Hatha Yoga: The Sun and Moon of Yoga Styles
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If you take yoga at a typical gym with various class offerings, you most likely practice the Hatha style without knowing it. The word “Hatha” translates into “sun” and “moon,” and this technique offers a thorough all-around introduction to this ancient practice.
The term “hatha” has become somewhat of a catchall, meaning it’s tough to define this style. However, certain elements remain the same. It’s also one of the oldest forms of yoga practice.
However, you shouldn’t confuse the ubiquity of hatha yoga with simplicity. These classes offer plenty of challenge and oodles of health benefits. Here’s what you need to know about this sun and moon of yoga styles.
The Historical Roots of Hatha Yoga
Written records of hatha yoga go back to the 2nd century BCE, but the practice likely existed before print. Philosophically, it arose from Hinduism, drawing particular inspiration from texts like “The Yoga Sutra” and “Mahabhasya.”
Hatha yoga uses six tools to reach a sublime state called samadhi, which means freedom from the illusions of form, time and space. These are:
- Asanas: The various yoga postures.
- Pranayama: Breathing exercises.
- Mudra: Hand positions that manipulate subtle energies.
- Bandhas: Anatomical areas that stimulate your energy centers or chakras.
- Kriyas: Ayurvedic techniques that connect movement and breath to encourage prana or energy flow.
- Mantras: Short sayings or chants that help to focus the mind.
Your typical hatha yoga class uses some or all of these tools in varying combinations. There’s great freedom in this style.
You might see classes labeled “Hatha vinyasa.” This term means that your guide uses a series of flowing movements, typically sun salutations, to transition between poses. The continual motion keeps your heart rate elevated, improving cardiovascular conditioning. For example, Ashtanga is considered the original Hatha vinyasa style — and it requires some serious athletic prowess.
Hatha Yoga in Modern Practice
In modern practice, the term “hatha yoga” has become somewhat of a catchall for classes that don’t fit the strict definition of other styles. As a result, you might find yourself scratching your head at how different one session is from another.
For example, some teachers gravitate toward a more power yoga style, holding challenging poses for extended periods to build muscle through isotonic strength. They may kick up the pace, transitioning from one asana to another with little rest in between.
Other guides go slower, taking time to circulate the room and adjust students in various poses. They may gently transition between postures, coaching you to breathe for maximum comfort as you move.
However, most hatha yoga classes are suitable for beginners, as they are slower than Ashtanga or vinyasa classes. They allow you to learn the names of various poses, spending a few breaths in each instead of moving from one to the next so rapidly that your brain can’t keep pace.
Tips for Getting Started in Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is a great place to start your yoga journey. Here are eight tips to help you get the most out of your practice.
1. Talk to Your Guide
Talking to your guide is essential, especially if you’re new to the gym and haven’t casually observed any classes to see how they typically run. Remember, there’s a great variation in this style, so come prepared with the following questions and show up early to your first class:
- How fast or slow-paced is your class? Your guide might not be able to give a precise answer, but you’ll get a general feel for whether they strive for gentle relaxation or a physical challenge.
- Do you manually adjust students in poses? Many guides circulate the room and assist students in getting into poses. However, you might object if you have chronic pain or a trauma history that makes you uncomfortable with a stranger’s contact. Speak up and let your guide know your preferences.
- What should I do if I find a pose too challenging? Your guide should offer variations on different poses and coach you through alternatives, like taking child’s pose or sitting in sukhasana.
2. Invest in the Right Equipment
Your yoga mat is your number one piece of equipment. Everyone has different preferences, but consider factors like overall thickness and material. Selecting eco-friendly options helps the planet and your health by ensuring your mat is free of toxins like volatile organic compounds.
3. Start Slow
Be patient with yourself as you begin your yoga journey. A lot will be new, from the names of the poses to the feel of the movements in your body. Muscle memory is a thing — before long, you’ll find it a snap to get into poses that once left you scratching your head.
4. Tune Into Your Body
A good yoga class is like a moving body scan. You’ll learn how to tune into your sensations. To get the most out of each session, eliminate outside distractions so that you can focus on your breathing and posture.
5. Focus on Your Breath
Pranayama is a key component of hatha yoga. Your guide may lead you through various breathing techniques. At the very least, you’ll master ujjayi or victorious breath.
To perform ujjayi, inhale through your nose, then let your exhale resonate over your soft palate, creating a gentle hum. It might sound a little as if you’re imitating Darth Vader. This deep, focused breathing helps you maintain your balance and focus in challenging postures.
6. Make Time for Your Practice
Maybe you want to practice yoga, but you tumble into bed night after night without practicing. To create a new habit, you have to prioritize your routine. Write your sessions in your planner, giving them equal weight to other appointments.
7. Learn the Names for Various Poses
Here’s the unspoken frustration many beginner yogis feel — it’s downright impossible to get into some poses while observing your guide at the same time. Even a simple move like a wide-legged forward fold or prasarita padottanasana has your eyes looking toward the back of the room. What are you supposed to do, absent a mirror?
It’s okay if you spend a lot of your first few classes sitting and watching. Once you learn the names of the poses, you’ll feel comfortable participating.
8. Smile Along Your Journey
Guess what? You will fall out of dancer or tree pose, even years after beginning your yoga journey. That’s why it’s called a practice, not a perfection.
Part of yoga is managing your mindset. Keep a positive attitude throughout your journey. Your poses might not look the same as the yogi next to you. Does your body resemble theirs in every way? Of course not! Hatha yoga is highly individualized, so focus on your growth and development and keep your sense of humor. Remember, yoga is healing medicine and so is laughter.
Hatha Yoga — the Sun and Moon of Yoga Styles
If you’re ready to start your yoga journey, look into a Hatha class. You’ll find it suitable for beginners.
This sun and moon of yoga styles offers something for everyone. Try a hatha yoga class today and mindfully explore the improvements in your physical and mental well-being.