What is yoga?

balanced-stonesWe know very little about what kinds of yoga were practised in prehistoric times.


Various yoga masters have mentioned periods of 10,000 years, 40,000 years and even up to 100,000 years where some form of yoga was practised. But ultimately, we can never know one way or the other, in all honestly.


What we definitely do know today, however, is that yoga has existed for at least 5,000 years.


The word yoga is often said to come from Sanskrit and means “Balance”. The root is Yuj, which literally means to yoke or unite. Yoga is literally about assuming the yoke, exerting and disciplining yourself, achieving balance between body and mind, body and soul. Yoga is a system of physical, mental and spiritual training.


As far as we know yoga originated in India several thousand years ago. It evolved and gradually reached through the rest of the world in the twentieth century, and in particularly from the 1960s.


Yoga is not a religion and nor is it affiliated with any specific region. Any associations with different theological and philosophical systems are erroneous.


Yoga is a purely practical physical, mental and spiritual discipline that advocates personal practice leading to spiritual insight. Quite simply, yoga is a tool that enables you to explore your own human nature.


There is no doubt that you experience numerous clear and quantifiable physical and mental effects when you practice yoga. Having said that, the original purpose of all types of traditional yoga was fundamentally about consciousness. The most important aspect of yoga practice is to learn to listen inwardly to your body and mind. This is partly a matter of developing awareness of your body, inner tensions and patterns of behaviour, and partly about reaching a deeper spiritual insight into the true nature of reality. In so doing, you help become fully aware as a person and achieve your full potential. In short, yoga is a technique for achieving total consciousness.


Yoga needs to be experienced to be understood. You can talk about yoga for weeks on end, read a hundred books about yoga, build extensive knowledge about yoga in theory – but yoga must be performed and practised to understand it completely. As yoga master Yogi Bhajan so aptly explained:


“Knowledge does not become true wisdom until you experience it, with your heart and your entire being, when it becomes part of your personal experience.”