Even though Hatha yoga has always been around, its popularity has grown enormously during the last decades. Maybe because of its great benefits or because it is easy and pleasant to practice, thousands of people are now developing their minds and body with this type of yoga.
Simple but extremely helpful – this is Hatha yoga. If you are a beginner – congratulations! You have made the right decision to go into this practice. The beginning may seem harder than it is, so be patient. And we at GoHathaYoga are here to help! To do that, we developed this beginner guide to Hatha yoga that includes all you need to know. From the history of the practice, through its benefits, to the best Hatha yoga poses – all is here!
What is Hatha Yoga?
In Sanskrit, Hatha is translated as “forceful,” which makes Hatha yoga – “the yoga of force”. Or in other words, this is the type of yoga we all see on TV and think about when hearing the word ‘yoga.’ That’s a simple Hatha yoga definition.
This practice is all about finding the balance between mind and body. The word ‘ha’ represents the sun, and the word ‘ta’ – means the moon. Together they refer to the balance between the moon and soon, also known as Ida and Pingala. Hatha yoga is considered to balance feminine and masculine energy by bringing a person’s fullest potential. This includes energetic, mental, physical, and emotional development. You could lose some weight, too. Is it enough to be convinced? Buy some fitting pants and get to action!
So, with either definition, it is always a widespread physical practice that includes breathing (pranayama), meditation for internal cleansing (shatkarma), and poses (asanas). All those are in perfect balance, resulting in more than great benefits for the mind and the body.
The History of Hatha Yoga
Before we get to the main part – Hatha yoga for beginners, we will start with some history. Hatha yoga comes from Northern India and has been around for over 5000 years. Actually, many people believe that it dates back much longer, to 10 000 years, but we can not be sure. Firstly, it was considered a way to heal the mind and body and prepare yourself for seated meditation. The practice was about having control over your breathing, known as pranayama.
Later, in the 15th century, the ‘Hathapradipika’ was composed – one of the oldest texts we have now on Hatha yoga. It described the poses, the breathing techniques, and the purifying practices the type of yoga is about. It explains Hatha yoga as a practice for getting a person into a deep state of meditation.
In the 20th century, yoga was brought to the West. Many people started practicing it, seeing all its benefits for the body and the mind.
8 Limbs of Yoga
Before getting into the information about the Hatha yoga practice, we want to share some details about its original idea. Its origin was connected to embodying the eight limbs, forming a sequence from the outer – to the inner. The eight limbs of Hatha yoga are:
Yama – the first limb is focused on ethical standards and integrity. It helps us learn how to present ourselves and behave in the best possible way.
Niyama – Niyamas is the second limb connected to self-discipline and spirituality. This includes taking a walk in nature on your own or saying a grade before having a meal.
Pranayama – Pranayama is all about being able to withdraw from distractions and get your attention within yourself.
Asana – Asana explains the poses performed when practicing Hatha yoga. It is all about practicing poses that help build balance, concentration, and the ability to meditate.
Dhyana – described as ‘the uninterrupted flow of concentration, is the practice of meditation. Dhyana is all about being awake and aware of the world without needing to focus on that.
Dharana – Dharana is the point of relieving all the distractions around you and fully controlling your focus. Dharana teaches us to slow down our thinking processes by paying full attention to one single object. This is essential for learning how to meditate.
Samadhi – described as ‘ a state of ecstasy, Samadhi is considered the moment when a person emerges with his focus, transcending his all self with the help of meditation. Samadhi means reaching interconnectedness with the whole world, becoming one with the universe.
Pratyahara – the important internal focus that allows us to observe the internal processes in the body – such as cravings and emotions. It’s a way to withdraw from the senses and any distractions.
Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga has endless benefits, and it is more than an excellent option for beginners to start their journey in practicing yoga. The overall purpose of Hatha is to develop the mind, the body, and the breathing techniques. This leads to all the benefits we will list today. But remember that those are only a tiny part of them all!
Hatha yoga has 15 main postures – 8 standing up and 7 sitting down. However, the poses have a lot of variations. Overall, there are 69 postures, which results in 84 asanas. Don’t worry. You will not perform them in one class! You will most likely need months or even more until you know them all.
Increased Flexibility and Mobility
The increased flexibility is one of the most obvious but significant for our physical health benefit. It allows you to use your muscles to their max without injuries. Furthermore, increased flexibility leads to better posture and alignment. A better posture improves lung health, reduces back pain, and improves the way we look.
As we age, we need to maintain a range of activities to have good health, be energetic, and look good. By increasing our mobility and flexibility thanks to practicing Hatha yoga, we ensure that we will age healthily.
Builds Core Strength and Balance
Hatha yoga is an excellent way of building core strength in the body’s muscles. We need that strength for basic activities such as sitting down, standing up, picking some stuff, and even moving with control. So, building core strength is essential for keeping our spine mobile and healthy, performing physical activities, and much more.
