What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient science that has its origin in the Vedas, the oldest record of Indian culture, but its content is by all means universal.

sanskrit-article-polaThe word itself – Yoga – has many different interpretations, here are some of them:

  • “to come together”, “to unite”
  • “to tie the strands of the mind together”
  • “to attain what was previously unattainable”
  • “to be one with the divine”

Yoga was systematized by the great Indian sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, deemed one of the most significant and ancient texts of Yoga. It shows us how the practice of Yoga can deeply transform our mind, in order to find inner peace and live in harmony with ourselves and with others. Yoga is a path open to anyone and does not demand the acceptance of the idea of God as a higher power. In the Yoga Sutra the eight limbs of yoga (asthanga yoga: ashta=eight, anga=limb) are presented as guidelines on this path:

  1. YAMA – our attitudes towards things and people outside ourselves;
  2. NYAMA – our attitudes toward ourselves;
  3. ASANA – the practice of body exercises;
  4. PRANAYAMA – the practice of breathing exercises;
  5. PRATYAHARA – the withdrawal of the senses;
  6. DHARANA – concentration;
  7. DHYANA – meditation;
  8. SAMADHI –  oneness, to merge with the object we are trying to understand.

What is the purpose of Yoga?

In the words of T.K.V. Desikachar, one of the world’s leading authorities on yoga:

“Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present – really present – in every action, in every moment… When we are attentive to our actions we are not prisoners to our habits; we do not need to do something today simply because we did it yesterday… The practice of yoga only requires us to act and to be attentive to our actions. Each of us is required to pay careful attention to the direction we are taking, so that we know where we are going and how we are going to get there: this careful observation will enable us to discover something new… Yoga  is about the means by which we can make the changes we desire in our lives… Anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”

Some additional benefits of practicing Yoga: better flexibility, stronger muscles, healthier joints, better posture, supple spine, strong bones, better circulation, better functioning lymphatic system, healthier heart, regulated high blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, better mood, weight control, balanced blood-sugar levels, better concentration, focus and ability to relax, better breathing and digestion, quieter mind, pain relief, and heightened awareness of your emotions. Read more in detail about these benefits here.

Also find out more about Yoga in my previous blog posts, especially here and here.

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