What is Hatha Yoga?

Although hatha yoga is practiced in modern times as a unique style of yoga, in actuality, essentially every yoga style falls under the domain of hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for the physical practice of yoga. Traditionally, hatha yoga was the first branch of yoga that incorporated the physical practice of yoga poses that we have come to know and love.

Hatha yoga is one of the original forms of yoga practice that developed in India around the 11th century, and it has continued to grow in popularity over time. At the core, hatha yoga serves as the foundation for nearly every other yoga style known today and is the foundation of yoga asana practice.

Definition of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga practice is typically a slower form of yoga that incorporates the same well-loved yoga poses but with a stronger focus on breathing and mindful awareness. Poses are often held for more extended periods to encourage the mind to settle into the body and to build the inner strength to move along this path of awakening.

The word Hatha in Sanskrit means to force. This definition of hatha yoga brought in the first concept of physical poses and austerities into yoga practice. Before this development, yoga practice primarily focused on breathing techniques and meditation. But in the 15th century, in the seminal text called the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a more extensive list of poses was introduced to this practice.

Another common definition of this word is that “ha” means sun, and “tha” means moon, representing the union of the solar and lunar energies through the ida and pingala nadis or channels in the body. This concept goes back to the deep yoga philosophical belief that our bodies are made of thousands of nadis or channels that direct the flow of energy within us and contribute to raising the kundalini energy and ultimately awakening.

Hatha yoga has its roots in tantra with its founder Matsyendranath in the Natha Sampradaya, an ancient Hindu yogic tradition. Eventually, this yoga philosophy was brought to the western world by Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century and has spread like wildfire since then. But the hatha yoga we practice today is often a very distant version from what was practiced in these original yoga schools of India. 

Benefits of Hatha Yoga

Like many other yoga styles, hatha yoga provides a complete rejuvenation and strengthening of the body, mind, and soul. Since hatha yoga is the umbrella term for every other yoga style as well, it shares the same benefits as nearly every style that falls underneath it. The primary benefits of hatha yoga may include:

  • Builds core strength
  • Reduces stress and tension
  • Lowers depression and anxiety
  • Increases muscular and joint flexibility
  • Improves symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Relieves back pain and neck pain
  • Increases balance
  • Enhances emotional health
  • Eases symptoms of menopause
  • Raises concentration and mindful awareness
  • Improves symptoms of multiple sclerosis
  • Relieves insomnia and sleep issues
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure

Along with many other benefits, this yoga technique is an excellent way to improve overall wellbeing. But hatha yoga is more than just a physical practice. When practiced in its traditional form, this energetic technique can lead to spiritual awakening and profound insight. 

The Top 5 Hatha Yoga Poses

In traditional hatha yoga practice, as described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, only 84 asanas or poses were described. But many of these poses are not as commonly practiced today, and possibly surprising to many modern yoga practitioners, most of them were seated. Hatha yoga practice has dramatically changed over time and now bears minimal resemblance to this ancient yoga style.

As the overarching style of yoga, hatha yoga poses now include essentially every yoga pose in existence. But there are certainly some signature yoga poses that are incorporated into almost every hatha yoga class. Some of the most popular hatha yoga poses include:

  1. Half Lord of the Fishes pose (Ardha Matsyendrasasna)
  2. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
  3. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
  4. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  5. Corpse Pose (Savasana)

In addition to the above yoga poses, a hatha yoga class would not be complete without the traditional pranayama or breathing techniques along with a meditation practice. These techniques are often incorporated at the beginning or end of a hatha yoga class, but they may also be included throughout the class. 

How to Practice Hatha Yoga

A typical hatha yoga class has a gentler flow, incorporating more static poses that are held for more extended periods of time. This style of yoga is excellent for beginners because it provides an opportunity to really learn the foundations of yoga practice.

Hatha yoga classes generally incorporate a range of the most popular yoga poses, including downward-facing dog pose, upward facing dog pose, and others. But the main focus during this practice is on the breath and on developing a meditative state of mind. Hatha yoga classes may also involve designated breathing practices or pranayama techniques and longer meditations.

Hatha yoga classes may last between 45 to 90 minutes long. But remember, every teacher may guide this yoga style differently depending on their background or the tradition that they were trained under, so it is best to ask your local studio or teacher how they guide a hatha yoga class to get more detailed information.

Start Hatha Yoga at Home

Since hatha yoga is more accessible to beginners, it is an excellent practice to incorporate into your daily routine. There are plenty of resources online to help you dive deeper into this practice.

So, if you cannot make it to a hatha yoga studio in person or simply want to try hatha yoga at home first, check out these follow-along videos.

Related: Gentle Hatha Yoga Sequence to Build the Foundations of Yoga

All-Levels Hatha Flow – 45min


Hatha Flow Yoga for Beginners (30-min) Discover the Hatha Yoga Style (All Levels) Full Class

Integral Yoga Hatha Class

1 hour Hatha Yoga (full class) | Fightmaster Yoga Videos

Hatha Yoga FAQs

What is the Difference Between Yoga and Hatha Yoga?

Hatha yoga is traditionally more of an umbrella term for all yoga styles practiced in modern yoga studios today. But eventually, the word “Hatha” was dropped in favor of the singular term “yoga” instead. Ultimately, hatha yoga has become its own style of physical yoga practice that focuses on longer holds and static poses instead of being used as the catch-all term for all physical yoga practices.

Is Hatha Yoga Harder than Vinyasa Yoga?

Hatha yoga is a slower style of yoga practice than vinyasa yoga, making it more accessible for beginners. Some may consider it to be easier than vinyasa yoga. But for many people, the longer holds can still make this a very challenging practice. If you have physical limitations or are new to hatha yoga practice, try to find a yoga teacher that focuses on an adaptive approach or incorporates more props and modifications to support your body in a hatha yoga class.

Can Beginners Do Hatha Yoga?

Hatha yoga is often considered the best yoga style for beginners because it is generally taught as a slower yoga class. Since the classes are slowed down, this allows for more time to really understand the nuances of each yoga pose and find a more comfortable alignment for your body.

Important: Check with your doctor before trying hatha yoga for the first time if you have any type of injury, illness, pain, or you are pregnant.

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