Benefits and what to expect in a yoga class

  • Hatha yoga is very common and it is usually what most people imagine when they think of yoga.
  • In a hatha yoga class, you will do breathing exercises, poses, and meditation for approximately 45 to 90 minutes.
  • Research suggests hatha yoga can improve your sleep, reduce stress, and improve mindfulness.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

Hatha yoga has become one of the most popular types of yoga because it can build strength, improve flexibility, and align posture, while still being gentle enough for most bodies.

“If you’ve attended a yoga class, you’ve probably practiced hatha yoga,” says Adrienne Leslie, certified yoga instructor. “This is a great option for beginners and experienced yogis alike. Instructors will instruct you in breathing and guide you through proper alignment in poses, and poses can be altered to suit the practitioner’s level of experience.”

Here’s what you need to know about the history and health benefits of hatha yoga, and what to expect if you’re considering taking a yoga class.

Understanding hatha yoga and its origins

Most of the yoga classes that you find at local gyms and yoga studios can be classified as hatha yoga, where you will be doing a combination of poses and breathing exercises.

Hatha yoga translates to “discipline of strength” in Sanskrit. It is rooted in ancient Hindu spiritual teachings and was not officially introduced to America until the late 1800s, when Indian yogi Swami Vivekananda brought it to Chicago.

In the early 1960s, Richard Hittleman’s popular Yoga For Health television program introduced hatha yoga to families across America.. The practice gained even more momentum later in the 1960s with the rise of New Age and hippie movements.

Today, hatha yoga is recognized for its mental and physical health benefits and can be found in tens of thousands of studios across the United States.

Benefits of hatha yoga

Research has repeatedly shown that hatha yoga has a wide variety of mental and physical health benefits. Among the most important are:

  • Better sleep. According to a 2013 review, doing yoga can not only help people fall asleep faster, but can also improve the quality of their sleep. The researchers noted that the subjects who practiced yoga also had a “statistically significant reduction” in the need for sleep aids.
  • Reduce stress. A small study from 2017 found that people who practiced hatha yoga just before tackling a stressful task had lower blood pressure and cortisol levels compared to those who watched television before. Participants in the yoga group also reported feeling more confident about their performance during the stressful task.
  • Improve balance and core strength. Volunteers in a 2016 study who took just 21 days of hatha yoga training improved their muscle strength as well as their balance.
  • Relieve neck and back pain. A 2008 study found that yoga can help prevent and manage lower back pain by improving posture, strengthening core muscles, and correcting spinal imbalance. A 2019 meta-analysis also found that yoga can improve range of motion in the neck and reduce the intensity of neck pain.
  • Lower levels of depression. Yoga can increase levels of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which calm and regulate mood, according to a 2013 systematic review. The same review found that people who did yoga once a week reported lower scores on surveys measuring depression after just five weeks.
  • Strengthen flexibility. A small study from 2015 found that when older women participated in 90-minute hatha yoga sessions once a week, they improved flexibility in their spine and hamstrings. As a result, the researchers concluded that yoga exercises should be recommended for older people to increase range of motion in the joints and improve muscle flexibility.
  • Improve mindfulness. In a 2018 survey of 1,820 young adults, participants attributed greater mindfulness – as well as motivation to engage in other forms of physical activity and to eat healthier – to a practice. regular yoga.

What to expect in a hatha yoga class

Hatha yoga classes can last 45 to 90 minutes, but you can benefit from just 15 minutes of practice.

If you’re new to yoga, Leslie says a slower, alignment-based class is great for learning some of the more common yoga poses. She suggests looking for words like beginner, gentle, or restorative.

While many yoga gyms and studios offer hatha style classes, you can also use one of the many yoga apps and videos online to try out this style at home. However, Leslie strongly recommends seeking advice through a virtual instructor.

There are three main elements in a hatha yoga class:


“For starters, you’ll generally focus on the breath and warm the body up with gentle movements such as the infant pose, spine rolls, and gentle twists,” Leslie explains. “You will continue to build up heat through a flow, moving with the breath for several minutes.”

Breathing exercises can include alternating nasal breathing or “three-part breathing”.


At the end of the course, you will usually participate in a period of meditation.

and mindfulness are important aspects of hatha yoga. Some instructors may take you through a short guided meditation or use Tibetan singing bowls to promote relaxation.

“To let the practice settle into the body, you’ll end the class with a restorative pose, sitting or lying on your back to find stillness and reflection,” Leslie explains.

Insider takeaways

Hatha yoga is a great option for any level of practitioner. It can help reduce stress, manage depression, improve strength and flexibility, and relieve pain.

Leslie adds that when starting a practice, it’s important to remember that yoga is not about achieving the perfect pose – it is an opportunity to relax and calm your body and mind, and requires immense patience to progress.

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