Yoga, in principle, is a physical exercise that helps us connect with our own body and mind, through breathing. It also helps us connect with the world around us. Thus one of the meanings of the word yoga is “unite” or “union”.
When we are attentive to each movement and to the way we breathe, yoga trains us to be present in the moment, aware of the way we feel and whatever we are doing at the time.
Another meaning of the word yoga is “To obtain something that was not possible before”. The other main objective of the yoga practice is to feel better than before as we progress. When we feel better, we immediately start making better choices in life. We start being more conscious about our body and what it needs, how we feed it and how we breathe. Through yoga we find mental clarity to make better decisions, we find calm and quiet so that we can relate better with ourselves and with the world around us.
Some people relate yoga to a religious practice, but that is not so. Yoga helps us connect at a deeper level with that in which we believe. People of different beliefs can and do practice yoga.
There are two important components to yoga: Asana and Pranayama.
Asana means “posture.” These are the poses that we do with our body. It is the physical exercise.
Prana means “Vital energy” and Yama means “extension” or “to extend”. Pranayama is then the extension of the vital energy. Pranayama exercises are breathing exercises which help us relax and increase our energy since air is what keeps us alive, and it is a very important nutrient to the body.
The practice of the Asana prepares us to relax with ease. In the different styles of yoga Asana and Pranayama are practiced in different orders. The point is to learn and benefit from both practices.