Yoga is an ancient, practical branch of Indian philosophy, systematised approximately 250BCE by the sage Patanjali, that teaches the means by which the human spirit can be united with the universal spirit. The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to yoke, join, concentrate on, use and apply.
Patanjali describes eight interrelated aspects of yoga:
- Yama – the universal moral commandments
- Niyama – self-purification
- Asana – posture
- Pranayama – breath control
- Pratyahara – emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – when the individual becomes one with the universal spirit.
Yama and niyama keep man in harmony with the rest of mankind, asanas keep the body strong and healthy and in harmony with nature, pranayama and pratyahara help to control the mind and the last three stages take the aspirant inwards towards the soul.