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.