What does ‘Hatha’ Yoga mean? As a Yoga Instructor, I often get asked to differentiate between the different types of yoga and it can be quite confusing but don’t feel silly, you aren’t the only one who is a bit confused by all of the terminology, unusual names, or numerous styles of yoga out there. It doesn’t help that many of the names are derived from Sanskrit or use the name of the teacher, rather than anything descriptive that might offer a clue to what exactly you are about to do. Don’t be afraid!! Nearly everyone has these questions when starting a yoga practice or study, and you are not going to be judged for not knowing! With a little practice, hopefully, you will be very comfortable with the terms and poses, and any confusion will be a distant memory.
So, what is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga is a term that is often used to describe a ‘style’ or system of physical yoga postures, branch of yoga, and/or method of teaching, depending on the context. You are most likely to hear it being used to describe the type of yoga being taught in a class or studio. To translate literally, HaTha yoga in sanskrit means Sun (Ha) and Moon (Tha) relating to the balance of masculine (powerful, hot, energized) and feminine (relaxed, cool, peaceful) aspects in each individual, as is the intention in yoga to balance these energies. Additionally, it is translated to mean “force.”
Because there are different ancient texts and translators, and Sanskrit is a bit more open to interpretation, we look at both of these interpretations to understand the overall meaning of Hatha Yoga. On a little side note: one of my teachers, Larry Payne, made it very clear to us in training that it is important to pronounce the words properly, because the sounds of each word in Sanskrit convey the meaning as much as the literal translation…and so to properly pronounce Hatha yoga, the ‘th’ is actually a hard ’t’ sound, and so is pronounced “ha-ta,” although you will likely hear many people say it differently, and that’s alright too.
Historically, what we know today as Hatha Yoga was first systematically described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama in the 15th century. Prior to this, there are poses, practices and methodology described in earlier historical records, although they are less complete. Other text followed in the 16th and 17th centuries that laid the groundwork for the yoga we know today. Most will credit the modern style of Hatha Yoga and its offshoots to T. Krishnamacharya of Mysore, India. He is often referred to as “The Father of Modern Yoga” and credited with reviving Hatha Yoga and teaching it to lay people from all backgrounds, and even began publicly teaching yoga to women; which was highly unusual in India at the time.
He created yoga ‘shalas’ or schools in India, and taught two of the most famous teachers in the 20th century – K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. Those two disciples created two very different but very effective and popular styles of yoga (known as Ashtanga and Iyengar respectively.)
Ok, so we know the translation and a little history, but how does that help when trying to choose a yoga class? Simply put, Hatha yoga is used to describe classes that are usually taught at a moderate pace, as opposed to a Vinyasa (flowing, fast-paced) class. Hatha yoga classes vary from teacher to teacher – with hundreds of yoga poses taught within this discipline; unlike other styles like Bikram or Ashtanga, which teach the same poses, in the same order, every time. Because of this variability, its a good idea to also ask the level of experience recommended before joining a Hatha yoga class; just because is it not fast does not mean it is going to be easy. Most studios offer beginner/foundational classes, which are great for someone just starting out in yoga, even the super fit, because the terminology, breathing, and body awareness is likely still a new skill to develop for most non-yogis.
Approach with an open mind, relax, and enjoy!
About the Author
Pierre Gagnon practised concentration and insight meditation intensively from 2010 to 2012, then went on to study meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh with the venerable Ajahn Po from 2013 to 2015. As well as his own practice, he has coordinated meditation retreats in the south of Thailand which were attended by more than 1,000 people.
Having a great passion in the field of neuroscience, he likes to integrate these concepts into meditation practice. He believes that much of our life is lived resisting and defending against internal and external experiences that people perceive as threats. Through the development of concentration and meditation, we can insightfully see that all experiences are harmless and there is no need to defend of contract around them. Pierre has experience coordinating concentration and insight meditation retreats, teaching the relationship that exists between Buddhism and neuroscience.
About the Author
Bochakorn began her education in conventional medicine as a nurse, then shifted to embrace natural healing and integrative medicines. Her training and certifications abroad include: Nutrition and Western Herbal Medicines, Acupuncture and Moxibustion.
During her therapeutic sessions, she may also incorporate other aspects of integrative medicines when required, including: acupuncture, cupping therapy, moxibustion, nutritional, supplements and herbal recommendation.