What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga is the most popular and basic form of yoga and is concerned with breathing and singular movement through which it seeks to balance the mind, body and spirit. The goal of this exercise is to achieve Samadhi or inward enlightenment.
Yoga looks at the study of eight limbs – or facets – which are summarised as:
- Postures (asana)
- Pranayama (breathing)
- Niyamas (observances)
- dharana (concentration)
- dhyani (meditation),
- yamas (restraints)
- pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
- niyamas (observances)
- samadhi (absorption)
Hatha Yoga mostly concentrates on the limb asana (postures) and believes that by engaging in a number of postures it’s possible to strengthen and add flexibility to the body while, at the same time, achieving a state of harmony.
There are thousands of ananas in Hatha Yoga and each has variants depending on how long the individual has been practising yoga. Many of the postures – which are named after plants or animals – involve standing, sitting and kneeling.
The experienced Hatha Yoga practitioner may also meditate and undergo training in virtuous moral and social attitudes (Yama and Nivama). In terms of meditation Hatha Yoga is therefore also believed to improve concentration and relaxation.
Pranayama or breathing is a basic part of Hatha Yoga. Practitioners believe that by regulating and control the breath it is possible to control the mind and increase both physical and spiritual awareness. Meditative asana poses include the Lotus Posture (padmasana), Accomplished Posture (siddhasana), Easy Posture (sukhasana) and Pelvic Posture (vajrasana).
Hatha Yoga is viewed as a meeting of opposites eg positive/negative, male/female, hot/cold.
The signs of success in Hatha Yoga are said to include a slender body, sense of well-being, cheerful face, bright eyes and hunger.
What to expect
When you go for a Hatha Yoga lesson expected a slow-paced and gentle class which will involve some simple breathing techniques and meditative poses. There will also be a degree of relaxation.
Poses may involve balancing, standing, twisting and even reversal of movement. You will constantly be asked to monitor your breath and breathe correctly. The class may focus on a particular part of the body eg hips, back or legs. Classes are usually split into different abilities.
The end of a Hatha Yoga class traditionally involves relaxing on a mat to quieten both body and mind. The class may end with the chanting of ‘om’ several times.
After your class you should feel relaxed but awake at the same time. Sleep is often easier that night.
To prepare for class wear clothes which are comfortable and easy to move around in such as leggings and a tee-shirt.
Some classes supply yoga mats, others expect you to bring your own. It’s also an idea to bring a blanket to cover yourself for warmth during relaxation at the end of class.
Prior to class avoid excessive amounts of coffee, tea, alcohol or stimulants as this will adversely affect the effects of the exercise.
Effects and benefits
In the main yoga helps reduce stress. It also adds to flexibility and muscle/joint strength. Another bonus is a boost to the body’s circulatory system and a sense of vitality.
This is a therapy which is said to benefit all ages. It can help children learn self-discipline, which is particularly beneficial for teenagers. The elderly can be helped in terms of co-ordination and strengthening and flexibility of muscles. It can also help arthritis and other conditions related to poor circulation.
Pregnant women from benefit from yoga’s relaxation states, especially meditation.
Yoga can help the office worker where postures can counteract difficulties from sitting at a desk all day by increasing oxygen supply throughout the body.
It can provide the creative individual with more intuition and a less-rigid mind state.
Hatha Yoga is excellent when combined with athletic and other sports training as it works all the major muscle groups, especially the back, neck and shoulders.
It helps skiers develop mental alertness and balance. Golfers can be helped in terms of muscular tension and flexibility. Swimmers can be helped with breathing techniques. The stretching exercises are good for cyclists who tend to sit prone on their bike for long periods. While Yoga can help those who exert a lot of effort in their sport such as tennis players learn to think calmly and to revitalise more easily following a demanding game.
There are certain specific medical conditions Hatha Yoga is said to benefit to different degrees. Studies have been done on some but not all of the following while other information is anecdotal. Illnesses which are said to benefit from the practice of Hatha Yoga include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Back pain
- High blood pressure
- Multiple sclerosis
- Heart disease
Fascinating facts about Hatha Yoga
- The word ‘hatha’ comes from Sanskrit where ‘ha’ is translated as ‘sun’ and ‘tha’ means ‘moon
- Hatha yoga is about balancing opposites – famously Yin and Yan
- The practice was introduced by Indian sage Yogi Swatmarama
- It was taught by a Mr T Krishnamacharya throughout southern India in the 19th century
- It became popular in the west due to a number of disciples such as Indira Devi, B Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois
- Hatha yoga was popular with Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr who studied it for more than a decade. Jennifer Aniston and Camilla Belle, the actresses, are also big fans
- There are eight basic parts of yoga, referred to as the eight limbs (also known as the asana or postures). Hatha yoga mostly focuses on the third and fourth limbs
- The word Yoga is from the term ‘to yoke’ ie unite. Yoga seeks to unite body, mind and spirit. Some disciples insist it also means to unite with God
- Yoga first appeared written in Sanskrit and was referred to as the Yoga Sutras. It’s author was Patanjali
- Hatha Yoga is pronounced hut-ha
- The Yoga Sutras insist the goal of the practice is liberation (or kaivalya)
- Around 16 million North Americans are believed to practice Hatha Yoga
- A man who practices yoga is known as a yogin while a female goes by the term yogini
- Hatha yoga is believed to have been practiced in India for around 2500 years BC
- The word asansa means ‘seat’ in Sanskrit
- Pranayama means controlling life-force energy in Sanskrit
- In 2005 there were 16.5m Americans practicing Yoga within the ages 18 to 24 – an increase of 46 per cent on the previous year
- Ashtanga is the yoga of Patanjali who put together the Yoga Sutras. This form of yoga is made up of eight limbs (rather than the six in Hatha Yoga)
- Harvard Medical School psychologist Sara Lazar presented findings to show that the gray matter of 20 men and women who meditated for around 40 minutes every day was thicker than those who didn’t. These were areas of the brain which dealt with attention and processing sensory input
- In Lelystad, Holland elementary school pupils meditate twice a day for 10 minutes. Teachers claim the practice makes them quieter and their national test results were much improved
- Different forms of the exercise include Raja yoga, Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, Mantra yoga and Laya yoga
- Some western doctors and scientists believe yoga can – to a certain extent – keep old age at bay
- In the UK yoga practitioners do not have to comply with statutory legislation governing its teaching (as there is none)
The British Wheel of Yoga
This is the largest yoga organisation in the UK and regarded as the national governing body for yoga in England. The charity has been running for more than four decades. It represents the UK at the European Federation of National Yoga Organisations and is a leading member of the European Union of Yoga. Accredits teacher training courses and has more than 3000 qualified teachers UK-wide. Offers basic and ongoing teacher training.
European Federation of National Yoga Organisations
A non-profit company which celebrates the teachings and promotion of various style of yoga world-wide. Sets standards in the practice, provides resources and uphold teachings in the subject. This organisation is the largest of its type in the world and is open to anyone embracing yoga and a yogic lifestyle.
Scottish Yoga Teachers’ Association
Provides information on yoga classes (including specialist classes for pregnancy, children, older people etc) throughout Scotland as well as a register of teachers. Provides ongoing training for registered teachers as well as seminars, workshops and events both in Scotland and abroad. Publishes a magazine for members.