What is Hatha Yoga: Unfortunately, in the western part of the world, if you pronounce the word “yoga”, people think you have to turn yourself around like rubber bands or stand on your head. Yoga is not a form of exercise. The word “yoga” means union. Today, modern science has proven that the whole existence is only energy.
So if all this is energy, why don’t you enjoy it? If you break the boundaries of the illusion that you are separate and begin to experience the oneness of existence, it is yoga. The world’s religions have always talked about God being everywhere. Is it different if you say that God is around or that everything is energy?
The same reality. When it is deducted mathematically, we call it science. If you believe it, we call it religion. If you find a way to get there, we call it yoga. So what is yoga, what is not yoga? There is no such thing.
The Meaning of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga has not changed for thousands of years. However, our thinking and feeling about it are there. Language is a powerful thing, and different cultures may have other definitions for the same word. Throughout the evolution of Yoga practice, the same name – Hatha – also refers to different things.
In the popular thought ‘in the West’ (now the most common expression), Hatha Yoga balances body and mind. ‘Ha’ refers to the deep sun and ‘tha’ to the moon. The practice of Hatha Yoga aims to join, yoke or balance these two energies.
A yoga class described as ‘hatha’ usually includes body postures (yoga poses) and breathing techniques. These are typically practiced much slower and with a more stable posture than the Vinyasa flow or Ashtanga class. We describe our Hatha Yoga classes in Befitness Hub.
However, Hatha means ‘power’ and is traditionally defined as ‘yoga of power’ or ‘methods of attaining yoga status through power’. So Hatha Yoga can be considered anything you can do with the body,
- Asana – yoga postures (practised in any style of ‘yoga’)
- Pranayama – breathing techniques
- Mantra – chanting or reciting
- Mudra – hand gestures
- Shatkriyas and Shatkarmas – cleansing techniques
Mark Singleton, the author of ‘Yoga Body’ and a senior research member at the University of SOAS London, spoke at a lecture I attended. He noted; “It simply came to our notice then. It doesn’t matter what one does, isn’t it all normal?”.
How Hatha Yoga is different from other styles?
Hatha Yoga is an ancient yoga practice, with many variations on other modern yoga styles:
- Asanas are placed evenly for 1-5 minutes. Most of the modern techniques are dynamic, and the grip is only brief.
- Metabolism slows down compared to other yoga styles.
- In Hatha, the focus of the asanas is on the internal organs and spine, while in other styles the focus is on the muscle groups and joints.
- The body goes through less wear and tear compared to other styles.
- It requires less oxygen compared to other styles.
- In Hatha, more emphasis is placed on peace of body and mind than movement.
Top Hatha Yoga Books:
There are many books on the subject, but the most popular are:
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika
- Patanjali Yoga Sutras
- Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners
- Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga
10 Best Hatha Yoga Poses:
There are 84 traditional Hatha Yoga poses. Most Popular Poses:
- Headstand Shirshasana
- Sarvangasana (shoulderstand)
- Halasana Plow Pose
- Matsyasana Fish Pose
- Gomukhasana Cow Face Pose
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend pose)
- Bhujangasana Cobra Pose
- Mayurasana Peacock Pose
- Natarajasana Dancer Pose
- Vrikshasana tree pose
Swami Sivananda Hatha Yoga
In per-independence India, the practice of yoga asana was practiced only by monks and nuns. In 1936, Swami Sivananda wanted to make the practice of Hatha Yoga accessible to the general public. Thus they can improve physical and mental health. Swami Sivananda taught a simple yoga asana sequence, popularly known as the ‘Rishikesh sequence’, with relatively short grip and simple postures.
Swami Sivananda developed the five practices of yoga without explaining the profound philosophical aspect of yoga. Together, these points lead to a balanced and yoga lifestyle:
- Proper Exercise: A healthy body is essential for balance in mind. The practice of yoga looks consistent and comfortable; it is the perfect way to work on strength, endurance and flexibility. When practicing according to ancient principles, we simultaneously (equally) balance the nervous system as well.
- Proper breathing: The mind can be controlled through conscious breathing. Therefore, there is a wide range of breathing techniques in yoga. When mastered, the whole breath is effortless.
- Proper relaxation: It is essential to rest the body regularly, allowing it to recover from the effort. Vacation involves not only the body but also the senses.
- Proper diet: Healthy nutrition is essential to provide energy to the body and mind. It should be adequate, but not disturbing or harmful. The yogic diet is mostly vegetarian because it can be prepared without unnecessary violence.
- Positive Thinking and Meditation: The way we think affects our mind. Therefore, the practice of positive thinking and meditation is very important to develop balance in mind.
What to Expect in a Hatha Yoga Class?
