Everything You Need to Know About Hatha Yoga, the Perfect Meditative Practice for Beginners

Hatha yoga is a slow, meditative practice that focuses on using your breath to deepen the poses.
Image Credit: Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir/E+/GettyImages

If the different styles of yoga are layers, Hatha yoga is the base. The meditative, stress-busting practice hones in on many of the basic yoga postures, making it a perfect introduction for beginners.

But seasoned yogis can also benefit. Depending on the yoga instructor and the studio you visit, Hatha yoga classes can range from a constant flow to a slow, gentle class.

Ready to go deeper with your practice? Here's everything you need to know about Hatha yoga and what to expect if you're just starting out, plus a Hatha yoga sequence you can practice in the comfort of your own home — or wherever you are!

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What Is Hatha Yoga?

Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for physical practice, so other types of yoga, such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa, are all forms of Hatha yoga.

Hatha in Sanskrit is a combination of ha (sun) and tha (moon), and represents the union of two opposites. Hatha yoga is filled with a series of physical postures, or asanas, that both strengthen the body and improve flexibility.

Hatha yoga also allows practitioners to discover something deeper within themselves by creating balance and uniting opposites not only in their physical practice but also in their hearts and minds.

"The beauty of Hatha is that through the eight limbs of yoga, each individual is receiving their very own unique remedy to something they are needing in their own life at that time," Candy Glover, a yoga instructor based in Oxon Hill, Maryland, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Those eight limbs of yoga that Glover refers to are yoga's principles for living a purposeful life, which are found in the yoga guidebook, Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, from sage Sri Swami Satchidananda. They are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observance)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from their objects)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (contemplation)

What makes Hatha stand out is that it teaches you how to apply yoga principles in everyday life. For example, using your pranayama to do asanas helps strengthen the body-breath connection and trains you to sit in stillness.

"Balance is so hard to come by in our fast-paced culture," says Brandie Regaldo, a San Antonio-based yoga instructor and co-founder of SAY OM SA.

"From my personal experience of practicing and observing as a teacher, a Hatha class is often the first opportunity some people have to actually slow down and tune into their body and mind while reinvigorating themselves at the same time."

That said, many of the poses you'll encounter in Hatha yoga involve balancing and slow transitions between poses to really emphasize the breath. Expect seated and standing poses with twists and bends, so each side of your body is strengthened.

The Benefits of Hatha Yoga

It Can Enhance Mobility and Range of Motion

Practicing yoga regularly can increase flexibility and energy, improve muscle strength and tone and promote better respiration and weight loss, according to the American Osteopathic Association. And because many of the yoga poses in Hatha involve gradually moving from a seated to a standing position, you'll also work on your range of motion and joint mobility.

In fact, a May 2012 randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which included 250 participants with osteoarthritis in the knee joints, found that those who did Hatha yoga in addition to pain treatment saw more improvement in walking and range of motion in the knee than those who did therapeutic exercises after pain treatment.

It Can Improve Your Flexibility

In Hatha yoga, you'll also do poses that incorporate both the upper- and lower-body muscles and limbs, so you'll develop greater body awareness and learn how to move more mindfully, which can promote good posture and flexibility. This is particularly helpful for people with stiff joints, as well as athletes who want to improve their performance.

"Through my Hatha yoga practice, I have developed increased flexibility, better air flow and breathing practices, a better meditative practice, as well as a deepened appreciation for my spirituality," Glover says.

A June 2015 study in Evidence-Based Complementary Medicine, which included 154 middle-aged Chinese adults, found that after 12 weeks of Hatha yoga, participants improved their flexibility and muscular strength and endurance.

It Can Help You Manage Stress

One of the things you'll learn quickly in Hatha yoga is that your breath helps you not only transition between the poses, but mindful breathing also helps you perform new and difficult poses. This can easily be translated to life off the mat. When you're going through stressful moments, focusing on your breathing can help put your mind at ease.

"No matter where I am, how I'm feeling or what's going on, if I really take the time to check in with myself, there's always a way to bring more comfort, joy and acceptance into the moment," Regaldo says.

It Can Promote Weight Loss

Regaldo also credits her Hatha yoga practice with helping her lose weight. "There are so many benefits to practicing Hatha yoga regularly, but the most dramatic benefit I've experienced was an 85-pound weight loss over the course of four years, which I have been able to keep off for 12 years," Regaldo says.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, just 30 minutes of Hatha yoga can burn anywhere between 120 to 178 calories, depending on your weight.

Still, Hatha yoga doesn't have the same calorie-burning power as cardio workouts. To lose weight, the Mayo Clinic recommends supplementing your Hatha yoga practice with regular activity like walking, running, cycling or swimming and a healthy, calorie-controlled diet.

Exercise is even more effective when paired with a healthy diet. Download the MyPlate app to track your calories consumed and burned for a complete picture of your overall health.

What to Expect at Your First Hatha Yoga Class

Whether a Hatha yoga class is slower-paced or more vigorous is up to the instructor, but the most important thing is to breathe through the transitions of the poses and to move at your own pace.

Some poses you can expect to do in a Hatha yoga class are Child's pose, Mountain pose, Downward Facing Dog and a nice back warm-up that includes Tabletop and Cat-Cow. These are great basic poses for beginners to learn, but they also serve as reminders for more advanced yogis to return to simplicity when the body needs it.

