While there are many more types of yoga practiced in the east, such as jnana (the Yoga of knowledge) and bhakti (the yoga of devotion), hatha yoga is the main type of yoga most widely practiced in the west. Hatha yoga is widely known, and classes are offered at exercise studios, gyms, schools and colleges, sometimes even at some places of employment.
But within hatha yoga there are also many different yoga schools or forms, and so the description ‘hatha yoga’ has come to mean something a little more specific for us. Usually if you see hatha yoga advertised in your city what you can expect is to perform a series of poses or asanas which, while they can be demanding in terms of the stretching that your body will do, are generally not vigorously energetic. the classes typically end with exercises focused on breathing and relaxation.
The word ‘yoga’ means to join, or bind together, through meditation and exercise. From a spiritual point of view this can be seen as joining body and mind, left side and right side, male and female energy, yin and yang, or ending the separation of ‘me’ from the rest of the universe.
Most people do not practice yoga for any spiritual reasons but to increase the flexibility of their bodies. However you will almost certainly find that it also has a positive effect on your mood. If you are prepared to take on yoga to improve both your physical and mental balance, you are definitely going to have a positive experience.
It is not necessary to be unusually flexible or double-jointed. Anyone can practice hatha yoga, from small children to the elderly. Hatha yoga can also be practiced by pregnant women, overweight and disabled people; but, it is definitely advisable that in special cases such as these, you rely on the guidance of a qualified teacher to make sure you only focus on certain types of exercises and not on others.
You will be taught many asanas, or yogas poses, and your instructor will likely teach you how to safely stretch your body in all directions. There are standing poses, seated poses, poses that you do on hands and knees or lying down and inversions such as shoulder stands. By going through the whole series regularly without forcing your muscles or limbs excessively you can gain flexibility, stamina, strength and better circulation and breathing.
Most adult yoga classes last, on average, around 1 hour to an hour and a half. It will begin with some breathing exercises or simply sitting still on the floor to center the mind in the body after all the distractions of our busy lives. After that, most of the time spent in class is centered around performance of asanas, and ends with a ten-minute stretch of more breathing exercises. For the relaxation period students lie on their backs on the floor with eyes closed. Some students fall asleep, but most are able to relax in a very conscious way.
Of all the types of yoga that there are, hatha yoga is probably the one that is best adapted to most Western people.