Furthermore, this practice improves our balance between body and mind. Still, not only – it improves our ability to keep balance and not fall easily. A healthy balance system results in high energy levels, strengthened muscles, and confident movements.
Practicing Hatha yoga often enough reduces cortisol levels. This hormone is connected with the sleep cycle, and when its levels are low – our body decides to sleep. So, Hatha yoga is perfect for people who have insomnia or just need to fall asleep faster.
Many people believe that the practice is good for sleep not only because it lowers cortisol levels but also because it helps us to control our breathing. Furthermore, with the help of meditation practices, we learn how to relax our body and mind, which leads to better sleep.
Improves Depression Symptoms
Hatha yoga can be helpful for depression. By practicing, we increase the levels of neurotransmitters in our brains. These are gamma-aminobutyric acid, serotonin, and others. They calm our nervous system and increase our happiness levels, resulting in better emotions and improved depression symptoms.
In addition, many people practicing Hatha yoga believe that by gaining control over your mind and body, you can deal with depression much easier. This practice promotes mindfulness and high spirituality, which helps people to fight depression symptoms.
Increases the Strength of the Immune System
Our immune system is essential for a healthy lifestyle. If our stress levels are high, we do not sleep enough, and we eat unhealthy food – our immune system may be weakened. We need a strong immune system to fight all the diseases around us.
By practicing yoga, we support the lymphatic system, which is responsible for protecting us from diseases and infections. In addition, it also lowers stress levels, which leads to a stronger immune system and better health.
Helps in managing stress and anxiety
Hatha yoga is considered to be very helpful, especially when it comes to relaxing your body and mind. This allows us to learn how to manage our emotions, which results in lower stress levels
It is believed that yoga has a good effect on the endocrine and nervous systems, which are responsible for the release of hormones. By learning how to control our breathing and mind, we can learn how to manage stress and the emotions leading to anxiety.
Weight loss and better skin condition
Hatha yoga also helps with losing weight and keeping our skin beautiful. To lose weight, we need to burn calories. Even though Hatha yoga is not a very intense practice, it tones our muscles. If we practice it often and long enough, it helps us burn calories and lose weight.
Furthermore, by practicing yoga, we reduce stress levels, boost blood flow, and strengthen the body and facial muscles. All this results in a shining and healthy skin condition.
Keep in mind that as a beginner, there are some poses that you better avoid until you get some experience. Why? Even though Hatha yoga is excellent for beginners, some poses may be too harsh for the knees or the neck.
Some of those poses are shoulder stand, plow pose, and headstand. They can be harmful to the neck, especially for people who are used to standing in front of a laptop or smart device most of the day. Other poses that may harm the body, specifically the knees, are all lotus variations. They include complicated knee movements, so you better skip those until you get some experience with Hatha yoga.
Hatha Yoga class – what to expect?
A Hatha yoga class usually lasts between 45 – 90 minutes and always includes poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. However, every teacher has a specific approach, so the classes may differ. To prepare you, we will break down the typical class, but remember that it may be slightly different when you visit. The Hatha yoga sequencing is contrasting from a place to place.
Firstly, every yoga class will start with breathing, or in other words – pranayama. You will focus on breathing techniques, and your teacher will remind you of that during the whole class. Then, you will warm up. Warming up is essential for avoiding injuries while practicing.
After you have warmed up, you will get to the main part – the yoga poses, also called – asanas. Those are a series of movements that will be focused on the improvement of strength, balance, and flexibility. Some will lie down, others sitting or standing, but all will be beneficial. If you feel that one or more poses are too challenging for you, do not hesitate to ask your teacher for help. He or she will surely modify the pose for you or let you have a rest until the class is finished with that pose.
Lastly, the class will end with a short meditation. You will probably be lying back on the mat, breathing deeply, and listening to music or the teacher’s voice. If you are being guided through meditation – this is great. Take advantage of it!
Some teachers may end the meditation with Tibetan singing bowls, which will be a fantastic experience. Some classes will end with you and the other participant being in a prayer pose over the heart, saying Namaste and bowing.
After the class, you can drink water, shower, eat healthy food, or just relax. Do what makes you happy, and enjoy the feeling of a completed yoga class.
Difference between Hatha Yoga and other forms of yoga
There are different styles of yoga, and we will share the difference between Hatha yoga and those. This will most likely help you choose the right type for your personality and goals.
Hatha vs. Vinyasa
When it comes to those two styles, there is no significant difference. The poses are similar, but Hatha yoga is slower and gentler. There is no flowing from pose to pose. Vinyasa is a little more dynamic style, and it is focused on developing the body. When practicing Hatha, you will get deeper into meditation, position, and breathing, while in Vinyasa, you will jump more, switch positions faster, and raise the heat.
