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What is Hatha Yoga? Definition, Benefits & What to Expect

what is Hatha Yoga

There are tons of different styles of yoga, but what is Hatha yoga? Each style has its own unique build up and Hatha is no different. We’re here to run you through everything you need to know about Hatha yoga, including:

Before we get straight into it, if you have a passion for yoga that you want to take further, you should check out our level 3 diploma in yoga instructing here at OriGym. Alternatively, you can browse our other fitness courses here in our downloadable course prospectus.

What is Hatha Yoga?

what is Hatha Yoga

First and foremost, let’s answer your main question, what is Hatha yoga? Hatha yoga is a style of yoga that emphasises the practice of balancing the body. 

More literally, when it comes to you asking the specific question of “what is the meaning of the word hatha yoga?” The word ‘Hatha’ equates to ‘force’ which is commonly referred to as the ‘yoga of force’. 

This means that Hatha refers to just about anything that forces the body to move.

These kinds of actions include:

  • Asanas (poses)
  • Pranayama (breathing)
  • Mudra (hand gestures)
  • Mantra (chants)

Though this is the physical and literal definition of Hatha, there is also a spiritual background to the name too. ‘Ha’ is in reference to the esoteric sun, which has a meaning of the will to be or the source of consciousness. 

Similarly, ‘tha’ represents the balancing opposition, the moon; this represents the more physical side and so, the sun and moon are a balanced pair. One of which is the vehicle of consciousness, and one that is the consciousness itself - thus, Hatha is the balancing of these two energies. 

Hatha yoga consists of slow and static asanas, making it unique to some other styles of yoga and breathing techniques. This is the basis of Hatha, but if your question is what is a hatha yoga class like? Then we will go into some detail about what to expect in detail a little later.

Origin & History of Hatha Yoga

hatha yoga

Now that you’re familiar with the Hatha yoga definition, you may be wondering where these ideologies that relate the practice originated from and why this kind of practice would be good for you. 

Hatha yoga originated from India, like many other styles of yoga and developed through the 1920s and the 1930s. The first school of Hatha yoga was located in Mysore, India and grew from this instance.

Historically there are two forms of Hatha yoga which stem from the first text that describes the practice - the Dattatreya Yoga Śastra. This text refers to two forms of Hatha, one consisting of the eight limbs of yoga and another consisting of eight mudras. 

The eight limbs of yoga may sound familiar if you practice the likes of Ashtanga yoga, the eight limbs consist of:

  • Yamas (abstinences)
  • Niyama (observances)
  • Asana (postures)
  • Pranayama (breathing)
  • Pratyahara (withdrawal)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (absorption)

Similarly, you can expect to see the eight mudras which refer to the hand gestures.

hatha yoga poses

These include hand gestures that are commonly practised in conjunction with Pranayama and are still a historical component to modern Hatha. 

Originally, Hatha yogis handed their life over to the practice, they would endure a secluded life with practises that seem foreign to the Hatha class we see now. The aim would be to perfect their bodily state and senses and so, in order to do such, they would perform particular acts.

These acts would include holding their arms in the air for long periods of time, never sitting down and even hanging upside down also known as the bat penance. Ultimately, the practice was surrounded by ideologies that surrounded burning off past karma and almost cleansed their body and mind. 

There are certainly still areas of the original practice embedded into today's Hatha practice, keeping the soul and core of Hatha alive no matter how much it evolves.

Hatha Yoga Health Benefits

Hatha yoga has benefits for everyone who takes part, more than you would expect too. Here are the top benefits of Hatha that you could introduce into your life with daily practice.

#1 - Doing Hatha Yoga Regularly Improves Sleep

health benefits of hatha yoga

You’re probably aware that yoga in general has a reputation for improving sleep quality but, what are the specific Hatha yoga benefits when it comes to a good night's rest?

Hatha yoga has the ability to calm the mind and reduce the all important cortisol, which is what you may recognise as the ‘stress hormone’. A reduction in such can see you experience a more relaxed state as you work on becoming more self aware.

