Hatha yoga is an exercise that increases flexibility and strength that you have never heard of, but which you have almost definitely done.
If you were to recite the names of all the yoga styles you tested, you could list a powerful yoga class that you booked through your ClassPass account, a free Vinyasa stream that you experienced at your college gym and that of goat yoga class your friends begged you to attend (and you thankfully thank you).
You probably wouldn’t mention hatha yoga – or even know what that is when asked at point-blank range. But in reality, you have probably done this style of yoga without realizing it.
What is Hatha yoga, exactly?
Hatha yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga today, but the practice dates back to at least 1200 AD. In Sanskrit, the word “hatha” means “sun” (ha) and “moon” (ta), while “yoga” comes from the word “yug”, which means “union”. Together, the name “Hatha yoga” represents a yoga practice that balances polarities – the energy of the sun and moon, light and dark – within itself, says Ashley Rideaux, a YogaWorks certified teacher instructor. This balance is achieved by pairing physical postures (asanas) with breathing techniques (pranayama). (For your information, yoga is not just limited to this type of practice. Asanas and pranayama are two of the eight “members” or components of yoga. The remaining members are universal ethics, individual ethics, sense control, concentration, meditation and bliss.)
If that sounds like almost every yoga class you have ever attended, you are not mistaken. Hatha yoga is actually a generic term for any style of yoga that emphasizes and balances the two components, including Vinyasa, Yin, Ashtanga, Power and Iyengar yoga.
“By definition of trying to balance the body’s energy through body effort, I would say that probably any physical posture in yoga [between styles] has a base or history in Hatha,” says Rideaux. Translation: it is difficult to point out any specific types of yoga that do not have some aspects of Hatha.
- Vinyasa: Vinyasa emphasizes smooth transitions and fluid movements between asanas, and you rarely hold postures for several breaths.
- Yin: In this slow-flowing yoga style, you hold postures for 45 seconds to five minutes to encourage a deep stretch of the connective tissue in your muscles.
- Ashtanga: This dynamic method of yoga involves practicing a specific sequence of postures, which require more strength and flexibility than other styles. You will sweat a lot, which is done to detoxify your muscles and organs.
- Strength: derived from Ashtanga, this approach based on physical conditioning for yoga emphasizes the construction of advanced postures in order to tone the muscles and increase flexibility. However, you do not follow a fixed sequence of asanas as you do in Ashtanga.
- Iyengar: developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, this style of Hatha Yoga focuses on precision and alignment when performing postures. Quality> quantity in this practice.
What can you expect from a Hatha Yoga class?
Even though Hatha yoga is a comprehensive term, you can still find classes assigned to Hatha for all levels and skills at yoga studios, and you can interpret the title as a comprehensive practice, says Rideaux. Compared to Vinyasa classes with fast flow and Yin classes with slow and deep rhythm, Hatha yoga classes are a happy middle ground, infusing elements of various styles.
“I think hatha yoga allows the teacher a little more freedom to play with what he is offering in that space,” she says. For example, one Hatha Yoga instructor may suggest a continuous but smooth movement between asanas, while another may emphasize maintaining each posture for a few breaths before moving on to the next.
No matter how slow or dynamic, each 60- to 90-minute Hatha yoga class has an arc that is similar to one on your normal day. As you start your morning with a cup of strong coffee, Hatha Yoga classes begin to wake your body with asanas like a child’s pose, cat-cow pose and spinal twists. You will continue to warm up and relax your body with sun salutations, forward bends or downward facing dogs, building towards the most challenging postures (think: warrior poses, tree pose or inversions) of the day. After reaching this peak, you begin to cool your body and mind with asanas, such as the folds seated forward and the posture at a closed angle, ending the practice with savasana (corpse posture), explains Rideaux. If you’re freaking out with the idea of having to put your leg behind your head or perform a handstand with ease, take a deep breath – these asanas are saved for the intermediate and advanced classes, she adds.
Although asanas can vary from class to class, the work of breathing will always be emphasized, and the instructor will guide you through each breath to ensure that it is in sync with your movement. This connection not only helps to awaken the muscles, but it also acts as a moving meditation for the body and can help calm your mind, even after rolling up the rug, says Rideaux.
“If I can learn to breathe in the challenging shapes that are offered to me on the mat, it suddenly starts to accompany me off my mat,” she says. “The next time I am in a difficult situation in my life, I hope to know how to breathe and to be present with her.”
Do you need equipment for Hatha Yoga?
Depending on your needs, you can use some yoga accessories to help you get the most out of your practice. While most studios will allow you to borrow accessories or rent them for a small fee, you should consider buying your own plan to practice several times a week or going through strings at home. (Not to mention it looks * much * more hygienic.
- Yoga mat: In general, a standard 1/8 inch yoga mat with a slightly sticky texture – which keeps joints supported and non-slip – is suitable for practicing Hatha yoga. But if you are determined to do Ashtanga or Power Yoga, opt for a mat that offers more grip (like this one approved by a yoga instructor) so that you don’t slip off the mat when exercising.
- Yoga block (s): If your hand fails to reach the ground during the triangle pose, you can use a yoga block (buy, $ 16, manduka.com) to bring the floor closer to you, which creates a deeper stretch, preventing you from crushing your spine.
- Yoga strap: Likewise, yoga straps (buy, $ 18, manduka.com) can help create more space between your shoulders – and encourage a stretch of well-being – while you practice your cow face.
- Yoga blanket: Yoga blankets (buy, $ 20, gaiam.com) can also be used to cushion your joints while you do a low lunge or sit in a butterfly pose.
What are the health benefits of Hatha Yoga?
A full body stretch is not the only thing that you will gain when you start practicing Hatha Yoga. As for the benefits to physical health, the activity can help with digestion, swelling in the legs, varicose veins, as well as strength and flexibility, notes Rideaux. The research also confirms this: a small study showed that practicing Hatha Yoga three times a week for six weeks significantly increased the muscle strength and flexibility of middle-aged women.
And some of the biggest advantages of yoga go beyond the external. A study published in the Journal of Nursing Research found that a single 90-minute Hatha Yoga class significantly reduced perceived stress levels in middle-aged women, while another showed that Hatha Yoga was related to improved self-esteem and quality of life. life and reduced fatigue. And it is these benefits that keep Rideaux coming back on the carpet year after year.
“Most of us come to the yoga mat because it’s like ‘I want that yoga butt’ – we are attracted to it by the physical benefits,” she says. “The incredible thing is that if we stay long enough, we often find that we get all of these things beyond the physical.”