The word "yoga" comes from the Sankrit word "yuj," which means yoking, or uniting, with the divine. Hatha yoga follows one particular path of achieving this union. It's also what we know of in the West as yoga, including the physical practice of postures, or asanas, and breath techniques, or prayanama. Vinyasa, on the other hand, is a distinct method of hatha yoga.
Four Paths of Yoga
Ancient sages outlined four paths of yoga that lead to divine union. They are jñana yoga, the path of knowledge; karma yoga, the path of selfless action; bhakti yoga, the path of devotion; and raja yoga, the royal path of uniting body, mind and spirit through meditation. Hatha yoga, as part of the raja yoga path, teaches awareness and connection of the body and breath to calm the mind for meditation and help attain divine union.
The Sanskrit words "ha" for sun and "tha" for moon represent the two polar opposites coming together in the subtle energies of the body. Another Sanskrit meaning for "hatha" is forceful because of the powerful nature of the practice. Its main goal is to prepare the body for comfortable meditation and ultimate enlightenment.
Popular hatha yoga styles include Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini, Sivananda, Jivamukti, Viniyoga, Integral and Anusara. While all these yoga styles are hatha yoga, not all of them are vinyasa.
Vinyasa refers to matching breath and movement in asanas for the purpose of internal cleansing and is used in the Ashtanga style, as developed by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. These synchronized movements can also be called "flow."
A good example of vinyasa in practice is a Sun Salutation, which, beginning from a standing position, might go something like this: Inhale, lift your arms overhead. Exhale, bend forward. Inhale, lengthen your spine forward. Exhale, step back into downward-facing dog. Inhale, bring your shoulders forward into plank pose. Exhale, lower down to the mat through chaturanga dandasana. Inhale, lift into upward facing dog. Exhale, push back into downward-facing dog.
On a yoga schedule, classes identified as "hatha" often focus on breathing and alignment in poses. Classes called "vinyasa" match breath to movement and build heat within the body. Styles such as Iyengar and Anusara focus on good alignment in poses for a healthy body, mind and spirit, while Ashtanga and Jivamukti focus on matching breath and movement through poses for a healthy body, mind and spirit.
- Yoga Basics: Yoga 101 - An Introduction
- YogaLesson.com: The Four Paths Towards Yoga - Raja Yoga, The Royal Path
- SanatanSociety.org: Hatha Yoga
- "The Yoga Tradition"; Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D.; 2001