Yoga is both the complete experience of our essential Spiritual Self and the practices done to reveal that true nature. It is both a science of self-mastery and the art of pursuing that goal with self-discipline, compassion and contentment.
Yoga asanas (postures), so commonly known in the West, are only one small part of Yoga and are meant to be performed in the context of a much broader philosophical picture. Otherwise, the numerous benefits of asana practice, while significant, lack the potential transformational effects for which they originated.
Yoga is a comprehensive way of life that includes numerous branches, each like a pathway leading to the same mountaintop. These different paths or approaches to Yoga practice heal and develop the various aspects of an individual: social, physical, energetic, emotional and intellectual.
Though Yoga emerged in ancient India as one of six schools of Hindu philosophy, all of these paths, teachings and practices remain timeless tools for personal transformation. The more well-known practices—–asana, guided relaxation, pranayama and meditation—create numerous physical and psychological benefits and, when properly instructed, can be practiced by anyone, of any age, of any faith.
Yoga practice can be reduced to very simple and safe forms, such as slow deep breathing, and is being used therapeutically to treat countless health issues. My teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda, playfully summarized it when he said that Yoga means having an easeful body, a peaceful mind and a useful life.