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Yoga - a holistic way to inner balance and well-being

Achieving balance between body, soul and mind

Introduction

The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit and means "connect, unite, merge." Yoga is a generic term for a number of techniques, combining the body, mind and soul-level. Yoga is a combined path of head (knowledge), heart (devotion) and hands (action). Yoga integrates body, mind and soul so that they are consistent and in harmony with one another. It's a holistic way to alleviate physical diseases and also to realise and change inner attitude and patterns hindering you to live a joyful, healthy live.

Yoga evolved in the course of millennia. Today, it can be seen as a spiritual path, known as the eightfold path (ashtanga ~ eight) - by Patanjali:

- Yama - ethical disciplines, social behavior
- Niyama - inner (physical and mental) disciplines
- Asana - body exercises, postures
- Pranayama - breathing exercise, energy management
- Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana - concentration
- Dhyana - meditation
- Samadhi - awakening, enlightenment

These eight limbs represent the complexity of yoga as a clear practical path. First, thinking must be calmed down to get to the next level of concentration and meditation. By following this path in a disciplined way, you can achieve the highest state of consciousness and inner freedom. The ultimate goal of Yoga is the consciousness about the union between all things, and hence man himself is part of it, too.


Who should do yoga?

Yoga does n ot distinguish between any age, sex, health status nor special body flexibility. It is practiced by people of all belief systems. Everyone with a desire for a better and intensed contact with the body, mental balance and well-being is invited to start with the yoga practices. There are many different paths offered to various demands. Some of them are based on physical excercises others focus much more on meditation. Hatha yoga is the most popular form in the West. It is designed to integrate body postures with breathing techniques. While breathing into the various postures, also called asanas, you can carry yourself to a deeper awareness of the authentic inner-self. Thus, in addition to health, well-being, increased flexibility yoga offers mental development and allows you to encounter yourself. It can also support you to discover and improve your potential and to expand your boundaries.

A process of increasing self-awareness will then start. You experience much more joy of life, strength, confidence, courage and freedom. You see life much more relaxed. Even in stressful situations you act concentrated. This is what is called bringing yoga to daily life - you apply what you have learned.


Yoga - philosophy and tradition

Yoga has been introduced to the Western world at the end of the 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of the famous Ramakrishna. In the USA he started his teachings with seminal lectures and discourses on Vedanta philosophy. The first yoga schools teaching body postures, derived from Hatha Yoga, were incurred beginning of the 20th century. The yoga breakthrough arised in the seventies and eighties, where people from all over traveled to India. At the same time many Indian teachers started to found centers around the world.

Traditionally seen, yoga consists of four main paths:

- Hatha yoga, the path of body postures
- Raja Yoga, the royal path, includes the techniques of mental training
- Bhakti yoga, the path of love and devotion
- Jnana yoga, the path of knowledge

Some people might follow these paths step by step. Others may switch between the different directions depending on their individual needs. It is also possible to be involved with multiple paths simultaneously. There is no better nor worse. They just fulfill various kinds of human needs , all leading to one and the same goal: the experience of one's innermost being, the experience of oneness

Today you can find many other directions that exist beside the traditional paths, such as kundalini, mantra, laya or laughter yoga.
Which direction is the right one for you, depends on your own. Listen to your inside! Only the student can find its own truth, its own path.


Recommended background reading

There is a wide range of books, publications, foto- and video material about Yoga. Below you will find a very small recommended selection:

The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V Desikachar
This book is about all aspects of Yoga. It's about Yoga practice and theorie including a very good translation of the Yoga sutras of Patanjali, written by one of the greatest yogis in the recent times.

Ashtanga Yoga, The practical manual by David Swenson
It's a practical manual with clear explanations and comprehensive illustrations. In a user friendly way the author links a detailed "how" of the postures with the meaning of its spirit.

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Beside posture and breathing exercises he provides very good background information as to the origins of names and forms. It is produced in the true spirit of a guru to guide and encourage yoga students.

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