What is yoga?

Yoga means many things to many people, but the true meaning of yoga is wider than simply a series of physical postures…

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self”

The Bhagavad Gita

Benefits of yoga

Yoga is a mind body practice consisting of physical postures focusing on strength and flexibility, as well as breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques.

Yoga has been found to potentially reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and may even support those experiencing anxiety and depression by promoting overall mental and physical wellbeing. It is not however a cure for mental or physical health conditions.

In addition to the mental and physiological benefits, yoga can also help to increase balance, muscle tone and strength, as well as flexibility. As with any physical exercise, yoga may help to maintain a healthy weight also.

The roots of yoga

The origins of yoga lie in ancient India, with roots in Hinduism & the ancient Vedic texts. The practice of yoga has been passed down over the centuries from teacher to student. The word yoga literally translates as union, or yolk & relates to the experiencing oneness with the universe, or enlightenment.

Traditionally, the practice of yoga consists of eight holistic elements, or limbs, which originated from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: yamas (social disciplines) niyamas (moral disciplines), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) dharana (concentration/mindfulness), dhyana (meditation) & samadhi (bliss/enlightenment).

Patanjali’s eightfold path was meant as a guide for how to live a meaningful & purposeful life, with the physical asana practice meant as a preparation for the further steps in the path. However as yoga was introduced to the West in the 19th century, the emphasis on asana increased to cater to a Western, fitness-oriented audience, & often the more spiritual aspect was forgotten.

Today, modern yoga is a wonderful practice with so many benefits. However it can be helpful to remember that an “advanced” yoga practice does not have to mean being able to fold yourself into a pretzel shape, & may actually relate more to a broader engagement with the other elements of yoga, such as mediation or mindfulness.

As you explore the wider meaning of yoga, you might find that the other limbs of yoga begin to speak to you more, & perhaps your yoga practice takes on a different tone.

However you choose to practice yoga, & whatever path you choose to take, as a student of yoga you are embarking on a continual journey of self-discovery.

Learn more.


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