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What is Hatha Yoga?

What is Hatha Yoga?

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Whether you’re an advanced yogi or stepping foot on the mat for the first time, many people can attest that Hatha yoga can change your life, no matter your race, class, or background.

Hatha yoga is a more gentle moving practice compared to practices like Ashtanga yoga and Vinyasa yoga.

Practices like Hatha yoga allow for more stretching, so there is a place for you in this practice, whether you’re at a peak physical fitness level or not.

Although it can still be physically and mentally demanding at times, when you’re on the mat, you’re connecting with an ancient practice that can help you unwind and give you great inner peace. 

Considering a Hatha yoga practice? Here’s everything you need to know.

Hatha Yoga Overview

Hatha yoga is a type of yoga that involves both asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques).

It’s a more slow-moving practice that focuses on alignment with static posture holds.  

History of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga emerged on the borders of India and Nepal and can be traced back to the Sanskrit epics (Hinduism) and the Pali canon (Buddhism). It’s one of the six branches of the yoga tree, including Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Tantra yoga.

In the beginning, Hatha yoga was an ascetic tradition, and Hathi yogis believed in Hindu concepts such as reincarnation and karma. Ascetics practice strict self-denial to pursue their spiritual goals.

Although Hatha yoga has slightly evolved, it has been practiced for thousands of years. Different types of yoga, such as Iyengar yoga, Bikram yoga, Anusara yoga, and Sivananda yoga, stem from the Hatha school of yoga. 

What Does Hatha Yoga Mean?

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that focuses on the mastery of the body, and this term comes from the Sanskrit ha, which means sun, and tha, which means moon. The literal translation of Hatha means force, though.

Traditionally Hatha yoga focused on both the external and internal experience as a way to achieve inner peace. Patanjali, the author of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an important text on Hatha yoga, describes Hatha yoga as an eight-fold path where eight mind-body disciplines need to be mastered. These disciplines are Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. 

Yamas are five social observances which are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Niyamas are five moral observances which are Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara pranidhana (devotion or surrender).

Asana means yoga postures, and pranayama is a breathing technique that controls life force energy. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses, Dharana means concentration, Dhyana means meditation and Samadhi means enlightenment or bliss. 

These eight limbs are vital to know because they are the blueprint for calming the mind. As well as finding liberation from suffering.

Although modern Hatha yoga focuses more on the physical practice, traditional Hatha yoga aims to transcend the body-mind-intellect complex plaguing humans. The goal is to move towards understanding our true selves. 

Benefits of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga has both calming and wellness health benefits. It can relieve stress, support healthy habits, improve your emotional wellbeing and ease overall body pain. 

What Is Hatha Yoga Good For?

Hatha yoga is a mind-body exercise that can be complementary or even considered an alternative medicine for some individuals. Although it’s advised that you always double-check everything with your doctor, studies show that Hatha yogis can increase their strength, flexibility, balance, and increase mindfulness. Studies have also shown that Hatha yoga can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression as well. 

What Does Hatha Yoga Do for the Body?

Hatha yoga can strengthen immunity by lowering stress hormones that can compromise our immune system. It can also improve cardiovascular health and lung capacity.

The practice of Hatha yoga can even reduce sleep disturbances and improve quality of life

Can You Lose Weight Doing Hatha Yoga?

Studies show that Hatha yoga can help you lose weight.

Hatha yoga helps to reduce stress, and when you start this practice, your physical activity and disciplined habits will improve. These are all major components of weight loss. The practice requires a positive relationship with diet and lifestyle, so many students notice their emotional eating habits decrease, and they start to crave healthier foods. 

Does Hatha Yoga Tone Your Body?

Yes, hatha yoga has many poses that can strengthen and tone your core, abs, chest and overall body. 

How to Practice Hatha Yoga

You can attend a Hatha yoga class or practice along with YouTube videos in the comfort of your home.

What Is the Difference Between Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga?

Hatha yoga is an umbrella term that refers to all physical yoga practices. Not all yoga is Hatha yoga, but Vinyasa is Hatha yoga. 

Can Beginners Do Hatha Yoga or Is It Too Hard?

Hatha yoga is considered a gentle physical and spiritual practice, so it’s great for beginner yogis. 

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What Is a Hatha Yoga Flow Like?

A typical Hatha yoga class lasts between 45 and 90 minutes.

The class will start with a warm-up, then move to more physical poses and end with meditation. Beginning the class with a gentle warm-up and breathing helps students center themselves and be conscious of their breathing throughout the session.

When students complete their warm-up, they then move into executing yoga poses that can range from laying flat on the floor to more physically demanding poses. 

One beneficial component of Hatha yoga is that if you can’t position yourself into a particular pose, most yoga instructors can help you modify that posture.

When students are finished completing the poses, the teacher will end with a guided meditation or use Tibetan singing bowls to ground the class. 

Hatha Poses to Practice at Home

Starting a Hatha yoga practice is relatively easy. Although you can incorporate the use of props like straps and purchase cute mats, all you really need is a simple yoga mat and patience.

You can practice many poses at home, but some super easy ones are Sukhasana, Paschimottanasana, and Savasana. 

To do Sukhasana, also known as Easy or Relaxed pose, sit crossed-legged, press into the floor with your sitting bones and draw the crown of your head towards the ceiling.

If you feel pressure in your knees or hips, you can use pillows or a blanket to support underneath your knees. Make sure that your shoulders are always relaxed and your chin is level to the floor. Breathe deeply while holding this posture. 

When executing Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), sit on the floor with your legs together and point your toes towards the ceiling. Walk your hands forward until your index and middle finger can hold your big toes. When you want to fold forward, let out an exhale and slowly lengthen your spine. 

Savasana (Corpse Pose) is a great pose to finish out your practice. All you have to do is lie on your back with your legs apart and your arms slightly away from your body. 

The Bottom Line: Is Hatha Yoga For Me?

If you’re looking for a physical and mental challenge that is still gentle, then Hatha yoga is for you. 

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