4 vital parts of hatha yoga for the newbie
What to expect from hatha yoga. By Joanne Moules
The world of yoga can be a confusing one. If you are just entering this glorious world, then I am here to support you and make a few things more clear for you.
Basically, most yoga practiced in the west is hatha yoga.
The word hatha can be translated as ‘disciplined force’ (ref: britannica.com) and hatha is a practice of postures or poses (asanas) that relieve tension and stress from the body to enable a state of meditation and peace to occur.
So that is the ‘overview’ but what can you expect when entering a class – and how about those funny words?
A lot of hatha has adapted for the needs of the western world – the drive for a leaner body and stress relief from work overstimulation has meant that a lot of yoga has changed its 'look'. Power Yoga, whose basis is in hatha yoga, focuses on strength and fitness. Other styles of yoga (Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Bikram) all take their foundations from hatha yoga.
So hatha yoga is easily enjoyable by all abilities and experience, but what about the Sanskrit language and what can you expect in most yoga classes?
Here is a little run down of the extra fun you will have.
The deeper side of hatha yoga, incorporates Pranayama – breath work.
I cannot begin to adequately express the level of healing and transformation that the body and mind go through just by using the breath! The breath has a huge effect on the Vagus Nerve and thereby the para-sympathetic nervous system, immediately stimulating the body and mind to calm.
There are endless pranayama practices involved within hatha yoga, each one as valuable and profound as the next.
The most well known and easily recognisable part of hatha yoga. Quite simply, the asana is the pose, the beautiful shapes you make with your body during a class.
The asana part of the class makes up the main bulk of the practice, and through the asanas, your body will relieve tension and stress from muscles and joints.
The chanting of mantra focuses the mind – basically ‘giving it something to do’. But aside from that most basic principle, the actual sound therapy within the body is the true magic.
Everything in the universe runs on frequencies. If you have experienced a gong bath, you will know what I mean. Each cell in the body vibrates continuously but at different levels of frequency. When using sound in a monotone vibrational way, the cells of the body vibrate.
This stimulates emotions to come up and healing to take place. The movement of the tongue within the mouth and touching the roof palette of the mouth accesses certain parts of the brain and stimulates the hypothalamus.
A mudra is a hand gesture. The positions of the hands and fingers have a more scientific purpose rather than just looking pretty. The body is a complete flow of energy and the polarities such as the feet and hands are the ends of particular circuits. How the hand/fingers are positioned or touching seals/closes or opens a circuit.
They also give the mind a point of reference. Once practiced enough, the simple act of touching your thumb to your forefinger will stimulate endorphins and feel-good chemicals.
During any kind of hatha yoga, be it asana, pranayama, mudra or mantra, visualisation will intensify your experience. The word yoga means to ‘yoke’ or join, so the connection between mind, body and breath are all bought together with your clear visualisation.
When breathing, visualise silver light travelling up and down your spine with your breath.
When standing visualise roots connecting your feet to the earth, grounding you.
Your mind is your most powerful tool, so allow it to support and enhance your hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga may have changed some of its look over the years, but it still remains an ancient, proven practice that guides the yogi to a place of calm, thus allowing meditation to take place. Whether you want a power burst, a chant or a stretch, hatha is still the tradition to provide you with it all.
Photo credit - Shree Hari Yoga School