While Hatha Yoga is an all-encompassing word, you can still find Hatha-appointed classes for all levels and skills in yoga studios, and you can pick up the title to understand that this is a well-rounded practice, says Rideaux. Compared to fast-paced acrobatics classes and slow-paced, in-depth stretching classes, Hatha Yoga classes are a fun medium, injecting elements from various styles.
“I think Hatha Yoga allows the teacher a little more freedom to play with what they offer in that space,” he says. For example, one Hatha Yoga instructor may suggest unobstructed, but gentle, movement between the asanas. At the same time, another may insist on holding each posture for a few breaths for the next one.
No matter how relaxed or energetic it is, every 60 to 90 minute Hatha Yoga class has a curve similar to your regular one day. When you start your morning with a strong cup of coffee, Hatha Yoga classes begin to lift the body with asanas such as baby pose, cat-cow pose and spinal twists. Keep the body warm and relaxed by sun salutations, forward folds or downward-facing dogs, towards the most challenging posture of the day (think: warrior, tree pose or vice versa).
After hitting that peak, you begin to cool the body and mind with asanas such as sitting forward folds and bound angle pose, eventually ending the procedure with a savasana (corpse pose), Rideaux explains. If you are worried about the idea of having to put your head behind your head or do a handstand vigorously, take a deep breath as those seats are reserved for intermediate and advanced classes, he adds.
As the asanas vary from class to class, breathing will always be emphasized, and the instructor will guide you through each breath, ensuring it is in sync with your movement. Not only does this attachment help to awaken the muscles, but it also acts as a moving meditation for the body, and helps to calm your mind even after you roll your mat, says Rideaux.
“If I can learn to breathe in the challenging forms presented on the mat, all of a sudden it starts to follow me off my mat,” he says. “Next time I’m in a difficult situation in my life. Hopefully, I know how to breathe through it and be with it.
What are the health benefits?
Some research focuses specifically on the benefits of Hatha. However, most of those studies use the term umbrella for Hatha (i.e., focusing on slower pace and alignment) than yoga.
- Less anxiety: The results of the 2016 meta-analysis of 17 studies (501 patients) provide preliminary support for Hatha as a treatment for anxiety.
- Better balance: A small 2014 study involving 34 men found that those who completed a five-month hatha yoga program were able to better their postural control. Based on those results, the teachers conclude that Hatha yoga practice can improve physical balance.
- Fitness improvements: A 2015 study of Chinese adults discovered that a 12-week hatha yoga program positively affected several fitness components, including cardio endurance, muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility.
And beyond these studies, there’s a ton of research on the benefits of Yoga in general, including data that suggests its ability to treat pain, lower BMI and blood pressure, reduce menopausal symptoms, help manage chronic diseases, improve mental health, and more.
It also can impact your endurance. “Yoga makes you very movable and very capable. You get to be strong in not just one direction, but everything you can imagine doing in every direction without tiring,” says co-founder of Strala Yoga Michael Taylor in mbg’s Complete Guide to Yoga class.
Guidelines for your Holistic Hatha Yoga Practices
How can you translate these principles into your Hatha Yoga asanas practice and get the maximum benefits from this ancient science? One of the primary (and sadly often forgotten) principles today is the principle of the sthira sukham asanam. This definition of asana says that an asana is a pose in which you experience comfort and stability in each pose.
It is often said in our modern practices that asanas should be practiced with a goal in mind. We have to be deep in a posture, or we have to fill our balance. But when we understand the ancient science of Hatha Yoga, we know that in all yoga practices we should return to “Sthira Sukham Asanam” or “Asana is a stable and comfortable pose”.
Purpose and Relief:
This simple phrase is about how we should observe our asanas and how we can move on in life. We need to be consistent in our practice and our purpose in our lives and be comfortable with who we are. Yoga can be the greatest gift the world has to offer right now: the opportunity to be at ease with who we are and our place in the world. Balance and compassion can only grow from this place of acceptance.
To achieve comfort and ease in a pose, it is essential to adjust your practice skills. In terms of strength, it means you can gradually increase the loads. This also applies to flexibility. Therefore, each pose has different steps and options. When you hold a pose for a long time, you may move on to the next stage or the next stage of difficulty. It transforms Hatha Yoga into a gradual transformation process.
Ahimsa – the principle of kindness in Hatha Yoga
Philosophical Principles from the Yamas:
Ahimsa, or non-violence, is beautifully reflected in such a transformative practice. You have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. Instead of focusing on the shape and forcing your body into the pose, it is better to make sure your body is still comfortable enough. Practicing patience for a long time can take you to a place where you feel comfortable in a more advanced pose. But remember: this advanced pose is not the goal!
In the end, unlike the image of yoga that dominates today, yoga is not just about poses. Its roots can be found in ancient philosophy, which focuses on self-realization. Correspondingly yoga practice can lead to mental, physical and spiritual balance. Ultimately, Hatha Yoga is a discipline that aims to develop an understanding of the true self.