Today, there are so many different types of yoga to try and for beginners. It can often feel a little overwhelming and confusing – especially when signing up to a new class.
Most often, studios will offer classes for hatha and vinyasa yoga; two styles that are very popular in the western world. But, they offer very different things.
We’ll explore the difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga and share some of the benefits of each type, to help you work out which is best for you. Think of it as a quick cheat sheet to yoga – you’ll be an expert in no time!
What is Hatha Yoga?
Before we get started on the differences between vinyasa and hatha yoga, it’s important to be clear about what hatha yoga means. Many people assume it’s a specific type of yoga. However, hatha is actually an umbrella term for any type of yoga that teaches physical postures.
Most yoga classes in the West are based on hatha yoga however, they may be labeled as different things. Today, yoga studios often market classes as ‘hatha yoga’ if they are slower in pace. It offers an introduction to yoga for beginners, teaching basic postures that are somewhat relaxing in nature.
What is Vinyasa Yoga?
Like we said above, hatha pretty much covers all yoga types. So it’ll come as no surprise that vinyasa is actually a style of hatha yoga. Vinyasa means ‘to place in a special way’ and is all about creating fluidity between poses, with smooth transitions.
Classes usually involve linking movement to breath, often with background music adding to the atmosphere. Vinyasa yoga uses 3 key hatha poses; plank, cobra and downward dog, which are performed in between other poses as linking moves. Other fundamental vinyasa poses are sun salutations and chaturangas.
Now you have a basic understanding of what each type of yoga involves, let’s move onto the first key difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga.
1. Hatha is much slower in pace
One of the first things you’ll notice when attending hatha and vinyasa classes is the difference in pace. Hatha yoga is slower in pace, whereas vinyasa is a little faster. Some may wrongly assume hatha yoga is boring because of it’s pace. But, it actually provides the opportunity to really focus on your breathing and learn to channel your energy, which can be very beneficial for both the mind and body.
Although it is slower paced, don’t mistake hatha for a gentle practice. The word itself means ‘wilful’ or ‘forceful.’ It can also be broken into two parts, with the first part ‘ha’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘tha,’ meaning moon. It’s all about balancing the hot and active parts of our makeup (deemed masculine) with the cool and receptive (thought to be feminine) parts of us.
2. Vinyasa offers a more intense body workout
Vinyasa and hatha yoga are practiced for very different reasons and therefore both have different end goals. With hatha yoga, it’s all about practicing mindfulness and aligning your mind, body, and spirit. Although you might feel a little sweaty after your workout (depending on your current fitness level), it’s not really intended to get the heart pumping and calories burning.
A notable difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga is that vinyasa offers a more intense body workout. Not only is it faster paced but also requires you to coordinate movements, flowing from one pose to the next. A series of vinyasa yoga poses are repeated throughout the class to increase your body heat, make you sweat and help to build muscle strength.
It is a yoga practice that has become particularly popular in the Western world, where people are often regarded as being obsessed with body image. Whilst it certainly provides benefits in terms of building strength, improving muscle tone and increasing overall fitness levels, it should be noted that vinyasa yoga must be practiced with care in order to prevent injury.
3. Hatha yoga is better for beginners
The final key difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga is that the latter is better suited to beginners. This is not to say that experienced yogis do not practice it too – a well-rounded yogi will continue to practice hatha yoga throughout their lives, alongside other yoga types. What we are saying is that the slower pace offered by hatha yoga allows beginners to ease themselves in and master the basic poses.
The majority of studios will offer hatha yoga for beginners classes, which will set you off to a good start. Basic yoga poses will be taught within these classes and held for long periods of time. Some classes may also teach elements of hatha flow yoga. This sees poses being linked in sequence, with some pauses, as opposed to vinyasa flow, where the choreography is more relentless.
Vinyasa vs. Hatha Yoga – Which is More Beneficial?
As you’ll see, there is a great difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga but you’re probably still wondering whether one is more beneficial than the other? Below we’ve outlined some of the main vinyasa and hatha yoga benefits to help you see that both have significant value, just in different ways.
Vinyasa Yoga Benefits
Vinyasa yoga will get your body moving and increase your heart rate. With the average American spending more than half their day sitting down and sedentary jobs increasing a whopping 83% since 1950, yoga styles like this are more important than ever before. We all know lack of movement is bad for us but not everyone enjoys going out for a run or hitting the gym. Yoga styles like vinyasa offer a healthy and more favorable compromise.
Getting you up and moving not only burns calories and therefore helps you maintain a healthy weight but also stops your joints from getting stiff and improves flexibility.
Vinyasa yoga is also important for toning the muscles and improving their strength. Sure, the results aren’t going to be quite as noticeable as lifting weights in the gym several times a week but sun salutations and chaturangas (a push-up style position) are great for improving upper body strength.
Hatha Yoga Benefits
Although there is a clear difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga in terms of pace, hatha yoga still shares many of the body-strengthening benefits offered by vinyasa yoga. This is no surprise, considering vinyasa is based on hatha yoga poses.
Builds core strength
Where hatha is particularly beneficial is in building core strength. Poses like the boat, downward dog and plank will strengthen your obliques. Warrior poses work on your hips and chair poses target the muscles in your legs and around your spine.
Treats back pain
Hatha yoga has also been associated with providing long-term relief for symptoms of back pain. Many of the poses will help to elongate the spine, strengthen the muscles and ensure it is properly aligned. Improving your strength and posture can greatly help to lessen the load on your back. This in turn, reduces aches and pains.
Of course, it’s always important to see your GP before practicing yoga as a treatment for back pain. It’s also advised that you let your yoga teacher know about any pain you’re in. They will be able to modify the poses to assist in your recovery.
Offers stress relief
As well as physical benefits, hatha yoga can also encourage mental peace and positivity. The mindfulness and meditative ways of hatha yoga provide natural stress relief and have even been linked with lowering cortisol levels in the body. Hatha yoga poses that are particularly good for relieving stress include the tree pose, child’s pose, and corpse pose.
Interested in hatha yoga for stress relief? Watch the video below!
Vinyasa vs. Hatha – Which is the One for Me?
When it comes to practicing yoga, some people may find they are drawn to one type over another. Essentially, it all comes down to why you are practicing yoga in the first place. And, what you’re hoping to achieve. This is why it’s important to know the difference between vinyasa & hatha yoga.
Beginners may be drawn to hatha yoga for its gentle pace that helps them ease into the practice and learn some of the key poses, which are shared with other types of yoga, like vinyasa. It’s essential that these poses are mastered with care and fully understood before they are linked in a sequence, in order to experience their true benefits and avoid potential injury.
Once you are confident and established in hatha yoga, you may then want to incorporate more dynamic and faster-paced styles of vinyasa yoga in your routine.
Really, there’s no need to pick between hatha and vinyasa yoga. Practice both and you’ll get the best of both worlds. It’s all about listening to your body and doing what feels right for you.
Do you practice vinyasa or hatha yoga?
Do you consider one more beneficial than the other or find that they compliment each other well? We’d love to hear all about your yoga experience in the comments below!