When you first begin going to yoga classes, it can be difficult to know exactly what is involved in all of the different styles. In this post, we aim to provide some insight into what you can expect in a typical hatha class. The short answer is that all movement based yoga involving posture can technically be called hatha yoga, as hatha means effort. However this doesn’t necessarily help you understand what your average hatha specific class is likely to consist of, so let’s break it down…
Through the practice, we are essentially creating awareness on multiple levels – physical, mental, emotional and energetic. There are many forces present within each of us and the practice of hatha yoga helps us become aware of our current state, allowing us to create space and balance. Light and dark, masculine and feminine, hot and cool, effort and relaxation, tension and ease. This shifting of the many aspects is really helpful when we think about the role of different poses within a class. Typically speaking, a hatha practice will involve a combination of some or all of the following:
The warm up in a Hatha class, this is usually very gentle and rooted with the breath. When I teach a warm up, my main aim is to create some movement in the spine and also to being releasing tension in the key areas of the body that can get tight – hips, shoulders, hamstrings for instance.
Reminding ourselves of this idea of opposition, the standing poses help us to feel grounded and rooted through the soles of the feet, whilst also creating space and growing towards the sky. You can think of standing poses like chewing gum, being stretched in either direction, finding space in the spine, arms and legs, lengthening and toning.
Usually, once we’ve established stability through some standing poses, it’s time to make things interesting and work into balances. These asanas are fantastic for creating focus, for teaching our body to adapt and to concentrate the strength laid down in the foundations of the standing section. In balances, we are building the deep core muscles which stabilise and also find stillness – both physically and mentally.
I think of seated postures as the part of the practice which really helps us work internally. Forward folds and twists help us massage our internal organs, improving blood flow and digestion. During the seated part of the practice, we also stretch the legs without bearing weight and also bring space and release to the lower back.
I love every element of a hatha class, but I have to say that when we get to backbends that’s my favourite part. Here we create space in the front body, stretching the abdomen and opening the heart space. Backbends, when performed safely are fantastic for helping to improve posture and alleviate back pain.
When beginning a practice, inversions can be quite daunting. When you understand their role, I think it makes them a bit less scary. Firstly, inversions can assist the flow of lymph around the body, which helps us cleanse internally. In a restorative inversion we help calm or balance the nervous system. In a more active inversion we build strength in the upper body and challenge ourselves to find the correct alignment and centre of gravity.
At first it’s easy to underestimate the significance of this pose. Despite the fact that you’re just lying down, there is an incredible amount happening in savasana. The physical body is processing the practice, and for that matter so is the nervous system, the subconscious and the subtle body! Releasing what you need to release and absorbing what you need to absorb, this posture gives your entire being the time it needs to make sense of the practice that you’ve worked so hard on. Whatever you do, don’t scrimp on this all important pose!
Ultimately I think that trying a few different classes is the best way to go. Finding a teacher whose style resonates with you and a level of class which suits your ability is the key.
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