If you’ve done a bit of research about yoga, you’ve probably come across the term “hatha yoga” and heard that it’s good for your health and fitness. But what exactly is hatha yoga, and what can it do for you and your body?
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga refers to a set of asanas (or postures), and it’s considered as a branch of yoga that focuses more on physical movement (the other branches deal more with meditation). With this definition, it’s easy to see that many of the yoga classes taught in the West — including vinyasa, ashtanga, and power yoga — all fall under the classification of hatha yoga.
The word “hatha” can be translated as “forceful”, which obviously refers to the fact that hatha yoga focuses on activity. But “hatha” can also be understood as “ha” (sun) and “tha” (moon), which represents the balance of the sun’s fiery heat and the moon’s cool glow. This point out that hatha yoga isn’t just about making physical movements since it also promotes balance in the mind and body.
Hatha yoga isn’t a standalone activity; it’s meant to prepare the body for meditation. Because of this, hatha yoga is usually a combination of asana along with pranayama (breathing) and dhyana (meditating).
What Are the Basic Hatha Yoga Poses?
There are more than 200 asanas, and they’re divided into five types: standing poses, seated poses, supine poses, balancing poses, and back bends. It’s impossible to list all of them in one article, so we’ll focus on the basic poses that are easy for almost anybody to learn. If you’ve attended a couple of yoga classes or watched some yoga videos, you’re probably familiar with some of them.
Its name doesn’t lie — easy pose is, well, easy. To start, sit on the floor and cross your legs, then put your left foot underneath your right knee and your right foot underneath your left knee. You can choose between clasping your hands over your knees with the palms down or putting them on your lap with the palms up. Once you’re done, relax your feet and lengthen your spine while you take deep breaths.
Mountain is one of the most basic poses, and you may have unconsciously done it at one point or another. To perform this pose, you’ll need to stand with your spine straight, put your feet together, and raise your arms over your head. Your palms should face each other so, when they meet, they’ll form the “tip” of the mountain. Hold this pose for 30 seconds then lower your arms while you exhale.
To perform this pose, sit on the floor, stretch your legs in front, and keep them straight. Put your hands behind you with your fingers splayed outward, then press your hips on the floor while sitting up straight to stretch your spine. While doing this, pull your toes towards you and puff your chest out. The staff pose is a great way to stretch your legs and your spine and expand your chest all at the same time.
Child’s pose is another good way to give your spine a stretch. To begin, you’ll have to kneel, put your feet side by side, then sit on your heels. Next, keep your knees apart until they reach hip-width distance, then bend forward and put your upper body in between your thighs. Do this all the way until your forehead reaches the floor. While doing this, lengthen your spine and move the base of your skull away from your nape. Don’t forget to push your arms forward with your palms up and pull your shoulders towards the floor.
Cobra pose is one of the hatha yoga poses that many people are familiar with. To do this pose, lie on your front on the floor with your legs stretched out and the tops of your feet touching the floor. Put your hands under your shoulders with your elbows tucked into your body. Next, press your pubic bone on the floor along with your thighs and feet, then push on your hands, straighten your arms, and lift your chest up to make your body similar to a cobra. But don’t lift yourself up too high; your lower torso should still be pressing on the floor. Keep your shoulder blades firm against your back, but avoid hardening your buttocks and lower back.
This is one of the most familiar hatha yoga poses and is one of the first things that pop into people’s minds when they think about yoga. To begin, stand straight with your legs and feet together. Next, put your weight on your left leg while you bend your right knee and put your right foot on your inner left thigh. Once you can maintain your balance, position your hands in a prayer position in front of you, then bring your arms up above your head with your palms facing each other but not touching. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Health and Safety Reminders
To ensure you’ll stay safe and healthy when doing hatha yoga, keep the following things in mind:
Consult your healthcare provider before starting hatha yoga, particularly if you have existing health conditions. This doesn’t mean that hatha yoga is dangerous; rather, it’s just standard operating procedure to get your doctor’s all-clear before doing any physical activity.
Don’t hold your breath when performing hatha yoga poses, especially when you need to hold poses for 30 seconds or more. Breathe normally to ensure a steady flow of air into your body.
Avoid eating a couple of hours before your yoga sessions. Hatha yoga requires you to twist and bend your body, which won’t only interfere with the digestive process but are difficult to do with a full tummy. If you get easily hungry, eat a light snack like a handful of nuts or some yogurt 30 to 60 minutes before your class.
Doing hatha yoga is a great addition to your health and fitness routine. Learn the basic poses and, once you master them, move on to more advanced poses to challenge your mind and body.
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