Yoga is all the rage and spreading across the country like wildfire. If you’re new to yoga, don’t get scared off by the lingo! We’re not here just to help you get started with yoga, but also to help explain the differences between the various types of yoga practices.
Let’s start with hatha yoga. Many types of yoga fall under hatha yoga (think of it as an umbrella term). According to the 15th-century yogic text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, to be defined as a hatha yoga class, the practice only has to include the following three elements: physical poses (moving asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). That means any type of yoga that presents those three elements — this includes Bikram, Ashtanga, Anusara, or Iyengar — is also considered hatha yoga.
It’s sort of like the term “doctor.” Every doctor went to medical school and practices medicine, however, there are many different types of doctors.
What Does Hatha Mean?
Hatha is a Sanskrit word that means “force,” and translates very loosely to “movement or meaning.”
Hatha yoga is a tool used for physical and mental transformation because it demands that you pay constant attention to the breath, and this helps you be present in each posture. The postures you do can strengthen the body and the meditations can help focus and calm the mind.
The word hatha can also be broken down into ha, which means “sun,” and tha, which means “moon.”
So you can also think about hatha as representing the balancing of two opposite energies, such as sun and moon, front and back, top and bottom. If you hear a yoga teacher instruct the students to “experience both the effort and the ease in a pose,” this is the hatha philosophy in practice.
What to Expect During a Hatha Class
If you see “hatha yoga” on a class schedule, it will most likely be more gentle than the other classes and suitable for beginners.
Regardless of your level, however, if you’re seeking a good whole-body stretch and toning, as well as an overall sense of balance in the body and mind, a regular hatha yoga practice can be helpful.
Many intermediate and advanced yogis engage in hatha yoga through the practice of vinyasa flow, which is rooted in Ashtanga yoga. In Sanskrit, vinyasa is broken down into two parts: vi meaning “in a special way” and nyasa meaning “to place.”
Vinyasa essentially means to move a part of your body in a mindful way, such as moving your foot to the front of the mat slowly with a focused mind. Vinyasa is also synonymous with the idea of linking movement with breath. For each movement, there is one breath — a practice that Ashtanga yogis say purifies the body and mind due to increased circulation.
Key hatha sequences of vinyasa flow are the sun salutations (or surya namaskar in Sanskrit), which has a focus on syncing movement with breath. Linking your breath with your movement turns your practice into a moving meditation, so you’re covering all of the elements of hatha — asana, pranayama, and meditation — in one fell swoop!