There are many interpretations of Hatha Yoga in our western culture and it can be very confusing for the novice yogi or yogini.
From a traditional perspective, Hatha Yoga means “forceful” yoga or physical yoga, meaning that the focus of the practice is predominantly on asanas or postures.
Under the generic label or umbrella of Hatha Yoga you will find subsidiary titles such as Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Kundilini Yoga and so on. These branches of yoga are all different presentations of Hatha Yoga, that is they are all a physical form of yoga.
The objective of Hatha Yoga at most studios is to use the physical body as the vehicle or gateway to bring more conscious awareness and connection to the “self” … to become aware of experiences in life both on and off the yoga mat.
The Asanas (postures) are taught with emphasis on correct body alignment within each student’s capability, and the student learns self-discipline within each of the postures, knowing how far to go without becoming competitive or aggressive in their practice. Everything that we do can then become a “yogic experience” and we can cope better with our everyday lives.
Within nature, there lies a radiant beauty, reminding us to treat everything in life with reverence, respect and love.
Some of the Many Benefits of Hatha Yoga
• Builds bone density
• Releases stress
• Builds confidence and vitality
• Improves posture
• Improves strength and flexibility
• Relaxes and centres the mind
• Calms the brain, helping us to think more clearly
• Relieves backache, headache
• Helps breathing problems
• Strengthens the immune system
• Helps balance the hormonal system
And if you’d like to see this in a visual form, please check out this link.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Many Hatha yoga classes begin and end with Restorative poses, with the active poses in the middle. However, in a Restorative class, the entire practice consists of restorative poses. The development of Restorative Yoga is credited to B.K.S.Iyengar of Pune, India.
During Mr Iyengar’s formative years, he was quite sickly, and to keep abreast with other students, he experimented with “props”, modifying poses so that he could practice without too much strain. He used the props to recover from his illness and injury.
Mr. Iyengar is now 90 years of age and has been teaching yoga since he was in his early twenties.
Restorative Yoga can help to relieve chronic stress in several ways:
- By the use of “props” (blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps, etc) to provide a safe and supportive environment to aid total relaxation
- The sequences are designed in such a way as to move the spine in all directions. Some poses are backbends, others forward bends, twists or inversions.
- The sequences usually includes an inversion, which reverses the effect of gravity. In this way circulation is improved and heart function is enhanced.
- Restorative Yoga alternately stimulates and soothes the organs with the different poses
- Restorative Yoga teaches us that the body is permeated with energy: PRANA which is the masculine energy which resides above the diaphragm, moves upward and controls respiration and heart rate. APANA, the feminin energy, resides below the diaphragm and moves downward and controls the function of the abdominal organs. This practice restores the balance of the two energies, so that the student is neither overstimulated nor depleted.
Restorative Yoga is for everyone. Each pose is individualised to suit any injury or tightness. This practice is recommended for those who practice the more dynamic yoga practises such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa or General Hatha regularly.
Restorative Yoga brings BALANCE to the body by taking us deeper into our selves, finding out how to use our breath and to feel sensations and find our soul.
Are You Practising Yoga Safely?
Yoga is intended to heal and nurture our bodies and minds, yet many students find out that it can also potentially cause injuries. They want to be able to “perform” the asanas (postures) perfectly, so that they “look good” for the teacher and other students.
Neck, wrists, back, hips, knees and ankles are all common areas where students can potentially get injured.
The Ego Factor
The most common cause of injury falls on a single attitude: Overzealousness or obsessiveness to achieve the perfect pose.
Over–ambition and enthusiasm can be dangerous – especially for students who push themselves beyond their limits – AND it is usually the more experienced yogis who want to take their practice to the next level physically who are the ones who get hurt the most!
The best and most intelligent way to progress in your practice is to have: “Good intentions with low expectations“… and practice, practice, practice.
Most yogis who seem more ‘advanced’ in their practice of asanas (postures), are disciplined and practise regularly, usually every day. They ‘listen‘ to their bodies for inner guidance, watching the breath and moving safely in their practice.
This is where the “mind/body intelligence” connects and when the true practice of yoga is experienced.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
This method of Hatha Yoga involves synchronising the movement of the body with a breathing technique known as Ujjayi Breath (breathing with sound) and the use of internal locks or bandhas while the student moves dynamically through a series of postures or asanas.
The combination of the breathing, bandhas and asana ignites an internal heat necessary for the purification of internal organs and the nervous system. This method of dynamic or vinyasa yoga cleanses the body internally.
As your practice develops you discover the integral partnership of breath and bandha. Mula bandha, the toning and control of the pelvic floor, is responsible for providing your root foundation and Uddiyana bandha, the toning and drawing in of the lower abdomen provides the resultant upward flying energy.
Not for the faint-hearted – an athletic and dynamic practice. Ashtanga requires a combination of motivation, discipline and dedication.
Important Points to Remember Before Practising Yoga
- Come to your class with an EMPTY stomach – if you must eat something, make it light. Save your big meal for later.
- Wear comfortable stretchy clothing such as tracky daks and T shirt, leotard, etc.
- Let the teacher know if you have any new injuries, headache, menstruating, pregnant, etc.
- Try to practise yoga WITHIN your own limitations. Yoga is non-competitive (even with yourself!). Injuries can occur if you are aggressive and force yourself deeper into postures. Use your breath as a guide – if your breath is stready and smooth, your practice is right; if you are holding your breath, or it is “bumpy”, you are going too far.
If you are still unsure which kind of yoga is right for you, please take a look at our advice on choosing the best yoga class for your particular needs.