Simply, Hatha yoga is a style of yoga which involves exercises and breathing, but it is much more than that. Hatha yoga encompasses the balance of the body, mind and spirit through the exploration of 'asanas' postures, 'pranayama' breath and relaxation which bring you balance, greater strength, improved flexibility and a deeper awareness of the self for optimum health and well-being.
Hatha comes from the Sanskrit ‘Ha’ meaning the sun and is considered male. ‘Tha’ meaning the moon and is considered female. Hatha yoga units these opposites, to bring balance to the body through physical exercises known as asanas or postures. There are many different asanas used in a Hatha yoga class. Typically the class will start with reclining postures where you are lying on your back in a restorative position. You will then move to a seated position for seated postures. The seated postures may involve spinal twists and forward folding. From there you will move onto your hands and knees for kneeling postures like spinal bending and stretching, then to standing and balance postures. Once the standing part of your class is complete, you return to your mat to lie on your tummy for back bending postures. After the back bending portion of the class is complete, you lie once again on your back to finish the asana or physical portion of the class with an inversion. The class will finish with meditation and then relaxation.
Pranayama, the breath is a very integral part of Hatha yoga and there are many different techniques. It is a form of controlled breathing that helps to bring your focus inward, so that you become more aware of your body as you move into and hold the postures and move into different postures. It is woven throughout the class from the beginning before you start any postures to the end while you settle into meditation and relaxation. Yes you can exercise without focusing on breathing, but then you are missing a big part of your yoga practice. Your body and mind get so much more out of a yoga class if you focus on the breath. Pranayama brings energy and relaxation into the body enabling you to connect more deeply to the physical aspect of the asanas and bring you closer to internal stillness during the meditation and relaxation at the end of your class.