Yoga chitta vrtti nirodhah.
(Chapter I, Sutra 2 in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra)
" Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind."
Derived from the sanskrit root yui the word yoga means to "join" or "to yoke" and relates to "focus attention on". Yoga is an ancient practice originated in India thousands of years ago. Due to it's high practical value and accessibility to everyone it is a timeless harmonizing system for body, mind and spirit appreciated and used all over the world these days. What Yoga "really is" differs from person to person, the field is wide and diverse, people have found different interpretations and taken it various directions.
Traditional Yoga: "A way of life"
The more traditional approach considers "Patanjali's yoga sutras" as a guide-line to be followed: there yoga is a framework of 8 limbs which are progressively building upon each other.
Moral discipline (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation and non-possessiveness) and ethical principles (purity of body&mind, contentment, training of the senses, inner exploration, letting go into your inner spiritual source) are creating the necessary environment for proper practice.
Asana is bringing awareness inwards through stable and comfortable posture, Pranayama allows one to experience prana, life-force energy, through breath-control.
Pratyahara enables the transcendence of distracting thoughts through sense-withdrawal which then helps to be fully focussed and concentrated. Dharana stresses the one-pointedness of attention which makes Dhyana possible (Dhyana means meditation).
According to the Sutras, once the previous 7 limbs are successfully cultivated, Samadhi a state of natural ecstasy can be attained…
In that sense yoga is not just a "physical practice on the mat" but an actual ongoing process day in and out, ideally every minute of one's existence.
Yoga in the "modern world"
In our so called "western world" yoga has found a place too. Here the emphasis initially often lays more on the physical aspects.
More and more people become aware of the undeniable physiological benefits of yoga. According to science regular practice of yoga (asana) makes the body strong and flexible and it also improves the functioning of the circulatory, digestive, hormonal and respiratory system. In addition to the physiological effects, it also helps to facilitate emotional stability and clarity of mind, which is one of the main reasons why most people stay "hooked" to the practice. It offers a space in which one can simply BE… It helps to balance a fast-paced world where it is usually always about "to DO". Deep insights might not be available from the first class onwards but the more often and frequently one practices the more control one gains over the mind and the more learning within is happening.