One way in which you can capitalise on the benefits of Hatha yoga for a peaceful sleep is by doing some gentle Hatha before your bedtime. This will help to calm all of the mental chatter that keeps you up at night.

A lot of those who suffer from insomnia are kept awake by running thoughts. Therefore, by yoga being known for its anti-anxiety properties, these thoughts can become quiet enough that you can sleep through to a bright morning. 

As you can see, you can not only reap the benefits of yoga in the morning, but also at night too.

#2 - Improved Strength and Core

Hatha yoga definition

Though Hatha yoga can be extremely beneficial for those who want to relax, it can also be a tough workout that can test your strength and core. By practising Hatha regularly and repeating asanas that target the core, your core strength will improve over time. 

What makes Hatha unique is the length of time asanas are held. Traditionally, these poses would be long holds in comparison to the hybrid of Hatha with Vinyasa flow that you may see today, so of course, with holds being pretty lengthy the stress put on your core is much greater. 

For example, take the bridge pose, a popular component to a Hatha yoga class (you can see this below for reference). 

hatha yoga asanas

This is a demanding position that requires tension from your core, glutes, and quads. With an improvement in these areas you are bound to see improvements in your core, balance and overall strength.

#3 - Reduction in Depression

Hatha yoga poses

Alongside the physical benefits that you might be familiar with, yoga also has a profound effect on mental health. It is known for treating depression and anxiety and many studies have reliable research to back this up. 

Amazingly, Hatha yoga has been said to act in a similar nature to that of antidepressants, this is due to the fact that the practice can increase particular neurotransmitters including serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). 

One 2017 study assessed the findings of previous research studies into how yoga can treat depression, with a primary focus on Hatha yoga. The study concluded that yoga can be said to be an effective treatment overall.

Yoga has this reputation for good reason, there have been studies conducted on this subject for some time and reviews of yoga classes consistently reflect tranquillity and happiness.

It refers to the ultimate goal of yoga, to reduce stress, project gratitude and become self aware - all of which are habits of mindfulness, a great practice to combat any intrusive thoughts.

#4 - Hatha Yoga Benefits Flexibility

Hatha yoga benefits

Yoga undoubtedly improves flexibility and this goes for pretty much any style. However, since Hatha requires long hold asanas, these benefits are further enhanced with this particular style due to the longer hold causing a deeper stretch.

There have been numerous studies on this notion, one even concluded that regardless of age, spinal mobility and flexibility of the hamstrings are increased by doing just 90 minutes of hatha yoga per week

This is just one reason why practising Hatha yoga should be recommended to the elderly for a better quality of life, as well as to any other individuals who want to improve their flexibility.

Regular practice is the key to improving flexibility. Paired with the benefits of Hatha for improving core strength and balance, both your ability to hold asanas and your overall wellbeing will benefit from practising regularly.

#5 - Hatha Yoga Strengthens the Immune System

What is hatha flow yoga

Doing our best to strengthen our immune system is a great way to work on self care and improve our health. Fortunately, incorporating Hatha into your life can do just that!

After the global pandemic we all endured, we saw first hand the importance of a well functioning immune system. Though yoga won’t make miracles overnight, adding regular practice into your daily life works as a contributing factor to a well functioning immune system.

You may be surprised to know that stress actually increases the likelihood of you suffering with a common cold or any of the other infections we often get during the winter. 

Why is this important you may ask? As you are well aware by now, Hatha yoga has the potential to reduce stress. Thus, in turn, Hatha yoga can reduce the risk of you suffering with any common viruses or illnesses. 

So that you’re able to understand the science behind this, allow us to explain. 

Stress raises catecholamine and suppressor T cells levels in the body, and these cells are the culprits for suppressing the immune system. Thus, less stress (acquired by Hatha yoga practice) equates to a stronger immune system!

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For some helpful resources on different kinds of yoga, read our articles below:

What To Expect in a Hatha Yoga Class

Whether it is the Hatha yoga poses themselves or the meditative practice, here are the things that you can expect when arriving at your first Hatha yoga class.

Asanas

What is hatha yoga like

First and foremost, you’re ofcourse going to expect to do poses (also known as asanas) within a Hatha yoga class. 

