With the rising popularity of yoga, it can be difficult to discern which style would suit your practice. With over 100 types of yoga, how do you choose the best one?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with all available options, the best way to narrow it down is to thoroughly examine two of the styles accessible to you.
Hatha yoga and Vinyasa yoga are among the most popular styles of yoga available today. Most studios, both online and in-person, offer Hatha and Vinyasa classes. To help you understand the differences between Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa, let’s dive into these two styles!
What is Hatha Yoga?
Directly translated from Sanskrit language, the term hatha (हठ) means “force”. This branch of yoga focuses heavily on the physical practice (asana) and movement, which is reflected in its name.
Historically, Hatha is an umbrella term that encompasses any type of yoga practice that includes yoga poses and transitions. However, over time it evolved to mark a physical practice that’s both adaptable and accessible.
History of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga was the first practice to include physical postures as a means of preserving and controlling the vital life force (prana). The other function of asana was to train the body and mind for stillness and meditation.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the development of Hatha practice took place. Some sources attribute the origin of Hatha yoga to Gorakhnath, a yoga master who lived in India in 11th century.
Others argue that physical postures date back to the times of Sage Patanjali, who references asana in The Yoga Sutras. Historians suggest that Patanjali lived sometime between 2nd century BC and 5th century AD.
What to expect from a Hatha Yoga class?
Since Hatha yoga is such a broad descriptor, the content and intensity of a Hatha yoga class highly depends on the teacher and venue that offers the class.
A common feature in Hatha practice is the focus on form and endurance, which is reflected in its moderate pace.
Think of it as an average of various yoga styles. To accommodate students of varying levels of experience, most poses and transitions can be modified. This way, newer practitioners would be able to choose a more inclusive option, while advanced yogis could increase the intensity of their practice.
Benefits of Hatha Yoga
Over the years, there have been plenty of research that focused on the effects of Hatha yoga on fitness and mental wellbeing.
Studies have found that moderate-intensity Hatha practice makes a huge difference to various aspects of physical and mental health.
- Muscular strength. Hatha yoga is structured around performing yoga poses in their optimal form. The latter may vary depending on individual practitioner, which is key to creating the right conditions for strength building.
- Endurance. Another signature feature of this yoga style is the slightly extended hold time. Once the asana is established, the practitioner must remain still and stoic, which builds muscle and cardio endurance.
- Flexibility. From hamstrings and hips to backbends and wrists, Hatha yoga has categorically proved to be an efficient way to train flexibility. Combined with muscle strength and controlled movement, it amounts to a wide range of movement and improved mobility.
- Respiratory function. Even though yoga is considered a low impact exercise within lactate threshold, it has a positive effect on performance nonetheless. A study conducted in 2011 concluded that Hatha yoga increases breathing economy in relation to the subjects’ baseline maximal oxygen intake (VO2 max).
- Stress relief. Going back as far as 2001, controlled studies recorded positive impact of yoga on mental health. Yoga has the uncanny ability to reduce the levels of cortisol in the body, also known as the stress hormone.
- Balance. Another “side effect” of Hatha yoga is the improvement in both static and dynamic balance, thanks to the combination of holding poses and controlled movement.
What is Vinyasa Yoga?
Vinyasa Flow, also known simply as Vinyasa, is a physically demanding practice that promotes continuous movement.
A signature feature of this practice is the synchronization of movement and breath. The inhale is typically associated with upward or opening movements. On the contrary, exhales are timed with downward movement and tension release.
In Sanskrit, vinyasa means “to place in a special way”, which refers to the controlled movement and conscious breathing while performing various yoga asanas.
Technically, Vinyasa can be considered a type of Hatha yoga, since it heavily relies on yoga postures. The distinction is to convey that a Vinyasa class or personal practice will be more dynamic and breath-centric than a general Hatha yoga practice.
History of Vinyasa Yoga
The style of Vinyasa yoga branched off from the famous Ashtanga yoga. Although many people nowadays use the shortened version, the full name of this traditional yoga style is Ashtanga Vinyasa.
In essence, Vinyasa adapted the dynamic nature of Ashtanga yoga, and made the sequence more fluid.
