There are so many kinds of yoga these days that it can be quite confusing to know what the terms mean and what to expect when you are looking for a yoga class to attend. Even within the yoga community, terms are used loosely and, because they often overlap, identifying a clear definition is hard to do. In particular, because all yoga is essentially Hatha, and because many classes these days are called “Flow” (which is really the Americanized version of “Vinyasa”), and yet one class might be challenging while the next might be more relaxing, students often do not know what to expect from a class until they’ve experienced it.
Here we will provide an overview of the background of the physical practice of yoga and the terms “Hatha” and “Vinyasa” that have been traditionally used to that define the physical component of yoga. We will also explain the definitions we use at Lotus Yoga. Keep in mind that other studios may use these same terms with slightly different descriptions.
Overview of the physical practice of Yoga
In Sanskrit, the term “yoga” means “union”. Traditionally this “union” was understood to include breath, meditation, and the application of yogic philosophy into one’s life as well as the physical practice of poses, or “asana”.
- Today, most people understand “yoga” as the physical practice of doing exercises.
- We also tend to think of “yoga” as something that is relaxing.
Indeed, yoga is a physical activity
and it does result in a feeling of relaxation.
People think of yoga as relaxing because of the attention placed on breath. Deep breathing exercises are the first and most effective ways to calm the mind and begin to relax. Fortunately, this focus on body-breath connection was not lost in the translation of yoga from East to West. Therefore, all yoga classes connect the breath to the movements.
Originally, the physical component of yoga was referred to as “Hatha”. When yoga first came to the West from its roots in India, it was Hatha Yoga. In Sanskrit, the word “hatha” means “a discipline of force”, implying the effort to make and maintain the physical poses. This “discipline of force” is designed to align the body for the full benefits of deep meditation.
Therefore, technically, all yoga is Hatha.
|Hatha = discipline of force: Discipline of force = effort to make the pose (yoga poses are actually hard work!)Effort to maintain the pose (while you are thinking the teacher is making you hold for way too long, that holding is deliberate and aimed to teach us to breathe through the difficulty. To be honest, the poses are much easier when you breathe!)
The term “Vinyasa” came along when Krishnamacharya, a master yogi and teacher, coined the term in the early 20th Century. In Sanskrit, the word “vinyasa” means “to place in a special way”, referring to the act of linking between the poses. Therefore, the “flow” from one pose to the next implies that the transition between two poses is just as important as each pose.
|Vinyasa – linking between poses Linking between poses = Poses and transitions between them hold equal importanceSeamless transitions from the moment you walk into a yoga class until you leave
This is different from Hatha because, before Vinyasa, the physical practice of yoga was a collection of poses and then, once attained, breath was used to 1) go deeper into the pose, and 2) maintain, or hold the pose for longer periods of time. This is still the strict definition of Hatha.
Krishnamacharya explained that the primary teachings of vinyasa include:
1) each of part of any activity has a specific phase, and each phase has its own lessons to learn, and
2) each phase is dependent on the work of the previous phase.
This is the key to the “flow” sensation of a Vinyasa Yoga class: that each new pose happens because of the movement that happens as you finish the previous pose. Breath is used to maintain poses for duration in a Vinyasa class just as it is in a Hatha class, but there is more focus on the breath during the transition in Vinyasa.
In other words, a Vinyasa teacher will provide breathing ques to students during the movement involved in getting out of one pose and getting into the next pose whereas a Hatha teacher may not. A Hatha teacher may use more ques to describe the placement and body alignment as students are transitioning between poses, and then, once the pose is attained, once again, draw attention to the breath.
In a Vinyasa class, each part of every movement is generated by an inhale or an exhale. And once the pose is attained, teachers continue to guide students in breath while holding the pose. The flow from inhale to exhale and rebounding immediately to the next inhale continues throughout the entire class. As a result, less emphasis is placed on how to get into or out of a pose, and less teacher-talk is centered on the mechanics of a pose. For this reason, a Vinyasa Yoga class is not recommended for true beginners of yoga.
Vinyasa teachers work on the premise that students already have a basic knowledge of :
1) the names of the most common poses
2) how to do the poses
3) how their own bodies create the shapes of those poses.
It is during the holding, or maintaining, of a pose that Vinyasa teachers may offer cues related to the foundation or alignment of a pose.
In a nutshell:
|Hatha places more focus on alignment and foundation of each pose; Vinyasa places more focus on the movement between the poses.
Both Hatha and Vinyasa refer to a stylistic approach to yoga. It’s how this breath and body connection is addressed and used in a yoga class that defines the difference between Hatha and Vinyasa.
All physical yoga can be divided into either Hatha or Vinyasa.
And within each of these categories, there are different types, or schools of yoga.
What we teach at Lotus
At Lotus Yoga Studio, we teach both Hatha and Vinyasa, and the two categories are classified according to level of difficulty:
|Slow Flow Vinyasa
|Power Flow Vinyasa
At Lotus Yoga Studio, our yoga teachers are all trained in different styles and gained their training under different teachers. As a result, our Yoga classes at Lotus are classified as either Hatha or Vinyasa, and any differences between the classes first determined by the level of difficulty and then, at the discretion of, and based on the training of, the teacher.
See class descriptions for level of difficulty or challenge and for teachers’ individual approaches to either Hatha or Vinyasa. Note:
NOTE: We also teach Yin and Restorative yoga at Lotus and those are described in a separate post.