“Yoga sounds a little like “yogurt,” but it isn’t a food at all. It really means “to yoke” or “to join.” Have you heard of Yoga before or do you know someone who practices Yoga? Does it sound a little strange to you? Maybe you’ve seen people on television or in the movies tieing themselves in knots or reclining on beds of nails.

Actually, Yoga is a divine science of life that began so far back that no one knows exactly where or when. It was revealed to holy people or sages during meditation (Focusing the mind on one thing).

The earliest records we have of Yoga are stone seals from the Indus Valley in India from about 3000 B.C. One part of these scriptures called the Upanishads(u-pon-e-shods) describes Asanas or postures and breathing exercises which are a main part of Yoga.

There are many forms of Yoga practice and teaching. The one most of us in the United States are familiar with is Hatha Yoga, which is a very physical form. Maybe you have seen television programs where someone is teaching Hatha Yoga.

They go from one body position to another very slowly and gracefully. Some of these positions are called by animal names, such as Cobra or Fish because they resemble the shape or movement of that animal. Mostly, these programs help people who want to have healthier bodies and learn to relax.

But there is much more serious Yoga than just being healthy or relaxing, though this is important. The true purpose of Yoga is to become one with the “truth” or to become enlightened. Yogis believe that all the things in our world and universe are one great whole.

We call this truth or whole God, Brahma, Jehovah, or the “Great Spirit”, according to personal belief. Though Yoga is not really a religion it may be practiced as a part of any religion or in addition to.

Another type of Yoga is called Kundalini(coon-da-lini). It involves more intense movements and breathing exercises and moves faster than Hatha. It is especially suited to those who have very strong, lively personalities. It is called the mother of yogas because it was the original system.

Other yogas include Pranayam, the science of breathing, Mantra Yoga, dealing with word power, Laya Yoga, combining breath, mantra, and rhythm, and Raja Yoga combining concentration and visualization techniques. A good teacher can help a student choose a form that fits his or her lifestyle or personality, although many schools teach one form only.

Another Yogic belief is the idea of reincarnation. This is the belief that we have more than one life, that we die and are reborn again and again. The purpose of this rebirth is so that we might learn valuable lessons about life that would help us reach enlightenment at some point in time.

A part of this is the idea of Karma or the law of cause and effect. This means that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If we are unkind to someone then we will be treated unkindly in this lifetime or the next to balance our actions.

It is as the saying goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When we have learned and understood all the lessons, we don’t need to return again unless we choose to. Then we may return as spiritually enlightened beings and teach others who are on a spiritual path.

Guru is an East Indian word meaning spiritual teacher,” or “one who takes away the darkness.” There are many types of gurus in India and in other countries including the United States. They are usually surrounded by their students or disciples who love and care for them. The students, in turn, may become gurus at some point in their existence according to Yogic teachings.

Sometimes Yogies and their gurus live in a communal home called an Ashram where the work and Sadhana(spiritual practice) are shared. Some Yogies in India live in caves and need to eat very little food and have almost no possessions. The serious practice has changed them physically and emotionally.

They look only to joining with the truth and have lost their desires for material things such as clothing, money, or household items. Some families of Yogies called householders, live in private homes and function in society much as the average person, except they practice Yoga as a total lifestyle.

There are business people, movie stars, stay-at-home parents, students, and others who practice Yoga in one form or another, sometimes in community classes or from videotapes or television programs. Some are very serious practitioners while others simply wish to have healthier bodies or learn to relax.

These are but a few facts about Yoga Science and you can see that it is neither a new food nor a religion. It is really a way of life when practiced in its true form. One can spend a lifetime studying and practicing Yoga, or even many lifetimes, Yogies believe. If you are interested in learning more about Yoga try looking for books in your public library or local bookstore, or online.

If you want to practice Yoga try locating a good teacher in your community. Talk to someone who is taking Yoga classes or consult your phone directory or newspaper for listings or ads. A natural food store or food co-op often has customers or staff who study Yoga or teach. Yoga is even taught as part of the curriculum of some universities and colleges. If you’re lucky you may even discover someone who teaches free of charge.

There is an old saying. “When the student is ready the master will appear.” If you are a sincere searcher, the path for you will undoubtedly open wide.

What is Yoga?

Books

Singh, Ravi, Kundalini Yoga for Body, Mind, and Beyond, New York: White Lion Press,1988.

Lidell,Lucy,with Narayani,Rabinovitch,Giri,The Sivanda Companion to Yoga,New york:Simon and Shuster,1983.

Day,Harvey,Yoga Illustrated Dictionary,New York,Kay&Ward; Ltd.,1971.

Devananda, Swami Vishnu, Meditation and Mantras, New York: OM Lotus Publishing Co.,1978.

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