This is a question I get all the time where I teach yoga. The resort where I teach, we have "Hatha Yoga" listed every morning at 8am and people always seem confused about what style of yoga that represents.

I'm going to clarify for you what what hatha yoga means as simply as I can and then provide a small list of "styles" of yoga which fall within the hatha yoga system.

Yoga, which means to "yoke" or unite body and spirit, is a spiritual and somewhat scientific practice which offers many holistic benefits. There is an 8 limbed path to yoga from the Classical Yoga perspective and each limb represents one part of the path. Hatha Yoga is one of the 8 limbs and is
designed for purifying the body and calming the mind. Moving through postures and practicing breath control typically make up the majority of a hatha yoga class. Hatha Yoga is used in preparation for later stages of the path which
include meditation and contemplation.

In the West, most people associate yoga with exercise or stretching. It is almost purely a physical practice with postures ranging from totally relaxing to gymnastic like movements. The benefit of practicing this type of exercise
is that it is often accompanied by some kind of theme shared by the teacher. The theme or focus of the class is used to help students gain greater awareness of their bodies and their potential as human beings. Themes stem from the spiritual bent of the teacher and can include Eastern Philosophy or common sense approaches to recognize the activities of the mind. Some teachers incorporate their religious faith into the practice to gain a deeper
connection to something greater than just themselves. But many classes are taught with no theme at all - just exercise.

There are many styles of yoga that fall under the practice called Hatha Yoga:

Restorative: This type of practice involves intense relaxation postures. There is no real movement other than transition from one relaxing post to the next. This style of yoga is designed to calm the central nervous system and is great for people who are over stressed and under connected to themselves. It can be very healing for anyone going through high stress or illness.

Gentle: This type of class is typcially for people with little range of motion and in need of a slow and easy class. It's good for older people who haven't done much exercise but would appreciate learning more about their bodies. It's also nice for anyone who wants to connect with themselves more but don't want to expend a ton of energy.

Basics: Basics classes are for those who want to learn the fundamentals of yoga postures and breathing and who don't mind utilizing some muscles to gain strength and stretching to gain flexibility. All levels of yoga practitioners can enjoy a basics class.

Anusara Yoga: This is a particular style that was founded by John Friend and incorporates Basics, Intermediate and Advanced postures that utilize a set of alignment principles for therapeutic affect. It is backed by a philosophy derived from a Tantric (one of many Eastern Indian paths) perspective.

Ashtanga Yoga: This style emanates from an ancient sage (Patanjali) who codified the 8 limbed system he called Ashtanga. The style is for purification of the body and consists of a series of postures with breath work which cleans out the body toxins. There are six different series, one being foundational to the next. It is challenging and one must master the first series before moving onto the next.

Iyengar Yoga: This style, created by B.K.S. Iyengar, focuses on the structural alignment of the physical body through the development of postures. Through the practice of a system of asanas (postures), it aims to unite the body, mind and spirit for health and well-being. Iyengar Yoga is known for its use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in practicing the postures. The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimizing the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old.

Viniyoga ™: According to the American Viniyoga Institute, Viniyoga ™ is a comprehensive and authentic transmission of the teachings of yoga including asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), bandha (root locks), sound, chanting, meditation, personal ritual and study of texts. It is an ancient Sanskrit term that implies differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. This means that classes are adapted to the needs of the student and there are certain characteristics of the practice used to move in that direction.

Kundalini: YogaGlo says Kundalini utilizes movement, sound, breath and meditation to relax and restore your mind and body while improving strength, flexibility and endurance. This powerfully effective form of yoga stimulates the immune, nervous and glandular systems, helping to bring you back into true harmony.

Vinyasa Flow: This practice utilizes a flowing, dynamic form of yoga, where postures are linked together using breath. Your heart rate will be lifted, you are likely to perspire and you will feel pretty good when finished. Alignment can be lost in a flow class, so I recommend learning basic yoga postures with a focus on healthy alignment before venturing into a flow class.

Yin: Yin focuses on postures that lengthen the muscles surrounding the hips, pelvis, and lower back. Students typically hold these postures for 3-10 minutes per side in order to lengthen the connective tissue that surrounds the
joints and increase its elasticity. The elasticity of our connective tissue diminishes with physical activity and aging, which makes Yin essential for injury prevention and joint health. Since a Yin Yoga practice often includes
several long, seated forward bending postures, it also restores energy and calms the nervous system.

If you wind up in a class titled "Hatha Yoga", you most likely will be guided into postures with alignment and learn various techniques for practicing breath control. Most hatha yoga classes are taught to the level of the class but offer challenging, yet very doable exercises designed to tone and stretch muscle tissue. Regardless of what style yoga you try or practice, you are bound to receive many health benefits which contribute to your whole well being.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Kneller is the publisher of Midlife Living Well, a lifestyle website and online magazine providing solutions for midlife living. She also teaches yoga in the Scottsdale, AZ area.

For more information and solutions to midlife issues, visit
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