Technically, Hatha Yoga encompasses all styles of physical yoga including both asanas (the postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). They are two of the key elements within the eight limbs of yoga. The Sanskrit word haṭha literally means “force,” which alludes to these physical techniques. Separately, “Ha” represents sun and “tha” represents moon. This represents the presence of opposing forces in our lives, such as yin and yang, light and darkness, hard and soft, vigorous and gentle. That being said, Hatha Yoga is about creating balance. These practices were designed to align and calm your body, mind, and spirit in preparation for meditation.
Hatha Yoga predates “newer” styles of yoga such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, Iyengar, Power Yoga, etc. The first definitive mention of Hatha Yoga (the physical practice of yoga) came from 11th century texts. These other styles, now known as modern yoga, all stemmed from Hatha Yoga, and were introduced later on in the early 20th century.
So what does it mean when you see Hatha Yoga as a class description?
After the introduction of modern yoga, particularly in the west, Hatha Yoga became a generic reference for any yoga that is outside of a specific style and not vinyasa-based. In a Hatha Yoga class, you can expect to move through the postures at a more gentle, slower pace. You will typically hold the poses longer, to focus on alignment and creating more space within the body and posture. These types of classes are great for the growth and development of the asanas. Because of this, they are usually good classes for beginners, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that classes will be easy. Regardless of what level practitioner you are, these classes are an excellent way to deepen your yoga practice.