What is yoga?

The Sanskrit root of the word ‘yoga’ is ‘yuj’, which means ‘to join, to yoke’. Traditionally yoga is a method of practice that aims to join or unite the individual (atman) with the higher universal existence (paramatman), culminating in an ongoing state of peace, inner power and spiritual wisdom.

In today’s world, yoga is generally defined as a set of practices or techniques that work to promote physical fitness, mental clarity, stress management and general well being. Spirituality does, however, remain a strong underlying theme in yoga. As an aspirant follows the path of yoga a more sattwic (balanced) disposition is developed, reflecting harmony at all levels – physical, mental, emotional and psychic.

Origins and history of yoga

Archaeological evidence suggests that yoga has been practiced by ancient cultures in various parts of the world. In India yoga flourished in association with the cultures of the Indus-Saraswati Valley river systems over 4,000 years ago. Over millennia, yoga has primarily been taught through lineages – teachers passing on the keys of yoga to their disciples – down through many generations. And although yoga has generally been an oral tradition based on direct instruction, many ancient textual chants and guides are preserved in the Sanskrit language, including the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Throughout India’s vibrant spiritual history there have been numerous schools of thought, forming a rich tapestry of ideas, philosophies and ways of life. Yoga is closely interwoven with the major Indian philosophies of Tantra, Samkhya and Vedanta.

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- Swami Satyananda