What is Yoga?

Yoga means “union”, derived from the Sanskrit root “yui” which means “to yoke” or “to join”. Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices that originated in India during the Vedic period, around 1500 BC and developed during the Sramana (aesthetic seeker) movement around 600 BC.

There are many different Yoga paths to “union”, but the one most popular in the West today is “Hatha” Yoga, which involves physical exercises to cultivate vitality of body and clarity of mind. All physical Yoga styles from Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa to Bikram, Forrest, Jivamukti and Synergy are forms of Hatha Yoga. Ha means “sun” and Tha means “moon”. Yoga therefore is “the union of sun and moon”, the union of opposites, the union of masculine and feminine, strength and flexibility, and so on. Yoga inspires balance, integration and oneness.

The benefits of physical Yoga exercises include increased strength and flexibility and relaxation, but the main physiological purpose of Hatha Yoga is to improve circulation of energy, vital substances and information through the body. Hatha Yoga stimulates circulation by creating regions of differential pressure throughout the body so that energy flows from regions of high pressure to regions of low pressure.

In a more philosophical sense, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, compiled around 400 – 250 BC, the ultimate purpose of Yoga is the union of individual consciousness (prakriti) with universal consciousness (purusha), ultimately reflected in a blissful state of being called “samadhi”. In Sutra 1.2 Patanjali shares with us the core secret of how to move towards this ultimate feeling of integration: “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. So all the physical Yoga practices we do are aimed at this sacred goal, to find such vitality in the body, that we spontaneously drop into a state of mind that is clear, calm and in harmony with life.

(Yoga inspiration shared by Melanie de Villiers in Camps Bay, Cape Town)