Yoga means to “yoke,” to bring together, or to union, and it is commonly known as union of opposites (body and mind). More accurately, this union includes body, mind, and spirit, and the yoga practitioner is seeking to yoke themselves to something greater than themselves. (This could be a higher power, to the universe at large, or to their greater community.) The practice of yoga is a journey to get to know your true Self, and to acknowledge the place of this Self in the larger world.
The language of yoga is Sanskrit.
The first mention of yoga (at least 5,000 and maybe as much as 10,000 years ago) is in the Vedas, ancient religious texts used in Hinduism. However, yoga is not a religion, and you do not have to practice Hinduism to practice yoga. Yoga originated in India. The first real “how to” book about the philosophical practice of yoga (how to live yogically) was written 2,000 years ago by Patanjali – the Yoga Sutras.
Yoga is an eight-limbed path to enlightenment.
These eight “limbs” or parts of the practice of yoga are:
- Yama: five rules or ethical guidelines that govern how you act towards others
- Niyama: five rules or ethnical guidelines that govern your internal thoughts and actions
- Asana: poses or postures (practiced to prepare the body for meditation)
- Pranayama: breathing techniques or breath control (to prepare the body for meditation)
- Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses (achieved through meditation)
- Dharana: inner concentration (achieved through meditation)
- Dhyana: devotion to Self (acheieved through meditation)
- Samadhi: pure Self or enlightenment
Hatha yoga is the physical practice of yoga, predominantly asana and pranayama. The roots of the Sanskrit word Hatha are ha (meaning sun) and tha (meaning moon), and so Hatha is the union of opposites (sun and moon).
Other yoga vocabulary:
- Drishti: gaze or focus
- Mudra: hand position
- Namaste: literally translates as “to bow.” More philosophically, Namaste means “the light or the good in me honors the light or the good in you.” Namaste can be used as a greeting or as a typical yoga class closing, said by the teacher and repeated by the students as a way of thanking each other for sharing the practice and as a way to honor the teacher within each of us.