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The central goal of practicing yoga, which dates back centuries, is spiritual enlightenment based on the integration of the mind and body through eight branches. The term “hatha yoga” is the one branch of those eight branches that focuses on the physical elements. The physical elements are the hatha yoga poses (the asanas) and breathing (pranayama). Hatha yoga refers to all types of physical yoga disciplines including ashtanga yoga, bikram yoga, iyengar yoga, kundalini yoga, and svaroopa yoga.
The benefits of hatha yoga are both physical and mental, and any discipline of hatha yoga will strengthen the muscles, reduce stress, and focus the mind and emotions. But certain hatha yoga postures are associated with specific health benefits. For example, forward bends are thought to improve digestion, as well as stretch the spine and hamstrings, and inversions such as headstands and shoulder stands promote circulation as well as build shoulder strength and core body strength.
Hatha yoga styles involve seated poses as well as standing poses. If your knees are higher than your hips when you sit cross-legged, it means that you have tight hips, so try sitting on a block or blanket to help your hips open if you are sitting for a series of several poses.
If you can't make it to a hatha yoga class, don't stress—you can pursue your practice at home. Try a hatha yoga DVD such as the one's available at Gaiam.com, to get your blood flowing and your mind focused.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|