Most modern yoga practitioners know that hatha yoga is one of the most common styles of yoga that is practiced nowadays – next to ashtanga yoga and modern vinyasa flow yoga. This post will unveil some of the most common hatha yoga poses and explain in detail how to practice them.
Hatha Yoga explained
Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that involves the physical practice of yoga asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation (dyana). Also meaning willful or forceful, hatha is often seen as the yoga of activity. Translated from Sanskrit, “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon. Therefore, hatha is the practice of balancing both, the solar and the lunar energies within you.
Hatha yoga includes most of the other styles of yoga that we know: the modern style of hatha was popularized in western world by Krishnamacharya through forms such as ashtanga (Pattabhi Jois), vinyasa (T.K.V. Desikachar) and iyengar Yoga.
As such, there is no set definition on how a hatha class looks like. Attributes that can be related to a typical hatha practice though can consist of hatha yoga poses, that is held for several breaths. This creates a slow pace exercise which can get quite intensive. Contrary to a flow style class – such as ashtanga or vinyasa yoga – where asanas are mainly held for a brief moment and where transitions from one posture into another are more smooth creating a merging character.
Hatha Yoga Asanas explained
With all postures mentioned in this article, the most important thing to know is: No teacher and no advice that you find on the internet can tell you what is best for you if it doesn’t feel good for you. Always listen to your own body what feels correct and best to you.
1. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
One of the most famous asanas in a hatha practice is downward facing dog pose. Downward facing dog or ado mukha svanasana is main part of a typical vinyasa sun salutation flow, also known as surya namaskar.
Benefits of Downward Facing Dog Pose
Downward facing dog pose increases the blood flow as well as oxygen levels in your brain. Doing downward dog correctly, it helps with opening your chest and shoulders as well as strengthening both your arms and your shoulders. The pose also stretches the back of your legs and your spine.
How to practice Downward Facing Dog Pose
Place your hands and knees on the ground, both hip width apart with your knees right below your hip and your palms underneath your shoulders firmly grounding onto the floor. Spread your fingers so that your middle finger is pointing straight ahead. Keep your neck straight while gazing down to a point in the middle between your hands.
While exhaling, start engaging your core and slowly lift your knees away from the ground. Simultaneously, press your palms even firmer onto the ground so that your torso is lifting and your chest and shoulders start to open.
Keep your legs still bend, and allow your chest to open deeper while maintaining engagement in your core so that you’re not dropping with your ribcage. If you feel ready, now can be a good time to slowly straightening your legs even more and allowing your heels to touch the floor while maintaining the openness in your chest. Only straighten your legs to a level that it is creating a nice stretch in your hamstrings without overdoing It. Draw your navel towards the spine and try lifting your pubic bones even higher. Your gaze is pointing towards your legs and your palms press into the mat.
2. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Benefits of Cobra Pose
Cobra pose stretches the whole front line of the body, creating a deep opening of the chest, shoulders, and the hip flexors as well as an opening of the intercostal area.
How to practice Cobra Pose
Cobra pose works towards an even bend in the whole spine, and – with the support of your abdomen – a deep stretch in the front body.
To start with cobra, lie down with your belly onto your mat. Place both of your hands next to your ribcage. Slightly hung your elbows in. Keep your legs straight – a little bit more than hip-width apart with the top of your feet placed on the floor.
Activate your abdomen to support your lower back in this quite intense backbend. Firmly press your pubic bones onto the ground, which again helps to support your lower back, which is crucial in this pose!
With your inhale and with the engagement of your abs, start lifting your chest with your sternum reaching up and both of your arms slowly straightening. Keep your core engaged while allowing the breath to flow in and out.
Tipp: Imagine a slight pull of your palms towards your upper body. It is important to keep your shoulders away from your ears and to draw your shoulder blades to your back. Don’t collapse with your lower thorax / ribs and lift your sternum up.
3. Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
Benefits of Warrior II Pose
On a physical level, warrior II helps with strengthening your legs and to open your hips, shoulders and chest while helping with a straight and upward spine. On an emotional level, warrior II pose gives you confidence and a clear focus on into which direction you want to head into. If you have something In life that you want to work on, warrior II helps with giving you a clearer direction, more concentration, and a strong will to achieve those goals.
How to practice Warrior II Pose
Starting with a standing position at the front of your mat with your feet hip width apart. Step your left foot to the back of your mat. Thoroughly ground the sole of your left foot and press it firmly onto the mat with your foot in a 90 degree angle. Next, start bending your front leg into a 90 degree angle, with your knee pointing straight forward. Feel the front of your left hip opening and your right buttocks engaging. Your front knee is in one line with your front ankle: when gazing towards your front knee, you’ll still be able to see your front toes.
With a firm and strong foundation that you set through your legs, start directing your focus to your upper body: Straighten both of your arms so that they are in one line parallel to the floor forming a natural t-shape. Your front hand is pointing straight in front of you and your gaze follows your front hand. Your spine is upright and your core is engaged, but allow the curve of your spine to remain natural. Keep your shoulders are away from your ears. Repeat on the other side.
4. Extended Sideangle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Benefits of Extended Sideangle Pose
Extended side angle pose is an amazing posture to create more strength and agni (fire( in your legs and core. At the same time it helps with lengthening and stretching the whole side line of your body. This can be either on your left or right, depending on the side that you are working on.
How to practice Extended Sideangle Pose
An easy way of entering extended sideangle pose is from warrior II pose. Place you feet hip-width apart, keep your front leg bent in a 90 degree angle with your knee pointing straight forward and your upper leg parallel to the floor. Create a nice and stable foundation with your back leg straight and your back foot placed firmly on the floor in a 90 degree angle.
Next, place your front arm onto your front thighs. As a result, your torso will create a diagonal line. Don’t collapse here by engaging your core muscles, so that your torso can almost support itself without using your arm as a foundation. Start raising your back arm up and over your head. If you can, either gaze straight ahead or up towards your from arm. Repeat with your other side.
5. Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrāsana)
Benefits of Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Half Lord of the fishes pose, also known as half spinal twist pose, helps with increasing abdominal fire and improves organ function.
- Twists improve spinal flexibility
- Exercises that are focusing on rotations generally improve organ function, especially function of liver and kidneys
- Rotations of the lower spine also increase the abdominal fire – digestion and metabolism improve.
- Twists also help with stress relief by calming the mind and nervous system
How to practice Half Lord of the Fishes
To practice half lord of the fishes, sit down on the floor with both of your legs straight in front of you. Bend both of your legs and start with your right side: Slide your left knee under your right leg, your left knee is pointing forward and your left foot is placed next to your right hip.
With your exhale, use your core to slowly rotate your torso towards your right. Place your right palm behind you on the floor, your left hand takes hold of your right knee or you can simply place your left elbow outside of your right knee, with the palm pointing away from you. Your gaze follows. With every inhale lengthen your spine and get tall in your upper body. With every exhale, see if there is a little bit more space that has been created which allows you to twist even further. Repeat on the other side.
Hatha Yoga Poses and their Benefits
Likewise to many styles of yoga, the aim of having a regular hatha yoga exercise is to create a healthy body, mind and soul which allows us to connect with our higher self. Combining both a physical practice of the poses with breath, creates an awareness in movement of the body as well as a mental focus. Ultimately leading to a body that is aligned, balanced and a mind that is calm is an ideal preparation for meditation.
Using hatha yoga as a holistic exercise, its health benefits mentioned above will result in better sleep, less stress, improvement of fitness, increased organ functions, and an overall healthy self. Creating a regular exercise of hatha yoga poses will help you to adapt the benefits you receive on the mat to your daily life.