Hatha yoga is the most widely practiced form of yoga in the world. Hatha yoga uses postures (asanas) and conscious breathing (pranayama) in combination with mental focus to develop awareness, strength, flexibility, and relaxation. Through proper alignment and mindful actions of the body, hatha yoga can bring balance, strength, and a sense of well-being to those who practice it.
There are a variety of yoga styles, each with its own unique focus. In the United States, hatha yoga is the most practiced. It features slow movements and involves repetitive stretching and breathing exercises. Much like the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, hatha yoga strives to balance the opposite forces of ha (sun) and tha (moon).
There are four main groups of yoga postures, also called asanas: standing, seated, reclining prone, and reclining supine. Other groups include forward bends, back bends, side bends, twists, inverted, and balancing. Within each group there are dozens of different yoga poses at beginning and advanced levels. The main goal of hatha yoga is to facilitate concentration and meditation.
Yoga helps strengthen the heart and slow respiration. Published medical studies have shown it is beneficial in treating a variety of conditions, including heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), arthritis, depression, fatigue, chronic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Yoga in its full form combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy. The focus of hatha yoga is primarily on improving posture and breathing that results in the mental and physical benefits.
According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine use by Americans, yoga is one of the top ten alternative medicine practices used. More than 13 million American adults had used yoga in the previous year, and between the 2002 and 2007 surveys, use of yoga among adults increased by 1% (or approximately three million people), according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. People use yoga for a variety of health conditions, including anxiety disorders or stress, asthma, high blood pressure, and depression. People also use yoga as part of a general health regimen to achieve physical fitness and to relax.
Hatha yoga was introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a yoga guru in 15th century India. This particular system of yoga is the most popular one, and it is from which several other styles of yoga developed including power yoga, bikram yoga, ashtanga yoga, and kundalini yoga.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Indian yogis (teachers or masters) started moving to the West where they attracted many followers. During the 1920s, hatha yoga was promoted in India thanks to the lifetime efforts of a yogi named T. Krishnamacharya. This yoga master traveled throughout India giving demonstrations of yoga asanas and he opened the first hatha yoga institute. Krishnamacharya successfully trained other students who have subsequently handed down his legacy and boosted the popularity of hatha yoga, especially in Europe and North America.
Yoga's popularity continued to grow in the West until 1947, when the yogi Indra Devi founded a yoga institute in Hollywood, California. In the following decades, Western and Indian teachers became pioneers of the practice, popularizing hatha yoga and attracting millions of followers worldwide. Today, hatha yoga has a number of schools or styles, all of which emphasize the many different aspects of yoga practice.
No advanced preparations are required for hatha yoga. Any exercise should start with a warmup of five to ten minutes. Anyone considering a yoga exercise program should consult first with a physician. Persons with serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, acquired immune deficiency syndrome/human immunodeficiency virus (AIDS/ HIV), asthma, and arthritis should only begin an exercise regimen with their doctor's approval. A yoga mat is helpful but not required, and loose, comfortable clothes are recommended.
There are no inherent health risks in practicing hatha yoga. However, hatha yoga is not recommended for pregnant women or children under age 16. Yoga is dangerous to pregnant women since the inverted positions can create air embolisms, according to the American Yoga Association. The organization also reports that yoga exercises and movements may affect natural growth in children by interfering with development of the nervous and glandular systems. People with certain medical conditions should not use some yoga practices, according to the NCCAM. For example, people with disc disease of the spine, extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, retinal detachment, fragile (atherosclerotic) arteries, a risk of blood clots, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, or cervical spondylitis should avoid some inverted poses.
Hatha yoga is known for the asanas or postures that improve concentration, flexibility, and health. It is thought that by perfecting the body, creating a healthy physical condition, and raising kundalini (dormant energy) upwards along the spine, the body becomes better prepared for yogic awakening (the awakening and union of the spirit and self). The first effects felt are usually improved general health and a strengthened nervous system. Some hatha yoga instructors demonstrate control over their internal organs, blood flow, and breathing. The ability of some yogis to reduce their breathing and heartbeat for a period of time has been demonstrated under laboratory settings.
Research shows that yoga in general can improve mood; counteract stress; reduce heart rate and blood pressure; increase lung capacity; help with anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. Hatha yoga is especially good for improving breathing and posture.
See also Yoga .
Coulter, David H. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners. Honesdale: Body and Breath, 2010.
Norberg, Ulrica, and Andreas Lundberg. Hatha Yoga: The Body's Path to Balance, Focus, and Strength. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.
Berggoetz, Barb. “How Yoga Heals: The Ancient Art Soothes Pain As It Boosts Strength, Balance, and Flexibility.” Saturday Evening Post (March/April 2011): 60.
Isaacs, Nora. “The Yoga Rx: Put Away Your Pills and Strike A Pose.” Natural Health (February 2011): 40.
Phillips, Erin. “Palms Up.” Utne Reader (July 2011): 75. Whitman, Stacy. “Be A Yoga Rock Star.” Shape (July 2011): 160.
“Introduction to Hatha Yoga.” http://yoga108.org/pages/show/46 (accessed January 25, 2017).
American Yoga Association, PO Box 19986, Sarasota, FL, 34276, email@example.com, http://www.americanyogaassociation.org .
Canada Yoga Vedanta Organization, 42 Calverley Trail, Scarborough, M1C 3R5, Canada, 1(416) 282-0743, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.cyvo.org .
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD, 20892, (888) 644-6226, https://nccih.nih.gov .
Yoga Alliance, 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 700, Arlington, VA, 22209, (888) 921-9642, email@example.com, http://www.yogaalliance.org .
Ken R. Wells