What is Yoga? More importantly, what does Yoga mean to you?
The word yoga is first encountered in the Upanishads, which are a collection of texts describing the philosophical concepts of Hinduism. It is dated back in 2000-1000 BC with reference to breath control, philosophy and spirituality. What is yoga? The word yoga means “union”. Through yoga practice, you unite the consciousness of your mind with the energy of the universe to achieve a balance self.
Physical practice of yoga only comes later in 200 CE. It is believed the physical practice of yoga is started by Patanjali. It is unclear if Patanjali is just one person or a group of people with the pseudonym Patanjali. Patanjali wrote Yoga Sutra which documents the principles and wisdoms for living a fulfilled and meaningful life, including the 8 limbed paths to yogic life.
• Yamas – strong willpower for restraints toward other beings, including non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation and non-hoarding.
• Niyamas – strong willpower for observance and application of truth toward yourself, including cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender.
• Asana – physical and mental exercise to gain control over your body
• Pranayama – transformation of individual energy through controlled breathing
• Pratyahara – inward directing of energy and attention toward the heart and mind
• Dharana – ability and patience to cultivate on a single point of focus
• Dhyana – cultivation of concentration through meditation
• Samadhi – evolution of consciousness from individual to universality to experience enlightenment
You may have heard of the term – modern yoga. Modern yoga is considered a system that links mental exercises with a breathing technique and the physical postures to achieve the highest potential self for happiness. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is considered to be the father of modern Yoga. His style of yoga incorporates the breathing with a series of yoga postures which leads to the currently known as Vinyasa. Many of his students, including K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S Iyengar, and Indra Devi have developed their unique style of yoga and spread and promote the knowledge of yoga to the world. Here is a fascinating YouTube video of Tirimalai Krisnamacharya practicing yoga that I find inspiration.
The meaning and view of yoga can be quite personal and different for each yogi in the modern world. Yoga can be an exercise routine, a detoxing process, a form of meditation, a self-discovery process, and even a spiritual practice. So, here comes the question – what does yoga mean to you? Practicing yoga is all of the above for me. It has been very beneficial to me physically and mentally. I have been able to incorporate practicing yoga into my weekly routine. It has helped me to strengthen my body, my mind and perhaps my soul. With regular practice of yoga, I can see the transformation of my physical body to be stronger and more flexible. I am also more aware of the strength and limitation of my own physical body through different yoga postures. Mentally, it has acted as a form of meditation to me to focus, and therefore helps to reduce stress and distraction in life. Inner strength comes with strong body and strong mind. A strong body starts with a strong mind, and a strong mind starts with a strong body. One cannot achieve without the other.
What is yoga to me? It is a way of life for self-discipline and self-discovery for cultivating a healthier and more balance body, mind and soul.
There are also great health benefits which can be explored in the post Health Benefits of Yoga.