Hatha yoga is the form of yoga that is most widely practiced in the world. It includes conscious breathing (known as Pranayama) and postures (asana) combined with mental focus to increase your strength and flexibility, awareness, and relaxation.
Hatha aims to bring about a sense of well-being by giving us great strength and balance. This is accomplished through mindful actions of the body and proper alignment. With consistency of practice and great focus, yoga can transform your body and mind to newer heights.
It is hard to produce a date for when Hatha came about, but many practitioners agree that it goes back to sometime around the 15th century. Scholars come up with this number because there was a publication called the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama that contained some basic elements of Hatha.
Hatha yoga is built from the above treatise, and two other texts of Hinduism: Shiva Samhita, and Gheranda Samhita by Yogi Gheranda.
Other then these texts, there is one more document that is sometimes considered a founding of Hatha yoga: Goraksha Samhita by Yogi Goarakshanath (Goarakshanath is considered responsible for popularizing Hatha yoga as we know it today).
Hatha is known to represent two opposing energies: male and female, hot and cold, positive and negative. Because of this, it is sometimes called a "dual" type of yoga. If we breakdown the word "hatha" we get sun (ha) and moon (tha). If we extend this idea further, one can see that this duality correlates to the actual practice of Hatha, which focuses on Pranayama and asana.
In addition to this duality, this style of yoga also includes a concept of multiple limbs (areas of yoga practice). Hatha is usually based on six limbs, representing an essential part of the whole. To be more specific, the six limbs are defind as asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. These limbs have to do with things such as controlling breathing, focusing on a particular task, and preparing the mind for meditation.
The benefits of this type of yoga are many. The more effort you put into your practice, the quicker results you will get. The following list names just a few of the really great benefits someone can get from practicing:
- Builds strength by holding poses for different lengths of time
- Increases flexibility and muscle tone
- Encourages physical and mental balance by focusing on both mind and body
- Reduces stress
- Increases lung capacity for better breathing
- Brings focus to the mind
- Encourages a sense of calm and peace
- Develops proper body alignment
- Improves oxygenation of the body
- Better sleep
- Increased energy levels
The following is a 20 minute beginner's yoga video
Is Hatha Right for You?
Deciding whether or not Hatha is a good fit for you is an important decision to be make. It is suggested to get out there and take a class or two, and see how you like it. You can go to a few different schools and take a class from different instructors, and then decide which teacher's style best suits your needs. You will never know if you like it or not if you don't try it, so get out there and give it a shot.
If you find you want to try a different type of yoga, or maybe something more demanding, then take a look at this article that goes through all the different styles. In addition, here is a great read about the different types of yoga gear, in case you are just starting out and need to pickup some things to get moving.
If health is a big concern of yours, then participating in Hatha yoga is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It is gaining popularity in today's fitness community, and you can find a class with like-minded individuals just about anywhere. The benefits are long lasting, and your mind and body will thank you!