You've probably heard the terms "hatha yoga," "Ashtanga yoga", "Vinyasa yoga," "Bikram yoga" thrown around. Isn't yoga, yoga? In this article, hopefully I'll demystify some of the yoga jargon for you, and give a good explanation about the type of yoga that I teach.
When you think of yoga, most likely images of highly flexible people posing in crazy positions come to mind. If you've gone to a yoga class, you've done yoga. This is hatha yoga, which is the yoga of movement. The word "hatha" is a Sanskrit word that literally means "sun-moon" yoga: "Ha" means sun, "Tha" means moon. When we practice hatha yoga, we move our body energetically, creating heat (like from the sun). We also practice resting (think savasana, or corpse pose), to cool our body (like the moon). So when we practice hatha yoga, we balance out these equal and opposite forces within ourselves, kind of like yin and yang.
There are different styles of hatha yoga. For example, there is ashtanga yoga, vinyasa yoga, Bikram yoga, Iyengar yoga, just to name a few. These different styles of yoga are all hatha yoga. They all focus on movement and stretching. Each style is practiced slightly differently; you may do different poses or different types of exercises in the different classes. Each of these styles have different philosophies about how you should practice the physical poses in yoga. For example, Iyengar yoga stresses proper alignment and form. Vinyasa yoga is performed in a more flowy, free moving manner. Bikram yoga poses are static, in which you hold each position for a few seconds up to minutes, and they are practiced in a hot room. No matter what the difference is, however, all of these styles fall under the "hatha" yoga umbrella.
Yoga means union.
Hatha yoga, is just one six "branches" of yoga. Its the most widely practiced yoga in the western world, which is why we associated it with the term "yoga. The other branches of yoga include:
- karma yoga - practicing good deeds (think Mother Theresa)
- bhakti yoga - yoga of devotion (think prayer or devotionals)
- tantra yoga - the yoga of rituals (not necessarily crazy sex)
- jnana yoga - the yoga of knowledge (think reading ancient texts or learning)
- and raja yoga - meditation
So as you can see, you can practice yoga a bunch of different ways, other than just moving your body. To ancient yogis, the term "yoga" meant uniting your body, mind and spirit. If you've ever heard the term, "yoga means union," this is essentially what they were getting at.
What to expect from a Hatha Yoga class
If you plan to take a class called "Hatha Yoga," you can expect a fairly basic yoga class. Unlike other styles of yoga, you aren't expected to remember a complex sequence of postures or know each pose by their Sanskrit names, which makes it great for beginners. You will do a variety of different poses at a steady pace, led by an instructor. You typically hold each pose for a bit, sometimes a few seconds, sometimes a few minutes. You will do some poses sitting down, some standing up. You will work on your legs, your arms, and your core. You can also expect to practice a few breathing exercises. At the very end, you can expect to lay down and relax.
In the hatha yoga classes that I teach, I always incorporate a warm-up period, standing poses, back-bending poses, forward bending poses, and a couple twisting poses. This provides a really well-balanced, full-body approach to yoga. There are some poses that will challenge your flexibility, poses that will give you a good stretch, poses to help improve your balance, and other poses that will challenge your muscles. Strength, balance, and flexibility are all important aspects of a hatha yoga class.
What I love most about hatha yoga, in comparison to other forms of exercise, is it emphasizes both hard work (like a work-out), and relaxation. In our day and age, learning how to, and actively practicing relaxation is incredibly important. When we learn how to relax our bodies, we can better control our responses to stress and stimuli. We become more resilient, healthier, and happier.
If you haven’t already, I’d highly encourage you to practice a little “sun-moon” yoga today.