What is Yoga? The Ultimate Guide to the Powerful Mind-Body Practice

Yoga has become a popular form of exercise and relaxation around the world, with millions of people practicing it every day. However, the true meaning and purpose of this ancient practice are often misunderstood in the Western world.

So what is yoga, and what is its purpose? 

In this post, we’ll dive deep into the true meaning of yoga, and discuss its origins and benefits.

Yoga posture? Standing splits

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient Indian system of holistic health care for the body, mind, and soul. The Sanskrit word “yuj,” which meaning “to yoke” or “to combine,” is where the word “yoga” originates. To create a condition of balance and harmony, yoga aims to integrate the mind, body, and spirit.

The physical positions used in yoga, are meant to increase balance, flexibility, and strength. These positions are used in conjunction with deep breathing exercises in order to purify the body and prepare it for higher states of concentration and meditation. 

Though we see a huge increase of popularity all over the world in recent years, the origins of yoga lie in old Indian texts and scriptures that are more than 5000 years old. 

Despite the common belief that yoga is a form of exercise, the true value lies in much more mental and spiritual benefits. It’s important to understand these principles in order to fully understand the true essence of yoga. 

Where did it all start?

Yoga dates back to ancient spiritual texts, called the Upanishads, written between 800 BC and 400 AD. 

Here we also find the first definition of yoga as “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” (“yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah”). As we can see, the actual purpose of yoga in its traditional sense has nothing to do with the body. It is aimed at calming the mind and creating balance and peace. In order to reach this state, the yogi has to follow a collection of moral, physical and spiritual principles that describe the methods of yoga. 

The Yoga Sutras: The eight-limbed path of the yogic lifestyle

The eight limbs of yoga, written by spiritual leader Patanjali, are regarded as one of the founding texts of yoga and were composed in the second century BCE. The yoga sutras’ 196 brief verses address issues including the nature of consciousness, the reasons for suffering, and the way to enlightenment (Learn more here). The eight steps are defined as follows:

  1. Yama: ethical principles and moral codes
  2. Niyama: personal observances and self-discipline
  3. Asana: physical postures
  4. Pranayama: breath control
  5. Pratyahara: sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana: concentration
  7. Dhyana: meditation
  8. Samadhi: a state of pure consciousness and liberation

Each of yoga’s eight limbs has a distinct function, and collectively, all of them work to advance one’s physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. We can see that asanas, or the physical side of yoga, are only one component of the practice. The other branches of yoga emphasize morality, breath management, meditation, and spiritual freedom. The ultimate goal of yoga is to reach samadhi, a state of pure consciousness and bliss. 

Woman in meditation pose

Now that we have learned about what yoga is and where it origniated, let’s have a look at the different paths of yoga.

The six paths of yoga

There are six traditional branches of yoga, each with its unique focus and practices. 

  1. Hatha Yoga (the physical path): focus on asanas and movement
  2. Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion): focus on love for the divine through chanting and praying
  3. Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge): focus on study of ancient texts and wisdom 
  4. Karma Yoga (the path of action): focus on selfless service for the greater good
  5. Raja Yoga (the royal path): focus on the mind and meditation
  6. Tantra Yoga (the path of ecstasy): focus on rituals

Each practitioner can choose the path that best resonates with his or her preferences and abilities. 

Not convinced to start your regular yoga practice yet?

Benefits of Yoga

Research on the benefits of yoga has been exploding in the last few years. The advantages and health improvements achieved through yoga are numerous, including better physical and mental health, reduced stress and anxiety, and connection to spirit. According to a research, in the International Journal of Yoga, daily yoga practice can lower anxiety, depression, and stress levels while also enhancing sleep and general quality of life. 

Each posture serves unique purposes, physically as well as mentally. Physical aspects may include toning different muscle groups, activating the glands, influencing the blood pressure or improving digestion. On a more spiritual level, each yoga pose can activate different chakras, and therefore help us overcome blockages and challenges in life. This adaptability to specific needs and challenges is a crucial element that differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise.

Want to learn more about the benefits of yoga? Stay tuned for our next post!

Yoga is a philosophy of life

Yoga is much more than physical movement or stretching. It’s a holistic approach to life that unites the mind, body, and spirit. Physical practice is only a small part of the yogic lifestyle. By incorporating all parts of yoga into their daily life, yogis can experience improved physical health, increased mental clarity, and a deeper spiritual connection. This allows us to live in line with our highest truth and live a life of purpose and meaning. 


Ready to start your yoga journey?

At Eagle’s Nest we encourage deep transformational experiences through holistic yoga classes, community and events. We offer different styles of yoga to help you find your personal practice – all included in your stay. Check our yoga schedule here.

Written by : Laura Born

Laura is small town girl from Germany, who decided to leave the corporate world to follow her dreams. She has since then traveled the world, teaching yoga in various locations. She is a passionate writer and loves to share inspiring stories from all over the world.