Yoga is one of the world’s most popular forms of exercise, and the benefits of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa are regularly debated. But which one of these practices is truly the best?
This article will walk you through the key differences between Hatha and Vinyasa yoga, focusing on each practice's history, form and benefits. We’ll also address some of the more frequently asked questions, meaning you can make an informed decision on the type of yoga that’s right for you.
- What Is Hatha Yoga?
- What Is Vinyasa Yoga?
- What Are The Historical Differences Between Hatha And Vinyasa Yoga?
- What Are The Advantages Of Practicing Hatha Yoga Vs Vinyasa?
- What Are The Advantages Of Practicing Vinyasa Yoga vs Hatha?
- What Are The Style Differences Between Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa?
- Are They Aimed At Different Audiences/Ability Levels?
- How Do I Get Started With Hatha Yoga?
- How Do I Get Started With Vinyasa Yoga?
- What Are Some Of The Disadvantages of Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga?
- If Hatha Is An Umbrella Term For Yoga, Does That Mean That Vinyasa Yoga Is Also Hatha Yoga?
- Is Ashtanga Yoga The Same As Vinyasa Yoga?
- Our Conclusions
Our guide aims to answer any questions or curiosities you may have about hatha or vinyasa yoga, but if you’re already confident in your fitness abilities, then a career in exercise could be your next step!
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What is Hatha Yoga?
When it comes to the debate of Hatha versus Vinyasa yoga, Hatha yoga arguably has a strong claim to be regarded as the more popular practice. Why, you ask? The answer is quite simple, Hatha yoga is an umbrella term used to describe most Westernised teachings of yoga. So, if you’ve ever been to a standard yoga class, the chances are that you have engaged within the practice of Hatha yoga.
So, for those of you who have never practiced yoga but have always wanted to try, Hatha classes would be a great induction that will slowly ease you into the practice.
Hatha yoga primarily focuses on relaxation and mindfulness, which involves the slow and steady transition from one pose to the other, in order to challenge your core strength and agility. For example, you may hold the Downward Facing Dog poses for several breaths, before correcting your posture and then transitioning into the Mountain Pose.
Both Vinyasa and Hatha yoga place an importance on the teaching of controlled breathing, however both practices approach breathing in a different manner. Hatha yoga is all about relaxation, so breathing is incorporated in order to put participants in a restful state – Think of it like you’re meditating in different poses. And no matter the pose, ensure you're doing it correctly with a pick from our collection of the best free yoga apps.
What is Vinyasa Yoga?
As mentioned above Hatha and Vinyasa yoga are two very distinct practices, whilst Hatha yoga allows the participants to rest in between poses, Vinyasa is more challenging in the sense that you have to move from one pose directly into the other.
When discussing the difference between Hatha and Vinyasa yoga one key difference is the importance placed on breathing control. When practicing Vinyasa yoga you move your body during your inhale or exhale, so your transitions are linked to your breath. This is to give you the feeling that your breath is the thing which is moving your body.
Additionally, Vinyasa yoga is never the same from session to session and is largely controlled by the instructor. Therefore, it lacks the repetitive structure which Hatha can provide.
Vinyasa is regarded as one of the more challenging forms of yoga, which is not traditionally recommended for beginners. A fast-paced lesson is sure to make you sweat, so if you’re feeling confident and want to challenge yourself past your usual routines, we'd recommend giving Vinyasa yoga a go!
What Are The Historical Differences Between Hatha And Vinyasa Yoga?
To fully understand the discourse surrounding Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, it is important to look at the practice's history, from there we can see how the practices have come to be what they are today.
Hatha (pronounced hot-ta) derives from the Sanskrit word for force, which is why yoga expert Theos Bernard described the practice of hatha yoga as ‘forceful yoga’ back in 1947.
Hatha yoga is believed to originate in the 13th century, with hatha yoginis who theoretically thought of coiled snakes wrapped around their spines. The belief continued that only through yoga could you wake the snake which would then move through your chakras and bring you inner peace and balance (a point which will return later on).
