Ashtanga vs Hatha: Which One Is Right For You?


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Ashtanga vs Hatha: Which One Is Right For You?

When you want to start yoga and you’re trying to understand the difference between Ashtanga vs Hatha yoga. These two different types of yoga place a lot of importance on the physical side of yoga.

There are many differences between Ashtanga and Hatha yoga. Hatha is the most commonly practiced type of yoga and is perfect for beginners. Ashtanga on the other hand is a more dynamic and structured type of yoga. Their key similarity is that they both place emphasis on the physical side of yoga.

I still remember my first experience both of Hatha yoga and an Ashtanga yoga class.

This was almost 11 years ago and I was in search of starting yoga. So I went on to google and typed “yoga Glasgow” as that’s where I lived at the time.

The first result that came up was a lunchtime Hatha class and the second was an afternoon Ashtanga yoga class.

I put my gym clothes on and off I went to my first ever class, the Hatha class. There were perhaps 4 of us in the class. The teacher then guided us through a very gentle and calming class. I remember really enjoying it, but I knew it wasn’t that “oh my god I need more of this feeling”. And interestingly the teacher must have noticed this as after the class when I thanked her she said to me, and I’ll never forget this:

“I hope you find what you’re looking for”

A few days later off I went to the afternoon Ashtanga class. My most vivid memory was about halfway through as we’re doing what felt like the 100th vinyasa I had this intense feeling of:

“THIS IS WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR!”

And that was it, I was hooked! For the past 11 years, Ashtanga has been my practice. A few years after that eventful class I became a yoga teacher and opened my yoga studio where I also teach Hatha yoga.

I actually love teaching both types of yoga as I see both resonate with different types of people. And so I love guiding my students through practices that I feel resonate with them.

We’ll now look further into the similarities and differences of these two types of yoga below.

Let’s find the type of yoga that will work out best for you and your needs!

What is Hatha yoga?

Ashtanga vs Hatha: Which One Is Right For You?

Hatha yoga is generally considered to be a gentle and slow yoga class, perfect for any beginners to yoga. A Hatha yoga class involves standing and seated postures, both of which strengthen the body and increase flexibility. Time is spent explaining each pose making it a perfect entry point to yoga.

Given that Hatha yoga is ideal for beginners, these types of classes will generally have many beginners in them. And so if you are just starting out in your yoga journey, you may be relieved to see many fellow beginners in the class.

Hatha yoga classes can generally differ depending on the teacher and the time of the day.

For example, a morning Hatha yoga class may be more energizing while an evening class may be calmer and may favor seated stretches over standing poses.

Here is one of my morning Hatha yoga classes if you want to try it out:

Hatha yoga classes can vary depending on the studio, the teacher, the students present, and the time of day.

For example, a morning Hatha yoga class may be more dynamic, helping people wake up and feel energized for the rest of the day. And yet an evening Hatha yoga class may focus more on static poses and long stretches in order to help the body relax and encourage rest.

What is Ashtanga yoga?

Ashtanga vs Hatha: Which One Is Right For You?

Ashtanga yoga is a structured and dynamic type of yoga that follows a set sequence of poses. The sun salutations help to warm up the body, we then move on to the standing postures, the seated postures and end the practice in inversions which function as an energetic culmination.

In Ashtanga, emphasis is placed on the breath to help guide us as we flow from pose to pose in the sun salutations and we then stay in poses for five breaths at a time.

Ashtanga Yoga translates to 8 limbed yoga as taught by the great sage Patanjali. And yet, when we refer to the physical practice of Ashtanga yoga we refer to the practice taught by Sri T Krishnamacharya to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who then made Ashtanga yoga popular around the world.

What I find incredible with Ashtanga yoga is that it is physically demanding with a strong focus on the breath and the pose. And so together this helps me not have any room for external thoughts. It’s almost as if the outside world is even further away and I get to take a break from my problems all whilst moving through physically demanding yoga poses!

For more information on what Ashtanga yoga actually is, I wrote this article: Ashtanga Yoga For Beginners: A Detailed Guide

Here is one of my Ashtanga yoga classes if you want to try it out:

Similarities of Ashtanga vs Hatha

Ashtanga vs Hatha: Which One Is Right For You?

1. Ashtanga and Hatha are both Hatha practices

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that involves yoga practice that works with the body. And so, Ashtanga yoga is actually a form of a Hatha yoga practice.

2. The poses are similar

Ashtanga yoga is more dynamic when compared to Hatha yoga, and yet there are many common poses. For example, in both types of classes, you will find yourself in downward-facing dog, triangle pose, and warriors 1 and 2.

What differs is their intensity, as in a Hatha yoga class you may spend more time in each pose with the teacher paying more attention to explaining the correct alignment. In an Ashtanga class, we generally hold each pose for 5 breaths.

3. Modifications are given

Both types of yoga are open for beginners and as such, modifications are given. In no type of yoga will you find ‘one size fits all’. Ashtanga yoga may feel like that sometimes, but even there the practice can be tailored to each individual’s needs.

Hatha yoga is a slower type of yoga where modifications are offered as it does cater more to beginners’ needs. The Ashtanga yoga primary series also allows for modifications, especially in the case of injury.

4. The basis is the breath

Both types of yoga place a strong emphasis on the breath. And this is generally how each class begins. In Ashtanga yoga, this breath is there to guide practitioners in and out of each set of poses as smoothly as possible. Given that it is a more dynamic practice, it does take a while until someone is able to flow through poses without losing the breath. In a Hatha yoga class following the breath is generally a bit easier.

5. All classes end in Savasana

And last but not least, both Hatha and Ashtanga yoga classes end in Savasana. What may differ is the duration and whether or not it is a guided relaxation. Both types of yoga end in Savasana, which generally lasts from 5 to 10 minutes.

