What is yoga and its benefits?

“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”, (Sage Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras – I.2). The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit and means ‘union’. Yoga is a spiritual science of Self-realisation that has been developed in India thousands of years ago. Through Yoga we learn to master our body and mind to cultivate inner stillness and an ever growing realization of the innermost essence (soul).

The traditional practice of Yoga is holistic by nature and includes every aspect of life, amongst which: universal ethics (Yama), personal ethics for self purification (Niyama), body cultivation through practice of postures (Asana), mastering of energy through breathing exercises (Pranayama), control over the senses of perception (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), and meditation (Dhyana). The yogic journey guides us from the periphery (body) to the centre of our being (soul) aiming to integrate and harmonize the various layers of our existence to achieve wholeness, health and self realization.

Yoga identifies five such layers of being that can be seen as Russian dolls nested within each other: The first layer is the physical body (annamaya kosa) that encompass the following four subtle layers: Our energetic/organic body (Pranamaya kosa), our mental body (Manomaya kosa) our intellectual body (Vijnanamaya kosa), and ultimately our spiritual body, or soul (Anandamaya kosa).

Yoga teaches us that when we manage to bring those layers into harmony and alignment, fragmentation disappears, integration is achieved and unity is established. In the last 50 years Yoga has become widespread in the West mainly due to its appealing aspect of physical practice (asana), and what most of us know is in fact related to a form of Yoga that emphasises the practice of Asana more than any other: Hatha Yoga.