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 and experienced yogis alike.
Here's everything you need to know about the benefits of Hatha yoga, what to expect and how to get started.
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for all physical yoga practices. In Sanskrit, the word "hatha" refers to the union of two opposites: sun (ha) and (moon) in Sanskrit. This form of yoga is filled with a series of postures, or asanas, that both strengthen the body and improve flexibility. Other types of yoga, such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa, are actually forms of Hatha yoga.
The practice also allows yogis 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, Candy Glover, a yoga instructor based in Oxon Hill, Maryland, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"The beauty of Hatha is that through the eight limbs of yoga, each individual receives their very own unique remedy to something they are needing in their own life at that time," she says.
Those eight limbs of yoga are yoga's principles for living a purposeful life, according to the yoga guidebook, Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, from sage Sri Swami Satchidananda. They are:
- Yama (restraint)
- Niyama (observance)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from their objects)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (contemplation)
What makes this practice stand out is that it teaches you how to apply yoga principles in everyday life. For example, using your breath (pranayama) to do the poses 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 involve balancing and slow transitions between poses to really emphasize the breath. Expect seated and standing poses with twists and bends, so you strengthen each side of your body.
5 Benefits of Hatha Yoga
1. Stronger Muscles
Each pose is its own strength and endurance exercise. After 12 weeks of Hatha yoga, a group of 154 middle-aged Chinese adults had better muscle strength and endurance, according to a June 2015 study in Evidence-Based Complementary Medicine.
2. More Flexibility and Mobility
As your muscles work, they also stretch and move through their full range of motion. This can help with muscle flexibility and joint mobility, according to the American Osteopathic Association.
This is particularly helpful for people with stiff joints and athletes who want to get better in their sport.
3. Better Posture and Alignment
Over time, you'll also develop good posture. And, by working on your posture, you can do more than ease back pain, you can actually improve your lung health, according to the American Osteopathic Association.
"Through my Hatha yoga practice, I have developed better air flow and breathing practices," Glover says.
4. Better Stress Management
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 try 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.
5. A Healthy Body Weight
Regaldo also credits her routine 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 between 120 and 178 calories, depending on your weight.
To boost the weight-loss benefits, you can flow more quickly from posture to posture or try more challenging Hatha yoga poses.
What to Expect at Your First Hatha Yoga Class
Whether a Hatha yoga class is slower-paced or more intense 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 include Downward-Facing Dog, Cat-Cow, Child's pose and Mountain pose. These are great basic poses for beginners to learn, but they also help more advanced yogis return to simplicity when they needs to.
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 about asking for a modification.
Regaldo also suggests letting go of all expectations and encourages students to not be concerned with setting strict goals, such as working hard 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."
How to Find a Hatha Yoga Class Near You
Since Hatha is arguably the most popular form of yoga, many fitness studios and gyms offer classes.
To find a studio or class near you, check out Yoga Alliance and ClassPass. You can also find on-demand classes at Yoga Greenbook, Daily Burn, Peloton and Alo Moves. If you have a gym membership, ask if the facility offers Hatha specifically.
Want to get started at home? This gentle yoga flow is perfect for beginners and takes just 13 minutes.
- American Osteopathic Association: "The Benefits of Yoga"
- The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: "Effects of an Integrated Approach of Hatha Yoga Therapy on Functional Disability, Pain, and Flexibility in Osteoarthritis of the Knee Joint: A Randomized Controlled Study"
- Evidence-Based Complementary Medicine: "Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Flexibility in Hong Kong Chinese Adults: A Controlled Clinical Trial"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Mayo Clinic: "Can Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?"