What is Yoga?

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We received this question from one of our blog reader. She is looking for detailed information on Yoga, its origin and different branches of Yoga. Here is her exact question:

What is Yoga? please explain the history and different branches of yoga.

Detailed Reply on above question by YogaCurious:

For people in the west where Yoga’s popularity knows no bounds today, it is considered as a health and fitness regime that comprises many postures that are made to improve flexibility of body and to remove stress from the body. This is too simplistic an overview of an ancient discipline that originated thousands of years ago in India. It is derived from a Sanskrit word that means to unite, and Yoga indeed is a path to attain union with God. It allows one to have a union of his inner consciousness with that of the universal consciousness. One of the most respected and ancient reference of yoga is given in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

To answer the question what is Yoga, it is an ancient Hindu tradition or rather a way of life that comprises postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. It has physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects through its postures or asanas, breathing exercises or pranayamas, and meditation. Yoga, when incorporated in one’s life in entirety, is believed to create a balance between the body and his inner self or consciousness. Breathing is believed to be crucial in Yoga to prepare one’s body for the more rigorous part of yoga, and that is meditation. Meditation is not going blank as is the misconception in the west. It merely means to organize one’s thought system and bring it to a focus to have a quiet and relaxed mind.

There are many different branches of yoga though the West believes it to be a system of making difficult postures or asanas. Here is a brief description of these different systems of Yoga.

Hatha Yoga

People in the west know this branch as it is what is they consider as Yoga. This system includes all the asanas or postures, the breathing exercises, and the meditation part. All three are believed to help in attaining a better bodily and emotional health.

Bhakti Yoga

This branch is all about devotion and worship and the practitioner has to take his devotion to his deity to an altogether higher level, forgetting all about self and the real world.

Raj Yoga

Raj Yoga is all about discipline or self control and consists of Ashtanga Yoga as revealed in Yoga Sutras.

Gyana Yoga

This branch of Yoga deals with knowledge and wisdom and emphasizes on intelligence.

Karma Yoga

This branch is dedicated to service or karma and believes one’s present state of existence to be a result of his past actions. This means that you can achieve a blissful state for yourself by engaging in acts of selfless service and keep[ing away from negative thoughts and actions.

Tantra Yoga

This branch is all about rituals and practices. Though sex is a part of this yoga, it is also about devotion, humility, dedication, and purity.

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