The Ultimate Guide to Yoga

Yoga refers to a practice of mental, physical and spiritual discipline and traces its origins back to Hinduism in India. The purpose of yoga is to attain a level of complete spiritual insight and tranquility by meditating on Brahman, or the Hindu concept of divinity.
All About Yoga A very comprehensive Wikipedia article covering a lot of great information about yoga including its history, philosophy and different places where it is practiced
Yoga Basics A great online blog about yoga for beginners including techniques, benefits, lifestyle posts, yoga news, etc.

Yoga Its Meaning and Philosophy

The word yoga is of Sanskrit origin (the language used in ancient India) and means union. In this way the word yoga can be interpreted to mean the union of mind, body and spirit, or it could also be taken to mean the union of man with the divine, Brahman.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

In the west, when people refer to yoga they are usually referring to the various positions of yoga, i.e. the 'asanas'; however it is important to note that asanas are actually just a single 'limb' out of the eight limbs of yoga. The other limbs are more concerned with conduct as opposed to poses and exercises. The limbs of yoga include:

  • Yama Moral guidelines for one's behavior with others
  • Niyama Moral guidelines for one's behavior with oneself
  • Asana The yoga poses
  • Pranayama Breathing exercises
  • Pratyahara This refers to withdrawing of the senses so that the external world does not distract one from the world within him/herself
  • Dharana The ability to concentrate on something uninterrupted by any distractions
  • Dhyana Taking dharana to the next level, dhyana is not just focusing on one thing, but on all things
  • Samadhi Sometimes referred to as enlightenment, it is the merging of the self with the universe (or perhaps the divine) through meditation

The 6 Branches of Yoga

Further to the above, yoga has six branches most of which people in the west will not be familiar with:

  • Hatha Yoga this is the branch of yoga most familiar to westerners and refers to the poses and postures, i.e. using asana and pranayama in order to meditate.
  • Bhakti Yoga This is the yoga of devotion and is the one that is most practiced in India. This means devoting oneself to the divine and seeing oneness in all things.
  • Raja Yoga This is the yoga of self-control and is considered the highest form of yoga and is based on the 8 limbs of yoga as described above. Raja yoga is about leading a disciplined life by first of all respecting oneself and everything around oneself.
  • Jnana Yoga This is the yoga of the mind and therefore focuses on the acquisition of knowledge and intelligence.
  • Karma Yoga This is the yoga of service and one of its central beliefs is that one's situation today is a result of one's actions in the past. Therefore doing good and selfless actions today will ensure a future that is free from selflessness.
  • Tantra Yoga This branch of yoga deals mostly with rituals and is probably the most misunderstood. It refers to various rituals used in order to experience the divine, however many westerners think it only refers to sexual rituals. Sex is not the only aspect of tantra yoga, in fact this branch seeks to experience the divine in all aspects of life.

Yoga, its Meaning, Poses & Practice Lots of great information on yoga including what the word means, a bit about its philosophy, some basic poses and also a bit about yoga classes
Yoga and its Six Branches Did you know there is more than one type of yoga? This article explains the philosophy and aims of yoga as well as the six main branches of yoga
Yoga Australia Lots of information for beginners about yoga as well as yoga courses, events and training for teachers in Australia
American Yoga Association Contains some very basic information about yoga including its meaning and philosophy and also includes some advice for people with specific conditions such as pregnancy
Yoga for the Special Child This is a chapter from a book on yoga for children with conditions such as Down's syndrome. It explains how yoga can help such children both physically and psychologically and also contains information about the Five-Limbed Tree of Yoga
What is Yoga? (Video) A quick animated video describing the philosophy of yoga and its different branches

The History of Yoga

It is believed that yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years. The history of yoga is often divided into 4 main periods:
The Vedic Period This period is marked by the existence of the vedas, or sacred scriptures of Hinduism. The vedas contain the most ancient yoga teachings which mostly consist of hymns and rituals for all humans to experience the divine
Pre-Classical Period This period is marked by the creation of the Upanishads. There are 200 such scriptures which deal with 3 main topics: the divine reality (Brahman), the soul or self (atman) and the relationship between these two entities
Classical Period During this period there was an attempt to standardize yoga and this was done by the creation of the Yoga Sutra. The yoga sutra was written in the 2nd century and includes the 8 limbs of yoga as discussed in the previous section
Post Classical Period The main difference between post-classical yoga as compared with the previous 3 stages is that post-classical yoga no longer tells man to separate himself from reality, but rather to accept reality and live in the moment
Yoga was finally introduced in the West in the late 19th century and its teachings continue to spread very quickly to this day.
A Complete Overview of the Yoga History A very comprehensive yet concise article covering all the main phases of the history of yoga including: the Vedic Period, Pre-Classical Period, Classical Period and Post-Classical Period
Yoga History A brief, well written article from the University of Florida website that covers some parts of the history of yoga
All About Spirituality A slightly critical analysis on the history of yoga as well as a discussion on whether or not it is spiritual and how safe it is
Origin and History of Yoga This brief video traces the roots of modern day yoga and explores its connection with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism

Basic Yoga Poses 'Asanas'

The yoga poses or postures are called 'asanas' and the objective of these poses is to achieve a unity between the mind, body and spirit. Asanas make use of various breathing exercises and physical positions for meditation.
The following are some great links on asanas:
Basic Yoga Exercise and Pose A comprehensive list of yoga asanas along with helpful illustrations. Also includes a paragraph on what to keep in mind before beginning the exercise.
Asanas: Yoga Postures The word asana means posture, or a position for extended meditation. This site will introduce you to all the basic asanas for beginning your journey into yoga.
Basic Yoga Poses for Beginners (Videos) There's nothing better than having a real person demonstrate a new exercise for you. This list of videos will help you understand how to do the asanas.
Basic Yoga Movements Illustrated and detailed descriptions of various yoga positions as well as a discussion on the benefits and prerequisites of yoga

Health Benefits of Yoga

Even medical doctors today agree that yoga has several health benefits. The following links show how yoga can improve one's physical, psychological and emotional well-being:
Why Yoga Exercise is Good for You A comprehensive list of health benefits derived from practicing yoga including: physiological, psychological and biochemical benefits. Also includes a comparison of yoga benefits vs. exercise benefits.
Yoga: Tap into the Many Health Benefits A good article on how yoga can improve your overall fitness and specifically help to reduce stress and anxiety
5 Surprising Benefits of Yoga Yes, yoga can help improve your strength and fitness, but did you know it could help make you more compassionate and improve your relationships? Read more to find out how
Health Benefits of Yoga Blog This is a whole blog dedicated to all the great health benefits that you get with practicing yoga


Related Categories on StartLocal

Yoga Classes
Pilates Classes
Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga
Meditation Centres
Health Retreats & Stress
Gyms and Fitness Centres
Acupuncture

 

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