When first coming to the yoga practice, it is important to understand the different styles and how they can support our intentions and our lives in various ways.
Learning the difference between hatha yoga vs vinyasa, as well as other styles of the physical practice can help you be more informed when choosing to attend a virtual or in person yoga class or if you’d like to attend a yoga teacher training and are searching for the right fit.
If you’re a more seasoned practitioner, it can also help you find other modalities to expand your knowledge beyond what you’ve practiced so far.
There are differences between Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa yet they can be quite subtle, so in this article you will learn:
- The Six Branches of Yoga
- What is Hatha Yoga and its basic principles
- What is Vinyasa Yoga and its basic principles
- Main Differences Between Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa
- Experiencing a Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa Yoga Class
Let’s dive right in.
The Six Branches of Yoga
There are 6 branches of yoga.
1. Raja Yoga (The Path of Inner Contemplation)
2. Jnana Yoga (The Path of Knowledge)
3. Tantra Yoga (The Path of Energy)
4. Hatha Yoga (The Yoga Force)
5. Bhakti Yoga (The Path of Devotion)
6. Karma Yoga (The Path of Action)
Hatha Yoga Explained
The Origins of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga is thought to be the first type of yoga to be documented in ancient scripture, and its origins date back to the 2nd century BCE or 5th century CE in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Mahabhasya.
Due to the ancient roots of hatha yoga, it is believed to be the first style of yoga from which all others derived from, although evidence is growing of a branch of yoga emerging from Egypt known as Kemetic yoga or Smai Tawi, that would not have derived from Hatha yoga, although it has similar basic principles.
What Does ‘Hatha’ Mean?
Hatha is a word in Sanskrit that means:
ha, meaning “sun,” and tha, meaning “moon.
Put together they form a similar concept to yin and yang in Chinese philosophy; the balance of forces and energies.
Hatha is often also translated as forceful or tenacious, something that persists with effort.
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it is well explained that this steadfastness, the strength needed is not only mental, in the form of willpower or persistence, but physical too.
The 8 Basic Principles of Hatha Yoga
The basic principles of hatha yoga are compiled and explored by Patanjali as the Eight Limbs of Yoga, a path that will lead us to enlightenment and liberation:
1. Yamas – moral code of conduct.
2. Niyamas – internal observances.
3. Asana – steady state of body and mind.
4. Pranayama – expansion of capacity to retain prana.
5. Pratyahara – withdrawing from the senses.
6. Dharana – single-pointed focus.
7. Dhyana – self-study and observation.
8. Samadhi – becoming free of the illusion, Maya.
Asana, the third limb of this eight-fold path is what many of us know as “yoga” although it truly relates to the physical postures themselves, and where the practice of Hatha yoga comes into play.
The Goals of Hatha Yoga
The goals of Hatha Yoga are:
- Purifying the Body
- Balancing of the physical and mental energies
- Tapping into consciousness
Hatha yoga intends to bring balance to body, mind, and soul; we attain liberation through cultivating Yoga-Deha; a body that resists disease and overcomes limitations beyond what is thought possible.
In the Hatha yoga tradition the focus is on the postures and finding an alignment within them that can bring us to a state of steadiness; sukha and shtira, the balance between effort and ease.
The postures are held for a few breaths, giving practitioners the opportunity to explore how it feels in their body as well as creating more space for modifications and adaptations, and allowing the breath to be an anchor to the present moment, allowing us to observe our inner landscape.
Hatha also allows time for slow, mindful transitions between asanas, making the practice more accessible for beginners as well as those who like to take a bit more time in postures, refining alignment, whether it’d be physical, or energetic.
Vinyasa Yoga explained
As mentioned above, most of the styles of yoga practiced nowadays derive from Hatha yoga, and Vinyasa is one of those styles that evolved from it.
Yoga was popularized in the West in the 20th century by B.K.S Iyengar, who created and developed Iyengar Yoga, and Patthabi Jois, who developed the highly popular, regimented practice of Ashtanga Yoga, which focuses on muscle training and developing physical strength through discipline.
