Yoga is known for its ability to improve balance and flexibility while providing a challenging yet relaxing way to de-stress. It is an excellent choice for practicing in a studio or at home because it requires minimal equipment. However, many types of yoga offer unique benefits. Hatha yoga is an ancient practice that is beginner-friendly and offers a thorough introduction to the asanas.
To find out more about this practice, its benefits, and what you can expect during a class, we asked yoga instructors to fill us in on everything you need to know about hatha yoga.
Meet the Expert
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha is an ancient practice with a long and deeply rooted history. "Hatha refers to practices of the body, and hatha yoga can be thought of as the “original” flow yoga, which can be traced back to the 11th–13th centuries and stems from vedic yoga, or ancient yoga," says yoga instructor Nathalia Basso.
The practice is named after the sun and moon. "Ha means sun, tha means moon; the word hatha means the union of opposites. It’s from this concept, the union of opposites, that all physical yoga was formed," explains yoga instructor Tory Schaefer.
Over time, this type of yoga practice has taken a different shape. "Today, hatha yoga is a term with several meanings and is often a term used for “beginner” yoga classes, though you can find some advanced hatha classes," says Basso.
Best For: Beginners and Low Impact
The term hatha can refer to a wide variety of flow-based yoga classes at a studio or gym. "In general, most facilities' hatha yoga class will be a beginner’s version of a vinyasa or flow class. A hatha yoga class tends to have a slower pace with different breathing techniques. The length of time the poses are held varies, and there is the repetition of individual poses rather than sequences. The poses may or may not link together into a seamless vinyasa-like flow," explains Basso.
What to Expect During a Hatha Yoga Class
"When someone goes to a specific yoga class that is called hatha, they can expect a slower-paced class where poses are held longer so students can focus on balancing the union of opposites in each shape," says Schaefer.
"Modern hatha yoga classes tend to be about 60 minutes in length. Many of the poses that one would do in a vinyasa class will also be done in a hatha class. You may find yourself performing downward dog variations, warrior variations, child’s pose, triangle, pyramid, etc.," Basso explains.
To be sure what type of class you will be joining, ask the yoga studio or facility what you can expect and what type of hatha is offered there.
Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Yoga is known for its benefits to balance, stability, and flexibility. However, there are some specific benefits that hatha yoga can offer, according to our experts.
- Great for beginners: "Hatha is beginner-friendly, as it can be an easier entry point because of the pace of the class and how the poses are unlinked and may repeat," says Basso.
- Stability and balance: The repetition and practice of the movements at a slower pace require and build stability and balance.
- Focus and clarity: Learning to slow down and carefully perform each pose helps you turn inward and focus.
- Calmness: "There’s something magical that happens when you make it all the way through a yoga practice and make it to the final pose called savasana. You leave feeling lighter and a bit brighter," says Schaefer.
- Accessible: "Props and equipment beyond your mat are not necessary, but modern hatha does allow for the use of blocks, straps, bolsters, and blankets for comfort and accessibility," says Basso.
- Awareness: "The ability to be more present, both in your body and in life," says Schaefer.
- Better sleep: Yoga can help increase sleep quality for those with trouble sleeping.
- Reduced stress and anxiety: Hatha yoga has been shown to help lessen the effects of anxiety.
- Increased flexibility: Hatha yoga can improve flexibility with regular participation and boost functional fitness.
- Mobility: "Greater flexibility throughout the entire body and mind," says Schaefer.
As with any exercise regime, there is always an inherent risk. "There are contraindications for all yoga poses. Therefore, it is best to consult with your physician before starting any yoga practice. It is also advisable to alert your yoga teacher of any conditions or injuries you may have," says Basso. However, because hatha is low-impact and beginner-friendly, the risks are minimal.
"Yoga should never hurt. However, if something in class does hurt, stop. You can always let a teacher know about an injury that you are dealing with, and they may be able to offer you modifications during the class," adds Schaefer.
At Home vs. In-Studio
The biggest difference between at-home hatha and in-studio hatha is set and setting. "A large part of the modern yoga experience is the yoga studio environment and practicing alongside other students. If you’re practicing at home, find a serene space and create the setting with your choice of props, incense, essential oils, lighting, and music," explains Basso.
Schaeffer says that the number one difference between practicing at home vs. a class setting is accountability: "It’s too easy at home to get distracted, or after just a few minutes stop the practice and move onto something else. When you practice within the class setting, the community shares energy that supports the student in moving further than they could on their own. Plus the teacher will be able to give more individual support."
Traditional vs. Modern Hatha Yoga
"Hatha is a term used to describe all physical yoga practices. To make matters more confusing, there is traditional hatha yoga, which includes specific practices, and modern hatha yoga, which has a stronger focus on physical practice," says Basso.
Traditional hatha yoga often includes mantra chanting and meditation techniques and includes standing, sitting, and finishing asanas. The asanas are supposed to stimulate specific chakras. Modern hatha yoga focuses mainly on the physical aspects instead of the more spiritual and mythical side.
What to Wear to a Hatha Yoga Class
Choosing flexible, freely moving clothing is essential for hatha yoga. "You are going to move every part of your body in hatha yoga, so wear something comfortable that gives you plenty of space to lunge, squat, and go upside down. If your shirt is too baggy, it will end up over your head in a downward-facing dog," says Schaefer.
Basso suggests wearing whatever you are comfortable moving in. "With the slower pace of hatha yoga, sweat likely won’t be a concern, but wearing fabrics that move with you is ideal. In a yoga class, there is nothing worse than feeling squeezed by seams or ripping a pair of pants," she says.
If you are new to yoga or would like to reap the benefits of a relaxing class that helps you de-stress and improve sleep, hatha yoga is an excellent choice. You'll build stability, flexibility, and mobility—all vital for functional fitness. It is also low-impact and beginner-friendly, making it a fantastic introduction to yoga.