Hatha vs. Kundalini
Kundalini is a style of yoga focused on meditation and breathing. There is almost no physical side to the practice. The goal of this style is to awaken the energy inside you, letting it spread around the body and align with your energy centers. Hatha yoga focuses on poses for doing that, while Kundalini – focuses on breathing and the mind.
Hatha vs. Yin
Yin is a very passive style of yoga. Most of the poses are performed lying down on the floor, and some are sitting. There is a lot of holding onto one pose, usually around four minutes. This is done to work into the deepest parts of the body.
This style does not warm up the body. It is more like a form of relaxation. Hatha yoga is also a slower style, but there are standing poses and toning the body, while Yin – no.
Hatha vs. Iyengar
Iyengar is a style of yoga focused on alignment. There is a lot of focus on the small details, including the breath and the perfect performance of every pose. The intention is to be perfect, so much attention is paid to the details. The most significant difference is that Iyengar uses props to aid the practice. Hatha also focuses on the correct performance, but not so much, and props may be challenging.
Hatha vs. Ashtanga
Ashtanga is a style of yoga that consists of some specific poses that are repeated in the same order. This dynamic style has one goal – to create moving meditation with a focus on the breath. Hatha is much more passive, and the poses are not repeated in the same order every time.
Hatha vs. Restorative
Restorative is also the passive style of yoga, focused on stretching. Stretches may last around 10 minutes. This style aims to help you let go of all that’s on your mind. You can use props to support the body, leading to complete relaxation.
Hatha vs. Bikram
Bikram is one different style of yoga. It consists of 26 postures that people perform in a sweltering room with a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity is 40%, and this yoga aims to warm up the body, remove toxins, and help you get as deep as possible in the pose.
Every class lasts 90 minutes, which may be too much for some people, especially beginners. Hatha yoga gives more freedom – you can explore meditation, poses, and breathing techniques, while Bikram is more about intensity.
Hatha Yoga Poses
Speaking of Hatha yoga, we can not forget to mention some of the most popular yoga poses. You can either try them at home or just prepare for the classes you will be attending. All posts may be harder to perform at first, but with time, you will surely get more flexible and do them easily. You will be surprised how the Hatha yoga sequences do not scare you anymore!
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
You must stand on your feet, inhale, and raise your hands to do this pose. Finish with interlocking fingers above the head. Then, you should be shifting your weight to your feet. Feel the stretching, start lowering your arms and exhale your breath.
This pose will strengthen your muscles and will give stability to the shoulders. It will improve posture and help with becoming balanced.
Tree pose (Vrikshasana)
For this pose, you will be standing tall. Bend your right knee and finish this by placing the foot on the inner left tight. The supporting leg has to be kept straight. The goal of the tree pose is to find balance. When you do, you need to take a deep breath and raise your hands over the head by bringing the palms together for Namaste.
If it is challenging to keep balance, you can focus on an object in front of you. This will help. You should keep taking a breath in this pose to get relaxed. Then, repeat it on the left. It will stretch the arms, legs, and back. It will improve concentration, balance, and state of mind.
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
For this pose, you will be standing up. You will raise your hands and sweep them around the sides of the body. Then, come to the forward fold initiated by the hips. The fingertips must be kept in line with the toes, and if you are experienced enough – you can press your palms to the mat. You can engage your leg muscles by slightly bending to your knees. You can let your head hang and relax.
This pose will promote flexibility in the legs, calves, and hips. It will improve blood circulation and strengthen the body. Furthermore, this pose is suitable for people suffering from asthma, sinusitis, infertility, and osteoporosis. If you have insomnia symptoms, menopause, or migraine – Uttanasana is excellent for you.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Firstly, you have to be lying down with your hands by your sides. Then, you should bend your knees and ensure your feet are flat. Inhale, clasp the ankle with your palms and raise the back slowly. You need to stay in this position for about 30 seconds, but do not stop to inhale and exhale calmly.
This pose is excellent for stretching the body and dealing with depression symptoms and stress. It is suitable for reducing headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and menstrual pains. Last but not least – the pose is helpful for people with asthma, sinusitis, and high blood pressure.
How to get started with Hatha Yoga?
Happily, you do not need the experience to start practicing Hatha yoga. All you need is a yoga mat, some comfortable clothes, and, last but not least – persistence. And most important – start with warming up! Every yoga class begins with 5-10 minutes of warming-up practices, but if you are doing it at home – don’t forget this part!
Starting with three classes per week is a good option. This will help your body to get used to it, lowering the chances of injuries. It is recommended to start with shorter sessions, 20-45 minutes long.
If you are doing shorter sessions, you can practice more days. Having a total of four hours per week is a great starting point. If you don’t have this time, don’t worry; practicing Hatha yoga less will also significantly benefit your mind and body. However, like most things, the more time you spend, the more benefits will come.