Vinyasa (pronounced Vin-yah-sa) is a word of multiple meanings. In Sanskrit for example it can mean movement, arrangement, flow and spreading out. It cannot be defined by one single word and changes depending on the context in which it is used. However, it can usually be linked to some form of movement – The word acknowledges that all things are temporary.
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Want to Teach Your Own Yoga Classes?
Then begin your journey by making an enquiry about our Level 3 Yoga Teacher Training!
When discussing the historical differences between Vinyasa and Hatha yoga, it is important to note that Vinyasa is a more modern form of yoga. The founding father of the movement is regarded to be an Indian yoga teacher named Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who first discussed Vinyasa in his 1934 book Yoga Makaranda.
Therefore, it could be argued within the context of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, Hatha is the root from which several offshoots of yoga (such as Vinyasa) can grow. When looking at all forms of yoga, we must contextualise its practice in relation to Hatha.
What Are The Advantages Of Practicing Hatha Yoga Vs Vinyasa?
#1 - Boosts Your Mental Health
Remember the Hatha Yoginis who were mentioned within the previous section relating to the history of Vinyasa and Hatha yoga? Well, they were certainly onto something with this restful practice.
Since its inception Hatha yoga has been known to relax its participants, and whilst you may not believe in spiritual concepts such as chakras, you will be able to see how positively yoga can affect your mental health.
It has been noted stress can be significantly reduced by doing just 90 minutes of Hatha Yoga, and an additional study in 2018 found that levels of depression and anxiety dropped significantly in individuals who partook in 12 sessions of Hatha Yoga.
In the interest of continuing the debate of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, it is important to note that Vinyasa yoga has also been known to reduce symptoms relating to mental health. Both forms of yoga are an effective treatment for stress and depression.
When it comes to discussing the advantages of Vinyasa yoga vs Hatha, we'll explain this in more detail, and with more relevant context to Vinyasa yoga in our next section.
#2 - Improves Heart Health
This second point is somewhat of an offshoot of the point made above, but we felt it important to give it the acknowledgement it deserves.
But it has been found that due to its combination of exercise and relaxation, Hatha yoga in fact reduces the likes of high blood pressure, blood sugar and high cholesterol.
Dr. Helene Glassberg, an American cardiologist specialist with Pennsylvania Heart and Vascular Centre, supported this claim when she said that:
“Yoga, like other forms of exercise, can improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels by improving metabolism, and can lower blood pressure by improving artery relaxation.”
So not only is Hatha yoga healthy for your mind, but it's also healthy for your body to. Once again relating this to the topic of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, it is important to note that whilst there have been no studies into the improvement of heart health when practicing Vinyasa yoga, it's been proven that Vinyasa is good for cardiovascular health among healthy individuals with no pre-existing heart conditions.
It's vital to be aware of how your body is functioning - make sure to keep track of all your vitals with a tracker from OriGym's comprehensive guide to heart rate monitors to track your data.
#3 - Improves Core Strength
The core is the centre of your body, and includes areas such as your spine, abs and hips.
The importance of core strength cannot be understated. A lot of the tasks we take for granted every day involve core strength, such as getting out of bed in the morning and tying our shoelaces. We've put together an ultimate guide to engaging your core, if you're looking to strengten and tone your abdominal muscles.
Weak core muscles can affect your body's ability to bend in specific ways, which is why Hatha yoga allows our body to maintain this strength, and is often recommended to individuals who have medical issues relating to the motion in their joints.
Some of the most effective positions which aid in this matter are:
Downward Facing Dog – For the abdominal muscles and core
Warrior – For the hips
Chair – For spinning or quicker movement
As with the previous two points, when comparing the benefits of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, the key differences and similarities need to be discussed. Both Vinyasa and Hatha yoga are known to be good forms of exercise that will improve your core strength and allow you to build muscle. A key difference however is that compared to Vinyasa, Hatha yoga will not build muscle as quickly, this is largely due to the fact that Vinyasa yoga is more fast paced and challenging, compared to Hatha which is designed for meditation and relaxation.
