Jump To Section
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga is a broad term that encompasses various styles of yoga and breathing techniques, including Ashtanga yoga, Bhakti, and hot yoga. Hatha means “force” in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language used to name yoga postures and practices. The basic tenets of Hatha are breath, movement, and meditation, with each of those three aspects complementing and developing a capacity for the next. This force refers to the intentional act of moving the body from one pose to another. Yogis exert effort and move their bodies with intentionality during this practice.
In this form of yoga, yogis focus on the quality of the breath at all times. You precede every single movement with a slight inhale or a slight exhale, and each pose is held for several breaths before moving onto the next. This breath control practice entails coming back to the breath every time you realize that you have forgotten about it, which is also called the practice of pranayama, or breathwork.
Hatha sessions also focus on the physical movement of going from one static pose to another while performing poses such as downward-facing dog, standing forward fold, tree pose, or warrior II. Every Hatha yoga class ends with a Savasana, or meditation, allowing yogis to let go of mental chatter.
A Brief History of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is a means of exercise or calming the mind in Western culture, but the practice has its roots in spiritual growth and discipline. Hatha yoga as a mental health and spiritual practice dates back over 2,000 years, originating in India. According to the Ancient Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, Hatha yoga, or the physical practice of yoga, was designed to facilitate complete understanding and mastery over the mind. The Sutras teach that each form of yoga is a science of the mind. However, one must engage in consistent practice to connect with and master the body.
4 Benefits of Hatha Yoga
There are many health benefits associated with a consistent Hatha yoga practice, including:
1. Mental clarity. The breathwork and meditation aspects of yoga help the mind exit the fight-or-flight response that we enter during stressful situations. Hatha yoga, in particular, increases mental clarity because each pose is held for at least a few breaths before moving onto the next, helping the practitioner enter the present moment fully rather than being clouded by thoughts of the past or future.
2. Increased flexibility. Over time and with consistent practice, yoga can help to increase the flexibility of your entire body. The held poses practiced in Hatha yoga allow for the stretch to marinate in the targeted group of muscles. A routine yoga practice generally improves flexibility in yogis of all levels.
3. Increases spinal mobility. In the poses commonly practiced in Hatha yoga, the practitioner is bending forward, backward, and twisting to each side for the duration of the practice, which can help increase spinal mobility. Many traditional yogi masters claim that spinal mobility is the most important benefit of practicing yoga because the spinal cord sends and receives messages to and from the brain to the body.
4. Increase in focus and relaxation. Hatha yoga class sequences target areas of the body that hold the most tension and stress, like the shoulders, hips, and lower back, promoting relaxation in the body and mind. When the mind is more relaxed, it can better focus on the task at hand.
4 Hatha Yoga Poses
Think Like a Pro
Renowned yoga instructor Donna Farhi teaches you the most essential physical and mental elements of creating a safe, sustainable practice.View Class
Yoga doesn’t require advanced physical postures or preliminary flexibility. You can start simple and easy with a 10-minute warm-up practice. You don’t even need a mat to start practicing. You can start practicing Asanas (poses) on your living room floor, in bed, or on the rug on your patio.
- Child’s pose (Balasana). Come down to the floor and sit on your knees. Spread your knees wide enough for your upper body to lie down in between them. Touch your big toes together behind you and begin to rest your upper body towards the ground. Bring your arms over your head and rest your hands on the ground, palms down. Eventually, rest your forehead on the floor or a book or a block. Breathe deeply for at least five inhalations and exhalations.
- Cat’s pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana). Slowly come to all fours (tabletop pose). Bring both hands directly underneath the shoulders and knees directly underneath the hips. Inhale, slowly move your head and gaze upward, and drop the belly towards the ground. Exhale, and move in the opposite direction. Tuck your chin and arch your spine. Move through at least three rounds of this. End in a neutral tabletop position.
- Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). From the tabletop, simply lift your knees, drop your head and neck between your arms, and lift the hips up and back. You are on the balls of your feet. Remember to take deep inhales and exhales as you find comfort and stability in your down dog. You can “walk your dog” by bending one knee and then the other, pressing each heel simultaneously towards the mat (but don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the ground). Move the hips back and forth and take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Standing forward fold (Ustrasana). From downward dog, look forward towards your hands, bend your knees, and walk your feet towards your hands. Keeping your knees bent, let all of the tension in the head and neck go and fold forward, reaching your hands for the outside of the shins, the ground, or grabbing opposite elbows and swaying back and forth. Breathe deeply for at least five inhalations and exhalations.
What Is the Difference Between Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga?
The main difference between Hatha and Vinyasa yoga is how the class and yoga instructor transition from one pose to another. Vinyasa classes are more of an athletic and energetic flow with breath linked to movement, and Hatha yoga classes entail a series of static postures with clear transitions between poses. These two types of yoga are not mutually exclusive, and many yoga teachers blend them.
Ready to Learn More About Yoga?
Unroll your mat, get a MasterClass Annual Membership, and get your om on with Donna Farhi, one of the most celebrated figures in the world of yoga. Follow along as she teaches you the importance of breathing and finding your center as well as how to build a strong foundational practice that will restore your body and mind.