Yoga styles: Hatha yoga

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  • Hatha yoga is the most popular form of yoga in the West.
  • Yoga is a lifestyle originating in ancient India and includes 84 poses called asanas.
  • The holistic nature of yoga means that it has benefits beyond the physical level.

Yoga is a discipline that originated in ancient India. It has a rich history, and can be intricate, but has come a long way and has been considerably Westernised.

While it is primarily a way of life, many use yoga as a form of exercise. It has become increasingly popular in recent times and different styles have emerged.

Why should you do Hatha yoga?

Besides stretching and developing more supple a physique, Hatha yoga is particularly beneficial for those starting out on the yoga path or recovering from injury.

While yoga is primarily synonymous with flexibility, it enhances strength as well, and the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness journal has published research detailing several benefits of the discipline.

The holistic nature of yoga means there are benefits beyond the visibly physical. While Hatha yoga is believed to be particularly advantageous for improving the health of organs like the heart and lungs, it also aids with conditions like inflammation and sleep difficulties.

So Hatha yoga is what you need - how do you do it?

Hatha yoga is described as having eight mind-body disciplines to master. Other styles of yoga, like Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Iyengar, have their origins in Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga has 84 asanas, but in a typical session, an instructor will choose only a few asanas to focus on, depending on the aim of the session.

There are traditionally eight breathing exercises (pranayama) in Hatha yoga. There have been additions to pranayama, but they are modifications or variations of the established, traditional exercises.

Sessions also incorporate mantras (sounds, words, phrases) and mudras (gestures), particularly hasta mudras (hand gestures) during meditation and while performing asanas.

Commonly known asanas from the Hatha yoga style include:

Now that you know how to get started - you should know where Hatha yoga comes from

Hatha yoga is a common form of yoga and is offered at yoga studios, health and fitness clubs, and gyms.

The discipline was strongly influenced by guru Gorakhnath, who lived during the 11th century.

Hatha yoga might actually be much older, though, and Gorakhnath was mentored and taught by Hindu and Buddhist yogi and saint, Matsyendra, who was also a figure of great significance.

Yogi Shri Yogendra – founder of The Yoga Institute – reportedly simplified the techniques of Hatha Yoga, adapting them so that common people could also benefit from the discipline.

The word Hatha combines two Sanskrit words – Ha, meaning sun, and Tha, meaning moon – and the aim of the practice is to balance these two energies. The whole word can also be understood to mean "force". 

This is a good definition of the style because it accurately describes the type of asanas (poses) that are performed. 

READ | The often-overlooked stretch that can relieve back pain

READ | What yoga does to your body – according to science

READ | Yoga and education can help improve migraines, new study shows

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