Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It became popular in the West in the 20th century. The word, yoga, comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which means “to yoke” and "samadhi" or "concentration." Thus, yoga is the practice that aims to join the mind, body and spirit. The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve liberation.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and, over the years, many different interpretations have developed about what yoga means. Each different type of yoga has its own emphasis and practices.
In the West, yoga is most often associated with the physical practice of asanas, particularly stretching exercises to build flexibility and relax the body. Yoga asanas can also build strength, coordination, balance and stamina. However, this is only one aspect of yoga as asana practice is just one of the "eight limbs" of yoga as listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a key sacred text on the philosophy of yoga. These eight limbs are:
Yama - Five abstentions (or outer observances)
Niyama - Five inner observances
Asana - Meaning “seat” and referring to the physical posture needed for meditation
Pranayama - Controlled or suspended breath
Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses
Dharana - Single pointed concentration
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi - Liberation
There are many different paths of yoga, including Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga, but all are rooted in the yamas and niyamas,and have the same goal of samadhi.
Yoga is thought to be therapeutic for many physical and mental conditions. Studies have been carried out demonstrating its effectiveness as a treatment for back pain, stress and schizophrenia, to name a few.