What is the difference between Ashtanga vs Hatha?

Ashtanga vs Hatha: Which One Is Right For You?

As a whole, Ashtanga is more dynamic when compared to Hatha yoga. An Ashtanga yoga class follows the breath, and so each breath is one movement. In contrast to this, a Hatha yoga class can be much slower. This allows the teacher time to explain poses making it a perfect practice for beginners.

There are of course more differences if Ashtanga vs Hatha which we will look into more now.

1. Hatha yoga is slower than Ashtanga

As mentioned above, in a Hatha yoga class, poses are generally held for longer than in Ashtanga yoga. When in the pose, the teacher will instruct on correct breathing, to be able to hold the pose, and learn not to tense up when challenged.

Additionally, in Hatha, you may transition to the next pose in a more calm manner, as opposed to the other types of yoga where we flow between poses. And this is what makes Hatha yoga a good practice for beginners who may not have the endurance and energy for more dynamic practices.

2. Ashtanga yoga is more structured

Now, this is the key difference that sets Ashtanga apart from any other type of yoga.

Ashtanga yoga follows a set sequence of poses and so Ashtanga classes are always the same. We start off by finding the breath and then move on to sun salutations, standing poses, seated poses, and finishing poses. Day in day out, we practice the same sequence of poses.

To some this may seem boring and yet, there is beauty in repetition. Your body, your energy, and your mood are never the same each day and so despite flowing through the same set of poses, there are so many other variables that differ. For anyone who likes change and variation, a Vinyasa yoga class may be a better option.

3. Hatha is a slower and free style Ashtanga

Ashtanga yoga follows a set sequence of poses. These are primary series that focus more on forwarding folds, the intermediate series which focuses more on back bending and the advanced series that works on elements of the previous sequences, with added arm balances. Each series gets progressively harder and in reality, most people stay with the primary series.

Hatha yoga classes may use poses from the wide spectrum of Ashtanga yoga poses and mix them up in a way that can make them more accessible. This is generally done by working towards a peak pose in each class, thus using the class to help prepare the body for the advanced pose.

Given that Hatha yoga classes are structured by the teacher for each class, this means that no two classes are the same.

4. Ashtanga yoga can be considered to be harder

Ashtanga yoga is harder and more physically demanding than Hatha yoga. One thing that can make Ashtanga yoga feel harder is the strong emphasis on the Tristana method. These are:

  • bandhas (energy locks)
  • breath (ujjayi or also known as breathing with sound)
  • drishti (gazing point)

And so aside from the physically demanding poses in Ashtanga yoga, each practitioner is asked to pay particular attention to their energy locks, breath, and gazing point, thus making the mind and soul also involved in the practice.

5. Ashtanga yoga doesn’t use props

As a general rule, most traditional Ashtanga yoga teachers do not encourage the use of props. Yoga probs include yoga blocks, straps, and bolsters. The reason is not to disrupt the flow.

Of course, this is not a general rule. Some Ashtanga yoga teachers encourage the use of props, myself included. I like to use props in my Ashtanga class and also in my own practice. These can help with alignment and can help those with injuries and they can even help us get deeper into certain poses, especially when we are practicing alone at home with no teacher to adjust us further and deeper into the pose.

Hatha yoga, in particular, makes use of props, again, especially because it focuses on beginners, who may not have the flexibility to get into certain poses without props.

6. Ashtanga yoga can be taught two different ways

Hatha yoga is generally taught by the teacher guiding the students through the sequence of poses they have designed for the day. They may choose to only guide the class orally, or they may also demonstrate some or all of the poses.

Ashtanga yoga can also be taught this way, which is referred to as a led class. There is also another way Ashtanga yoga is taught. This is called a Mysore class, where students start to memorize the ashtanga yoga poses, and so in this class practitioners get to practice the Ashtanga set sequence at their own pace.

For more information read my article: Ashtanga Mysore Style: What Is It & Why It May Change Your Life

Alternatively, watch my video where I explain what Ashtanga yoga actually is!

Conclusion of Ashatnga vs Hatha yoga

And so if you are reading this article trying to decide which type of yoga to go for, Ashtanga or Hatha yoga…

This is my advice:

Try both! This is what I tell my students. Try both classes and see what resonates with you.

Is Hatha yoga part of Ashtanga yoga?

As a whole, Ashtanga is a part of Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is a type of yoga that places emphasis on the physical side of yoga. And that is why many poses are practiced in a Hatha yoga class, always following the breath. And so Ashtanga yoga is a part of Hatha yoga as it also places emphasis on poses.

Which is the hardest type of yoga?

As a whole, Ashtanga is considered one of the hardest types of yoga. The reason is that it is a dynamic form of yoga that is physically demanding. However, other types of yoga may feel harder Ashtanga and this depends on your body and even your mood. Some people find yin yoga to be the hardest.

Why is Ashtanga yoga so hard?

As a whole, Ashtanga is hard because the poses practices can feel physically demanding and also because they are practices following the tempo of the breath. Most Ashtanga yoga beginners find Ashtanga to be challenging, however, with practice, it can become more approachable.

Which is the best Yoga for beginners?

As a general rule, Hatha yoga is an ideal type of yoga for beginners. The reason for this is that in a Hatha yoga class we spend time in each pose and this gives the teacher time and space to explain the poses and provide modifications if needed.

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Alexia Koletsou

Alexia Koletsou is a Level 1 Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher with a Ph.D. in Science Communication. She received her blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2019, from the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, where she has had the honor of practicing with R. Sharath Jois multiple times over the years. She is the owner of her own Shala in Greece and now shares her knowledge on yogamyoldfriend.com and her YouTube channel Alexia K Yoga.

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