Hatha is a very broad term that encompasses any of the physical practices of yoga. It can be used to describe every kind of yoga asana practice from Iyengar to Ashtanga and everything that falls between and beyond. In fact, any of the many contemporary types of physical yoga that are popular today can be accurately described as hatha yoga.
Hatha means forceful in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language that is the source of most of yoga’s terminology. This term may have come into use as early as the 12th century, so even though we consider hatha to be on the gentle end of the spectrum these days, it must have seemed strong in comparison to more subtle practices (meditation, for example) that were available at time.
Today, hatha is most often used to describe gentle, basic yoga classes with little (or slower than a vinyasa class) or no flow between poses. Expect a slower-paced with some basic pranayama breathing exercises and perhaps a seated meditation at the end. Hatha classes are a good place to work on your alignment, learn relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with doing yoga while building strength and flexibility.
Hatha Yoga can be a great introduction to yoga, but shouldn’t be mistaken for easy yoga since it can still be challenging both physically and mentally. Hatha classes provide an opportunity to stretch, unwind, and release tension, providing a good counterpoint to both busy lifestyles and cardio workouts.