Hatha yoga concentrates mainly on two of the eight paths: breathing and posture. The Sanskrit word ha means “sun” and tha means “moon”, and thus hatha, or literally sun-moon yoga, strives to balance opposing parts of the physical body, the front and back, left and right, top and bottom. Hatha yoga is the most widely practiced form of yoga in the West. It is the branch of yoga, which concentrates on physical health and mental well-being. Hatha yoga uses bodily postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (dyana) aiming to bring about a sound, healthy body and a clear, peaceful mind. There are nearly 200 hatha yoga postures, with hundreds of variations, which work to make the spine supple and to promote circulation in all the organs, glands and tissues. Hatha yoga utilizes asanas, or physical postures, to bring about flexibility, balance and strength in the body. A Hatha yoga routine consists of a series of physical postures and breathing techniques. Routines can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the needs and ability of the practitioner. Yoga should always be adapted to one’s state of health; that is, a shorter and easier routine should be used when a person is fatigued. Yoga is ideally practiced at the same time every day, to encourage the discipline of the practice. It can be done at any time of day; some prefer it in the morning as a wake-up routine, while others like to wind down and de-stress with yoga at the end of the day.
All that is needed to perform Hatha yoga is a flat floor and adequate space for stretching out. A well-ventilated space is preferable, for facilitating proper breathing technique. Yoga mats are appropriate providing non-slip surfaces for standing poses. Loose, comfortable clothing should be worn. Yoga should be done on an empty stomach; a general rule is to wait three hours after a meal. Yoga is an exercise that can be done anywhere and requires no special equipment. Yoga uses only gravity and the body itself as resistance, so it is a low-impact activity excellent for those who don’t do well with other types of exercise. The mental component of yoga can appeal to those who get bored easily with exercise. By the same token, yoga can be a good stress management tool for those who prefer movement to sitting meditation.
Precautions: As with any exercise program, people should check with their doctors before starting yoga practice for the first time. Those with medical conditions, injuries or spinal problems should find a yoga teacher familiar with their conditions before beginning yoga. Pregnant women, particularly after the third month of pregnancy, should only perform a few yoga positions with the supervision of an experienced teacher. Some yoga asanas can be very difficult, and potentially injurious, for beginners, so teachers should always be consulted in preparation for advanced yoga positions. Those with fever, or during menstruation should not perform certain yoga positions.
Side effects: Those just beginning hatha yoga programs often report fatigue and soreness throughout the body, as yoga stretches and exercises muscles and tendons which are often long-neglected. Some yogic breathing and meditation techniques can be difficult for beginners and can cause dizziness or disorientation; these are best performed under the guidance of a teacher.