Yoga derives from yog the Sanskrit word for union or yoke. Yoga then is a fusion of the body with the mind.
Largely known to many people as a system of mental and physical exercises which facilitate meditation and flexibility, Yoga has been practiced for several thousand years. Some adherents of Yoga trace its beginnings back to the carving of a cross legged man with outstretched arms found on a seal thought to be over eight thousand years old.
Although not explicitly stated as the principles of Yoga, many see the seeds of its teachings in the ancient Hindu writings known as Vedic shastras. By this reckoning, Yoga would be around four thousand years old.
Yoga as a named discipline first appears in the Upanishads, which in turn gave life to the Bhagavad-Gita. The Bhagavad-Gita is considered the fundamental writing of Yoga.
The teachings espoused here laid the foundations for the concepts of self realization as well as under girded the three main branches of Yoga: Karma, Jnana and Bhakti, Raja Yoga, with its emphasis on the eight limbs of Yoga thought, dates to the Yoga Sutras in roughly 200 B. C.
In general, western renditions of Yoga are most closely aligned with Hatha Yoga, which traces its roots back seven centuries. The major tenets of this practice of Yoga are contained in the 'Hatha Yoga Pradipika,' authored by Swami Swatamarama. Hundreds of millions of Hindus practice this form of Yoga as a way of life.
Several million Western devotees follow a less spiritual form, dictated mainly by its exercise routines. Yoga is just as popular today as it was a thousand years ago, because of the calmness it brings to the mind and flexibility and fitness it brings to the body.
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