While the instructor will give you a general time frame for staying in a pose, you can expect to hold poses for five to 10 breaths. If you're not able to do certain poses, don't be shy to ask for a modification.

Regaldo also emphasizes letting go of all expectations and encourages students to not be concerned with setting strict goals, such as vigorously working through the hour-long classes or trying to nail down all the poses.

"I invite you to use your time on the mat for self-exploration and inquiry in place of judgements and rules," Regaldo says. "Even five minutes of mindful movements and breathing can do wonders."

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How to Find a Hatha Yoga Class Near You

Since Hatha yoga is arguably the most popular form of the practice, many fitness studios and gyms offer classes.

To find a Hatha yoga studio or class near you, check out Yoga Alliance and ClassPass. You can also find on-demand Hatha yoga classes at Yoga Greenbook, Daily Burn, Peloton and Alo Moves. If you're a member at larger gyms, ask if they have Hatha yoga class offerings.

A 15-Minute Hatha Yoga Sequence to Try at Home

To help get you started with cultivating calm and relaxation on — and off — the mat, here is a quick Hatha yoga flow to practice daily.

Hold each pose for five to 10 breaths and repeat the sequence for 2 to 4 rounds, making sure to switch sides where noted with each round. This flow is meant to be relaxing, so feel free to hold the poses longer.

Move 1: Child's Pose (Balasana)

Move 1: Child's Pose (Balasana)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. Start with your hands and knees on a mat. Begin to center your breath and turn your awareness inward.
  2. Spread your knees wide while bringing your big toes to touch.
  3. Sink your glutes down toward your heels.
  4. Extend your arms in front of you while allowing your forehead to rest on your mat.

Tip

If your hips are tight, keep your knees and thighs together.

Move 2: Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Move 2: Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. From Child's pose, curl your toes under and press your fingers down firmly into the mat.
  2. Push your hips up toward the ceiling as you press your shoulders away from your ears.
  3. As you exhale, push your thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor.

Tip

If this is your first Downward Facing Dog of the day, put a gentle bend into the knees or cycle your legs, bending one knee at a time. Otherwise, you can straighten your legs while making sure not to lock out your knees to prevent potential injury.

Move 3: Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

Move 3: Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. From Downward Facing Dog, on an exhale, sweep your right leg into the air and place your right foot at the top of the mat, creating about a 3-foot distance between your feet.
  2. Slowly bring your arms up, reaching your fingertips toward the ceiling and turning the inner creases of your elbows to face each other.
  3. Turn your left foot in 45 to 60 degrees to the right and your right foot out 90 degrees to the right. Align the right heel with the left heel.
  4. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right, squaring the front of your pelvis as much as possible with the front edge of your mat.
  5. With your left heel firmly anchored into the floor, exhale and bend your right knee so the right shin is perpendicular to the floor.
  6. Repeat on the other side in the next round.

Move 4: Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)

Move 4: Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. From Warrior I, on an exhale, drop your left (back) hand to the back of your left thigh or behind your lower back.
  2. On an inhale, lift your right arm straight up, reaching your fingertips toward the ceiling. Your right biceps should be next to your right ear.
  3. Keep your front knee bent and your hips sinking low as you lengthen through the sides of your waist.
  4. Tilt your head slightly and bring your gaze to your right hand’s fingertips.
  5. Keep your shoulders relaxed, chest lifted and the sides of your waist long.
  6. Repeat on the other side in the next round.

Move 5: Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)

Move 5: Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. From Reverse Warrior, straighten your front leg and ensure your right toes are pointing toward the top of the mat.
  2. Pivot your left foot slightly inward. Your back toes should be at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Lift through the arches of your feet, while rooting down through your ankles.
  4. On an exhale, reach through your right hand in the same direction as your right foot is pointed. Shift your left hip back so your tailbone and pelvis tilt toward the wall or space behind your left foot.
  5. Fold at your right hip. Keep your right ear, shoulder and knee in the same plane, not allowing your torso to drop forward.
  6. Turn your left palm forward with your fingertips reaching toward the sky.
  7. Rest your right hand on your outer shin or ankle. You can also place your hand on a block.
  8. Gently turn your head to gaze at your left thumb.
  9. Draw down through the outer edge of your back foot.
  10. Repeat on the other side in the next round.

Move 6: Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana I)

Move 6:  Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana I)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. From Triangle pose, on an exhale, bring your left arm down to the mat on the inside of the right foot. Both hands should frame the foot.
  2. Walk both hands over to the left side of your mat as you slowly and carefully turn both feet toward the same direction as your hands.
  3. Keep your feet planted where they are, or walk them out a bit further if you want to work on increasing flexibility.

Move 7: Garland Pose (Malasana)

Move 7: Garland Pose (Malasana)
Image Credit: Shawna Davis/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. From Wide-Legged Forward Fold, on an inhale, place your hands onto your hips as you slowly pull your tailbone down toward the floor and bring the torso up.
  2. Walk your feet in toward your body and keep them at about hip-width distance.
  3. On an exhale, begin to lean your torso forward and fit it snugly between your thighs as you press the weight of your body into your heels.
  4. Press your elbows against your inner knees, bringing your palms together in Anjali Mudra or prayer.
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