What is the difference between Hatha Yoga and Thai Yoga?
We received an email a few days ago asking us what was the difference between Hatha Yoga and Thai Yoga, and we realised that we hadn't made a post specifically about this, so we're putting this up here for those of you who might be thinking about signing up for one of our ABC courses or coming along to a casual yoga class but aren't sure what to expect!
The main differences between Hatha Yoga and Thai yoga lie in the breath, as well as the time and way poses are held.
In Hatha Yoga, a series of poses will be explored, sometimes in what is called a "flow" where one side of the body might go through a series, and then is repeated on the opposite side, or alternatively one side of the body following after each other and moving through each pose in turn. In Thai Yoga we can also perform a flow, but for beginners in both styles we generally will move through poses one by one to keep things as simple as possible. The pacing in both styles for our ABC courses will tend to be quite slow.
In Hatha Yoga, while breath is always present, you will generally be reminded now and then by a teacher to breathe evenly and fully, to assist with grounding and developing self-awareness. In Thai Yoga, we usually breathe in while moving into a pose and hold the breath while holding the pose, usually for around 3 counts for beginners. This results in a somewhat different experience to Hatha poses, and slowly builds lung capacity as well as general cardiovascular fitness and mental control. The breath is then released as we flow out of the pose, and move on to either a repetition, or the next pose in the sequence. Hatha Yoga doesn't have any specific instructions for breathing in most poses, but for some sequences like the Salute to the Sun ("Surya Namaskar") there are specific breathing instructions which match movements, but breath is not deliberately held at any point.
Both types of yoga have a range poses in several categories, such as: standing poses, seated poses, balance poses, twists and supine poses, but only Hatha Yoga has a series of full inversions (where the legs are raised up toward the ceiling as in shoulderstand and headstand, or the head is below the heart such as standing forward folds seated poses with hips raised, head down), though we usually only do gentle ones or half-inversions in the ABC course.
In Thai Yoga, we very deliberately focus more on the relationship between breath and body, and also refocus the mind between poses. The intention is never to lose our body awareness, or raise the heart rate too high. There are also elements of "self massage" with Thai Yoga, acknowledging the close relationship between Thai Yoga and Thai massage, which developed alongside each other.
Hatha yoga is of course much more well known and is also a general "umbrella" term for most forms of positional ("asana") based physical yoga, so can be confusing as a term, but in Hatha ABC you will become familiar with a lot of poses which you will come across in other general yoga classes both at TFD and elsewhere. Thai yoga is not very well known in Australia (or even worldwide, though there are more teachers in Spain and Japan specifically) so the poses will be less likely to be seen in other general yoga classes, though there is a little crossover as both styles had similar origins thousands of years ago.
Hope that helps if you were wondering, confused, or otherwise needing some guidance. Please feel free to comment or drop us an email if you have more questions, and don't forget our first Thai ABC course starts this Thursday!