Hatha yoga is a style of yoga practice that many yogis have heard of yet few actualy understand what it means.
We will explore the origins of Hatha yoga, what the practice consists of, how it is different from other classes and the benefits of this style to give you a full understanding of what hatha yoga really is.
Meaning of Hatha
The word 'hatha' is ancient and so overtime, the meaning of the name has changed.
Nowadays, in the west, many people believe it to mean finding balance between the body and mind. 'Ha' representing the sun or the pranic (vital) force, and ‘tha’ the moon or the chitta (mental) force. Therefore, the practice has evolved to balance the active and passive energies within us. The techniques in Hatha Yoga harmonize and purify the body systems and focus the mind.
Literally however, the word Hatha means ‘force’ in Sanskrit and so hatha yoga can be understood as attaining a state of yoga through force, force being anything you might do with the body. Yoga is the unification of body, mind and breath and so this is the state that hatha yoga works towards.
Philosophy of Hatha Yoga
The practice of Hatha Yoga is incomplete unless some of the subtle forces and essences such as mind and prana are understood. Once they are, Hatha yoga clears the blockages within the body and mind during the practice. This self-exploration and observation leads to higher states of awareness and meditation. Without this understanding and depth, Hatha Yoga would be reduced to merely another set of physical exercises, thus missing it's very essence.
What does the practice consist of?
A Hatha yoga class is similar to other class styles in that it involves a sequence of asanas (physical postures). These are typically practised more slowly and with more static posture holds than a Vinyasa flow or Ashtanga class.
However, the Hatha Yoga system is so much more than than asanas. Hatha yoga follows the six shatkarmas (physical and mental purification techniques), mudras and bandhas (psycho-physiological energy releasing techniques) and pranayamas (breathing practices).
Traditionally, Hatha yoga offered a total life philosophy and was one of the paths to Samadhi (enlightenment). Nowadays, as with a lot of yoga practices, the focus is mostly on the asanas and thus missing the very essence of yoga.
There are many physical benefits to Hatha Yoga, some of these include:
- Improves mobility in the joints.
- Improves flexibility in the connective tissue.
- Stretches the fascia (connective tissue)
- Improves metabolism.
- Stimulates cell repair and regeneration.
- Helps to stimulate the lymphatic system, cleansing the body.
- Improves the overall range of motion of the body.
- Improves energy levels.
- Improves the function of the lungs and heart.
- Brings balance to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight, rest and digest systems)
Some of the mental benefits are:
- Helps to calm down the senses.
- Helps concentration.
- Sharpens focus.
- Balances emotions
- Relieves anxiety and depression.
- Removes mental fatigue.
- Stimulates creativity.
What is the difference between Hatha Yoga and other class styles?
In Hatha, asanas are held steady for a duration of 1-5 minutes, unlike more dynamic classes like vinyasa, which focus a lot on the flow between the poses, holding each asana for a much shorter period. Although strengthening, this does mean that the body is not put through as much wear and tear and dynamic and energising movements as some other styles. In Hatha, there is considerable focus on the stillness of body and mind rather than the movement, which can vary in other class styles.
Have you tried Hatha Yoga before? Would you like to see it in on our timetable?
Let us know in the comments!
By: Katrina Scales