What is Yoga?

Updated: Jun 11

This topic is too extensive to cover in such a short space and does not intend to be an exhaustive overview about the development of yoga - just some key points to get you started!

@dominika_yoga @nawwarra @happylotusyogaglasgow

The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to yoke or to bind, which is often interpreted as union. People have various motivations for starting yoga and often these can change and develop over time. Maybe you started because you wanted your body to feel more agile but continued practicing because you loved the harmony, inner peace and balance the practice brought into your life. Some people join to bring more positivity into their lives whereas others seek to overcome pain, suffering or trauma. Some people enjoy feeling relaxed and embrace the sense of calm yoga can offer as a break from our busy lives and minds whereas others seek to overcome physical injuries. So, it is clear that what yoga is and the benefits it can have are unique to each individual.

Yoga is a philosophy that originated from the evolving and diverse underpinnings of Indian culture. There are sometimes references made to aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, among other religions, philosophies and teachings. Although, it is important to note that yoga is not a religion or religious practice and you don’t need to sacrifice your own religion or set of personal beliefs to carry out the practice.

The earliest known writings on yoga are found in spiritual texts known as the Vedas (1700 - 1100 BCE), which means knowledge. The Upanishads (which some consider to be part of the Vedas) and the Bhagavad Gita followed as key yogic texts. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 CE) later outlined the eight limbs of yoga:

  • Yama (ethical behaviour)

  • Niyama (personal practices)

  • Asana (physical postures)

  • Pranayama (breath control)

  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)

  • Dharana (concentration)

  • Dhyana (meditation)

  • Samadhi (peace & union)

Although the eight limbs of yoga outline asanas (poses), which means 'to take a comfortable seat', these were not postures that we recognise from our yoga practice today. Most of the contemporary styles of yoga practiced today are a type of Hatha yoga. Whilst the philosophical underpinnings of yoga go back several thousands of years, the first detailed writings on Hatha yoga are only a few hundred years old. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Swatmarama written in the 14th century was the first text to detail concepts including:

  • Asana (physical postures)

  • Shatkarma (purification practices)

  • Pranayama (breath control)

  • Mudra (gestures)

  • Bandha (energy locks)

These ideas expanded and evolved over time into what we understand yoga to be today, however it is clear that yoga is not limited to the physical practice or indeed one style of

practice. Yoga is non-competitive and encourages us to look inwards, rather than push ourselves beyond our limits. There are many things we can learn throughout our yoga journey that we can apply to our everyday lives such as gratitude, acceptance and consistency. These are what makes yoga different from other forms of exercise; why it is not just 'stretching'; and why you don't need to be super flexible to start practicing. Wherever you are in your yoga journey, whether you've never been on a mat before or have been practicing for a few years, I hope you find or continue to find what it is you are seeking through your practice and you too may notice these change and develop over time.

As well as being a personal practice, yoga encourages community, inclusivity and freedom. When I practice yoga, I feel a sense of belonging and togetherness, even if I'm new to that particular space. Moving in synchronisation with others creates a beautiful atmosphere and common purpose. I truly believe that everyone and anyone can practice yoga and feel it's many incredible benefits.