YOGA IS a practice of “union.” We experience our body more fully (through postures, breathing, and meditation) in order that we may also connect with that which is greater that us. Some call that “greaterness” the divine, others call it love, peace or simply presence. My experience is that whatever people call it, most gain clarity, compassion, gratitude for life, and personal empowerment. Yoga blends body awareness, conscious breathing, flexibility, strength, endurance and balance. It can be a beautiful practice, accommodating people at any level. For these reasons, it has been fundamental in helping me become comfortable in my body, enjoy it and truly appreciate it.
Many people think that yoga is just stretching. But while stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. In Yoga, the body is treated with care and respect for it is the primary instrument in where their is work and growth. Yoga Exercises improve circulation, stimulate the abdominal organs, and put pressure on the glandular system of the body, which can generally result to better health.
In Western Culture, most of us are accustomed to looking outside of ourselves for fulfillment. We are living in a world that conditions us to believe that outer attainments can give us what we want. Yet again and again our experiences show us that nothing external can completely fulfill the deep longing within for "something more." Most of the time, however, we find ourselves striving toward that which always seems to lie just beyond our reach. We are caught up in doing rather than being, in action rather than awareness. It is hard for us to picture a state of complete calmness and repose in which thoughts and feelings cease to dance in perpetual motion. Yet it is through such a state of quietude that we can touch a level of joy and understanding impossible to achieve otherwise. Through the practice of Yoga one begins to find this harmony within their-self and their environment. The Yogis formulate a way to achieve and maintain this balance of life and it is done through exercise, breathing, Meditation and a connection to the divine through the path of devotion.
Seen in this light, yoga is described as a spiritual path, often broken down into the following eight stages as delineated by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra:
Yama/Restraint: Actions best avoided
Niyama/Observance: Positive actions to cultivate
Asana/Posture: Releasing gross tensions from the body
Pranayama/Breath Regulation: Harmonizing body, mind, and breath
Pratyahara/Introversion: Withdrawing attention from external distractions
Dharana/Concentration: Focusing the mind on a single point
Dhyana/Meditation: Accessing a state of flow
Samadhi/Oneness: Effortless, integrated being, connection to the Divine
Different Types of Yoga
Hatha Yoga — a system of physical postures, or asanas, whose higher purpose is to purify the body, giving one awareness and control over its internal states and rendering it fit for meditation.
Karma Yoga — selfless service to others as part of one's larger Self, without attachment to the results; and the performance of all actions with the consciousness of The Divine as the Doer.
Mantra Yoga — centering the consciousness within through japa, or the repetition of certain universal root-word sounds representing a particular aspect of Spirit.
Bhakti Yoga — all-surrendering devotion through which one strives to see and love the divinity in every creature and in everything, thus maintaining an unceasing worship.
Jnana (Gyana) Yoga — the path of wisdom, which emphasizes the application of discriminative intelligence to achieve spiritual liberation.