What Facts Should I Know about Yoga?
Yoga is a gentle way to improve your posture, balance, and coordination.
Yoga is a systematic practice of physical exercise, breath control, relaxation, diet control, and positive thinking and meditation aimed at developing harmony in the body, mind, and environment. The practice entails low-impact physical activity, postures (called asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), relaxation, and meditation. Most people are familiar with the physical poses or yoga positions but don't know that yoga involves so much more.
What are the benefits of yoga?
In the health fields, yoga techniques are being applied in health promotion programs, substance abuse treatment programs, and as a complementary treatment for diseases such as anxiety disorders, depression, coronary heart disease, cancers, and HIV/AIDS. Yoga is a low-cost self-help approach to well-being.
The origin is a Sanskrit word Yog meaning union. Yoga is a union of the organ systems in the body with the consciousness in the mind. Philosophically, yoga produces a union of body, mind, and energy (or soul or spirit) to bring about a state of equanimity (calmness). Progressing to an even more advanced state, blending science and philosophy, one experiences a union of body, mind, internal energy, and the all-pervading cosmic energy, resulting in better physical health, mental control, and, ultimately, self-realization.
What Is the History of Yoga?
The origins of yoga are shrouded in the mists of time. The ancient wisdom known as "the supreme science of life" is believed to have been revealed to the great sages of India several thousand years ago.
Yoga is an ancient system of physical and mental practices that originated during the Indus Valley civilization in South Asia. The fundamental purpose of yoga is to foster harmony in the body, mind, and environment.
Yoga professes a complete system of physical, mental, social, and spiritual development. For generations, this philosophy was passed on from the master teacher to the student. The first written records of the practice of yoga appeared around 200 BC in Yogasutra of Patanjali. The system consisted of the eightfold path or Asthangayoga.
In the West, several schools of yoga are popular and use some or all limbs of Asthangayoga described by Patanjali. The eight limbs are as follows:
Yama: rules for successful living in society
Niyama: techniques for managing and purifying self
Asaana: posture techniques for physical and mental balance (what most people think of as yoga)
Pranayama: breathing techniques for physical and mental balance
Pratihara: techniques for detaching the mind from the senses for mental balance and calm
Dharana: concentration techniques for mental balance and calm
Dhyana: meditation techniques for mental balance and calm
Samadhi: ultimate advanced meditation techniques and psychic procedures attained after regular practice for universal consciousness
The process involves the arousal of the Kundalini Shakti, or serpent power, believed to be located at the base of the human spine. As one practices the various techniques, this power/latent energy rises through a series of centers or Chakras corresponding to various endocrine glands. When this power reaches the highest center, which is associated with the hypothalamus gland regulating the hormonal secretion of the endocrine system, control over the hypothalamus results. In this way, secretion of hormones from various endocrine glands can be regulated. This mechanism may explain the importance of yoga as a stress management technique.
For more on yoga terms, see Yoga Glossary of Terms.
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Several schools of yoga exist and use all or some of the eight limbs.
The traditional practice of yoga was quite rigorous. A lifelong devotion to the practice and adherence to strict sacrifices was expected. Later-age yoga teachers have modified the techniques, and various paths emerged:
Bhakti yoga: the path of devotion
Gyana yoga: the path of knowledge
Raja yoga: the path of wisdom to self-realization and enlightenment
Karma yoga: the path of action
Other techniques such as hatha yoga (path of physical self-discipline), mudra yoga (the path of channeling life force), and chakra yoga (the path of energy forces) have also gained popularity.
Today, many schools of yoga have simplified the techniques and made them easy to practice for working people.
The system of yoga is in the process of developing as an organized science. Various techniques have developed and become popular throughout the world, particularly in the West, which are, in comparison with the old methods, simpler and less time consuming. Examples of popular systems in the West include kriya yoga and Simplified Kundalini Yoga.