#4 - Improves Your Sleeping Pattern
Time to get scientific with a fun fact: Hatha yoga can reduce your levels of cortisol, a hormone which is linked to your sleeping pattern. When your cortisol levels are low, your body becomes drowsy and tired.
In a 2013 study, psychologists looked at the effects of a yoga classes time length on the sleeping pattern of its participants. Their research discovered that regardless of whether the Hatha class ran for 7 weeks or 6 months, the sleeping patterns of the participants improved significantly.
This benefit is one of the key differences between Hatha and Vinyasa yoga, for the improvement in participants' sleeping patterns only relates to Hatha yoga. Many experts link this back to the fact Hatha yoga focuses on the importance of relaxation, through steadied breathing and meditation, whilst Vinyasa yoga focuses more on general exercise. See the Hatha Yoginis where on to something!
So, if you struggle with getting to sleep at night, why not attempt to incorporate a nightly Hatha routine? Rest is a vital part of the exercise journey - we've explored the importance of rest days & how many you need so you can continue to tone, strengthen and grow in whatever you're doing.
What Are The Advantages Of Practicing Vinyasa Yoga vs Hatha?
#1 - Improves Emotional Stability
This point has already been touched upon, but both Vinyasa and Hatha yoga are known to improve your mental health. However, Vinyasa in particular is known to help improve mental stability, and it all links back to the meaning of Vinyasa – Movement, which is a key component of the vast majority of types of yoga styles.
By switching positions in a fast and fluid manner, it helps to teach participants that nothing is fixed, all things are temporary. Which allows said participants to make links between their physical movements and their personal life events. It allows them to see that much like the positions, life events and sadness aren’t permanent and will pass with time.
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This theory can be supported by a study published by the International Journal of Yoga in 2014, which found that American College students responded well to Vinyasa yoga during their intensely stressful assessment weeks. By the end of the 8-week study, the student's happiness far exceeded their worries or negative feelings.
In short, it allows people to see the bigger picture through physical teachings.
#2 - Challenges Your Cardio Capabilities
Yes, you read that correctly! Vinyasa yoga is a form of cardio.
Vinyasa yoga has been shown to be a more effective method of cardio in relation to weight loss. The average person weighing around 150 pounds can burn up to 600 calories from just 60 minutes of Vinyasa yoga.
Comparing this to the potential of losing 450 calories on a stationary exercise bike during the same allotted time frame, it is clear to see that Vinyasa yoga can be an effective form of cardio exercise for those look to lose weight, and yet for some reason many people don’t look at it as such! With this guide, we aim to change that perception and bring education about alternative exercises such as Vinyasa yoga.
Furthermore, in a 2013 study conducted by the journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy, it was found that a fast-paced session of Vinyasa yoga helped to improve the cardiovascular system of 6 healthy adults.
In basic terms, when discussing Hatha versus Vinyasa yoga it is essentially comparing a form of meditation to a form of exercise. You will not receive the same level of cardiovascular fitness, nor will you burn the same number of calories if you participate in Hatha yoga.
#3 - Improves Your Flexibility
Time for another fun scientific fact! Vinyasa yoga ensures that our muscles stay fit and flexible. Over time practicing this form of yoga, the fluidity of your body should improve significantly, thus allowing you to become more flexible.
This is due to the fact Vinyasa yoga synchronises breathing with the movements of your body, oxygen rejuvenates the muscles and reduces the risk of any nasty tears or fractures that may occur. However, this benefit could also relate to Hatha yoga too, for both Vinyasa and Hatha train the body in a similar way.
However, with Hatha yoga you will be doing this at a steadier pace, as opposed to the faster pace of Vinyasa.
Our top tip for Vinyasa yoga is to make sure you slowly ease yourself into the position as you’re either inhaling or exhaling. By forcing yourself into a position, or refusing to synchronise your breathing pattern you will deprive yourself the chance to gain some flexibility in your muscles and will run the risk of injuring yourself.
