Whether you are new to the practice or someone who has been рrасtiсing Yoga fоr уеаrѕ when ѕоmеоnе asks you for a definition оf whаt Yoga iѕ you might find yourself hаrd pressed tо givе а concise answer. Yogapedia defines yoga thus “Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India.“
Traditionally yoga was handed down from teacher to student (on a one to one basis) before being codified by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras in around 400 C.E. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to yoke,” or “to unite”. The practice aims to create union between body, mind and spirit, as well as between the individual Self and universal consciousness. Such a union is thought to neutralize ego-driven thoughts and behaviours, creating a sense of spiritual awakening.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and although different interpretations and styles have developed, most tend to agree that the ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve freedom from suffering.
Modern yoga is most commonly associated with the physical practice of asana (postures or poses). Asana practice is generally intended to build strength and stamina, to improve flexibility, coordination and balance, and to relax the body. However, this provides only one small aspect of the tradition of yoga as a whole.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras provide the traditional foundation of yoga, in which he outlines the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga,’ a guide to individuals who are dedicated to creating a union between body, mind and spirit. Each of the Eight Limbs offers a means of living with more integrity, self-discipline, respect for nature and connection with the spiritual aspects of life. (You can read more about the Eight Limbs of Yoga here).
One of the most life-changing things that yoga teaches you is how to be in the present moment. By bringing together your mind, body and breathing, you learn how to anchor yourself in the moment and to experience whatever is going on for you right now. When we use yoga to become more mindful our outlook on life becomes calmer and we learn to appreciate the little things in our lives that we hadn’t even noticed of before.
By being aware of our body, and connecting breath with movement, we have something to focus on. At that moment, our thoughts slow down, and we begin to relax. Science has proven time and time again that yoga improves mental health. A single class can remove the stress from that day, and mind-body research has indicated that a regular yoga practice can help to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses.