Many often wonder what is the difference between Hatha and Ashtanga yoga. Popular styles of yoga asanas, they are the most widely practiced types that provide immense benefit to the mind and body. In this blog we’ll explore what are the differences and similarities between the two.
Hatha yoga is generally a slow-paced, gentle practice of asana that works on the mind-body connection by focusing on the breath and prana. Hatha yoga also works on balancing and bringing together the left and right side, the feminine and masculine, the sun and the moon. In fact, ‘Ha’ means sun and ‘tha’ means moon. According to the popular text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Hatha yoga is a preliminary practice for Raja yoga. Through regular practice, one can master the prana (life force) and attain complete control of the mind. The text tells us the main practices in Hatha Yoga are Asanas (postures), Pranayama (breathwork), Shatkarma (internal cleansing), Mudras (energy gestures) and bandhas ( energy locks).
Hatha yoga is ideal for beginners, intermediate and advanced practitioners. The first step is asanas. The classes might vary based on the time of day. For example, morning sessions might be more energizing while evening sessions might be more relaxing. Hatha yoga postures when done in conjunction with the breath helps us develop awareness, strength, flexibility, focus and balance. The practice is very relaxing, yet energizing.
After asanas, pranayama, shatkarmas, mudras and bandhas are performed. These are of different types and each one works on cleansing the body and unlocking energy. Through this, the practice focuses on transforming the physical body through purification and the cultivation of the life force energy of prana.
Ashtanga yoga or Astanga Vinyasa is a dynamic and challenging type of Asana practice. Not to be confused with Classical Astanga Yoga of Patanjali, ( The 8 limbs are yamas (social norms), niyamas (self-discipline), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi - liberation). Ashtanga Vinyasa is also called Mysore style due to its origins in the mysore palace. The classes focus on a series of asanas that strengthen yet balance and calm the mind and body. Movements are coordinated with the breath and practiced in a mindful and concentrated manner called Vinyasa - flow.
Ashtanga yoga follows a slightly different form of Surya Namaskar from the traditional Surya Namaskar practice. The practice starts with Surya Namaskars, a series of standing postures, then seated and inversions. Ashtanga also emphasizes the breath as a guide to flow between postures. Very often teachers ask students to stay in a posture for five breaths, and sometimes even Ujjayi (oceans) breath. Due to the strength required in Ashtanga yoga, the sessions are more demanding than Hatha yoga.
Similarities between Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga practices
Ashtanga and Hatha yoga follow similar poses
The postures or asanas in both practices are similar. The difference is only in the way they are practiced - Hatha is slow and one after the other, while Ashtanga is dynamic and in a flow. But both have similar poses such as downward facing dog, triangle pose, etc.
Both have variations and modification
Both styles of practices have variations and modifications which beginners, intermediate and advanced practitioners can adapt. This falls right into the belief that yoga is for all.
Breath is the base
In both practices breath is a common connector and constant. In Ashtanga, practitioners use the breath as a guide to go in and out of a pose. Given that it is dynamic and often fast-paced, it might take a while to use the breath as a guide to flow in and out of a pose. In Hatha yoga, breath is slower and deeper, and generally it is easier to coordinate each asana with the breath.
You might be wondering which practice is more suitable for your level. Both practices are suitable for all levels. As discussed, variations and modifications can be adapted to suit your strength, flexibility and pace. Learn the real, authentic style of Hatha and Ashtanga vinyasa from experienced teachers to truly feel the difference and progress in an injury-free manner.