Flexibility is an often overlooked part of fitness, and Vinyasa is a great way to train and hone your flexibility.
#4 - Helps With Quitting Smoking
This benefit is a little different from the previous ones relating to both Vinyasa and Hatha yoga, but it has been proven that Vinyasa yoga can indeed help people quit smoking.
In a 2012 study conducted by The Journal of Women’s Health, 55 women were split into two groups both would receive CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to help quit smoking. However, only one group would participate in Vinyasa yoga whereas the other group merely received general health advice off a medical professional.
The findings showed that the women in the Vinyasa yoga group were likely to go twice as long without smoking compared to the second group of women.
In the battle of Vinyasa vs Hatha yoga it could be argued that this benefit is specific to Vinyasa yoga, as no study was conducted into the effects of Hatha yoga and addiction. This outcome may have occurred due to the fact that Vinyasa yoga is a form of exercise, which constantly keeps its participants moving and their minds distracted, whereas a practice like Hatha yoga which primarily focuses on mediation may cause their minds to wander towards their addictive substance.
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What Are The Style Differences Between Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa?
To boil it down to the most concise and effective answer, the differences between Vinyasa and Hatha yoga are vast. This argument is effectively comparing apples to oranges, in the sense that it is comparing a form of exercise to a form of meditation. Vinyasa and Hatha yoga couldn’t be more different in their stylistic approaches.
Hatha yoga places an importance on controlled breathing, posture and slow growth over a series of multiple sessions. You will ease yourself into various positions, with short intervals between that will allow you to correct your posture before transitioning into the next pose.
The purpose of Hatha yoga is to be as relaxed as possible, you shouldn’t be working up a sweat during this session, but rather practicing it to unwind after a stressful day. Hatha yoga also begins with breath control, with Harvard Health Publishing stating that Hatha yoga begins with several breath control exercises known as pranayamas, which is followed by few basic yoga. The idea behind this is setting a base for yourself, by centring your breath, you will in turn strengthen your body and mental health.
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However, Vinyasa yoga moves at a much faster pace and is much more physically and emotionally demanding than Hatha. Think of Hatha as having training wheels on your bike, you have to start somewhere before you can transition onto a more challenging process.
Vinyasa is a form of exercise and to repeat is not recommended for yoga beginners, you will be holding poses for a significantly longer period of time compared to Hatha poses, and then immediately transitioning into the next pose with little time dedicated to rest or stretching.
Additionally, you should attempt to master the breath control techniques which are taught in Hatha yoga before you advance on to Vinyasa. As previously mentioned at the beginning of this article, Vinyasa yoga is rooted in moving with one’s breath, so during this practice you let your breathing control your body.
Therefore, whilst discussing the stylistic differences between Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa the two can be compared in some regard, as you effectively can’t learn one without the other, and breath control is ultimately the commonality that the two practices share. However, that is where the similarities in style end, it is more of a case of looking at one as a more advanced style of yoga, rather than the two being similar in approach.
Are They Aimed At Different Audiences/Ability Levels?
When deciding if you should practice Vinyasa or Hatha yoga, it is important to remember Hatha yoga is the more accessible of the two, whereas Vinyasa yoga is traditionally aimed at individuals who have had previous experience practicing yoga.
If you are a yoga novice, then it would be recommended that you begin with Hatha yoga. For this practice will teach you the basics and will ease you into the practice without it being too strenuous on your body. Plus, OriGym's collection of the best yoga kits for beginners will give you the best possible start.
Additionally, if you are someone who is simply looking to unwind in a relaxing and peaceful manner, it would also be recommended that you too approach Hatha yoga. Whilst discussing the benefits of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa a common benefit was an improvement in participants' mental health for both practices, however it is important to remember that Vinyasa is a form of exercise, whereas Hatha is regarded as meditation.