Even though this was a relatively recent development, there is no person or school credited with the origin of Vinyasa flow.
What to expect from a Vinyasa class?
In contrast to the rigid sequence of Ashtanga Vinyasa, Vinyasa Flow classes are incredibly versatile from one session to the next. Most teachers who opt for Vinyasa like to change things up on a regular basis.
A Vinyasa yoga class can look very different depending on the teacher, as well as the type of students who attend these classes. Thanks to the creativity aspect, Vinyasa sequences range in length, intensity, and teaching style.
Vinyasa yoga classes are a great option for those who seek variety in poses and breathing exercises. It is also an excellent full-body cardio workout.
Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga
As a sub-section of Hatha yoga, and a cousin of Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa shares many benefits with the aforementioned styles. An overall improvement in physical health, including balance, flexibility, and strength definitely applies to students who practice Vinyasa yoga.
However, the distinct features that define Vinyasa flow as its own type of yoga provide additional avenues for improvement of one’s well-being.
- Coordination. One of the key aspects of any Vinyasa practice is continuous transition between yoga asanas. This type of fluidity can only be achieved if you’re able to coordinate your movements and understand the connections between different poses.
- Cardiovascular function. Vinyasa yoga classes are famous for the intensive cardio workout they deliver. According to research as recent as 2018, Vinyasa improves the function of the cardiovascular system, specifically the cardiac output at VO2 max. This has a knock-on effect of reducing the risk of heart disease and improving physical endurance.
- Cognitive function. Physical coordination is just one component of Vinyasa flow. The other part of the equation is the mental capacity to execute transitions between poses and think several moves ahead. Regular Vinyasa practice can help maintain and improve various aspects of cognitive function, such as memory, attention, and decision making.
- Control. Similar to Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa flow is all about exercising control over your mind, body, and breath. Initially, it can be very challenging to control the movements and synchronize them with each breath. However, practicing Vinyasa on a regular basis is key to achieving ultimate control.
- Mood changes. In addition to the physical benefits, Vinyasa yoga has been shown to affect the mood in a positive direction. This is especially relevant to populations affected by hormonal changes, such as teenagers, expectant mothers, and perimenopausal women.
- Internal organs. A lesser-known benefit of Vinyasa is the ability to direct the action to internal organs. The physical movement contributes to better circulation, which in turn alleviates congestion in the organs.
What is the difference between Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa?
From personal perspective of individual yogis, Hatha and Vinyasa yoga may differ in a range of subtle or significant ways. Of course, these perceived differences are largely subjective.
In order to take a more objective approach, it’s best to examine the difference between Hatha and Vinyasa in terms of their concept and philosophy.
Reserved vs Continuous
The most immediately apparent difference between Hatha vs Vinyasa is their respective pace. Since Vinyasa is linked to each breath you take, the movement follows a relatively fast rhythm.
In contrast, Hatha yoga is moderately paced, allowing the practitioners plenty of time to transition between asanas and get established. Some people prefer to move faster, while others may slow down their practice to accommodate their fitness levels.
Ultimately, Vinyasa classes tend to be faster-paced than an average Hatha yoga class.
Endurance vs Fluidity
Another notable difference between Hatha and Vinyasa is the focus of the practice. The former prompts the practitioners to hold the poses for a little while before moving on. This approach allows yogis to perfect their form and work on their endurance.
The focus of Vinyasa yoga, on the other hand, is to seamlessly transition between asanas, as if you’re performing a divine dance. This approach offers a different type of endurance, which comes from improving the cardiovascular and respiratory functions.
Broad vs Defined
Arguably, the main difference between Hatha vs Vinyasa is their scope. Hatha yoga is a much broader style, which is interpreted very differently by teachers and practitioners worldwide.
While Vinyasa yoga has plenty of space for improvisation, it is more narrowly defined by the relationship of movement and breath. The yoga poses may vary, but the core principle does not change.
Which is better, Hatha yoga or Vinyasa yoga?
Unlike the differences between these two yoga styles, it is much harder to conclude which one is better. After all, the notion of one type of yoga being better than the other is highly subjective.
