What is Yoga?

Yoga means “union”, from the Sanskrit word “yuj”- to yoke together or bind. Sanskrit is the ancient Indian language in which the teachings of Yoga were first written.  It’s helpful to think of Yoga as the union of the body, mind and inner self.

Generally when we talk about practicing Yoga, we are describing the performing of poses in a Hatha (or physical) Yoga class. These poses are known as “asanas”.

However Yoga also refers to the more holistic and philosophical system incorporating the eight limbs of Yoga as taught by Patanjali, of which postures (asanas) are only one limb. In the West, a Yoga class might focus only on physical movement or it may incorporate others of the eight limbs (including breath control, concentration, meditation and Yoga philosophy) depending on the teacher and style of Yoga.

Just as teachers vary, so do styles of physical Yoga. Hatha Yoga is literally physical Yoga or the Yoga of movement. In Sanskrit, “Ha” means Sun and “Tha” means moon. “Hatha”, the combination of the two words, represents the integration of opposites: sun and moon, masculine and feminine, extroversion and introversion, yang and yin through the movement of the body.

Much of the Yoga we practice in the West is Hatha Yoga. Some of the most popular styles such as Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and Bikram Yoga are all types of Hatha Yoga. Many of the poses performed are the same, but they are approached in different ways with varying levels of intensity.