What Is Yoga?
Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Yoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge. Though many think of yoga only as a physical exercise where people twist, turn, stretch, and breathe in the most complex ways, these are actually only the most superficial aspect of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potentials of the human mind and soul.
The science of Yoga imbibe itself the complete essence of the Way of Life, including - Gyan Yoga or philosophy, Bhakti Yoga or path of devotional bliss, Karma Yoga or path of blissful action, and Raja Yoga or path of mind control. Raja Yoga is further divided into eight parts. At the heart of the Raja Yoga system, balancing and unifying these various approaches, is the practice of Yoga Asana.
Many people think that yoga is just stretching. But while stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility.
This is done through the performance of poses or postures, each of which has specific physical benefits. The poses can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement (vinyasa-style yoga) or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. The poses are a constant, but the approach to them varies depending on the yoga tradition in which the teacher has trained.
Yoga teachers will often refer to "your practice," which means your individual experience with yoga as it develops over time. The amazing thing about yoga is that your practice is always evolving and changing, so it never gets boring. Although the poses themselves do not change, your relationship to them will. Anyone can start a yoga practice, even if you don't feel like you are very flexible or very strong. These things will improve the longer you practice. Another great thing about thinking about "your practice" is that it encourages the noncompetitive spirit of yoga. One of the most difficult, but ultimately most liberating things about yoga is letting go of the ego and accepting that no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is just doing their best on any given day.
In addition to practicing the poses, yoga classes may also include instruction on breathing, call and response chanting, meditation, or an inspirational reading by the teacher. The variety and amount of this will depend on the individual teacher and the yoga style in which he or she is trained. Typically, a yoga class at a gym will be more focused on the purely physical benefits of yoga, while one at a yoga center may delve more into the spiritual side. Some people find that the physical practice of yoga becomes a gateway into a spiritual exploration, while others just enjoy a wonderful low-impact workout that makes them feel great. Whatever your tendency, you will be able to find a yoga class that suits your style.