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Hatha yoga is a physical yoga discipline which trains the body so that the practitioner can work on his or her spirituality. When most Westerners think of “yoga,” they are actually thinking about hatha yoga; yoga is actually a huge and complex spiritual and physical discipline with a number of branches. A variety of physical disciplines are descended from hatha yoga, including bikram yoga. Chances are very high that a hatha yoga class is being offered in your area.
The most famous aspect of hatha yoga is probably the postures or asanas which are used to strengthen, stretch, and tone the body as part of yogic practice. During a hatha yoga session, the practitioner will move through a number of these poses, holding them for varying amounts of time and working in a set order to ensure that muscle groups are slowly warmed up and evenly worked. Many hatha yoga poses are quite demanding, requiring focus, strength, and agility.
Another important aspect of hatha yoga is pranayama, or breathwork. During a yoga session, yogis and yoginis are very mindful of their breath, and they may take breaks during the session to focus specifically on breathing. Control of the breath is said to be vital to the control of the body, and it also encourages an inward focus which can help to develop one's spirituality.
The practice of meditation is also deemed to be an important part of hatha yoga, although not all people engage in meditation. The practice of yoga tends to promote a calm, still state which can be conducive to meditation, and this is part of the goal of yogic practice. In India, hatha yoga also includes a number of moral precepts which people are expected to follow, including principles of nonviolence and truthfulness. These precepts are not always integrated into Western practice of hatha yoga.
The goal of hatha yoga is to achieve a balance between mind and body. Yoga practitioners tend to be in good shape, because their bodies are repeatedly put through a series of demanding exercises, and their minds are also said to be clearer than those of people who do not practice yoga. The practice of hatha yoga can help people focus on self-improvement, and it encourages people to take the experiences and emotions of their yoga sessions and classes with them into the outside world.
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