To find true silence and inner peace, traditionally, there are several different paths of Yoga that are practiced : Devotion (Bhakti marg), Action (Karma marg), knowledge (Jnana marg), meditation (Raja marg). Yoga means to unify, join, link, connect, combine, amalgamate, fuse, integrate that which is separate. Yoga is practiced to bring about health and harmony on a physical, mental and spiritual level. It doesn't matter which is the chosen path the goal remains the same, to live a wholesome and balanced life where one strives towards self realisation.
Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras
Patanjali is considered the father of Yoga, he wrote the celebrated Yoga Sutras, the first treatise on Yoga. In one of the first sutras he defines the goal of Yoga: "Yogash citta vritti nirodha" which means, Yoga is the eradication (nirodha) of the fluctuations (vrittis) of the mind (citta).
In Hatha Yoga, it is understood that the state of mind is reflected in the body, thus one works to bring about freedom and health on physical level using the conscious practice of asanas (yoga postures) as a means to install harmony and quietness in the mind. Ha - the Sun, signifies heat, light, activity, male qualities or yang (in Chinese medicine) whereas Tha - the Moon represents reflection, coolness, passivity, feminine qualities (Yin in Chines medicine). Hatha Yoga is also known as the practice of balancing the opposites.
Living in the 21st century
In our society today we have to live with an extra disturbing factor that was not present in ancient times, well at least not as prominent: Pollution. On the physical level we are affected by the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat and today as we know, it is hard to find water and food that is free from pollution. On a mental plane we are contantly bombarded with information, publicity and opinions which are expounded by the media, that distorts reality and takes us away from ourselves our true nature and if we allow it to creates fear, desires, prejudices, a feeling of lacking etc... And even more recently we are being exposed, most of the time, to radio waves from mobile phones and wifi which are certainly disturbing to our health. When the mind is imbalanced, the body suffers as well with the manifestation of multiple problems : tensions, back aches, asthma, etc... and vice versa, if the body is sick the mind will suffer.
How does practicing Yoga asanas work
For example: as beginners we spend a lot of time learning the standing poses. They teach us how to use our feet, legs, hands and feet to mobilize liberate the pelvis and trunk, and at the same time bring about stability to joints and strengthen muscles, helping to correct deformaties and put things back in place. Apart from the obvious physical benefits of having a stronger and more flexible body one also cultivates a more refined awareness which seeps over into everyday life.
As each posture works on different area of the body a proper Yoga asana practice will address each and every body part, function, system and layer so as to attain a greater level of health and energy.
It is said that a Yogi becomes like a tortoise, capable of moving outwards to be in contact with the outer world but also able to retreat within to take refuge in his inner sanctuary.
The practice of Yoga consists of asanas (postures) and pranyama (breathing exercises) and is today widely accepted as a powerful tool to install and maintain health and to cultivate inner balance.
Yoga students often say that since they started to practice, they stand and sit straighter, walk more easily and that their back, neck and knee problems are better. They develop a more refined awareness of their body and start to understand how their body functions and how to heal themselves.
They notice that since they started to practice Yoga that their stress levels have lowered and that they have better concentration, higher energy levels and more self confidence.
A regular daily Yoga practice helps tremendously to develop a sharper awareness that spills over into daily life, a healthy body, an open heart and a quiet mind.