Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.
The practice of yoga makes the body strong and flexible, it also improves the functioning of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal systems. Yoga brings about emotional stability and clarity of mind.
Branches of Yoga
Yoga, in ancient times, was often referred to in terms of a tree with roots, trunk, branches, blossoms and fruits. Each branch of yoga has unique characteristics and represents a specific approach to life. The six branches are:
Hatha yoga – physical and mental branch – involves asana and pranayama practice – preparing the body and mind
Raja yoga – meditation and strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga”
Karma yoga – path of service to consciously create a future free from negativity and selfishness caused by our actions
Bhakti yoga – path of devotion – a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance
Jnana yoga – wisdom, the path of the scholar and intellect through study
Tantra yoga – pathway of ritual, ceremony or consummation of a relationship.
The ‘eight limbs of yoga’
Raja yoga is traditionally referred to as ashtanga yoga, because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend. The eight limbs of ashtanga yoga are:4
Yama – ethical standards and sense of integrity. The five yamas are: ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-covetousness)
Niyama – self-discipline and spiritual observances, meditation practices, contemplative walks. The five niyamas are: saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat, spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of sacred scriptures and of one’s self) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)
Asana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
Pranayama – regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses of perception, the external world and outside stimuli
Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
Dhyana – meditation or contemplation – an uninterrupted flow of concentration
Samadhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness.