Most modern schools of yoga can trace their origins back to Hatha yoga. The word hatha means force and refers to the physical practice of yoga poses.
Hatha postures are designed to connect mind, body, and spirit, increasing your ‘prana,’ or energetic life-force.
Over the thousands of years, Hatha yoga has existed, it has branched off in many directions, with various schools and practices focusing on different aspects, but the original and primary goal remains unified consciousness.
Though yoga was intended to have a spiritual focus, it can be an amazing full-body workout on its own.
Hatha Yoga Through the Ages
Origins: Hatha yoga is the original form of yoga; all variants of yoga started with Hatha. Some believe it to be 5,000 years old, while others maintain that it dates back as long as 10,000 years. It is difficult to know for sure, as there was no written word in those ancient times.
Pre-Classical Yoga: Not a lot is known about this early period, which began in Northern India more than 5,00 years ago. The Indus-Sarasvati people scrawled many of the earliest teachings on palm leaves, which didn’t stand the test of time.
There was no record of Asanas, or standing poses at that time. Historians think this may be accurate, as the earliest forms of yoga were more interested in the “prana” or energetic life force of a pose as opposed to its physical benefits on the body.
Classical Yoga: This period is when we start to develop a comprehensive understanding of yoga practices. The books YogaSutras and Patanjali were written. The term sutra refers to written record, and Patanjali is believed by many to be the father of modern yoga.
Post-Classical Yoga: This period signifies the existence of Tantra yoga, which placed more emphasis on the physicality of the body. At this time, Hatha yoga migrated to much of the known world and formed many offshoots variants of the practice.
Modern Yoga: During the late 1880s, yogis, or masters of yoga, began traveling through much of the Western world and teaching their wisdom and practices. Yogis spoke at Parliament of Religions, a historic event took place in 1893 in Chicago, which spurned an outcropping of practices throughout much of the US, as well as the Western world at large.
Two major Hatha yoga schools were established around the 1920s in India: The Yoga Institute in Mumbai and the Krishnamacharya in Mysore.
Around 1840 Indra Devi made yoga famous when she opened the first yoga school in the US and brought yoga to Hollywood. It gained in popularity as movie stars flocked toward the movement.
How to Perform a Hatha Yoga Sequence
This simple beginner’s sequence is a good jumping-off point for those new to the yoga experience. It should only take you about 5 minutes.
- Pose 1: Mountain Pose
With your hands meeting each other at the center of your chest, take three deep breaths while standing tall with intention at the top of your mat, reaching through the top of your head.
Inhaling as you raise your arms up, keep your shoulders relaxed. As you exhale, stretch to the left. Inhale, drawing yourself back to center, and exhale, stretching to the right.
- Pose 2: Forward Fold
Exhaling, fold yourself forward, allowing your head, arms, and neck henge freely. Take 3-5 calming breaths. Focus on lengthening the spine and keep a slight bend in the knees.
- Pose 3: Low Lunge (right)
Planting your hands on the ground for stability, step back with your left foot and rest your left knee to the ground. Align your right knee over its ankle.
Inhale as you lift up, lengthening your spine and neck through the top of your head. Sink forward as you exhale and bring your hips toward the ground. Place your hands wherever it feels natural: on your hips, the floor, or reaching for the sky. Hold this pose for 3-5 calming breaths.
- Pose 4 Downward Dog
Placing your hands on the ground to the sides of your right foot, press through your hands and draw your right foot up and in line with the left foot, easing yourself into downward dog.
With an open heart, spread your fingers wide and reach toward your thighs, sitz bones reaching for the sky, maintaining a slight bend in the knees. Allow your head to hang toward the floor for 3-5 relaxing breaths.
- Pose 5: Low Lunge (left)
Mirror your movements for right low lunge for the other side of your body.
Return to Pose 1.
Yoga has many benefits, including:
- Builds strength
- Improves balance
- Enhances flexibility
- Encourages the mind-body-soul connection
- Reduces Stress
- Lowers blood pressure
- Combats anxiety and depression
- Psychologically and physically therapeutic
- Improves energy
- Enhances sleep patterns
- Improves posture
- Enhances mood
There are countless schools and iterations of Hatha yoga. Here are 4 main varieties
- Vinyasa yoga: This version focuses on vigorous movement through sun salutations and poses a greater physical challenge.
- Ashtanga Yoga: Another advanced and fast-paced variety, Ashtanga leads you through a revolving sequence of Asanas.
- Power Yoga: Perhaps the ultimate physical yoga challenge, this is basically Hatha on steroids.
- Bikram Yoga: Picture yoga performed in a sauna. Rooms are heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity as you work through standard poses.
Hatha Your Way to Healthier, Happier Days
If you want one single solution to gaining balance in your life throughout your physical fitness regimen, maintaining optimum mental health, and engaging a spiritual connection, there is no better place to look than the Hatha yoga iteration that vibes with you.