As a form of exercise Vinyasa yoga is a lot more advanced, and will teach things that instructors expect you to already know. It is aimed at people who have either a basic understanding of Hatha yoga, or individuals who wish to advance their training process.
How Do I Get Started With Hatha Yoga?
As the discussion on Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa begins to round off, if you are left questioning whether you wish to pursue Vinyasa or Hatha yoga then hopefully these two beginner guides will make your decision easier.
It is now time to focus on how to get started with Hatha yoga. But before you even roll out your yoga mat, it is important to set yourself some goals. Some questions to ask yourself before beginning this journey.
- Why do you want to do this practice of Hatha yoga in particular?
- What do you hope to get out of Hatha yoga?
- Do you see yourself advancing onto more difficult practices?
How you answer those questions is completely up to you, but they are important as they will shape your Hatha yoga journey from here on in. Remember, it is good to set yourself goals, so whether you’re doing Hatha yoga to improve your mental health, or you just want to advance onto Vinyasa it is all down to you.
As previously touched upon in the section relating to the stylistic differences between the two forms of yoga, Hatha yoga will traditionally begin with teaching basic breathing exercises. It may seem pedantic, but it is important if you wish to advance onto more difficult practices.
Note: Many professionals also recommend that you meditate before each session of Hatha yoga, so even if it is just for a few minutes, give yourself some alone time, free of any distractions, to really focus on yourself.
Once you have completed this, you will begin your poses. These poses are referred to as ‘Beginner Asanas’ and are comprised of poses such as:
- Mountain Poses
- Downward Facing Dog
- Cat-Cow Pose
- Staff Pose
Some of these may seem like they are ‘too easy’ at first. But it is important to remember that you are just beginning. There is plenty of time to advance on to harder material, but for now you have to start with the basics. Some of the more advanced poses can be strenuous - our pick of the best yoga straps to help your poses will help you maintain your posture, and progress on your yoga journey!
After your session it is recommended you get into the Savasana pose, commonly known as the corpse pose (very grim, but it's relaxing!). Once in the Savasana pose, ensure the lights are dimmed, put on a relaxing song of your choice and simply unwind. Your session is over, and you now have time to reflect on what you have accomplished.
This is a rough beginners guide to Hatha yoga, with a few small recommendations. Nothing is set in stone, remember the difference between Vinyasa and Hatha yoga is relaxation. If you are practicing Hatha you should be relaxed, so if something doesn’t work for you or you would be more relaxed doing it a different manner so be it. It’s all about what makes you comfortable.
How Do I Get Started With Vinyasa Yoga?
It bears repeating, that when discussing both Hatha and Vinyasa yoga, that the latter is more complex and challenging. If you are looking to start Vinyasa yoga, it is assumed that you have previous yoga knowledge.
Once again it is important to ask yourself some questions before you even think about starting, in order to set goals for your future self and to ensure that you are in the right frame of mind for the challenges ahead.
- Why do you want to do this practice of Vinyasa yoga in particular?
- What do you hope to get out of Vinyasa yoga?
- Is Vinyasa Yoga the right advanced form for me?
- What is your end goal with practicing Vinyasa yoga?
You must be well acquainted with breath control, remember that Vinyasa yoga is all about allowing your breath to move your body. So even if you have no previous experience in yoga, and have chosen to take up Vinyasa for a challenge or based on the recommendation of a friend, we cannot stress the importance of at least researching some pranayamas breathing exercises.
This can be done by attending a class, reading about how to correctly breathe as part of yoga, or by following a video - OriGym has picked out the best YouTube yoga channels and videos to help you get your pranayamas perfected!
Naturally, both Vinyasa and Hatha yoga share some similar poses, but it is important to remember that you will be holding the Vinyasa poses for a longer period of time, which will then flow into another pose in one fluid transition. Some of the recommended transitions for beginners are
- Upward Salute into Half-Moon
- Forward Fold into Standing Half Forward Bend
- Low Lunge into High Flying Lunge
- Plank into Downward Facing Dog
It is important to practice Vinyasa yoga with care. The reason that it is not recommended for beginners, is that it is very physically strenuous. You will be holding poses and transitions for a long time. If your body is adequately trained you could injure yourself
What Are Some Of The Disadvantages of Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga?
