What is Hatha Yoga?
Discover the history, traditions, & modern-day adaptations of Hatha Yoga—one of the foundational practices from thousands of years ago
Chances are when you hear the word yoga, Hatha yoga is the type that comes to mind.
This practice is one of the most popular forms used today, and for a good reason. Hatha yoga is well-known for having a transformative impact on the body and mind.
It focuses heavily on your breath, but it also incorporates some asana or body poses to deepen your presence and focus.
Whether you’re new to yoga and wondering which style to start with, or you’re exploring different practices to find the one that speaks to you the most, this article will provide you with everything you need to know about Hatha yoga.
And make sure to stick around until the end to find out how it can improve your health, mental well-being, sleep, stress levels, and more!
The Origins & Traditions of Hatha Yoga
The man who popularized Hatha yoga was a Hindu master yogi from the 11th century named Gorakhnath. But this particular form of yoga is rooted in ancient traditions from as far back as the 2nd century BCE!
During his time, Gorakhnath founded the Kanphata yogis, an order of practicing religious ascetics — people who deny themselves the pleasures of the external world to enhance their spirituality.
This historically famous group of yogis is credited with promoting Hatha yoga and the mental and physical disciplines that come with it.
What is the Purpose of Hatha Yoga?
When translated, the word Hatha has two different meanings that represent the practice and its ultimate purpose.
One takes Hatha to mean “force,” defining it as a way of reaching spiritual enlightenment through “forcing” your body into certain poses and breathing patterns.
The other splits the word in two, with “Ha” meaning sun and “ta” meaning moon. This translation refers to the sun and moon inside you, and how through Hatha yoga practice, you can strike a balance between them.
In its early days, this style was highly focused on postures and breathing techniques that promoted both physical and spiritual alignment in the body. It was much less about the flowy, flexibility-driven practices that we’re used to today and more about learning to recognize and direct energy within your body.
But towards the end of the 1930s, Hatha yoga finally made its way to the United States by way of Indian immigrants and began to evolve…
What Hatha Yoga Looks Like Today
No matter what type of yoga you do, you’ll always find poses and postures from the Hatha style.
Ever heard of the sun salutation? That’s right. One of yoga’s most movements comes from ancient Hatha traditions.
But if you go to a Hatha class today, you’ll find something quite different from the slower, posture-focused yoga practice we talked about in the previous section.
After Hatha yoga was brought to America, it became a much more active practice compared to what it was in the past. But it still remains one of the most slow-paced and relaxing forms of yoga today.
It involves many of the traditional pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (poses), and meditation techniques from its storied history, as well as plenty of newer asana that challenge your mobility, flexibility, and strength.
Typically, your yoga instructor will start with some pranayama to help you focus on your breath and set your intention for the practice. Then, you’ll move into the asana portion of the session, in which you’ll have much more time in each pose than other forms of yoga.
To close out the practice, most yoga instructors will take you through a short guided meditation or give you around ten minutes of silence to just breathe, relax, and reflect.
What Are the Benefits of Hatha Yoga?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Hatha yoga has life-changing benefits that go well beyond the physical.
Studies have found that it can improve the body and mind in any number of ways, including:
- Providing relief from low-back pain
- Providing relief from neck pain
- Helping with weight loss
- Managing stress
- Enhancing mental well-being
- Managing depressive symptoms
- Improving sleep
- Improving balance
- Encouraging better diet and activity habits
- Providing relief from menopause symptoms
- Helping children combat stress, anxiety, and depression
- Helping children cope with mental, emotional, or behavioral issues
- And, believe it or not, helping people stop smoking!
As you can see, there’s a reason Hatha yoga has stuck around for a thousand years.
Even after it was brought to America and evolved into something new, its ability to empower us to direct the calming, balancing energy of our breath has stood the test of time.
Personally, I’ve always noticed things that would normally test my patience tend to just roll off my shoulder after a good Hatha yoga session.
Stuck in traffic on the way home? No big deal. I’ll get there when I get there.
Internet cutting in and out at home? No worries. I’ll reset it and read a book while I wait for it to start up again.
Hatha yoga is one of the best places to start for anyone new to yoga. It’s also the perfect practice for anyone who wants a mental and physical reset that will still get the blood pumping.
Wherever your yoga journey takes you, don’t miss out on Hatha yoga. It’s a foundational practice that provides priceless benefits, and it might just become your new favorite part of each day!