There are 10 main poses that you could expect in a Hatha sequence, those are:

  • Mountain pose
  • Standing forward fold pose
  • Downward dog
  • Warrior 2 pose
  • Triangle pose
  • Locust pose
  • Tree pose
  • Cobra pose
  • Bow pose
  • Bridge pose

It’s likely that you will see many more poses within your Hatha class, including a mixture of dynamic and static poses, but these are the most common asanas associated with Hatha specifically. 

The goal with Hatha asanas is to increase your strength in more ways than one, you can do this simultaneously with the bonding of asanas and mindfulness during practice. 

For example, a long held demanding pose not only teaches you to persevere mentally, but also allows your physicality to progress over time with practice. This is particularly important if you’re a yoga beginner - you should persevere and you will progress!

Breathing Techniques

What is a hatha yoga class like

Another thing you should certainly be expecting is the incorporation of yoga breathing techniques (pranayama)

More often than not, you can expect to experience what is known as Ujjayi breathing during your Hatha class. This kind of breathing is known as victory breathing and requires particular techniques, such as breathing both in and out of the nose.

These are the things you should remember when becoming accustomed to the technique:

  1. Avoid opening your mouth at all.
  2. Your throat should be exerting a snoring sound with the constriction.
  3. Your breathing should be controlled by the diaphragm.
  4. Count your breaths, your inhale and exhale should be the same duration.

You should be warned that this can be difficult if it is your first time taking part in such a particular style of mindful breathing. Don’t give up, if you find yourself struggling take a break and relax into the next breathing sequence.

Your teacher will be there to help and eventually, you will find a balance and relax and feel the benefits; you will then come to the realisation that the only yoga equipment you need to relax is you!

Meditation 

hatha yoga

Finally, one of the most popular aspects of Hatha yoga practice is meditation. 

Meditation is one of the most important parts of just about any yoga class, you’re encouraged to bring your mind to the present and enter the realm of tranquillity. 

If you’re asking yourself, what is yoga? Hatha, or any type of yoga for that matter you should be well aware of what to expect from meditation. 

Expect to delve into your mind and become the leader of your thoughts. The meditative practice will come along with the aforementioned breathing and together, they work in harmony.

You may be asked to sit in particular poses for meditation. This will typically be the corpse pose or an easy pose - both of which you can see below.

what is a Hatha Yoga session like

what to expect in Hatha yoga

There are tons of benefits of meditation and in combination with yoga, it can become a regular habit that can have positive health implications. 

FAQs

Who Can Take A Hatha Yoga Class?

What is the meaning of the word hatha yoga

If you’re a beginner and wondering if Hatha is for you, it certainly is. 

Hatha yoga can range from gentle to intense depending on your level of experience in the practice. In yoga classes, it is all about your own progress and if you feel like a pose is too advanced for you, you can be offered an alternative or simply sit that one out until you improve. 

With this in mind, Hatha yoga can be for everybody, no matter your experience level. In fact, many may recommend this style as a beginner due to the poplar poses that you may already be familiar with.

How is Hatha Yoga Different from Other Forms of Yoga?

What is the meaning of hatha yoga

The Hatha yoga definition can be broad, nonetheless, it is still easy to distinguish between other styles.

You will certainly find consistent similarities within your Hatha yoga class, but that's not to say every class will be the same in comparison to other strands of yoga.

For example, Ashtanga yoga has a sequence and set of poses that are followed each session so you know what to expect. However, in Hatha, you may see the same poses but they may not be in the same order, or even practised at the same pace.

Pace is one thing that separates Hatha yoga, you can expect slow transitions and longer durations when it comes to poses so it is relaxing, yet demanding all at the same time.

Before You Go!

Now that you’re aware of the Hatha yoga definition and all the benefits it can bring into your daily life, you should be ready for your first class or even dipping your toe into the industry. 

If you think you’ve got what it takes to become a teacher in your favourite style of yoga, why not check out our level 3 yoga instructing diploma here at OriGym? Or, you can check out plenty of other fitness courses including yoga advancements here in our downloadable prospectus.

Written by Kimberley Mitchell

Editor

Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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