In relation to the argument of Hatha Yoga versus Vinyasa there are of course going to be some negative elements for both practices. However, it’s best not to dwell on the negatives, so we’re instead going to cover the most frequently occurring issues that arise with both Hatha and Vinyasa yoga respectively, and how you can take steps to avoid these.
Hatha - A frequently occurring critique we discovered when researching Hatha yoga is that many individuals lose interest in the class, due to its lack of structure and advancement into more challenging aspects. The solution to this issue is rather simple - if you feel as if you have learnt all you can from Hatha yoga, move on to something more challenging.
Test the waters and see what yoga style works best for you, remember Hatha is for beginners and those who simply want to use yoga as a method of relaxation. So, it is obviously not going to challenge you too much.
Vinyasa: The frequently occurring issue we discovered in relation to Vinyasa yoga was a strain to participants' wrists due to repetitive use of positions such as the Downward Facing Dog. Once again, the solution for this is simple - know your own limits and if something doesn’t feel good or right in the movement relax yourself into a position that is more comfortable for you.
Vinyasa and Hatha yoga can arguably be viewed as two sides of the same coin, if you are finding Vinyasa too difficult and have jumped in at the deep end, take a step back and perhaps try a simple lesson in Hatha.
If Hatha Is An Umbrella Term For Yoga, Does That Mean That Vinyasa Yoga Is Also Hatha Yoga?
The short answer is Yes and No. Whilst Vinyasa and Hatha can fall under the same umbrella term, it is simply the case that Hatha is the word being used to describe westernised practices of yoga, it cannot be the word that describes every specific/unique practice. For example, a carrot is a vegetable but not all vegetables are carrots.
However, it is also important to note that Hatha yoga is the original form of yoga. A lot of off-shoots base their teachings and poses on it. If you were to compare any yoga to Hatha, as this article has done with Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, you would find commonalities between every yoga practice and Hatha.
Is Ashtanga Yoga The Same As Vinyasa Yoga?
These practices are often linked together online, with some people using their definitions interchangeably, however in terms of physical practice they are not the same. In a similar vein to both Vinyasa and Hatha yoga, Ashtanga classes will also link breathing to movements; however, each weekly Ashtanga class is the same, whereas Vinyasa changes the positions from class to class.
Before you go!
As our discussion of Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa draws to a close, we are left with the same question that we had at the beginning – Which one is better?
Our conclusion is this, in terms of which one is better Hatha or Vinyasa yoga there is no simple answer, because the answer is subjective to a variety of aspects. But arguably the biggest variable is skill level.
For those of you who are looking to get into yoga, we would highly recommend beginning with Hatha, this practice will teach you everything you need to know and will give you a strong foundation to build your future yoga aspirations on, should you choose to develop this interest further. Whereas Vinyasa yoga is more advanced and is designed for those who have already had a taste of Hatha and want something more.
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- Bernard, T. (1943) Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience, Columbia University.
- Masoumeh S. Gholamreza B, Marzieh Parizad N, Sattar K, Shoboo R, Yaghoob M, Ali S and Milad A. (2018) The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women, International Journal of Preventive Medicine.
- Meera B, Shirley T, P. Murali D. (2013) Yoga on our minds: a systematic review of yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders, Duke University
- Sarah Shepperson W, Noel Mc, Pamela Rogers B. (2013) Heart Rate Response to Vinyasa Yoga in Healthy Adults, Journal of Yoga and Physical therapy
- Ronnesia B G, Ernestine J, Herpreet T, Bruce M B, Beth C B (2012) Acute and Cumulative Effects of Vinyasa Yoga on Affect and Stress among College Students Participating in an Eight-week Yoga Program: A Pilot Study, The Journal of Women’s Health