As a hatha teacher I am often asked this question, and the answer is a little complex!
From Ancient times
The term ‘hatha yoga’ has been used for over a thousand years to describe a methodology for preparing the body for higher levels of consciousness. The body is purified and energy is balanced using yoga postures (asana in Sanskrit), breath control methods (pranayama), and bodily cleansing techniques (shatkarmas), so that the practitioner is ready for meditation.
There are references to hatha yoga practices from as early as the 6th century BC, and the system of hatha yoga emerged in India around the 6th century AD. In the 15th century it was documented in the text ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’. Modern types of yoga, such as Bikram, Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga, are styles within this broader definition of hatha yoga.
The literal translation
The word hatha can be translated from the ancient Sanskrit language in two ways:
1. willful or forceful
2. sun (ha) and moon (tha). Hatha yoga unites the masculine (active, hot) and feminine (receptive, cool) aspects that exist within each of us.
What to expect from a hatha yoga class?
Hatha yoga is now also used as a term to describe a style of yoga asana class. These can vary greatly, but they are usually slower classes with long holds in the postures and can include periods of rest, to balance effort with surrender. They usually include a form of the classical sun salutation.
What are the benefits of a hatha yoga class?
If you want your yoga practice to help you feel grounded, present and centered, then movingly slowly so that you can focus on a long, controlled breath, and feel into the experience of each posture, can be very beneficial. It can also be physically challenging and strength-building.
Life is often hectic and rushed, and a slow, breath-focused yoga practice can bring us into our parasympathetic nervous system – the state of relaxation and healing for the body.
There is also opportunity to explore the nuance of what is happening inside our body and mind. J Brown, a New York based teacher, who has advocated a ‘slow yoga revolution’ writes: ‘Slow Yoga takes the emphasis off accomplishing something and puts it more on experiencing something… (It) allows me to discover subtle variations in alignment on both physical and energetic levels. It also allows me to tune in to any emotions that might want to come bubbling up. Most importantly, this mode of yoga allows me to move deeper and deeper without injuring myself, and for the practice to truly be a meditation unto itself.”
This article originally featured on the YogaVenue blog.