Yoga in general, has become a staple in the diet of wellness, self-care, and health. People seek out yoga for relief from stress, insomnia, chronic health issues, and the often-forgotten spiritual development.
Yoga is considered by many as a prescription to everyday life, and it comes in many forms making it accessible to all. Yoga has many benefits which affect the mind and body. In this article, we’ll look at:
- What is Hatha Yoga?
- 12 Hatha Yoga benefits
- What to expect in a Hatha Yoga class
Hatha Yoga Definition
Haṭha = force
Hatha Yoga is somewhat an umbrella term for many approaches and interpretations of yoga which have not been pioneered by a person (such as Ashtanga Yoga or Iyengar Yoga) or that don’t fit into a specific style.
Hatha Yoga generally features longer-held postures and is considered more “gentle” than, say, Vinyasa Flow but that doesn’t necessarily line up with its history.
Origins of Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga’s origin can be traced back to the beginning of this millennium however, it found popularity during the Medieval period and often demanded what can be considered weird and complex things of the body.
The oldest text currently known to describe haṭhayoga is the Amṛtasiddhi which is an 11th-century text tantric Buddhist text.
While at this time there were a variety of postures in use (such as those seen in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) there were also practices that required students to hold their arm in the air for life, or stand on one leg, or sit in a circle of fire in the midday sun!
So Hatha Yoga, or haṭhayoga, if we want to be precise, was not a relaxing practice but required significant force and determination.
So what was the point of the forceful haṭhayoga? In a nutshell, the yogi’s believed that through often harsh and pretty weird practices they could preserve life force or vital energy.This approach to yoga includes asanas (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), mudra (bodily, not hand, gestures), bandha (energetic seals), and shatkarma (internal cleansing practices).
A good place to start if you’re interested in learning more about the practices is the 14th-century Hatha Yoga Pradipika which outlines all of the above-mentioned practices. These practices were meant to be performed under the guidance of a teacher.
The Original 15 Hatha Yoga Poses
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes just fifteen poses some of which require a significant amount of flexibility and skill. They are:
- Auspicious Pose – Svastikasana
- Cow face pose – Gomukhasana
- Hero’s pose – Virasana
- Tortoise Pose – Kurmanasana
- Rooster Pose – Kukkutasana
- Tortoise Pose supine – Uttana Kurmasana
- Bow Pose – Dhanurasana
- Seated twist – Matsyendrasana
- Seated forward bend – Paschimotanasana
- Peacock Pose- Mayurasana
- Corpse Pose – Savasana
- Accomplished Pose – Siddhasana
- Lotus Pose – Padmasana
- Lion Pose – Simhasana
- Throne Pose – Bhadrasana
Modern Hatha Yoga
As yoga crept to the West in the last 200 years, it developed to become more appropriate for householders and subsequently became less about the preservation of life force and spiritual enlightenment and more about the body in this world.
Modern Hatha Yoga is a culmination of poses and techniques which have evolved from some of the more recent influential teachers. These include but are not limited to:
- Krishnamacharya |1888-1988 Teacher of Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V Desikachar
- Pattabhi Jois | 1915- 2009 Founder of Ashtanga Yoga
- B.K.S. Iyengar | 1918-2014 Founder of Iyengar Yoga
- D.K.V Desikachar |1938-2016 Founder of Viniyoga
- Sivananda |1887-1963 Founder of the Divine Life society and his student later propagated his teachings to create Sivananda Yoga.
Hatha is a broad term that can encompass everything we now call yoga, but the style of Hatha Yoga is usually a slow-paced class that doesn’t include flow and is therefore more accessible for beginners.
Despite being a little less athletic than flow or hot styles, Hatha Yoga can still be demanding and includes standing poses and some challenging postures such as inversions and arm balances.
Classes are usually between 60 and 90 minutes in duration, and like pretty much all classes, it will finish with savasana.
Hatha Yoga isn’t always just poses. There will often be breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation to complement the physicality and develop a more holistic approach to the practice.
