It can be quite difficult when looking up yoga studios online or checking a class schedule to figure out which style of yoga you are interested in taking, or even what the differences are. Besides Bikrams, which is hot yoga, the differences between the other styles are less clear. Hatha and Ashtanga yoga are in one way the same style, and yet these terms may mean very different things in actual practice.
Although Hatha yoga is an umbrella term that includes all styles of yoga, including Ashtanga, yoga studios typically advertise slow, gentle yoga classes as Hatha yoga. These classes are appropriate for beginners, says yoga instructor Kathleen Kastner, owner of Maya Yoga studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Even though Hatha classes are generally taught at a low intensity level, speak with the instructor beforehand to determine if the class is appropriate for you. Hatha yoga classes can be taught at a challenging level if the instructor wishes. This may be indicated by a numerical value such as Level 1, 2 or 3, with 3 being the most difficult class.
A common difference between Hatha yoga and Ashtanga yoga in terms of class structure is flow. Vinyasa is the Sanskrit term for flow and if you add a class with the word Vinyasa or flow tacked onto the end of the class name, you will likely experience a class that moves from posture to posture -- called asanas -- without stopping. This is usually how Ashtanga yoga is taught, according to yoga instructor Bill Counter. Hatha yoga typically goes into a posture, holds the posture, and then comes out of the posture. There is no transition between postures as in Ashtanaga classes.
Main Objective of Hatha
Hatha yoga concentrates on perfecting the asanas and doing pranayama, or breath control, to increase the flow of prana through the nadis. Prana is the Sanskrit term for life energy or force, and is similar to the concept of chi. Nadis are channels throughout the body through which the prana flows. Pranayama is the act of controlling and directing the prana through breathing exercises. Hatha works to increase this flow of energy. Asana and pranayama practice are part of Ashtanga as well, but they are only two of the eight limbs, or objectives, of Ashtanga.
Main Objective of Ashtanga
An Ashtanga yoga practitioner not only works on asanas and pranayama but also the other six of the eight limbs including yama, niyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Yama means control and involves following rules of honesty, purity and nonviolence. Niyama are rules of things that you should do, such as worship God and practice modesty. Pratyahara means the withdrawal of sensory perceptions. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are linked. Dharana is concentration on a single point of thought, such as a mantra. Dhyana is greater control of concentration for meditation. Samadhi is effortless meditation, which leads to enlightenment.