All of us wants to be healthy – there’s no denying that. And for a lot of people, exercise and diet are the two combinations that help us achieve that. Through exercising, we prepare our body for much greater things and in a way, it gives us a chance to gain inner peace and clarity.
One way of achieving peace within ourselves is by practicing hatha yoga. For the most of us, when we hear the word yoga, the thing that comes automatically in our minds is “extreme fancy stretches”. For some, it’s just a way of improving flexibility. Though that’s partially true, there is so much more to yoga than the stretches.
Incorporating hatha yoga into your everyday workout routine could benefit you in a lot of ways. For instance, doing a child’s pose for one minute could help you relieve all the tension after a stressful day. If you’re just starting to practice yoga, then hatha yoga may be the best kind of yoga for you.
What is Hatha Yoga?
The word hatha comes from two Sanskrit words “ha” meaning sun and “tha” which translates to moon. When combined together it literally means force. One the other hand, yoga is derived from another Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “union”. Therefore, hatha yoga implies the union of two opposite (sun and moon) forces.
Hatha yoga is one of the most common styles of yoga that is practiced in America. It mainly involves the combination of the breathing techniques and physical postures. The beauty of hatha yoga is that it doesn’t focus on creating a flow of poses rather it gives importance in the yoga poses (asanas) individually which makes it a perfect type of yoga to practice for both advanced and beginner yogis.
This type of yoga consists of different yoga postures that are designed to adjust the body’s alignment thereby creating channels within the body in which the energy can flow freely. It helps in eliminating any mental and physical barriers so that a person may be able to experience transformation. Through regular hatha yoga practice, a yogi would be able to reach the next levels or limbs of yoga according to Pintajali’s Yoga Sutra namely: Pratyhara or the withdrawal of senses; dharana or concentration; dhyana or meditation; and Samadhi or balance.
The key in perfecting hatha yoga is controlled breathing. This is because proper breathing can help the body take in oxygen and could also help in relieving stress. Therefore, for people to fully enjoy the benefit of hatha yoga, they need to be able to focus on their breathing as they perform the asanas.
7 Benefits of Hatha Yoga
- Improves Balance and Muscle Strength
Balance is an important aspect in our life. When you have a good balance, there is less chances of you falling on an icy street and hurting yourself in the process. It also helps improve your posture and could therefore help boost self-confidence.
Hatha yoga involves a lot of asanas such as tree pose which demands energy from every muscle in your whole body. Since it essentially requires strength, the muscles in your body become stronger thereby helping maintain your body’s balance especially as you grow older.
- Help Reduce Stress Levels
Our minds are constantly working. All the thoughts about work and life in general eventually becomes tiring which causes our minds to become stressed and when our body is undergoing stressful events, the tendency is, our cortisol levels shoot up.
Hatha yoga, however, helps us focus on our breathing. It helps people think about breathing for the present and when they learn to control their breaths, focusing on every inhale and exhale in every asana, their mind eventually starts to relax. And as they start to relax, they are forced to put their worries aside thereby clearing their minds and giving them a chance to take a much needed break.
- Strengthens Immunity
The different hatha yoga poses – twisting, bending, and a lot of inversions – helps the body prevent microorganisms from causing harm. The constant muscle stretching helps in the drainage of lymph which helps the immune system become more efficient in fighting off infections as well as prevent cancer cells from multiplying further. It also helps in removing the toxic products of cells out of the body.
- Improves Flexibility
Hatha yoga is the best way to increase your body’s flexibility. If your muscles aren’t that flexible, neck pains, bad body posture, and knee pains will be a common discomfort to you.
Although at the start of our yoga journey you will be able to feel that your body is too stiff, it will eventually loosen up overtime. Constant yoga practice will do that to you and gradually you’ll be able to find yourself performing a more advanced asana easily.
- Increase Focus
Hatha yoga can be a perfect routine to incorporate to your routine if you’re looking to improve your focus. In fact, a study from the University of Waterloo showed that people who practice 25 minutes of hatha yoga daily improve focus as well as the energy levels. It encourages its practitioners to focus on limited number of things at once thereby helps in lessen the need to process nonessential information.
- Relieve Back Pain
A lot of asanas in hatha yoga focuses in improving muscle strength. Some of these are intended to help strengthen the muscles in the back as well as in the abdomen. When you think about it, having strong back muscles aids in keeping the proper alignment of the spine and thereby help in correcting posture. Also, when the muscles are properly conditioned, pain in the back and shoulders can be prevented.
A review published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Rheumatology in 2016 has also shown that it can be an effective non-drug treatment for back pains.
- Improves Overall Health
Practicing hatha yoga can also help the overall health of a person. It relieves a lot of body abnormalities and help in improving the functions of the organs. Regular practice also encourages a happy mind.
Hatha yoga can offer a lot of benefits aside from the ones mentioned above. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to experience benefits and eventually reach the ultimate goal which is self-realization.
5 Hatha Yoga Poses to Practice
- Mountain Pose
The mountain pose is typically the starting pose of other standing yoga asanas. Practicing mountain pose can help you work with your posture.
You can begin by standing on your mat while keeping your feet together. Release the tension on your shoulders and let your arms hang freely on tour sides. As you inhale, bring your arms up to the sky with both palms facing each ofher. Stay like that for at least 30 seconds before exhaling and bringing tour hands back to your sides.
- Standing Forward Bend
Standing forward bend is also known as foot to hand pose. To start, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a deep breath and then exhale as you bend at your hips bringing your upper body down. If you want extra challenge, you can put your hands below your feet so that your toes will reach the inner side of gour wrists. Allow your shoulders to relax and tuck your chin in towards your chest. Hold that position for 30 seconds to one minute. Take a deep breath before returning back to your original position.
- Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog is one of the asanas you’ll encounter in yoga classes – especially the beginner class. Though it may seem easy to the eyes of non yoga practitioners, it’s actually a challenging pose for a beginner.
To perform this pose, start by coming to the floor on all fours. Keep your palms on the floor and spread your fingers. Allow the bottom of your toes to touch the mat and bring your knees up slowly as you exhale. Push your heels down on the floor and hold that position for at least a minute or so. To release, just simply bend your knees down on your mat.
There are a lot if variations of the warrior pose. Warrior I is the easiest of the variations.
From the mountain pose, keep your feet 3-4 feet apart. Turn one foot out about 90 degrees and bend your knees. Make sure that your knees doesn’t extend beyond your heels. Slowly raise both your arms to the sides with your palms facing downward. Hold this position for a minute before releasing. Then switch to the other side.
Bridge is a perfect asana for stretching the spine, neck and back. To do this, begin by lying with your back on the mat with your arms placed on your sides and your knees bent. Place your ankles as close to the glutes as possible. As you exhale, bring your hips up and press your arms on the mat. Slowly move your hand toward each other below your back and clasp them together. Keep your chin up and stay in that pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Slowly release the pose by gradually lowering your back on the floor.
Hatha yoga may seem difficult for beginner yogis but as they continue practicing it, they will gradually start to appreciate its beauty. It’s not just intended for losing weight, but it also helps you discover things within yourself that you never knew existed. Start learning the most basic asanas of yoga and strive to gain progress every week. And don’t forget to have fun at your hatha yoga class.