YogaThe word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, yoga literally means unite or integrate. Sanskrit is the language in which ancient yoga is written. Yoga is therefore the uniting of man’s body, soul and spirit and aligning this with the universal consciousness. Yoga seeks to answer questions related to life, such as; Who am I? What can I do? What is my purpose in life?

The purpose of yoga exercises and breathing techniques is to still the constant chatter usually present in the mind, and doing so a person is able to get relief from tension and stress. It seeks to promote physical, emotional, mental and social wellness, by practising different techniques such as meditation, physical exercise, breathing, posture and movement etc.

When all aspects of a person are in harmony, then a fulfilled and happy life becomes possible.

The origins of Yoga

It is not clear where yoga originated from; however, it is known that it originated in India, more than five thousand years ago. Yoga practitioners from India later introduced it to the western world in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Yoga in the Indian culture has more to do with spiritualism and meditation.

The six branches of Yoga

In the beginning, yoga was thought of as a tree with branches, roots, a trunk and fruits. This tree had six branches, each with its own characteristics and uses and represented a particular way of life.

Raja Yoga

Translated Raja means royal and this branch of yoga focuses more on meditation for spiritual self-realisation. Through the eight-fold path of Raja Yoga, you can achieve a state of mental calmness towards your true nature. The eight-fold path or eight limbs are:

  1. Yamas, which is ethical standards
  2. Niyamas, which translated from Sanskrit means self-discipline
  3. Asana, meaning physical postures
  4. Prayanama, meaning breathing exercise
  5. Pratyahra , meaning sensory withdrawal
  6. Dharana, meaning concentration
  7. Dyana, meaning meditation
  8. Samadhi, meaning supreme state of bliss

Raja yoga teaches you to control your mind by meditating so that you can gain enlightenment. The aim of Raja yoga is to help you to connect with your higher, spiritual being.

Bhakti Yoga

This branch of yoga is the path of devotion. It centres around love and dedication with the aim of connecting with a divine God. Bhakti practitioners seek to develop love and acceptance for all things. This branch teaches you to have love and tolerance for all, and a devotion to God.

Bhakti yoga softens the heart and removes negative emotions like jealousy, anger, hatred, lust, pride and arrogance. Instead it fosters joy, peace, divine ecstasy and bliss.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana literally means knowledge. This is the yoga of wisdom, and involves practising mental techniques of questioning oneself, reflecting and contemplation. This branch is considered the most difficult because it requires development of the intellect. It appeals to those people who are intellectually inclined.

The four pillars of knowledge are the steps that lead to liberation in Jnana yoga. These are:

Viveka – Discernment or discrimination. It is the ability to differentiate between what is real and unreal, temporary and permanent, self and not self.

Vairagya – Detachment from material things replaced by a deep yearning for the ultimate wisdom.

Mumukshutva – An intense and passionate desire for achieving freedom from suffering.

Shat sampat – These are the six mental practices that stabilise your emotions and your mind. They are tranquillity, training, withdrawal, forbearance, faith and focus.

Tantra Yoga

This branch of Yoga uses rituals to achieve awareness. It is based on the worship of Shakti, the divine feminine energy. This branch views all ceremonies as having magic.

The aim of this branch is to find and experience the sacred in everything that we do.

Karma Yoga

This is Yoga’s branch of service. Karma refers to the effect of one’s actions on future circumstances. By choosing to perform selfless acts now, you choose a peaceful future free from negativity.

Serving others is a way to secure a selfless and good future for yourself.

Hatha Yoga

Most people associate Yoga with Hatha yoga, the branch that is physical and mental. It is the Yoga of postures. This branch uses physical postures ( Asana) , breathing techniques (Pranayama) and meditation for better health. The body is considered as a vehicle for the soul and it aims to make it perfect.

Basic yoga techniques
Mountain pose/Tadasana

Stand with your feet slightly apart, with your arms at the sides. Keep your neck aligned with the rest of your body and breathe evenly. As you focus, you are free to move your arms, either up towards the sky, or even to a praying position.

Downward facing dog/Adho mukha svanasana

Go down on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under the hips. Walk your hands forward and ensure that you spread your fingers to get stability. Curl your toes under and press your hips upwards. Hold this pose for three breathes.

The warrior pose/Virabhadrasana

Stand with your feet about three feet apart, and turn out the right foot at ninety degrees and the left foot only slightly. Keeping your shoulders down and relaxed, extend your arms to the sides with your palms down. Bend your right at ninety degrees, keeping your stare over your right hand. Hold this pose for a minute. Switch to the other side, putting your left foot and ninety degrees.

Tree pose/ Vriksasana

Begin by standing with your arms at the side, then shift your weight to one leg by placing the sole of your right foot on the inside left thigh. You may hover a bit, but when you do get your balance, bring your hands in front of you in a prayer position. When inhaling, extend your arms over your shoulders, palms facing each other. Hold this pose for thirty seconds and then start from the beginning.

