What is hatha yoga?

Yogi Cameron Alborzian
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Though the system of spiritual growth we know as Yoga began taking shape thousands of years ago, the physical practice of postures most of us are familiar with has its basis in the far more recent past. About a thousand years ago, certain sages in India began developing a system of physical purification that aligned with the ideals of awakening the spirit within. A few hundred years after that, this system was further elaborated upon in a text known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This text outlined a series of several postures, breathing exercises, and other physically purifying practices that would help to create health and balance in the body.

This formed a foundation for what we now consider Hatha Yoga: a series of postures and other physical disciplines that create enough strength and flexibility in our body so as to allow us to sit for prolonged periods of time. In the last hundred years or so, this system has been greatly expanded upon to include many of the ambitious postures we now associate with the tradition today.

Yoga, the Sanskrit word for union, combines poses, (asanas in Sanskrit) deep breathing, and relaxation. Hatha yoga, in particular, is designed for relaxing and releasing deep body tension, bringing balance to the nervous system and stimulating internal organ function. Breathing evenly, without strain, is also a primary component. You may wish to focus on breath control, called pranayama, or a combination of pranayama, meditation, and the spiritual aspects of yoga.

Hatha yoga is used as a blend of yoga from different disciplines. Hatha yoga's literal meaning implies total balance with Ha meaning sun and Tha meaning moon. To balance the energy of the entire body is to achieve optimum health. Hatha yoga moves with the breath as most yoga does, but the poses and sequences vary from teacher to teacher. Hatha brings about balance of mind, body, and breath. Hatha yoga is a wonderful practice particularly beneficial to beginners as it has a wide spread philosophy and availability.

Remember to invest in a high quality, natural fiber yoga mat and wear comfortably fitted clothing to your practice.

Sat Nam,

Hatha is divided into two terms, Ha meaning Sun and Tha meaning Moon, and also references energy channels in the body. In Sanskrit, this word means forceful and refers to a strong physical practice which prepares the body for long periods of meditation. Like all forms of yoga, Hatha Yoga moves you toward complete balance. This tradition is the most common in the United States and is influenced by Svami Svatmarama and documented in an ancient manual text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika. In the western hemisphere, this practice focuses most on the physical aspect and this is the basis of most western yoga classes and can be used interchangeably with yoga. For example, Restorative Yoga is Hatha Yoga, Power Yoga is Hatha Yoga, etc. If you see a class named simply Hatha Yoga you can expect a slower paced class focusing on the essential basics of the practice. It may also incorporate some seated meditation and breathing techniques.

Continue Learning about Yoga

Why There’s Always a Yoga Program Just Right For You
Why There’s Always a Yoga Program Just Right For You
Recently, while standing in the checkout line at my local Whole Foods, I glimpsed the yoga magazines for sale, each one with a cover image that was in...
Read More
How do I perform the modified side plank pose in yoga?
Dawn MarcusDawn Marcus
The modified side plank pose in yoga strengthens your arms and torso, and trains the muscles in ...
More Answers
Which Yoga Is Right for You?
Which Yoga Is Right for You?Which Yoga Is Right for You?Which Yoga Is Right for You?Which Yoga Is Right for You?
A guide to common styles, including Ashtanga, Bikram, Iyengar and Vinyasa.
Start Slideshow
Can Yoga Help Teens Cope with Anxiety?
Can Yoga Help Teens Cope with Anxiety?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.