Hatha yoga is one of those commonly misunderstood and misused words in yoga. Unlike Ashtanga, Bikram or Iyengar, which are specific styles of yoga, Hatha yoga is the umbrella term for what Westerners consider to be yoga. In truth, Hatha yoga is the actual physical practice of yoga, or the postures. Therefore, all yoga that involves asana or postures is hatha yoga.
What it is
Hatha comes from two Sanskrit words: ha meaning sun and tha meaning moon. Implied in its meaning is the idea of uniting opposites, like the sun and moon or yoga’s specific meaning of yoking the mind, body and spirit together.
Hatha yoga implies the kind of forceful work or practice of yoga that is done to purify the body and mind. Because of Hatha yoga’s intention to bring together opposing forces, whether they are within us, like strength and flexibility, or around us, like the sun and the moon, its main purpose is to achieve balance.
Through the practice of asanas, you are expected to find balance between your physical and mental capacities as well as improving both, such as gaining more strength in your abdominal muscles or reacting to stressful situations with more equanimity. By practicing Hatha yoga, you allow the energies of your body to flow more freely.
If this may sound a bit out there for you, just consider how you feel before, during and after you take a deep breath and a simple stretch of lifting your arms over your head. That is a glimpse of the benefits and practice of Hatha yoga – the idea of awaking subtle energies in your body and allowing your mind to get in tune with the feelings of the body. It is through this basic yet focused movement that you experience the fruits of Hatha yoga.
What to Expect
You might find Hatha Yoga classes listed on your yoga studio’s schedule. Hatha yoga classes in the west are most often restorative or gentle flows of postures that build upon one another as they progress. But do keep in mind, whether you’re doing Triangle Pose in an Ashtanga yoga class or a Power Yoga class, it’s all Hatha yoga.
To learn more about the many terms of yoga, have a look at DietsInReview.com’s Yoga Dictionary.
January 18th, 2011