Yog or 'Yoga'
"Yoga is a journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self."
-The Bhagavad Gita
The ancient rishis of India blessed us with the sacred knowledge of Yoga. It is not to be misunderstood for a few warrior poses, or merely a physical exercise, nor is it a religion. It is a scientifically proven practical approach to 'union' with our true being. Through the pracitce we naturally cultivate or awaken the qualities of love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, peace and tranquility... to name a few.
The physical practices of movement, breathing and concentration enable us to calm the mind, withdrawing from all the external stimuli which capture our minds, so we can tune our minds and energy inwards. The physical practice of asanas is mainly to make the body strong, supple and relaxed so we can sit for longer periods. There are also countless health benefits such as pain relief, injury prevention, increased energy, stamina and flexibility, improved balance, coordination and stregnth, balancing of hormones, increased digestion/ metabolism and much more! There are various schools and lineages which deal with their own unique teachings and traditions, (Hatha, Iyengar, Kriya, Kundalini, Raja, etc.) but the goals are the same. Here in the West the most common understanding and widespread is Patanjali's Ashtanga, or 8 Limbs of Yoga.
But Yoga is not just limited to physical practices. Even before one begins the physical practice, an emphasis is put on the purification of ones mind and heart. The guidlines to live a wholesome and pure life are listed in the Yamas, or restraints towards others: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya (moderation), Aparigraha (not hoarding), and the Niyamas, self-restraints or personal ethics: Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (self-study), Isvara pranidhana (surrender to a Higher Consciousness). In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna mentions the three paths of Yoga, which are Karma Yoga (The Yoga of selfless actions), Bhakti Yoga (The Yoga of devotion) and Jyana Yoga (The Yoga of Knowledge). Throughout the entire Gita, only 3 verses metion a physical yoga practice with techniques, and it is mainly described as sitting in meditation. Regardless of the path, the results are the same. Qualities of love and compassion are developed, attachments and desires weaken, the mind and all its capabilities becomes stronger, and we begin to see this harmony, or union with all that surrounds us.