There are a lot of misconceptions about Yoga. One of the most popular misconceptions is that Yoga it is about Yoga poses or asanas. The popular narrative around Yoga has centered around Yoga poses/asanas.
The most popular search queries around Yoga are centered around Yoga poses, studios.
Yoga does certainly have a lot of benefits when it comes to physical fitness. But, there’s much more to Yoga than physical fitness. Most of what we see in the form of Yoga poses is essentially Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga focuses on Asanas and Pranayama (yoga poses and meditation) and a large part of Yoga that we see today in the form of Yoga poses and asanas are essentially Hatha Yoga.
According to the Raja Yoga (Yoga of control) tradition, you must first purify your nature and habits. This involves returning to a pure and non-violent existence by observing and cultivating moral observances and habits. These aspects fall under Yama and Niyama in Raja Yoga (compiled by Patanjali). Once you master these you can proceed to the practice of asanas, pranayama, and meditation. According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, though, you should start with the physical practices first. For this reason, the main practices of Hatha Yoga are asana and pranayama. Their main goal is to purify body and mind and prepare you for further spiritual practices.
Origins & Meaning of Yoga
Yoga is one of the 6 philosophical schools of Hinduism. These include Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. To understand and practice Yoga, it is important to understand the philosophy of Yoga. The founders of Yoga and its original text in Vedas & Upanishads were not merely concerned with the physical fitness aspects of Yoga. The practice of Yoga has been a holistic practice, which meant physical, mental, and spiritual perfection. It means to control not just the body, but also the vital energies, senses, and the mind.
Bhagavad Gita explains that when you achieve the state of Yoga, your mind stops wandering around searching for pleasures, and identifies instead with the everlasting and blissful self.
A person is said to have achieved yoga, union with Self, when the perfectly disciplined mind achieved freedom from all desires and becomes focused only on the Self alone”Bhagvad Gita
Katho Upanishad defines Yoga as the following
When the five senses are stilled, when the mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, that is called the highest state by the wise. They say yoga is this complete stillness in which one enters the unitized state, never to become separate again from reality. He who attains this is free from delusion (Maya)Katha Upanishad
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is a seminal work on Yoga. It is a compilation of a vast knowledge around Yoga and captures the essence of Yoga. According to Patanjali’s Yoga sutras, Yoga is is cessation (nirodha) of the activities (vrittis) of chitta. Vrittis refer to any sequence of thoughts, ideas, mental imaging or cognitive act performed by the mind, intellect, or ego. It is the stilling of the mind.
I hope you found this knowledge useful.