What is Yoga?

What is Yoga? Yoga means “union”, derived from the Sanskrit root “yui” which means “to yoke” or “to join”. Yoga is a collection of spiritual practices designed to unite our body, mind and breath for self-realization. Yoga originated in India during the Vedic period, around 1500 BC.  At the end of the Vedas, around 800 BC a less dogmatic and more experiential approach came into being during the Upanishads. Classical Yoga, rooted in Samkhya philosophy, was codified in a text called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali around 250 BC.  Only much later, during the rise of Tantra, more oriented, physical forms of Yoga developed.

There are many different Yoga paths to “union”, but the one most popular in the West today is “Hatha” Yoga, which involves physical exercises, breathing techniques and meditation to cultivate vitality of body, and clarity of mind. All physical Yoga styles from Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa to Yin, Jivamukti, Synergy, etc are forms of Hatha Yoga. Ha refers to ”sun” & ”high pressure”, and Tha refers to ”moon” & ”low pressure.” Hatha Yoga  is “the union of sun / high pressure and moon / low pressure”, the union of opposite hemispheres of the brain, opposite sides of the body, and so on. Yoga inspires balance, integration and oneness.

The benefits of physical Yoga exercises include increased strength and flexibility, relaxation, and physiologically improves the circulation of energy, vital substances and information through the body. Hatha Yoga stimulates circulation by creating regions of differential pressure throughout the body for optimal energy flow. Our Yoga practice starts by removing obstacles in the body, mind and breath, to untie the knots that bind us, in order to unite all aspects of our self.

The ultimate purpose of Yoga is the union of individual consciousness (prakriti / physical form) with universal consciousness (purusha / infinite formlessness), reflected in a blissful state of being called “samadhi” or oneness. In Sutra 1.2 Patanjali defines Yoga : “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”.  When our mind stops to identify with external forms, and turns inward to realize the self as infinite life-force, not separate, but in fact one with every living being, then there is a peaceful feeling of of union, or Yoga.