You’re a beginner to yoga and keep hearing the word “hatha.” As you experiment with different styles of yoga, it’s helpful to know that most Western yoga derives from Hatha, one of the six major branches of yoga. Hatha emphasizes poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama) and relaxation to cleanse and strengthen the mind, body and spirit. Hatha yoga was introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India. The word “hatha” comes from the Sanskrit terms ha meaning sun and tha meaning moon. The dual nature of the sun and the moon reflects the duality of the Hatha yoga practice, which incorporates holding specific poses, also known as asanas or postures, stillness of the body and a focus on the breath, also known as pranayama or subtle energy control. All work together to balance and purify the body and the mind. Hatha yoga helps practitioners to recognize their hidden physical and mental potentials. Pranayama is incorporated to open energy channels and improve oxygenation of the body, which can help with stress, anxiety and depression, while the asanas strengthen the body and improve flexibility, which can translate to tension relief
for many. Some of the poses also claim to massage the internal organs, bringing balance to internal functions and helping to prevent diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and hypertension. Hatha yoga classes are most often gentle and basic classes for beginners. Basic poses are introduced and held with no flow between each. You can expect to learn relaxation techniques through slow-paced stretching, simple breathing exercises and perhaps seated meditation. These classes are a good place to begin and become comfortable with yoga. Anyone can do Hatha yoga. If you enjoy a slower-paced and more meditative class where the goal is relaxation and strengthening through holding basic poses, Hatha yoga could be a great choice for you. If you like more movement and a faster pace, try Vinyasa yoga. Or, if you’re looking for the next step in a Hatha-style practice, try Iyengar yoga.