Hatha yoga is a branch of classical yoga that relates to physical practices such as postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.

Translated from the Sanskrit word yuj, yoga means to unite. Hatha is a Sanskrit word that means force or determined effort. Broken down further, ha means sun, which represents masculine energy, and tha means moon, which is feminine energy (1).

The practice of Hatha yoga represents using the force of physical practices to balance opposing energies like the mind and the body, creating a union of the self.

Through this unification, a person can merge individual consciousness with universal consciousness, achieving self-realization and spiritual liberation — which is the ultimate goal of yoga.

Read on to learn more about the roots of Hatha yoga and its modern interpretation.

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Hatha yoga is an umbrella term that refers to a type of yoga focusing on physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Some teachers incorporate other elements, such as chanting and mudras.

All styles of modern yoga, such as Yin, restorative, and Vinyasa, are forms of Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga is a set of physical practices that improve self-awareness and encourage spiritual development. Like all forms of yoga, it has a spiritual core, though it’s not a religion.

Hatha yoga involves a variety of techniques, including postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.

It consists of:

  • asanas (poses)
  • pranayama (breathing exercises)
  • dhyāna (meditation)
  • mantra (chanting)
  • mudras (seals or energetic locks, including bandhas)
  • shatkarmas or kriyas (purification practices) (2)

These practices focus on strengthening and focusing the body and mind, which creates physical, mental, and spiritual equanimity. This helps cultivate health, inner peace, and awareness so you can continue on your spiritual path.

The goal of Hatha yoga is to awaken kundalini (subtle energy) through the sushumna (central energy channel) to reach samadhi, which is the highest state of consciousness.

Hatha yoga offers many benefits that help balance, purify, and strengthen the mind and body. It may improve your overall well-being and quality of life (3).

The physical benefits of Hatha yoga include increased flexibility, range of motion, and joint mobility, as well as improved balance, strength, and posture. Yoga may also help relieve pain, improve sleep, and manage symptoms of chronic disease (4).

Practicing Hatha yoga may help encourage a positive mindset, balance your emotions, and improve your concentration. Its mental benefits may help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.

One meta-analysis found that Hatha yoga may be an effective treatment for anxiety, noting that the practice was more beneficial among people with higher levels of anxiety. The benefits were positively related to the number of hours practiced (5).

According to another study, women who did 12 sessions of Hatha yoga experienced significantly lowered stress, anxiety, and depression levels (6).

The Rig Veda is the oldest of four ancient Indian texts known as the Vedas. These religious texts contain hymns, concepts, and teachings. They introduce the four branches of classical yoga, which offer different paths to achieve spiritual liberation.

The four branches of classical yoga are (7):

  • Karma yoga: the path of selfless action or service
  • Bhakti yoga: the path of devotion or self-surrender
  • Raja yoga: the path of mind mastery or self-discipline
  • Jñāna yoga: the path of knowledge or self-awareness

Hatha yoga, which falls under the umbrella of Raja yoga, is a physical practice focusing on asanas, or poses.

In ancient times, yogis only did asanas for a short time. The intention was to loosen up the body and train the mind to concentrate. This helped improve health, eliminate distractions, and prepare for long periods of seated meditation.

Yogis came to the Western world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, adjusting and simplifying their yoga teachings to fit the culture. Swamis, gurus, and mystics traveled overseas to teach spiritual principles such as love, tolerance, and compassion.

During the 1960s and 1970s, yoga teachers traveled to the West and shared teachings of self-purification and meditation. These teachings formed the basis of modern Western yoga as many people know it today.

In the modern Western world, yoga teachings are much more mainstream, though sometimes misinterpreted or appropriated.

A typical Hatha yoga class involves light intensity, low impact movements that you can modify to suit various levels.

It’s suitable for most people, including beginners. Some yoga studios offer Hatha for beginners or Hatha I classes.

People who have physical limitations or certain medical conditions may not be able to participate in a typical Hatha yoga class. However, they may be able to join a class that involves modified poses or props such as chairs, cushions, and straps.

If you don’t enjoy doing physical yoga postures but are interested in the benefits, principles, or philosophies of yoga, there are lots of other ways to study or practice yoga. Physical poses are not a necessity.

Hatha yoga is considered to be the basis of all types of modern yoga that involve asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). To that end, much of the yoga practiced today could be considered a type of Hatha yoga.

Yet, when you’re looking at a yoga class schedule, you may notice Hatha yoga is differentiated from Vinyasa, for example. While Vinyasa is technically a type of Hatha yoga, the pacing of the flow differs.

Traditional Hatha yoga classes focus on one pose at a time, which you may hold for a few minutes. You’ll be instructed to pay attention to your breath and alignment. When classes are listed as Hatha yoga, you can usually expect a slower, more deliberate pace.

Compared with other styles of yoga that may be listed as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or power, Hatha yoga is slower and gentler. It’s usually more intense than Yin yoga or a restorative class. Kundalini yoga is more spiritual and involves more chanting, breathing, and mediation.

Iyengar yoga is a type of Hatha yoga that uses props and focuses on alignment. Sivananda yoga is an example of a Hatha yoga practice that follows a set sequence involving breathing exercises, poses, and meditation techniques.

A typical Hatha yoga class involves practices that teach you to strengthen and control your body, mind, and spirit. Classes consist of breathing exercises, postures, and meditation. They may also incorporate chanting, mudras, and bandhas.

A typical Hatha yoga class may look something like this:

  • Centering. You may start in Mountain Pose, in a seated pose, or on your back. Your teacher may include om or mantra chanting, an invitation to set an intention for your class, and hand mudra instructions. You may do a short guided meditation or breathing exercises, such as ujjayi (victorious breath), nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), or kapalabhati (breath of fire). These elements may be incorporated throughout the class.
  • Warmup. This includes gentle poses to warm up your body.
  • Main practice. Poses include Sun Salutations, standing, balancing, arm balances, core work, inversions, backbends, twists, and forward bends.
  • Final relaxation. The class ends with a lying-down meditation in Corpse Pose. Your teacher may provide verbal cues to help you relax, read an inspirational or motivational passage, or invite you to repeat your intention.
  • Seated position. You’ll end in a seated position. You may be invited to reflect on your practice, offer gratitude, or chant. Following the teacher’s lead, you may bring your hands into Prayer Pose and say namaste, which means “I honor the divine in you,” and bow.

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that involves physical techniques that encourage mental, physical, and spiritual equanimity.

The transformative practices of Hatha yoga create inner harmony, enhance awareness, and improve overall well-being. This helps you feel more at peace and comfortable so you can discover your true nature.

While many contemporary Hatha yoga classes focus on physical postures, you may be interested in learning about some of the other practices. These include breathing exercises, meditation, and hand mudras.

Enjoy the process of discovery, and go at your own pace. By incorporating Hatha yoga practices into your life, you’ll gain so much.