Yoga has become very much a hip form of exercise, in general discussion the many health benefits are often recited but rarely penetrated, leaving the true meaning or identifying the true origin of Yoga misconstrued. Yoga is far more than a form of exercise offered at the gym every evening at 7; it is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It is indeed a life changing workout for many and extremely relaxing, but to simplify it to a practice that is great for the body and relaxing for the mind is unrepresentative of an ancient form of spirituality.
The practical and theoretical philosophy of Yoga defines an eight-step journey to achieving union with God and spiritual liberation by ridding yourself of all attachment to material objects. These steps are explained in its basic text called Yoga-sutra, written sometime during the 2nd century B.C. according to many researchers by Patanjali. Different schools of thought have sprouted from Yoga philosophy but generally the eight steps are described as:
1. Yama (restraint): Abstaining from injury, theft, lust, greed and falsehood
2. Niyama (observance): Maintaining cleanliness of the body, happiness, austerity, study and devotion to God
3. Asana (seat): Exercises that make the body supple, flexible and healthy
4. Pranayama (breath control): Exercises that stabilize the rhythm of breathing in order to encourage complete respiratory relaxation
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal): Controlling the senses, withdrawing attention from material things to the mind
6. Dharana (holding on): Having the ability to fix the mind to one object for long periods of time
7. Dhyana (concentrated meditation): Extensive uninterrupted contemplation of the object of meditation, beyond ourselves, our memories, our experiences, our egos
8. Samadhi (self-collectedness): Perceiving yourself and the object of your meditation as one, completing this stage is considered a condition to free yourself from the birth cycle
Research has shown that each of these steps boast the incredible benefits that has popularized yoga and meditation today such as:
- Increased flexibility.
- Increased muscle strength and tone.
- Improved respiration, energy and vitality.
- Maintaining a balanced metabolism.
- Weight reduction.
- Cardio and circulatory health.
- Improved athletic performance.
- Protection from injury.
For many Yoga is a sport that has maintained physical and mental health, which shows the veracity of the ancient philosophy. Though the rich culture and history from whence it was born should not be so readily forgotten.