“Hatha yoga is spirituality of the body; it is the most perfect union of corporeal and incorporeal.” - Terri Guillemets
Yoga is an ancient discipline which has become a veritable sporting activity that’s popular all over the world, including in the UK. There are different branches and disciplines of yoga including the popular ashtanga yoga, prenatal yoga, Kundalini yoga, Iyengar yoga, even Vinyasa yoga and Hatha yoga.
Today we’ll be focusing on the latter for the simple reason that you could consider it the most “traditional” of the different forms of yoga. For this reason, it’s one of the most common forms of yoga found in the UK.
So why is Hatha yoga so popular, what are the common poses, and how can a hatha yoga class help me to strengthen and tone muscles?
You’ll find the answers to these questions and more throughout this article.
The Origins of Hatha Yoga
What better way to get started than to learn about the discipline and its origins before you actually do it?
Before you roll out your yoga mat, start opening chakras, and stretching muscles, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of each technique you’re going to do by practising as often as possible!
It’s often said that Hatha yoga is the genesis of all the other types of yoga, which would explain why it’s so popular amongst those who do yoga. Its name means “force” and alludes to the balance between forces and the alignments of these forces.
It’s somewhat similar to yin and yang if you’re familiar with the concept. Hatha yoga focuses on letting go, mindfulness, and self-awareness through poses which can have healing effects on our body, mind, and spirit.
Also referred to as “postural yoga”, Hatha yoga doesn’t have a single leader like some of the other styles but rather many because it’s been around for so long. It appeared in the West at the end of the Second World War and continued to evolve and develop into the discipline as we know it today!
Specialists agree that all forms of yoga are derived from Hatha yoga and that the practice of yoga arose from the pillars set out in this discipline. This is the original yoga, which makes it all the more interesting. These pillars were described by the Indian sage Patanjali, who outlined the eight pillars of yoga. These 8 pillars include:
- Yama, ethics.
- Niyama, self-discipline.
- Asana, which means “pose” or “posture”.
- Pranayama, which refers to breathing control.
The last two pillars form the foundation of Hatha yoga, which you’ll see if you attend a taster session or a yoga class in the UK. According to the Indian sage, breathing exercises and postural discipline are fundamental parts of Hatha yoga.
But what exactly are the basics of yoga?
The Specificities of Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga Basics
So what exactly do you do in Hatha yoga?
What makes it so popular among yogis and makes them want to do breathing exercises and poses either in a group class or on their own?
It’s probably down to the fact that during a Hatha yoga session, you’ll chain together a good variety of different poses. This makes it a very complete session.
Hatha yoga teachers will tell you that Hatha is essentially a succession of movements and poses that you have to hold without too much tension or relaxing too much. Hatha Yoga is for everyone and includes stretching, gaining flexibility, and a genuine workout that can improve your physical wellbeing.
Unlike what you may think, it’s not just gymnastics where you’re trying to go from one position quickly. In fact, the poses need to be held (up to three minutes in some cases), which will strengthen muscles as well as awaken the senses, make you aware of the present, the here and now.
This, of course, is all related to controlled breathing (pranayama in Sanskrit), which can help you really let go. Properly controlled pranayama breathing can help harmonise our bodies and minds. We can’t stress this enough: the body needs to be supported by the spirit and mind, which play vital roles during dynamic yoga sessions, for example.
The interesting thing about the yogic practices is that you can do a sequence of poses that are somehow gentle and challenging at the same time. As a beginner, if you haven't gotten your breathing right, you'll see how trick a seemingly simple sun salutation can be. However, as your technique improves with the help of a yoga instructor, you'll find these salutations much easier.
The Advantages of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is a very enjoyable activity that works wonders if you do it with the right tutor or teacher. In fact, they’re essential when it comes to guiding students and getting the most benefits out of yoga, especially for yoga for stress management.
In fact, this is one of the key elements of what makes Hatha yoga so effective; how its techniques can improve relaxation, quality of sleep, and even self-awareness to help us maintain permanent fluidity in our lives. Unlike what you might think, everyone can achieve this and progress in Hatha yoga.
Of course, benefits such as inner peace might be good enough to convince some people, but what are the concrete benefits?
What about the benefits for the body and mind?
You’ll find the answers to these questions as you read on.
The Effects of Hatha Yoga
There are plenty of benefits to Hatha yoga! The various exercises during a dynamic yoga session can help you get into shape and improve your health in general, which is always worth working on. Yoga doesn’t just focus on one part of your body but your entire wellbeing, which is why you chain together several different poses.
Firstly, you can manage stress by carefully controlling your breathing. Breathing is hugely important in Hatha yoga because you need it to hold the different poses as long as you can.
Hatha yoga can also make you more aware of yourself because each position will quickly tell you if there are any problems, therefore making you more familiar with each part of your body, breathing, and any problems you may have.
How can we talk about Hatha yoga without mentioning muscle definition and tone?
Since you have to hold each pose for a while, you’ll be giving different groups of muscles a good workout. In fact, traditional yoga is great for toning muscles while also taking care of your spirit and mind. It’s good for everything!
While this might seem obvious, Hatha yoga is also a great way to become far more flexible. Again, this is thanks to the poses you have to adopt. In fact, in addition to being great for your mind, you’ll also work on various parts of your body while stretching and improving your flexibility.
Finally, Hatha yoga can work wonders for your spirit and mind, especially in terms of relaxation. With visualisation and meditative relaxation, beginners will quickly learn to manage their emotions and their actions, improve their concentration, as well as better boost our morale and mood.
Hatha yoga is a complete discipline that is halfway between a workout and meditation and you’ll very quickly start to see some progress over the course of a few weeks. The only thing left to do now is to try it for yourself.
Let’s all head to our nearest gym or sports centre!
Don't forget that if the Hatha yoga practice doesn't take your fancy, you can also get power yoga or Ashtanga yoga classes, do Bikram yoga (or hot yoga) or Vinyasa yoga. While all of these yoga styles are different, they all tend to include breathing techniques (pranayama) and adopting certain yoga postures (asanas). Even if you're not sold on aligning your chakras, the physical benefits of yoga are a good reason to take it up.
If you don't feel comfortable attending group classes, don't forget that you can look for a yogi or yoga teacher on sites like Superprof. You can be taught yoga poses and enjoy the restorative benefits of yoga practices with your own personal instructor all while gaining a deeper spiritual understanding of the yoga philosophy.
Don't forget to ask your doctor if yoga is right for you if you have pre-existing conditions or have had any injuries that may cause you problems. You don't want to get injured in your first every session!