To actually start with Hatha yoga, you need to do some research. Get to know the practice and its idea, be prepared with patience, decide whether you will be visiting group classes or choosing the comfort of your home, and watch YouTube videos. If you have selected the second option – that’s okay. Many people prefer to try it at home, but remember that it is always a good idea to trust a professional teacher for the first time practicing yoga.
Now that you have information about Hatha yoga, you have chosen the right outfit, a comfortable yoga mat, and the perfect class or YouTube video – you can start your yoga journey and enjoy all of its benefits!
Who should do Hatha Yoga, and who should avoid it?
Yoga is fully accessible to every person. Your age, weight, income, location, and religion – do not matter. All you need is motivation and a wish to start. If you are a beginner interested in the benefits of Hatha yoga, do not hesitate to go to a class or try it at home.
The practice is suitable for people who want to lose weight. Yes, it is not intense, but it tones the body and helps burn some calories. Furthermore, it significantly affects the mind, so most people practicing Hatha are attracted to a healthy lifestyle, which leads to losing weight. (read home here)
This practice is an excellent idea for people suffering from health problems such as diabetes, digestive issues, chronic pains, kidney problems, and so many more. This practice can help with many health issues thanks to its endless benefits. In addition, it is excellent for dealing with health issues and mental problems such as stress, panic, anxiety, and depression. (read more here)
Hatha yoga is a good option for pregnant women. Of course, some poses should be avoided. Still, overall – it enhances blood circulation and improves immunity and metabolism, which is good for pregnancy. However, if pregnant, you better attend specific classes instead of doing yoga at home. You can start yoga if you are an athlete too. It will improve your flexibility and immunity and result in better performance.
Even though Hatha yoga is excellent for mental and physical conditions, some people should avoid it or at least consult with a doctor before starting. Those people suffer from specific conditions such as heart disease, hernia, glaucoma, bone loss, and osteoporosis. People who have recently gone through surgery must avoid practicing yoga. In addition, people with stiffness or pain in the wrist, legs, hips, or back should also talk to a specialist.
How to improve after you have already started?
If you have already started practicing Hatha yoga and love it but want to make progress faster, we are here to help. First and most important – be aware that commitment, consistency, patience, and repetition are essential for improving all you do, including Hatha yoga.
To improve, you need to have a regular schedule of practicing yoga. If you are attending classes, this may be easier, just do not forget them. If you are practicing yoga at home, make sure you have a yoga hour at least five days per week and keep to that schedule. Furthermore, if you have always been practicing at home, a great way to progress is by attending a yoga class with a teacher. You can also visit one focusing on specific aspects of the practice, such as meditation or breathing.
Most of the beginners practice Hatha only 2-3 times per week. If you are doing so – the best way to improve is to increase the number of days or the length of the practice. To ensure you are following your progress, you can journal the effects on the heart, body, and mind.
In addition, if you prefer to practice on your own, you can read more about it and find some sources of inspiration. However, suppose you choose to visit group classes. In that case, you can find some yoga friends, get involved in a yoga community, or even adapt to a yogic lifestyle.
Hatha yoga is one outstanding practice that will surely improve your whole lifestyle. We hope we have been helpful enough, and remember – giving it a try is always worth it! Please share our Hatha yoga for beginners guide with your friends! Here you can see why yoga is a great thing for children as well.
What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga is a combination of breathing techniques, poses, and meditation. It represents the union of two opposites – the Moon and the Sun. Hatha Yoga has great benefits for both the mind and body.
What do we know about the history of Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga comes from Northern India and has been around for around 5000 years. According to some scientists, it is actually much older – more than 10,000 years, but there are no certain sources supporting those facts. In the 15th century were composed one of the oldest texts about Hatha, and in the 20th century, the practice was brought to the West. (read more here)
What are the 8 Limbs of yoga?
The origin of yoga was all about embodying the eight limbs, forming a sequence from the outer to the inner. The 8 limbs of yoga are Yama, Niyama, Pranayama, Asana, Dhyana, Dharana, Samadhi, and Pratyahara.
What are the core benefits of Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga has endless benefits for the mind and body. They include increased flexibility and mobility, better balance and core strength, better sleep quality, improved symptoms of anxiety and depression, increased immune system, losing weight, and having better skin.
What to expect from Hatha Yoga class?
The typical Hatha Yoga class lasts between 45-90 minutes and includes poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. Every class is different, but it usually starts with breathing and warming up. Then come the yoga poses, and the class ends with meditation.
Who can do Hatha yoga, and who should avoid it?
Yoga can be done by every person, no matter their weight, age, location, income, or religion. All that is needed is motivation. Hatha yoga is even good for pregnant women, but they should always be guided by a professional. People suffering from specific conditions such as diseases, heart problems, bone loss, etc., should contact a specialist before practicing.