The main difference between Hatha vs Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga is that the latter is structured and regimented and it is comprised of 6 very specific yoga sequences and Hatha and Vinyasa yoga are both free flow; to the teacher’s or practitioner’s discretion.
Vinyāsa (Sanskrit: विन्यास), can be broken down as: nyasa meaning “to place”, and the prefix vi- translates roughly into “in a special way”.
6 Vinyasa Specific Elements
There are a few elements that are quite specific to the Vinyasa style of yoga:
1. Moving at a breath per movement pace, with the inhales and the exhales
2. Emphasis on creativity and autonomy
3. Linking breath and movement to reach the deeper layers of being
4. Linking Several Postures Together before switching sides
5. Transitions are as important to the practice as the shapes
6. Breath has a key role in the practice of Vinyasa
Main Differences between Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa
When attending a Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa session, here are the main differences you may notice:
1. Hatha often moves at a slower pace, taking several breaths in each posture, while Vinyasa encourages connecting breath to movement, making the pace of this class a bit faster in comparison.
2. Focus is on individual postures in Hatha vs Vinyasa, where the transitions are coherently linking shapes and breath throughout.
3. Due to the slower pace, Hatha allows more space to work on alignment, and Vinyasa emphasizes dynamic movement.
Even with all those differences, both practices encourage the use of props, modifications, and adaptations and can be challenging to the practitioner in a variety of ways.
Due to its faster pace and nature, Vinyasa yoga is often utilized as a physical workout.
Experiencing a Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa Yoga Class
A Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa class experience is quite different, and they serve different purposes.
From a sequencing standpoint, a hatha yoga vs vinyasa yoga class structure could be almost identical, with a similar warm up and cool down postures, and yet be very energetically different because of the way in which the postures are linked up, how long each pose is held, and how the breath is utilized throughout.
Hatha Yoga Class Sequence Example
Let’s look at an example; in a Hatha Yoga class, this sequence could be as follows:
- Sukhasana sitting on a blanket for 3 to 5 breaths.
- Parsva Sukhasana, 3 to 5 breaths on each side.
- Seated twist, 3 to 5 breaths on each side.
- Move to table top position and perform some hip circles, first to the left, then to the right.
- Downward facing dog from 3 to 5 breaths.
- Child’s pose for 3 to 5 breaths
- Step to the top of the mat for Tadasana.
Vinyasa Yoga Class Sequence Example
When performing the same set of asanas in a Vinyasa class, it would look more like this:
- Sukhasana sitting on a blanket for 3 to 5 breaths.
- Inhale lift your arms up, exhale right hand to the floor, left arm overhead for a side stretch.
- Inhale back to center, exhale take it to the other side.
- Inhale, bring your arms back up, Exhale, twist to the right.
- Inhale back to center, exhale twist to the left.
- Inhale arms back up, exhale, hands in front of you, roll to hands and knees
- From tabletop, inhale, take your hips to the right, exhale, circle them around. Do that three times, then switch sides.
- Inhale back to tabletop, exhale hips up and back for downward facing dog.
- Inhale roll forward to a plank, exhale lower your knees, hips back, for balasana.
- Inhale back to downward facing dog, exhale look to the top of the mat, and step forwards.
- Inhale, ardha uttanasana, exhale, fold to uttanasana
- Inhale lift your arms all the way up, exhale, hands to the sides for Mountain pose.
Which One Is For You?
There isn’t one that is better than the other for you when talking about Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, especially since the latter is a ramification of Hatha.
It’s not really a question of which one is better, but of when and why to practice hatha vs vinyasa yoga.
If you’re intent is to find balance through alignment, mindful movement and breath at a slower pace, Hatha yoga may be for you.
On the days when you’re looking to become more energized, move at a quicker pace, and explore breath and creativity within your practice and you find yourself looking at your studio’s schedule trying to decide between hatha yoga or vinyasa, perhaps choose Vinyasa.
Both Hatha and Vinyasa are asana practices designed to get you more connected to your body, mind and spirit, so if you want to learn more about other styles similar, check out our article on Somatic Yoga.