What is Yoga?

by Isabelle on December 6, 2011

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Living in America is truly a blessing for anyone interested in Yoga. It is offered everywhere: in gyms, in spas and hotels and of course in Yoga centers and schools nationwide. Yoga can be learnt, studied and practiced in many ways.

But what is Yoga? What defines Yoga? Where does it originate from? Is Yoga a religion?

Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग yóga) refers to traditional physical, mental and spiritual disciplines originating in India. The Sanskrit word Yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to control,” “to yoke” or “to unite.” Translations include “joining,” “uniting,” “union,” “conjunction,”.Yoga is not a religion, it is a perennial philosophy. As it was created in India, there are some cross cultural influences from Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Yoga also constitutes one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy. Major branches of Yoga include Tantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga. 

The Raja Yoga tradition as a philosophical pillar of  the Yoga teachings, is represented and  compiled in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and it is part of the Samkhya tradition. Many other Yoga sacred texts discuss many aspects of Yoga, including the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita and various Tantras.

Yoga is a discipline, an art, a science and a philosophy. It is a practice of the body of the mind, soul and heart. It is also an energetic practice.  Yoga can be defined as a tool and a technique, an approach, a body of knowledge to understand life, to describe the phenomenon of life and how to live in the best possible way. The tools and techniques of Yoga allow us to overcome obstacles and understand who we are, the true Self within.

What are we bringing together in that state of oneness that is Yoga?  We bring together and merge mind, body, breath, and spirit- that more intangible aspect of the Self. For example in the Ujjaii  breathing technique where we breathe deeper through both nostrils accompanied by a visualization of the breath flow moving  up and down the spine. And as we breathe, we focus our attention effortlessly from the base of the spine up to the crown into the spine on the inhale and down on the exhale. We bring our mind on the thread of our breath within the spine. This action, attention and visualization bring those three aspects: body, mind & breath together, merging as one.

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