What is Yoga?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2

Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.

What is Yoga?

The word yoga comes from a root meaning to yoke or join together. This refers to the joining of mind and body. It also refers to the fact that yoga is a relationship and promotes compassion. Also implicit in this meaning is the link between student and teacher.
In America, Yoga has inherited many meanings. Webster’s Dictionary defines Yoga as a “system of exercise to attain mental control and well being, to a path of liberation.” Yoga is an ancient tradition rooted in the human condition. It seeks to alleviate suffering, help the individual answer the challenges and riddles of life, and guide the seeker in search of Identity and Purpose.

Where did Yoga originate?

Honored sages of the Indus Valley, dating back to ancient times, devoted their lives to developing the practices of meditation, chant, and ritual in their search for liberation. Their efforts evolved into the system known today as Yoga, which had origins in the Indian Vedas and Upanisads. The Vedas, the most authoritative of Indian texts, were originally transmitted orally, and later were written in Sanskrit in the forms of hymns, poems, chants, and rituals addressing healing practices. Part of the Vedic heritage, the Upanisads, explored principles of humanity’s Inner Nature and True Self.

How did Yoga evolve?

The scriptural texts were in existence for a long time. The methods employed by Yoga needed to be refined and systematized. A great Indian sage named Patanjali codified the writings over 2000 years ago, giving us what is known as the Yoga Sutras, beginning with elements as humble as codes of conduct to in-depth observations pointing the way to the stages of liberation. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras molded practical, spiritual, and psychological methods of yoga discipline that are effective to this day.

Is yoga a religion?

There is much confusion in the West about the relationship between yoga and religion. Some see yoga as just an exercise program. Others believe it is Hinduism. Yoga refers to a number of different practices, developed over thousands of years, to quiet and control the mind. To be sure, these techniques can deepen any spiritual or religious practice. Those practicing yoga experience many other benefits including stress reduction, control of back pain, increased flexibility and improved concentration. Some find they are led to a religious practice. All are welcome.
As T.K.V. Desikachar so clearly states in his book, The Heart of Yoga, “The actual practice of yoga takes each person in a different direction. It is not necessary to subscribe to any particular ideas of God in order to follow the yoga path. 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. Whether this discovery leads to a better understanding of God, to greater contentment, or to a new goal is a completely personal matter.”

How does one practice yoga?

Since it is easier to move the body than the mind, most yoga practices will start with asana practice (postures). As practice deepens, pranayama (regulation of breath), chanting, rituals, and meditation may be added. Traditionally yoga was taught one-on-one and the link between the student and the teacher was essential. This link continues to be of prime importance to develop and deepen a yoga practice.