There are classic text books which answer these questions (i.e. Bhagavad Gita or The Yoga Tradition). But, in very simple terms: yoga has been ‘translated’ to mean union and this union is often thought of in the terms, ‘mind, body and spirit’. Yoga as we know it is a personal wellness practice in which the goal is to create the absolute balance of ‘mind, body, and spirit’. What separates yoga apart from other health and wellness practices is the mindfulness approach to the ‘setting’ of our intentions, the connection of our breath throughout the practice and the actual physical postures themselves.
Historically, it is believed that the practice of yoga originated approximately 5000 years ago, and that this practice has eight paths of which Hatha yoga (i.e. physical postures) is only one. However, the ‘beginning’ of the Hatha yoga path and practice (i.e. physical postures, asana’s) did not begin to evolve as we know it until around 1920-1930’s. And since this time yoga has become a practice, to be done while working towards self-improvement (i.e. benefiting our minds through goal setting and our bodies through increased balance, flexibility and strength, etc.). The ‘spirit’, spirituality, or general connectedness that you experience while practicing completes the union of the individual practitioner’s mind, body, and spirit.
Still skeptical? Let’s take a quick look at two common and current, exercise principles that we are being taught today (i.e. physical education classes, personal fitness industry, etc.). Warming up, before we exercise, think that was the creation of your personal trainer? Think again, warming our bodies up for the physical practice (Hatha) is a major component of most styles of yoga (i.e. Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga) and is commonly practiced through Sun Salutations. And at the end of your exercise program, there is commonly a ‘warm down’ period or exercise. This principle very closely mimics the intentions of our period of time that we spend at the end of our yoga practice, Savasana. Namaste.