What to Expect in a Hatha Yoga Class

What to Expect in a Hatha Yoga Class
by Valerie Kacian ©2018

The term “hatha” is traditionally defined as the “yoga of force”, which relates less to a forceful state and more to a state of discipline in the practice of asana (yoga poses). In practical terms “hatha” is the foundation of all asana practices in yoga including vinyasa flow and power. So, chances are if you are currently practicing flow-style yoga, you are well-versed in the poses of hatha. What differentiates hatha yoga from flow-style yoga is the absence of the flowing movements in and out of asana. Emphasis is placed on the breath while holding poses statically for 5-10 breaths, then simply moving into the next pose. Hatha allows for more time in each pose to practice using breath to open up the pose, as well as consider how the mind responds to periods of stillness.

Below is a list of what to expect in a Hatha class.

  1. Meditation & Breathwork (Pranayama): Hatha classes traditionally begin with meditation and breathwork. Your teacher will lead you through this work as you focus the mind, recognize the breath, and create space for movement.
  2. Warm Ups: After meditation, a series of classical or gentle sun salutations may be used to warm up the body. Sun Salutations are generally done slowly and may not follow a “one breath, one movement” principle often experienced in vinyasa. Once sun salutations are completed, they are not returned to in the practice.
  3. The Poses: The practice continues with a series of poses held for 5 to 10 breaths organized through the energy centers of the body from root (feet, standing) to crown (inversions). A combination of standing, seated, and supine poses will be explored with periods of rest. Yoga poses such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana), the Warriors, balancing poses such as Tree or Eagle pose, and Twists such as Revolved Chair and seated twist are common. In addition, more challenging poses such as Boat or Camel may be practiced with variations so that students of all levels can benefit from the practice. The sequence of poses is varied for each class.
  4. Savasana: The class ends with a silent or guided savasana.
  5. Room Temp, Lighting, and Sound: The hatha class is taught at room temperature with soft lighting and soft music. Emphasis is placed on a meditative state with limited distraction.
  6. Is Hatha a form of Gentle Yoga?: Not always. Hatha yoga is set at a slower pace than a vinyasa class, which can benefit many students. It is important to note that sun salutations are offered as a warm up, and challenging poses may be explored with variation. Students are encouraged to take the class at their own pace. As with any class it is important to discuss any limitations with your instructor before class so that options can be provided to you.
  7. What if I need a break while holding a pose? No problem. You can always ease out of the pose for a breath or two before returning. A full array of props is available, and blocks, blankets and straps are encouraged.
  8. Hands-On Assists: Hands-on assists may be offered in class when appropriate. Flip chips are used when assists will be offered so that as a student you can decide whether or not you would like an assist, and can flip back and forth at any time in your practice.

Hatha yoga is a terrific way to take time to explore poses and to take time to learn more about yourself in your journey of yoga. This style of yoga is suitable for all levels, and is a wonderful compliment to a vinyasa or flow-based practice.