12 Hatha Yoga Benefits
There have been numerous studies into the benefits of Hatha Yoga some of the most well-known reported benefits include:
#1: Improved Sleep
Hatha Yoga has been linked to lowering the levels of cortisol within the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is related to how well we sleep. Doing a gentle Hatha Yoga practice before bed can help to signal to your nervous system that it’s time to relax and get ready for bed.
Cultivating even a short yoga, meditation, and pranayama practice before sleep can be a great way to encourage good sleep hygiene and combat insomnia.
#2: Core Strengthening
Having a strong core is important for our physical health. A strong core isn’t limited to rock hard abs but to a strong physical core that includes the glutes, upper legs, and trunk. Poses such as locust pose (salabasana) are great for strengthening the anterior core, while the likes of boat pose (navasana) are great for strengthening the anterior core.
Most of the more dynamic poses within the Hatha Yoga repertoire are helpful for building a strong core and this makes yoga a great option for those who cannot do more physical exercise such as running and high-intensity interval training.
Hatha Yoga usually requires the student to work isometrically. This means holding poses or positions for a longer period of time.
#3: Stress and Anxiety Relief
Hatha Yoga is an excellent technique to calm the mind and soothe the nervous system. The physical and dynamic aspects of the practice can help to burn off nervous energy and prepare the mind and body to relax and rest.
It is reported that our neurological and endocrine systems are effected when we practice yoga and this can in turn effect our hormones, blood pressure and heart rate.
#4: Alleviated Depression Symptoms
Mindfulness based practices such as yoga can help to alleviate symptoms of depression.
#5: Improved Joint Health
Motion is lotion! Moving your joins through a healthy range of motion is a great way to keep the joints healthy and Hatha Yoga is a great way to do this.
#6: Improved Balance
There are a number of poses that require us to balance on one leg or even on our hands. Hatha Yoga is a great way to develop balance and equilibrium and develop proprioception which is the way we feel ourselves in space.
#7: Reduced Inflammation
There has been some scientific interest into the effect of yoga on the reduction of inflammation, especially in regard to chronic inflammation such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
#8: Increased Overall Strength
Hatha Yoga is a great way to build strength due to the longer isometric holds in different positions.
#9: Greater Flexibility
This is the one we all know about. Doing yoga not only increases flexibility but also mobility, and this can help to counteract some of the day-to-day activities that can leave you feeling tight and stagnant.
#10: Increased Body Awareness
This one can sound a little obvious, but many of us are out of touch with our bodies and don’t have a great sense of ourselves. Practicing Hatha Yoga can help to bring awareness to all parts of the body which is a great way to work with chronic pain.
Both gentle and dynamic yoga movements are also an important part of waking up all of the different parts of the body and getting it to move well.
If you’re a student attending classes, then you’ll be practicing with other people. This is a great way to build community and meet new people.
This is the big one. You might find yourself attending a class for the Hatha Yoga benefits related to the physical, but there is a deeper level to the yoga practice which may lead you to question the more spiritual aspects of the practice.
A deep sense of connection to your fellow students, the people in your life, nature and the earth are not just a by-product of yoga but its central facet.
Hatha Yoga is just one approach of yoga that ultimately leads toward enlightenment and liberation from suffering.
What to Expect in a Hatha Yoga Class
The slower pace and lack of fancy transitions mean that this style of yoga is more accessible to newer students as they generally find it easier to keep up.
Poses will be held a little longer than in other styles, and you might find them led by how many breaths you take per pose.
A good teacher will provide lots of options for students. This means that the class will be accessible for beginners but challenging for seasoned practitioners.
There is usually an arc to the class.
The practice generally starts off pretty slow and with some opening-style postures building into more dynamic standing postures and even inversions before winding down towards savasana where you will rest for a few minutes before the class ends.
So now you know some of the Hatha Yoga benefits you might be interested in learning more about Hatha Yoga and how it is different to other popular styles. Check out this article – Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa: Differences Explained.