Introduction to Yoga

“Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the
most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential
need of today and the culture of tomorrow.”
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Yoga is the science of right living and, as such, is intended to be
incorporated in daily life. It works on all aspects of the person: the
physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual.
The word yoga means ‘unity* or ‘oneness* and is derived from
Sanskrit yuj which means ‘to join’. This unity or joining is
described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual
consciousness with the universal consciousness. On a more
practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the
body, mind, and emotions. This is done through the practice of
asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarma, and meditation,
and must be achieved before union can take place with the higher
reality.
The science of yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of
die personality, the physical body, which for most people is a
practical and familiar starting point. When imbalance is
experienced at this level, the organs, muscles, and nerves no longer
function in harmony, rather they act in opposition, to each other.
For instance, the endocrine system might become irregular and
the efficiency of the nervous system decrease to such an extent
that a disease will manifest. Yoga aims at bringing the different
bodily functions into perfect coordination so that they work for
the good of the whole body.

From the physical body, yoga moves on to the mental and emotional
levels. Many people suffer from phobias and neuroses as a result of
the stresses and interactions of everyday living. Yoga cannot provide
a cure for life but it does present a proven method for coping with it.
Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh explained yoga as an “…integration
and harmony between thought, word, and deed, or integration between
head, heart, and hand”. Through the practices of yoga, awareness
develops of the interrelation between the emotional, mental, and
physical levels, and how a disturbance in any one of these affects the
others. Gradually, this awareness leads to an understanding of the
more subtle areas of existence.
There are many branches of yoga: Raja, Hatha, jnana, karma, bhakti,
mantra, kundalini, and laya, to name but a few, and many texts explain
them in detail. Each individual needs to find those yogas most suited
to his/her particular personality and need. In the last half of this
century, hatha yoga has become the most well known and widely
practiced of the systems. However, the concept of what constitutes
yoga is broadening as more people take it up, and this knowledge is
spreading. In the ancient texts, hatha yoga consists of the shatkarmas,
cleansing practices, only. Today, however, hatha yoga commonly
embraces the practices of asana, pranayama, mudra, and bandha as
well.

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