There are many different types of yoga out there and for some beginners it will be difficult to know where to start. It can be overwhelming at first and all the different types can seem confusing.
Here we will discuss the benefits of the broader Hatha yoga versus the more intense Ashtanga yoga.
Hatha yoga is a general term that includes the practices of yoga poses (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayamas). It encompasses all yoga styles that teach physical postures and almost all beginner classes of yoga advertised in the West will be of the Hatha variety.
Hatha tends to be known as the classical discipline of yoga when in fact it is the umbrella term for almost all forms. However, most classes advertised as Hatha will be of the same type, with a slow paced, gentle yoga being practiced.
Poses will generally be held for a reasonable amount of time before changing to the next one. Hatha tends to focus on the practicing of the asanas and pranayamas to increase the flow of prana, which is Sanskrit for energy force.
Hatha yoga helps to bring complete peace to the body and mind, which is essential for engaging in other practices such as meditation.
Although Hatha yoga tends to be more slowly paced, it can vary by instructor. It is important therefore to check with the instructor before attending a class to ensure it is at a suitable level for you.
In contrast to this, Ashtanga yoga is a much faster paced form of yoga, with specific mantras included in the practice. In recent years, there has been confusion with Ashtanga yoga and certain forms of power yoga; the two are entirely different and are not to be confused. There will be a non-stop move through different poses, with no breaks between poses.
You are encouraged to maintain regular breathing throughout, especially as it is a fast paced and physically challenging form of yoga. Particular breathing techniques are taught and encouraged, such as holding each posture for approximately 5-8 breaths each.
Each series of movements follows a set group of asanas, which are always in the same order. The series start at a beginner level and become increasingly harder as you progress through the asanas. As you progress through the levels, you are expected to learn the order of movements and be able to complete them without the aid of the teacher.
The teacher will be expertly qualified in this type of yoga before they are allowed to teach it to students. A traditional way of teaching Ashtanga yoga is called Mysore; this is where teachers see students on a one to one basis. The student arrives at any point during a 3-hour window and engages in his or her own practice with the teacher available for guidance if necessary.
Hatha versus Ashtanga Yoga
Aside from the obvious difference between Ashtanga and Hatha yoga of pace, there are other differences between the two.
The postures have similar or the same names but vary in method. For example, both include the sun salutation posture, but they are conducted slightly differently.
Ashtanga is understandably more physically challenging than Hatha yoga so might not be suitable for everyone. If you have not exercised in a while you may be better to begin with Hatha yoga.
Despite the differences, one is not considered better than the other. Both styles of yoga will help relax the body and mind while also providing the more general benefits of yoga.
It is best that each individual finds the style of yoga that suits him or her.
Whether you choose Hatha or Ashtanga yoga, you will start as a beginner and only be asked to do what you are currently capable of. With time and practice you will improve and develop. What is more important than the style of yoga you choose is that you get started and enjoy all yoga has to offer.