Why practice hatha yoga and how to get started

Why practice hatha yoga and how to get started

7th June 2018

Most of us are aware that yoga is good for us physically but hatha yoga can also have incredible effects on us both mentally and emotionally. This post highlights some of the benefits hatha yoga has to offer, including de-stressing, living more mindfully and increasing focus, as well as helpful tips for getting started with your own practice.

Firstly, what is hatha yoga?
Hatha is a classical style of yoga which is rooted in practices developed in India more than 3,500 years ago, when yoga was a meditative practice. Hatha yoga can be translated as the ‘yoga of force’ as it utilises the body to achieve various highly positive mental effects, from calming the mind to developing willpower.

Hatha differentiates from the more modern, flowing styles of yoga, such as vinyasa, because the postures are held longer, building on strength, flexibility and balance but also finding moments of stillness: much needed pockets of calm which are often missing from the busy lives many of us lead. This is where the emotional and mental benefits come from.

There is so much history to yoga and the above doesn’t even scratch the surface! If you’re interested in learning more then please see the bottom of this post for some recommended resources.

Setu Bandhasana, also known as the bridge pose. A wonderful asana for relieving back ache and improving posture.

Why practice hatha yoga?
As we’ve touched on above, hatha yoga has lots of benefits, which can improve many areas of your life.  Here I’ve summarised some of them which I feel need shouting about!

Physical benefits of a hatha yoga practice:

  • Reducing pain in the body – so many of us spend hours each day hunched over desks and our smartphones which causes back, neck and wrist pains as well as bad posture. Yoga can help reduce these debilitating aches and pains, as well as greatly decrease the risk of a hunchback occurring as you move into older age.
  • Improved cardiovascular and respiratory systems – through deep, controlled breathing, heart-pumping sun salutations and firey asanas, these systems which are so important for our overall health and quality of life are strengthened, improving fitness levels, circulation and blood pressure.
  • Flexibility and balance – it’s not until we start to mature and lose the flexibility and balance we had as youngsters that we realise how crucial these are for aiding us in our day to day lives. From tying your own shoelaces to playing with the kids, yoga works to develop and maintain these areas.
  • Building strength and muscle tone – I see this as more of a fringe benefit of hatha yoga when I think about all the other good things it’s doing for me. But we all want to feel physically strong, and having toned legs is nice too!

The physical benefits of a yoga practice are wonderful but a lot of the magic lies in how hatha yoga can help us mentally and emotionally.

Mental and emotional benefits of a hatha yoga practice:

  • Reduced stress, anxiety and depression – whether you occasionally suffer from mild stress caused by pressure at the office, to full blown anxiety, yoga has many tools which can help you deal with these. A stronger focus on creating long, deep and even breaths throughout your practice can have such wonderful effects, calming the nervous system, releasing stress and lifting your mood.
  • Living more mindfully in the present moment – by creating moments of stillness as we practice yoga we can tune in to the present moment – something that we’re constantly taken out of by our busy, modern-day living. The more you practice this during yoga the easier it is to incorporate into your day, helping you to slow down and enjoy the unfolding of life in each moment. One of my favourite quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) simply states “the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present”.
  • Better quality of sleep – with all the calming, de-stressing and tension relieving qualities of hatha yoga, it also helps us to sleep better at night. Hatha yoga practice can help quieten your otherwise buzzing mind, helping you to drift off to sleep more easily and sleep more deeply.
  • Improved productivity – hatha yoga can also develop your focus through challenging physical balances and deep concentration, helping you to be more productive, fix your attention on the task at hand and make better decisions.

How to get started with your hatha yoga practice
There are countless academic and scientific case studies which support the benefits that yoga has to offer, however the best way to know their truth is to experience them for yourself…….

  • Think about what you want from your yoga practice – do you want to get stronger? Unwind and relax? Supplement your marathon training? There are many reasons why one would practice yoga, each personal to the individual. Once you know what you want from your practice you can find a teacher, videos, books, etc. to put together a practice suitable for your needs.
  • Consider your current physical and mental wellbeing – not all yoga postures are suitable for everyone. If you have an injury (anything from a sprained wrist to a slipped-disk), a condition (such as low or high blood pressure) or are pregnant, you should always let your teacher know so they can adapt the practice for you. It’s always best to seek help from a medical professional beforehand if you have any injuries or conditions and make sure that practicing yoga is safe for you.
  • Look into online videos, books, blogs and articles – if you feel like you’re not ready to attend classes just yet and want to give the whole yoga thing a go in the comfort of your own home then that’s totally fine – there are so many resources out there which can help you, a couple of which I’ve listed below. It was a little while before I built up the courage to go to a class (turns out it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought) so I first started my practice with DVDs in my living room!
  • Find your hatha yoga teacher(s) – there are lots of yoga teachers out there, each with their own style and flavour of teaching. It’s important to find a teacher or teachers that you connect with, whom you trust and can help you grow in your practice. Spend a little time searching online, checking out teachers’ websites and social media to see if they ‘speak to you’. Then have fun trying out different classes until you find ‘the one’!
  • Dedicate time and set a routine – one of the hardest things about practicing yoga is actually making sure you keep it up. The best way to get around this is to dedicate time and set a routine, even putting it into your diary if you need to. In the beginning, start small and build up, making sure you’re not over-committing yourself. Maybe book in one class each week or dedicate 10 minutes in the mornings after getting up.

Comment below to share your thoughts with me and the rest of the Sweet Being Yoga community on beginning a hatha yoga practice. I’d love to hear how you’re feeling if you’re just starting out; what’s motivating you or is there anything holding you back? If you have already been practicing  a while then please share your advice and inspirations!

Resources
If you’re just starting out on your yoga journey or want to deepen your knowledge then here are suggestions for just a few great resources to continue your learning:

Yoga practice:

  • Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (book) – a helpful guide to the different postures including illustrations, benefits of each asana and contraindications.
  • Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews (book) – great illustrations and descriptions to help you understand what’s going on in your body when you practice.
  • 20-Minute Hatha Yoga for Beginners by ChriskaYoga (video) – a nice introduction to the practice. Take a look at her profile for similar hatha yoga videos.

Yoga philosophy – a really interesting area to look into:

  • The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (scripture) – I recommend the commentaries by Swami Satchidananda, Jaganatha Carrera and Georg Feuerstein, though there are many out there to choose from.
  • The Bhagavad Gita (scripture)  – again there are many commentaries to choose from. I got a lot out of the one from Eknath Easwaran.

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