If you are interested in doing beginner yoga, you might be surprised to know that there are different styles. Some of them, like hatha yoga, are slow-paced, while others like vinyasa are fast-paced. That said, how do you determine which practice is the best for you? A good place to start is by comparing hatha yoga to vinyasa to understand what they entail, their similarities, and their differences. Join us as we explore these two concepts to help you determine which style fits you best!
What Is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga is one of the styles of yoga that is often portrayed in TV shows or by celebrities. It is prevalent perhaps because it is purported to help individuals clear their minds and acquire profound achievements in spiritual clarity.
Hatha yoga is a broad term that entails different styles of yoga and breathing techniques. Some of these include hot yoga, Ashtanga yoga, and Bhakti. All these styles of hatha yoga focus on breath, movement, and meditation (4).
In Sanskrit, Hatha means force. This force is equated to the intentional act of moving your body from one pose to the other.
What Are The Benefits Of Hatha Yoga?
If you contemplate adding hatha yoga to your workout plan, here are solid reasons to help you validate your decision. These reasons signify the benefits of performing hatha yoga, which are as follows:
Increased Mental Clarity
Hatha yoga is mainly practiced for its breathwork and meditation benefits that help your mind escape the fight-or-flight response often experienced in stressful situations. Instead, your mind becomes more alert to the problem at hand during this moment (2).
Additionally, hatha yoga increases mental clarity by easing depressive symptoms and thoughts. That is because it works like an antidepressant by acting on the neurotransmitters in your brain. In other words, it increases the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin that boost your mood (1).
Hatha yoga also helps in self-reflection, which increases mental clarity. That is because when practicing each hatha yoga pose, you are required to hold the pose for a few breaths before moving on to the next. During the hold, you empty your mind and become more present in the moment instead of being clouded with thoughts.
Several studies have shown that practicing hatha yoga increases flexibility, particularly in the spine and hamstrings (3), (1). However, practicing hatha yoga over time and in the correct technique can help increase flexibility in your entire body.
This stems from the fact during each hatha yoga pose, you are required to hold the respective pose for a few seconds. During the hold, different body muscles stretch, thereby improving flexibility in all the targeted muscle groups.
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Increased Spinal Mobility
Most hatha yoga poses improve spinal flexibility, as mentioned above. However, in addition to flexibility, these poses also increase spinal mobility. That is because most of these poses require you to bend forward, backward, and twist to each side (3).
As a result of the increased movements of the spine, you enhance spinal mobility. Most yogis have acknowledged that spinal mobility is the most significant benefit of practicing hatha yoga.
Although the Hatha style of yoga is less vigorous than ashtanga and power yoga, it also increases muscle strength. In addition, studies show practicing the yoga style consistently can increase muscular strength and endurance (3).
Hatha yoga is very relaxing because it focuses on invigorating physical movements coupled with conscious breathing. Additionally, it is less physical and targets areas in your body with the most tension and stress. Some of these areas include your lower back, hips, and shoulders (2).
Examples Of Hatha Yoga Poses
Most hatha yoga poses are less vigorous and target areas with the most tension and stress, such as your lower back. Additionally, they focus more on your breath work, so it is vital to practice mindful breathing during these moves. Some of the most recommended hatha yoga poses include:
The Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This Hatha yoga pose offers a gentle stretch in your back, thighs, hips and ankles. To perform it (6):
- Lower to the floor and sit on your knees.
- Position your knees wide enough so that your upper body lies in between them.
- Let your big toes touch behind you, and then slowly rest your upper body on the ground.
- Slowly bring your arms over your head and then rest your hands on the floor. Make sure your palms are facing down.
- Rest your forehead on the ground or a block or book.
- Breathe deeply for at least 5 inhalations and exhalations.
- Return to the starting stance and repeat.
Cat’s Pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
- Start in a tabletop position or on all fours.
- Align your hands beneath your shoulders and knees directly under the hips.
- Breathe in, then slowly move your head so that you gaze upward. Drop your belly towards the floor.
- Breathe out and release to move in the opposite direction. Be sure to arch your spine and tuck your chin.
- Do at least three rounds of the pose.
- Be sure to end the movement in a neutral tabletop position.
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Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
The downward-facing dog is one of the foundational yoga poses you will most likely encounter in most yoga programs. It is linked to numerous benefits, particularly increasing flexibility and spinal mobility. To perform it (6):
- Start in a tabletop position and then lift your knees and drop your neck and head between your arms. You will also have to lift your hips and back to be on the balls of your feet.
- Breathe deeply and find a stable position in your downward dog.
- Hold in this stance for a few inhalations and exhalations. Alternatively, you can walk your downward dog by bending one knee and then the other pressing each heel simultaneously towards the ground. Make sure your heels do not touch the ground.
- Move your hips back and forth, then take deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Standing Forward Fold (Ustrasana)
- Start in a downward-facing dog position. Look forward towards your hands, bend your knees, and walk your feet towards your hands.
- Proceed to fold forward while keeping your knees bent and all the tension in your neck and head.
- Reach your hands for the outer shins or grab the opposite elbows and sway back and forth.
- Take at least five deep breaths before releasing.
What Is Vinyasa Yoga?
Vinyasa, or flow yoga, is one of the most beneficial yoga styles. It is considered a physical practise that focuses on linking yoga poses or asanas in a fluid and smooth manner. It is viewed more or less as a rhythmic, repetitive yoga style that links breathing to movement (1).
