Although similar in nature, hatha and yin yoga have distinct characteristics of origin and practice. Hatha yoga has roots in India and is meant to be a physical practice for strength, purification and preparation for meditation. Yin yoga originated in China and centers on holding poses for prolonged periods of time to stretch the connective tissue and deepen meditation. Both types of yoga will help you relieve stress and enhance your well-being.
When you take a hatha yoga class, you will likely do a variety of asanas, or postures, and pranayama, or breath work, along with a meditative or reflective component. Typically in the West, hatha is dominated by the physical postures as they are exercises for strength, balance and flexibility. A balanced array of hatha yoga postures will consist of standing and seated poses, as well as postures focusing on balance, forward bends, backward bends, inversions and twists. The class will likely be slower paced and invoke a relaxation or meditative piece to round out the practice.
A yin yoga class will feel different from a hatha practice. Yin focuses on stretching the deep connective tissue in the joints and lengthening the time spent in each pose. You will do fewer postures in a yin yoga class, and because you are working on stretching, will not be engaged in standing or strengthening poses. In a yin class, you will hold each pose for approximately five minutes, though some yin yoga instructors may hold the pose for longer. You eventually will find that you have greater range of motion due to the lengthening of the connective tissue.
Whether you are part of a hatha or yin yoga class, you will encounter working with your breath. In a hatha class, breath control and awareness is at the core of the class. You will observe the breath as well as lengthen or deepen it through various breathing techniques. In yin yoga, however, the focus of the breath will be on its stillness and keeping it regular and unforced. Thus, in the yin tradition, you will keep the breath gentle, calm and unlabored, which for many people is often difficult to do.
Yoga can help reduce stress and increase flexibility. Yet numerous other benefits have been found for those who make yoga practice, whether hatha or yin, part of their lifestyle. For arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, depression and diabetes, yoga has been termed a prescription for improved health.