History of Hatha Yoga
In Sanskrit, Hatha means force. Hatha yoga breathing techniques can be traced back to the 1st Century in both Buddhist and Hindu texts, but it was another 1,000 years before the use of yoga postures, or asanas, and breath control was recorded as a way to enhance vital energy.
By the 1950s, hatha yoga was introduced to millions of households across America with Richard Hittleman’s popular TV program “Yoga For Health.”
Health Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Yogis have long touted the calming and wellness benefits of practicing yoga. Today, research supports many of these claims.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health analyzed dozens of peer-reviewed studies and while most of the research was performed on small numbers of subjects, they found evidence to suggest yoga may be beneficial for the following conditions:1
Anxiety and depression
: Yoga can help relieve everyday anxiety and depressive symptoms, however, it may not be effective for clinically diagnosed mental health conditions. The NCCIH reviewed 68 published studies on yoga did not find conclusive evidence to support its effectiveness for managing anxiety disorder, depression, or PTSD.
Arthritis and fibromyalgia
: According to the NCCIH, there is weak evidence to support yoga has benefits for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
The American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a non-drug method to treat back pain.2 A 2018 review of eight studies by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found yoga improves low-back pain and function with both short-term and intermediate-term benefits, and its effects are similar to other types of exercise.
Balance: Yoga helps to improve balance in healthy people, according to 11 out of 15 studies reviewed by NIH.
Emotional health: Yoga has a positive impact on mental
health and was shown to have benefits of improving resilience or general
mental well-being in 10 out of 14 studies reviewed by NCCIH.
Menopause: Yoga can relieve physical and psychological symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, according to the NCCIH review of more than 1,300 study participants.
Mindfulness: In a 2018 survey of 1,820 young adults published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, participants attributed greater mindfulness, motivation to participate in other forms of activity and eat healthier, and the influence of a health-minded yoga community to practicing yoga regularly.
Multiple sclerosis: Yoga has been shown to have
short-term benefits on mood and fatigue in people with multiple
sclerosis, however, it was not found to affect muscle function,
cognitive function, or quality of life, the NCCIH reports.
Neck pain: A 2019 meta-analysis published in the journal Medicine including 10 studies and a total of 686 subjects found that yoga can reduce the neck pain intensity and disability from pain while also improving range of motion in the neck.3
Sleep: Several studies reviewed by NCCIH have found yoga can improve sleep quality and duration. Populations found to experience sleep benefits from yoga include cancer patients, older adults, people with arthritis, pregnant women, and women with menopause symptoms.
Stress management: Yoga was shown to improve physical or psychological measures related to stress in 12 out of 17 studies reviewed, according to NCCIH.
What to Expect in Yoga Class
There are several different styles of yoga to choose from today. If a class is just labelled yoga, it is likely the Hatha variety. Hatha is considered a gentle yoga that focuses on static poses and is great for beginners. However, even though it is gentle, it can still be physically and mentally challenging.
- Breathing: Most hatha yoga classes start with a period of focus on your breath or pranayama. As you go through the poses, your teacher will continue to remind you to focus on your breath and may offer different breathing exercising to try.
- Poses: Yoga poses, also called postures or asanas, are a series of movements that help improve balance, flexibility, and strength. Poses range in difficulty from laying flat on the floor to physically challenging positions. If at any time during your class, a pose is too difficult, your instructor can provide you with a modified posture.
- Meditation: Most classes end with a short period of meditation. During this period of quiet reflection, your teacher may ask you to lie on your back and may cover you with a blanket. Some instructors may take you through a guided meditation or may use Tibetan singing bowls.
A traditional Hatha yoga class ends with participants holding their hands held together in a prayer pose over the heart, bowing, and saying Namaste to one another.
Hatha classes provide an opportunity to stretch, unwind, and release tension, providing a good counterpoint to both busy lifestyles and cardio workouts.
If you go into a Hatha class and it feels too slow or not active enough, don’t give up on yoga completely. There are faster-paced, more athletic ways to do yoga. Try a flow, vinyasa, or power yoga class, and see if that’s more your speed.