Bridge pose/ Setu bhanda

Lie down on the floor, with your arms at your sides. Bend your knees, press your feet to the floor and lift your hips. Clasp your hands together under your lower back and ensure that your hips are parallel to the floor. Your chin will be thrust towards your chest. Hold this pose for a minute, rest and repeat.

Triangle pose/ Trikonasana

Stretch your arms sideways, and then bend over your right leg. Your hand can either touch the floor or rest on that leg. With the other hand, reach out to the ceiling. Direct your gaze upwards and hold this pose for five breathes. Repeat with other side.

Seated twist/ Ardha matsyendrasana

Sit down on the floor and extend your legs. Cross your right foot over your left foot, so that it rests just next to the outside thigh. Place the right hand on the floor behind you for stability and the other over your right leg. Twist as far as you can and hold this pose for a minute. Do the same for the other side.

Cobra/ Bhujangasana

Lie on your stomach, with your forehead resting on the floor. Keep your legs close together. Place your hands on the floor, palms facing downwards. Slowly raise your head, chest and abdomen. Your navel should remain on the floor. Hold for thirty seconds, and then bring your abdomen, chest and head back to the floor.

The benefits of Yoga
  1. All round wellness

YogaYoga seeks to balance your physical, emotional and spiritual life so that you feel great in all aspects of your life. Yoga aims to make your life joyful and purposeful. Yoga is a holistic approach to wellness, not just working on one area, but encompasses all the facets to make the whole.

  1. Improves your flexibility

The poses involved in yoga ensure that your body becomes more and more flexible. The aches and pains that you once had will be thing of the past.

  1. Yoga is good for your heart

When practising yoga, your heart rate slows down, this is especially important for people who suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure.

  1. Improved brain activity

Yoga postures have been associated with improved memory and focus. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga have a better memory and are more focused than those who engage in other types of exercises.

  1. Stronger bones

As you age, you lose bone capacity, however for people who perform yoga consistently, the reverse is true. A study showed that people who frequently practise yoga actually improve their bone density.

  1. Weight loss

This is something that people the world over struggle with. As is frequently said, it’s very easy to gain weight but very difficult to lose it. However, because yoga is all round, and does not focus only on the physical, the weight loss journey is easier. With yoga, you get the discipline necessary for sticking to a healthy diet, and you come to love your body.

  1. Stress aid

Yoga practitioners are able to handle stress in a better way. They tend to live pretty stress free lives. A session of yoga daily can help relieve all the stress that you’ve accumulated during the day.

  1. Peace

Yoga teaches that we all have peace inside of ourselves; we only need to tap into it. Yoga teaches you to tap into your inner resources and use them to enrich your life.

  1. Improved body immunity

Your immunity is a culmination of many factors, including your mind. If you’re stressed, your immunity weakens, if you’re unwell, your immunity goes down. A disturbed and restless mind will physically manifest itself through your body. Meditation helps to improve your immunity due to the wellness of your whole self.

  1. Living in the present

Most of us are so caught up with the grind of daily living that we fail to notice what is around us. We forget the beauty and the wonders of life. Yoga helps you to live in the present, to slow down and enjoy every day living.

  1. Increased energy

Do you feel completely drained at the end of the day? A session of yoga will restore your depleted energy and leave you feeling fresh again. This yoga session will also help you sleep deeper at night and thus have enough energy to take you through the day. Too much stimulation will tax your system and you may not get much sleep, however with meditation, your senses turn inwards, leaving you relaxed and stress free.

  1. Improved relationships

The aim of yoga is to have a calm spirit so as to experience joy in life. A calm person is better equipped to handle any strain that comes up in relationships. Yoga also teaches you to see the good in people as opposed to focusing on their negative traits. Yoga encourages positive feelings and works to get rid of negative feelings like anger and jealousy, from your life.

  1. Yoga perfects your posture

Many people suffer from back pain, and this mostly stems from having a bad posture. Slumping causes strain in some muscles and in your sprain. Yoga stretches out your spine and back and teaches you proper posture.

It also protects your spine through the postures which exercise your spine disks, preventing them from compressing nerves in the spine.

  1. Increases the flow of blood

Good blood circulation ensures that all the parts of your body get an adequate supply of oxygen. Different postures are designed to ensure that oxygenated blood flows in and then out and back to the heart again. Yoga postures also thin the blood, this decreasing the likelihood of getting clots in the legs.

  1. Encourages self-love and self-care

Yoga gives you the tools to do things for yourself to enrich your life. The more you practice yoga, the more other areas of your life improve. You find yourself wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, you take charge of your life rather than relying on other people to do it for you. With time, you realise that you matter, as does everybody in the world. You come to value and to love yourself.


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