Hatha Yoga Classic and Modern Definitions

Shanti Yoga School - India - Hatha

Hatha Yoga Defined

Hatha yoga is an umbrella term encompassing any physical exercise coupled with breathwork and subtle energies to better control thoughts for achievement of one-mindedness. Some say “ha” and “tha” translate respectively to “sun” and “moon”, “masculine” and “feminine”, etc. – but this does not tell the whole story. 

The Sanskrit definition of hatha yoga

“Hatha” is a Sanskrit word that literally translates to “force” or “exertion”. This “force” or “exertion” is physical. However, in ancient yogic texts, the physical must also be coupled with breath work and subtle energies to quiet the mind. The purpose is to achieve oneness with the source.

Another way to define this source is as the infinite, super-consciousness, the universe, or “God” – if you’re OK with that term. Some are not OK with that term. And that’s OK, too.

Back to the source. Feeling this oneness with source comes with time. The connection will fluctuate in intensity; It will strengthen and weaken. This fact was brought up in ancient texts. The analogy of the sun and the moon was used to describe our dualistic natures and serve as a potential cause for the fluctuations. This is where the common misperception that “hatha” means “sun” and “moon” comes from.

Regardless, the analogy does serve to remind us that feeling oneness with source will come in waves. Over time, and only through diligent practice, you will transcend all dualities and live in constant oneness: samadhi.

Modern definition of hatha yoga

At Shanti Yoga we often use “hatha yoga” as shorthand to describe a type of physical yoga class. Though hatha is still a blanket term for any physical yoga practice, there is a more modern definition for hatha yoga that refers to group exercise classes.

The commonly-accepted modern definition for “hatha yoga class” is any group yoga class where you hold asanas (Sanskrit word for “poses”) for at least 5 deep breaths. The students are often instructed to find ease in the pose. Though a pose may be difficult the face should be calm. Only the muscles necessary to hold a posture should be used. All others should relax. Breathing should be easy, deep, and quiet. Finally, the transitions between poses may be abrupt, but not necessarily. Some teachers may use transitions between poses, but not all.

Hatha yoga classes are ideal for first-time students or those newer to yoga. Some yogis may find hatha yoga classes slow, boring, even too easy. Others find holding poses for 5+ breaths more difficult than, say, a vinyasa flow class, where you’re constantly moving. Regardless of how you feel about hatha yoga classes we believe learning this style is an important part of your yoga education.

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