Vinyasa Yoga Benefits
Although Vinyasa yoga demands a high amount of physical activity, it results in many benefits. Some of these benefits are common in other yoga styles, with others unique to vinyasa. They include:
Increased Core Strength
Most of the vinyasa poses engage your abdominal muscles, which helps increase core strength. Additionally, most moves require a lot of backbends, twists, and side bends that further work your core muscles. As a result, these movements build your core strength, stability, and power (1).
Most of the yoga asanas incorporated in this style of yoga enhance your mobility. Additionally, your mobility and range of motion also increase due to the coupling of fast-paced movements with muscle strengthening exercises (1).
Enhanced Emotional Well-Being
Despite the fast-paced movements helping you physically, studies also show they benefit you emotionally. That is because they are considered moving meditation. Because they require focus and concentration, they help increase your mental alertness. Additionally, your mind relaxes and relieves you of stress and anxiety due to deep breathing.
Of course, yoga is one of the best ways of increasing flexibility. Vinyasa yoga fights stiffness in different muscle groups allowing you to stretch and strengthen each muscle. These yoga poses reduce muscle stiffness and improve flexibility by encouraging deep stretching (1).
You torch calories when performing vinyasa yoga moves because you constantly move your body muscles in different ways. Studies show that when you practice vinyasa yoga regularly, you lose fat which may encourage weight loss and transform your physique (1).
Examples Of Vinyasa Yoga Poses
If you are considering starting vinyasa yoga for enhanced overall health and well-being, here are some movements you can add to your workout plan:
Upward Facing Dog
The upward-facing dog yoga pose is one of the best posture improving poses that strengthens your spine and arms. To do it (5):
- Start by lying face down on the yoga mat and then stretch your legs straight behind your body.
- Place your palms on the mat and underneath your shoulders.
- Next, stretch your arms straight so that you lift your upper body. Simultaneously arch your back and lift your thighs and shins off the floor.
- Hold this pose for a few breaths before releasing.
- Repeat as desired.
If you need to make the stretch more manageable, especially for beginners, you can keep your hips on the floor. However, be sure to make these changes after consulting your trainer.
The Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
The chair pose is an excellent vinyasa flow movement to help build stability in your knees and strength in your thighs. To perform it (6):
- Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and arms hanging by your sides.
- Bend your knees and sink your hips as if you are taking a seat. Make sure you tilt the bottom of your pelvis upward and elongate the back of your neck. Similarly, be sure to be gazing forward.
- Lift your hands towards the ceiling while keeping your ribs knitted together.
- Stay in this position for a few inhalations and exhalations before returning to the starting position.
Warrior 2 Pose
Warrior 2 pose is one of the best standing vinyasa flow moves that helps with increasing concentration and stamina. It is also an excellent movement to strengthen your leg muscles and open your hips and chest. To do this pose (6):
- Start in a standing position with your feet at a hip-width distance.
- Step your right foot in front and the left one behind you. Be sure to keep the toes of your left foot toward the long side of the mat. Similarly, keep your right foot firmly planted forward.
- Bend deeply into your front knee and then lift your arms out to form a T shape. Remember to keep your abdominal muscles engaged during the movement.
- Hold in this position for a few breaths before switching sides.
What Is The Difference Between Hatha Yoga And Vinyasa?
As revealed by most studies when comparing hatha yoga vs vinyasa, the main difference lies in their technique and pace. You maintain a much slower pace when performing hatha yoga, with the most focus being on the breath, controlled movements, and stretching (1).
On the other hand, vinyasa yoga mainly focuses on connecting the breath to your movements. Because of the interplay between the two, most vinyasa poses maintain a much faster pace. Therefore, expect to stay in a constant flow of activities when performing vinyasa yoga moves, unlike hatha yoga.
Perhaps another difference when comparing hatha yoga vs vinyasa is the placing of the two classes. The two are placed differently, but they more or less incorporate many of the same poses (1).
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Is Hatha Yoga Harder Than Vinyasa?
If you are interested in practicing either of the two yoga styles, you may be in a dilemma on what to pick. You may have opted to evaluate the most effortless yoga style to practice.
So which yoga style, hatha yoga or vinyasa, is easier to practice? Most studies show that vinyasa yoga is more physically and mentally demanding than hatha yoga. That is because its focus is on connecting your breath to the movements (1).
Additionally, it is also considered more challenging because you change the poses quickly and have to be knowledgeable and alert of the asanas to maintain. As for weight loss benefits, it would be best to talk to your trainer for insight on the best practice for weight loss between the two.
The Bottom Line
Thanks to their long list of benefits, vinyasa and hatha yoga are some of the most commonly performed yoga styles. Hatha yoga is a broad term entailing various yoga and breathing techniques. On the other hand, vinyasa or flow yoga, is a practice that links different yoga poses or asanas smoothly.
When comparing hatha yoga vs vinyasa, the main difference shown is the pace and technique. Typically, hatha yoga poses are done slowly because the main focus is your breathwork. However, in vinyasa, the rate is much faster because you simultaneously connect your breath to your movements.
It is challenging to determine the right yoga style for you based on this because pace does not impact your results. So, it would be best to talk to your trainer for better guidance.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A Comparison of the Acute Effects of Different Forms of Yoga on Physiological and Psychological Stress: A Pilot Study (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of Hatha Yoga on Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Flexibility in Hong Kong Chinese Adults: A Controlled Clinical Trial (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Hatha Yoga Practices: Energy Expenditure, Respiratory Changes and Intensity of Exercise (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How does yoga affect the body, and how can someone start practicing yoga? (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Slide show: Yoga poses (2021, mayoclinic.org)