Hopefully, a view from different perspectives can help you decide for yourself.
According to data collected over 2020/2021, 9% of practitioners in the US gave preference to Hatha yoga, with only 7% of practitioners reporting that their style of choice was Vinyasa.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t conclusively define Hatha as the “winner” between these two branches of yoga. Statistical data is highly imperfect and subject to interpretation:
- The survey that produced the above results was self-reporting, which means that we need to account for human error.
- This particular survey grouped Ashtanga and Vinyasa together, so the actual number of people who practice Vinyasa yoga is likely lower than 7%.
- Hatha Yoga is a broad term, often selected by non-studio venues for simplicity. This may mean that some students practice Vinyasa under the guise of Hatha.
- 17% of those who were questioned answered “I do not know”. There is no way to discern what percentage of these practitioners may belong in the Hatha or Vinyasa category.
- In addition to in-person classes, 24% of practitioners use apps or video lessons to practice yoga. This may further skew the numbers since online yoga often blurs the lines between different styles.
- A large portion of practitioners will have only practiced one type of yoga. As a result, it’s impossible to accurately determine that there is a preference.
Do you know what type of yoga you practice? Do you have a preference?
Yoga is a discipline with a long history and extensive philosophy, but there is no denying that for many people, the most meaningful aspect of yoga is its physical component.
Case in point, 56% of Americans who practice yoga view it purely as physical exercise. So which one is better for improving physical fitness, Hatha or Vinyasa?
Both of these yoga styles elicit overall improvement in strength, flexibility, and general fitness levels. However, the difference of approaches in Hatha yoga vs Vinyasa yoga affects the fitness progress.
- Hatha yoga is great for building long-term strength, while Vinyasa promotes cardio endurance.
- Hatha yoga focuses on static flexibility, whereas Vinyasa is better for stretching in motion.
- If you’re using yoga as supplemental training, Hatha yoga is better for weight-lifters, climbers, and fighters. The dynamic nature of Vinyasa is better suited for runners, cyclists, and circus artists. (Check out our article on yoga for athletes if you want to learn more about sport-specific practices.)
- Consider your goal! If you want to break a sweat, Vinyasa is guaranteed to do the job. Whereas Hatha is better if you want a good muscle burn.
Before concluding which type of yoga is better for you, it is very important to define each style’s inclusivity.
- There are 14 million yoga practitioners over the age of 50, which amounts to a whoopping 38% of yogis worldwide.
- For many people with disability, the options for physical exercise are limited. Yoga is one of the few activities that can be adapted for a safe and inclusive practice.
- Yoga is often prescribed as an effective method of recovery from injury. To facilitate recovery, it’s important to provide modifications.
Vinyasa is not only fast-paced, it is physically challenging even for seasoned practitioners. On the other hand, Hatha yoga can be adapted to accommodate yogis of different skill and experience levels.
Overall, Hatha yoga is better suited for beginners, people with mobility issues, chronic pain, or active trauma recovery.
The two styles in question are very popular, which is why the class schedule usually features both in most studios.
In addition to in-studio yoga classes, there are many online resources for anyone who craves a Hatha yoga class, as well as Vinyasa class.
The cost of a yoga class depends on many factors, from location to demand. However, due to its slower pace, Hatha yoga sessions may be longer on average than Vinyasa. As such, Vinyasa may be a more budget-friendly option.
That said, studios often standardize the duration of their classes, which makes the cost even.
Which is harder, Hatha yoga or Vinyasa yoga?
The answer to this question depends on fitness level and personal preference.
- If you struggle to control your heart rate and breathing, Vinyasa will feel much more challenging than Hatha yoga.
- If you struggle to hold still in postures, you will find Hatha yoga more difficult.
- Vinyasa Flow is faster-paced than the two, which means some practitioners may struggle to keep up.
Can you do both Hatha and Vinyasa yoga?
The best part about yoga is that you don’t have to commit to just one expression of this versatile discipline.
The truth is, nothing is stopping you from practicing different styles of yoga, as long as you do it safely, and most importantly, enjoy the process!