Yoga is a word coined from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which can be literally translated as ‘to bind, or yoke’. In essence, it is an umbrella term used to refer to a group of mental, spiritual and physical practices whose origins date back to ancient India. There seems to be much speculation about the actual origins of Yoga but one of the most accepted explanations relate to the construction of the Yoga Sutra by an Indian Philosopher (Patanjali) about 2000 yrs. ago. In simple terms, the Sutra is a yoga guide that is consisted of 195 statements, and its precepts bear resemblance to most of the aspects of yoga in today’s world. The Sutra identifies the different practices of yoga into eight groups, also known as eight limbs. These include the Asana/postures, prayanama/breathing techniques, Niyamas/observances, Yamas/restraining techniques, Pratyahara/ restraining of senses, Dharana/Concetration, Samadhi/absorption and the Dhyani which is also known as meditations. These eight limbs are progressively practiced and are organized with the intent to move oneself from the outside world to towards inward enlightenment.
Aside from the Sutra another commonly recognized classification of yoga divides it into two main groups known as Hatha and Raja. Hatha yoga is perhaps the most popular and it mostly relates to the Asana’s or postures organized in specific sequences with the ultimate goal of achieving balance between the physical body and the mind.
In today’s circles, the majority of yoga, especially in the western world, focuses on the asana which in general terms refers to the practice of physical postures and exercises. These exercises were originally intended to enhance physical strength, stamina and flexibility necessary for practicing prolonged meditation.