxing and gentle form of yoga. It is still a physical practice where a variety of poses are put together in a sequence, using the body as tool of exploration.
But what does the word hatha mean?
Ha is ‘sun’ and tha is ‘moon’ in the yogis' ancient language, but ‘hatha’ directly translated from Sanskrit means ‘force’.
When used with yoga, as in ‘hatha yoga’, it refers to the union that is created through the discipline used, as the practitioner attempts to reach a balance between complementary influences.
Hatha is about combining surrender and effort, strength and flexibility, mind and body.
It's much slower than vinyasa flow yoga or power yoga. During a 45 – 90 minute hatha class you will hold poses for up to three minutes, while you focus on your breath and melt away tight spaces in your body. Most classes end with a final relaxation section and possibly some meditation or chanting.
Yoga teachers might also make use of props as they would in Iyengar yoga. They could place a bolster, yoga blocks, towel or even a blanket in a suitable place to ensure that your alignment is correct. This will prevent you from suffering injuries and allow you to gain the most benefit from the asanas.
Are the Hatha Poses Difficult?
Don’t worry if you cannot immediately perform a headstand; most of the popular poses are scalable for beginners and advanced yogis alike.
The benefits of yoga iare not necessarily increased if you perform a popular hatha pose at its peak. A good teacher will tell you it’s about the feeling and sensations you create in your body and not about what you look like. It is said that there are around 84 asanas that come from the hatha practice, and in modern days these have been reduced to 32 asanas.
In a session of hatha yoga, you will most certainly work on poses like the downward facing dog and forward bends, which lengthen and relax your spine and hamstrings. These two poses are in almost every form of yoga and an integral part of the sun salutations used in vinyasa yoga. Both of these are half inversions and having your head below your heart or being ‘upside down’ will not only give you new perspective, it will also boost your circulation and aid lymphatic drainage.
"Hatha yoga teaches us to use the body as a bow, asana as the arrow. And the soul as the target ." – BKS Iyengar
Cat and cow poses, together with back bends like the locust pose and body twists are all asanas to work on re-adjusting and neutralising your spine.
You will also work on core strength and one of the greatest benefits that will come from these types of poses is correct posture and teaching your muscles to engage correctly in everyday tasks, like lifting a box.
More advance poses like the triangle pose (trikonasana), tree pose, or shoulder stand are there to work on balance and alignment where you use your dristhi (gaze) to focus on a specific area and keep your balance. Balancing poses help us to become physically stronger and better aligned, but they also teach the mind to quieten down and focus on the present moment and our bodies during that moment.
Child’s pose (balasana) and corpse pose (shavasana) are two poses used to relax the body and comfort the mind. Used at the beginning or the end of the practice, they are used to ground you and focus on your practice and your body. It is also during these poses that a yoga teacher will instruct you to focus on your breathing or do a body scan to improve your mind-body connection.
Why Hatha Yoga Is a Good Start?
Hatha yoga is a great start for any person who is interested in trying yoga for the first time.
The main reason for this is the fact that it can be adapted to suit the level of the yogi. Its slow pace allows you to focus more on getting the posture right and also allows the yoga teacher to instruct you on how to get in and out of poses, go deeper with progressions or make it easier with regression poses.
Most yoga instructors have their own style and they might not approach hatha in exactly the same way. Some of them use techniques generally associated with restorative or cardiovascular styles of yoga. Therefore, ensure that you do your research and go to a yoga teacher who gives a hatha class you will enjoy.
Speak to your friends and family about their experiences with yoga studios or group classes. You can also try yoga at home by getting a yoga teacher in your area or one that will teach you online.
Your practice can be adapted according to your personal needs and you can ask your yoga teacher to spend more time on things you enjoy like pranayama (breathing techniques). They can also tweak your sessions to focus on your weak areas and rehabilitate areas of injury. All of this would not be possible in public classes and you will benefit from having a custom-made yoga class.
A Quick Glimpse at the Benefits of Yoga
Yoga works on your physical body, and the technique of hatha uses the body as exploration to help you identify and eliminate some mental blockages that might be holding you back from living a healthy and wholesome life.
Some of the benefits yoga can offer you, as proved by research include the following:
- Reduce stress
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Can lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Purify and detoxify your body
- Lengthen and strengthen muscles
- Increase your flexibility and mobility
- Improve your overall mood
- Strengthen the immune system.
Read more about the scientific benefits of yoga here.
Go Try Out Hatha Yoga
We hope that you are excited and ready to try your first hatha yoga class.
Make sure you wear yoga clothes or workout gear that is tight fitting and won’t get in the way. Your first class will hopefully give your body a nice warm glow, so have some water on stand-by.
Approach your first class with an open mind and relax. The journey is all about you and what you make of it, but if you stick with yoga it will help you become a healthier and happier version of yourself.