In the West the term yoga is associated with certain, at times dif­ficult to per­form bodily ex­er­cises (asanas in San­skrit), which are clas­si­fied as Hatha- Yoga in the yoga system.

The expression yoga originates from India and has its roots in Hindu­ism. The literal trans­lation is “yoke” and its meaning is usually under­stood as union or alliance. This is the union of one's in­di­vi­dual con­scious­ness and the Universal Con­scious­ness or between the indi­vid­ual soul and the higher soul (Brahman or God if you like). Depend­ing on the char­ac­ter and pref­er­ences of the indi­vidual this union can be realized in four dif­ferent ways:
  • The path of devotion or selfless love (Bhakti Yoga).
  • The path of selfless work (Karma Yoga).
  • The path of knowledge or wisdom (Jnana Yoga).
  • The path of physical and mental control (Raja Yoga).

The path of physical and mental control in its present meaning can be traced back to Patan­jali (approx. 2nd cen­tu­ry B.C.). It consists of eight limbs:
  • Moral (Yama)
  • Rules, self-discipline (Niyama)
  • Control of the body, exercise and discipline (Asana)
  • Control of the breathing (Prana­yama)
  • Control, restriction of the senses (Pra­tyahara)
  • Concentration (Dharana)
  • Meditation (Dhyana)
  • Peace of mind, higher con­scious­ness (Samadhi)
These eight limbs of yoga represent an holistic approach to bring body, mind and soul in har­mo­ny with each other.

In Western countries the emphasis is usually on the bodily ex­er­cis­es which can be practised in­de­pend­ently of the re­lig­ious con­vic­tions of the indi­vidual.