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Hatha Yoga: What It Is and How It Balances Mind and Body

My Yoga Teacher

Posted on May 18, 2021 #yoga

What Is Hatha Yoga?

Hatha yoga is any style of yoga that focuses on attaining balance through pranayama (breath) and asana (body). It's an umbrella term that contains yoga styles like Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin, Iyengar, power yoga, and more.

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Check out the class schedule for most yoga studios and you'll find a Hatha yoga class. It's a popular style of yoga that has a long history.

The term "Hatha" comes from the Sanskrit ha ("sun") and ta ("moon"). Combined with the term "yoga," which comes from the word yug ("union"), Hatha yoga is the balance of the sun and moon energy that lies in all of us.

What Is Hatha Yoga?

Hatha yoga has long been an umbrella term for any type of yoga that combines asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing). Over time in the west, Hatha yoga has come to describe a certain type of yoga—slower-paced and more meditative.

This differs from something like Vinyasa mostly in the pacing. Most Vinyasa classes feature a flow of poses at a moderate pace. Hatha yoga classes, on the other hand, tend to include more guidance and detail about how to do the poses.

The Origins and Evolution of Hatha Yoga

The origins of Hatha yoga are a bit muddy. The oldest Hatha yoga text is the Amrtasiddhi, which dates back to 11th century India. It doesn't actually mention the term but is still considered a source for the style. Later, in the 15th century, came the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, written by Svātmārāma as a compilation of earlier Hatha Yoga texts.

According to the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, Hatha creates conditions for samādhi ("meditative consciousness") through:

  • Asana
  • Pranayama
  • Mudras (hand gestures)
  • Kriyas (purification techniques)
  • Meditation
  • Ethical living
  • Creating the right environment

While the earliest forms of this style of yoga are documented in the 11th century, Hatha yoga has evolved into two subtypes:

Classical Hatha

Classical Hatha is thought to be the yoga detailed in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā and is used to improve energy and direct energy flow to reach samādhi. It's more common in India but can be found in some western yoga studios. While the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā mentions that there are 84 asanas, it only describes 15 of them.

Modern Hatha

Modern Hatha yoga focuses more on asanas. This subtype of Hatha yoga showed up in the 1920s in India and is the result of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya fusing Hatha with elements of wrestling and gymnastics. Most of what we think of as yoga in the west comes from this version of Hatha yoga.

To learn more about yoga philosophy, sign up for a free two-week trial of myYogaTeacher and join a yoga philosophy class!

The Hatha Yoga Path

Hatha yoga teaches us how to use our bodies and minds for self-realization. While modern Hatha yoga emphasizes strengthening and purifying the body, the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā teaches us that the body is truly just an instrument.

If you choose to follow the Hatha yoga path, your goal will be balance and moderation in all things—eating, sleeping, movement, and emotions. Through this balance, you'll be able to move safely through the world and meet challenges from a place of physical, mental, and emotional strength and calm.

How Does Hatha Differ From Vinyasa?

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While Vinyasa falls under the umbrella of Hatha yoga, there are several key differences you're likely to find between Hatha and Vinyasa classes.

  • Asana: Hatha yoga classes tend to include a combination of kriyas, mudras, pranayamas, meditation, and asanas. While Vinyasa might include these, it's also quite likely that your Vinyasa class will only include asanas.
  • Time Spent in Pose: In Hatha, poses are generally held for longer (from three breaths to up to a few minutes). Again, Vinyasa classes might include poses held for longer periods of time, but you'll likely find that the poses are moved through rather than held.
  • Flow: Vinyasa classes tend to focus on longer sequences on a single side followed by transitional poses to then repeat the longer sequence on the other side. Hatha classes generally have less "flow," sometimes with practitioners simply stepping from one pose into the next, and the poses are often done on one side then immediately on the other side.
  • Variety: Vinyasa yoga classes sometimes incorporate movements inspired by martial arts, dance, and calisthenics or might include therapeutic movements and plyometrics. Hatha classes are more likely to include traditional poses.

Benefits of Hatha Yoga

Like all styles of yoga, Hatha has several benefits. Yoga has been shown to lower blood pressure, help manage chronic disease, treat pain, improve mental health, and a lot more.

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  • Fitness: In a 2015 study of Chinese adults, cardio endurance, muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility improved after just a 12-week Hatha yoga practice. Another 2015 study showed that once a week 90-minute Hatha yoga sessions helped the subjects (older women) improve spine and hamstring flexibility.
  • Balance: A 2014 study of 34 men showed better postural control and balance after a five-month Hatha yoga practice. Participants in a 2016 study improved core muscle strength and balance in just 21 days of hatha yoga practice.
  • Mental Health: A 2016 meta-analysis of 17 studies with a total of 501 patients, showed preliminary support for Hatha yoga as a treatment for anxiety. According to a 2013 systematic review, yoga can boost serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid ("feel good" neurotransmitters). A 2017 study even found that Hatha yoga can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels and increase confidence when practiced right before a stressful event or task.
  • Arthritis and Fibromyalgia: NCCIH found that there's some evidence to support yoga's benefits for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
  • Back and Neck Pain: A 2008 review found that yoga helps prevent and manage lower back pain. And, A 2019 meta-analysis found that yoga potentially improves the range of motion in the neck to reduce the intensity of neck pain.
  • Mindfulness: In a 2018 survey of 1,820 young adults, those who experienced greater mindfulness and motivation to engage in other healthy activities attributed those results to a regular yoga practice.

Follow the Hatha Yoga Path With myYogaTeacher

Hatha yoga is a slower, more mindful and meditative yoga practice and one of the most popular styles of yoga. It's an excellent option for a broad range of people and is especially helpful for beginners to yoga since Hatha classes tend to include more guidance that will help beginners get comfortable with unfamiliar poses.

Each Hatha yoga class at myYogaTeacher is designed to include the integration of opposites. This means that poses contracting the body will be followed by poses that expand the body. This brings balance to the body and mind.

We invite you to sign up for a free two-week trial of myYogaTeacher so you can join us for a Hatha yoga class where you'll experience poses and breathing techniques that work together to bring you balance, flexibility, strength, clarity of mind, and relaxation.

In addition to Hatha yoga classes at the beginner and intermediate levels, you'll also get access to 35+ additional live online yoga classes every single day. So, even if Hatha isn't your thing, rest assured that we have a class for you—from Ashtanga to Iyengar to Vinyasa and everything in between and beyond!

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