Yoga is receiving increasing focus as a method for boosting holistic well-being in scientific and public realms. We have quite simply become crazy for yoga. Over the last decade, growth has been fast with numerous and colourful new yoga variants appeared across the world. Although the general model always uses the same core elements: a sequenced series of asanas and breathing exercises, with a strong emphasis on mental concentration.
Yoga is the Sanskrit term for “union”, and its practice can be traced back to 4500AD, and it was first described in sage Patanjali yoga sutras.
But what if yoga had little to do with its ancient roots?
The yoga sutras refer to a set of 8 “limbs” (or practice) designed to attain “Samadhi”, a state of well-being described as “blissful union”. The original sutras describe a journey towards “bliss” and well-being that had little to do with exercise and most to do with the mind.
1. Yama, ethical standards, the "DON'Ts". E.g. non-violence, non-stealing, etc.
2. Niyama, self-discipline, the "DOs". E.g. Cleanliness, contentment, etc.
3. Asana, body postures.
4. Pranayama, breath control.
5. Pratyahara, withdrawal of senses and external world, or sensory transcendence. Aka, removing distractions.
6. Dharana, concentration.
7. Dhyana, meditation or contemplation, the uninterrupted flow of concentration.
8. Samadhi, oneness. A state of ecstasy where the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether.
Only “Asana”—entailed the practice of physical postures. Contrary to current practice, yoga had an original main focus on the attainment of psychological peace and happiness... Not physical poses.
Theorists and practitioners argue that the therapeutic benefits of yoga in general derive from its multi-faceted approach (focus, awareness, movement, etc.), leading to various psychophysiological benefits. The physical exercises (asanas) may increase physical flexibility, coordination, and strength, while the breathing practices and meditation may calm and allow the mind to develop greater awareness and diminish stress and anxiety, and thus result in higher quality of life.
In recent years, yoga’s increased popularity has been directly reflected in its prevalence. In 1998, the estimated number of American adults having practised yoga at least once in their lifetime:
1998 - 15 million
2012 - 20.4 million
2016 - 36.7 million
In fact, yoga sits at the top of mind-body complementary healthcare approaches, ahead of chiropractic care and massage.
What are people seeking in yoga?
Users most generally seek positive well-being aspects, self-development and disease prevention. They report using yoga for:
general wellness or disease prevention (78%)
to improve energy (66%)
to improve immune function (50%)
The strong representation of positive well-being as a reason to practice suggests that although yoga has evolved from its original components, the outcome many still seek in the practice has remained consistent.