Of the many different types of yoga, two variations — Hatha and Vinyasa yoga — are among the most popular. They share many of the same poses, but each has a distinct focus and pacing.
Deciding if Hatha and Vinyasa yoga is right for you depends on your yoga experience, fitness level, and your goals for learning and practicing this form of physical activity.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both forms of yoga, and help you decide which one may be a better fit for you.
Hatha yoga can be considered an umbrella term to describe many of the most common forms of yoga taught in the West today.
With this type of yoga, you move your body slowly and deliberately into different poses that challenge your strength and flexibility, while at the same time focusing on relaxation and mindfulness.
Hatha yoga places special emphasis on controlled breathing and posture. Building core strength, which is key to good posture, is another important aspect of this type of yoga.
Hatha has hundreds of poses, including well-known ones such as Downward-Facing Dog and Standing Forward Bend. Poses are usually held for several breaths before you move onto the next.
Research has shown that Hatha yoga has a wide variety of benefits, including those outlined here:
- Stress reduction. A
2013 studyin the Journal of Nursing Research found that participation in a single 90-minute session of Hatha yoga was associated with stress reduction. The same study determined that doing Hatha yoga on a regular basis can reduce perceived stress even more significantly.
- Reduced depression symptoms. According to a
2018 study, just 12 sessions of regular Hatha yoga practice can significantly decrease levels of anxiety and depression.
- Muscle and joint flexibility. Numerous studies, including a
2015 studyin the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, suggest that participating in Hatha yoga improves flexibility in the spine and hamstrings. The researchers also recommend Hatha yoga for older adults who need help improving the range of motion in their joints.
- Core strength. According to a
2016 study, just 21 days of Hatha yoga training can lead to improvements in core muscle strength and balance.
Vinyasa is an approach to yoga in which you move from one pose directly into the next. There’s a flow to a Vinyasa yoga session, though the specific poses and the pace of the flow vary from one instructor to the next.
You may also hear the term Ashtanga yoga used interchangeably with Vinyasa. While they’re similar in approach, the key difference is that Ashtanga sessions follow the same pattern of poses every time.
Vinyasa, on the other hand, usually moves from one pose to the next at the teacher’s discretion. This transition coordinates with your breathing. It’s done specifically as you exhale or inhale, and it gives you the feeling that your breath is moving your body.
A fast-paced Vinyasa session can be physically challenging.
Vinyasa yoga improves energy levels while promoting relaxation and lowering stress levels. It also offers several other benefits, including:
- Endurance and strength training. Because the challenging poses are done in quick succession, Vinyasa yoga helps build muscle strength while improving your fitness.
- Stability and balance. While improved balance is a benefit of yoga in general, a
2015 studyin the journal PLoS One found that for people with low vision, a course of Ashtanga-based yoga significantly improved their sense of balance and reduced their fall risk.
- Cardio workout. According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy, the fast-paced movements and physical challenge of Vinyasa yoga make it an ideal light-intensity cardiovascular workout.
- Lower stress, less anxiety. In a
2012 studyof women going through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to quit smoking, researchers found that practicing Vinyasa yoga training helped lower stress and anxiety levels. It also helped the participants quit smoking.
Hatha and Vinyasa yoga incorporate many of the same poses. The main difference is the pacing of the classes.
- Vinyasa moves at a faster pace and requires greater breathing control than Hatha yoga.
- Because it’s done more slowly and poses are held for longer, Hatha yoga allows for more stretching.
One way to sum up the differences is to picture Vinyasa yoga as a cardio workout and Hatha yoga as a stretching and flexibility workout.
Like any form of exercise, the type of yoga that’s best suited to you depends on several factors.
Hatha yoga may be a better fit if you:
- are new to yoga
- have a lower level of fitness
- want to focus on your core strength or posture
- want to maximize stress reduction
- prefer a slower, more relaxed pace
Vinyasa yoga may be a better match if you:
- are familiar with yoga poses and how to do them
- have a good level of fitness
- want to get a cardio and strength training workout during your yoga session
- like to feel challenged during your yoga session
Hatha and Vinyasa yoga share many of the same poses. In their own ways, they each emphasize controlled, conscious breathing to help you relax and improve your fitness. The biggest difference between them is the pace at which you change from one pose to the next.
When deciding which yoga approach is best for you, keep in mind that you can always try one style and switch to a different one if you find it isn’t well suited to your fitness or wellness goals.