The dizzying array of yoga classes available for practice can be enough to make you roll up your mat and put it away for good. From Ashtanga to Kundalini to Yin, you just don't know which type to choose.
Hatha yoga is one of these types that you'll see on studio schedules. It's technically not a specific style of yoga, but an umbrella term for the physical practice of yoga. Historically, the term "Hatha" distinguished physical practice from more subtle yoga paths, including meditation and mantra.
Today, Hatha is often used to refer to a gentle style of physical yoga that consists of a combination of standing and seated postures. It doesn't have a specific sequencing pattern, rather, it's up to the yoga teacher to decide the focus and deliverance of poses.
Free from Flow
One of the usual hallmarks of a Hatha class is the absence of flow. In Vinyasa-style yoga classes, for example, you link the breath with movement to create a yogic dance of sorts. Postures flow together with Sun Salutations and Chaturangas. Usually, this isn't the case in Hatha. Each pose is visited independently. The breath is still emphasized, but after you arrive in the pose.
Don't be surprised if your studio breaks the "no-flow" rule and offers something called "Hatha Flow." This practice may gently move you from pose to pose, but is likely less rigorous than a class designated as Vinyasa, Power or Ashtanga.
Ultimately, you can't be sure exactly what you'll get in a Hatha class without asking the teacher beforehand or taking the class to experience it for yourself. Some teachers may include demanding postures in a Hatha class, while others place a larger focus on seated and reclined poses. Because it's such a broad term without a definitive set of principles, the teacher's style defines any particular class.
Purpose of Hatha
Ultimately, whether your Hatha practice is gentle or rigorous, it intends to quiet your mind and literally tire you out so that you can focus on meditation. Most Hatha practices — as do all physical yoga classes — conclude with at least a few minutes of final relaxation, or Savasana. This is when you lie in Corpse pose or sit in seated meditation to simply breath and be still.
The poses also balance out your energy channels and offers physical alignment, both in terms of strength and flexibility. Hatha literally means "sun" (ha) and "moon" (tha), referring to the competing energies within every person. Hatha unites these two opposite energies to bring equanimity and balance to your body and psyche.