Recently, I asked a yoga teacher about her training. I wanted to know which lineage she was following or simply whether she focused more on vinyasa or alignment.
“I teach some vinyasa classes,” she said. “But my favorite is really hatha yoga.”
Huh? Don’t all asana methods fall under hatha yoga?
There is rampant misunderstanding about the term “hatha yoga” because so many recreation centers (and actual studios, too) call introductory, gentler classes “hatha yoga.” Hatha yoga comprises the physical disciplines, including asana and pranayama. But people now think it’s a specific method of asana.
Who are the nitwits that started this trend?
I practice Iyengar yoga. Most non-studio yoga settings offer vinyasa/flow classes and the catchall “hatha yoga” classes. Where can Iyengar yoga fit into this scheme? I’m biased, but I believe that any yogi would benefit from Iyengar’s impeccable standards for proper alignment. Only in an Iyengar class do I realize that my downward dog (generally a feel-good relief pose for me) could use tweaking. Iyengar yoga keeps me honest … and gives me the fundamental prerequisites to practice any other method.
People often assume that Iyengar yoga is all about complicated ropes and props. Or they picture middle-aged ladies obsessing over perfectly spread toes (see this Economist article). I heard one gym-yoga teacher state to novices that all of the poses they see in Yoga Journal come from Ashtanga yoga. (When pressed, she admitted that she was unfamiliar with Iyengar yoga and relies on Shiva Rea’s Ashtanga-based teaching … speaking of which, how come Pattabhi Jois appropriated the term “ashtanga” (eight-limbed yoga as defined by Patanjali) anyway?) No surprise that gyms focus on vinyasa, plus a vinyasa-lite that they call “hatha.”
Beginners can learn Iyengar basics with mats, blocks, and straps (or, minimally, just mats). No fancy stuff necessary. The crux of Iyengar yoga, alignment, can be learned with minimal props.
Maybe an Iyengar-based “alignment yoga” can eventually usurp the meaningless “hatha yoga” category at rec centers. In any case, the term “hatha yoga” should be redefined in common parlance. Some might roll their eyes and say it’s just semantics, but words do matter.