yoga (yoh-guh'), noun
1. The union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
2. A Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquillity.
3. A system of exercises practiced as part of this discipline to promote control of the body and mind.
Introduction to Yoga
Yoga is a scientific, time-tested, 6,000 year-old system of self-improvement. The heart of yogic teachings lies in the belief that a self-fulfilled person is a healthy person, free from disease caused by stress and improper living habits. The practice of yoga is designed to lead the student to an ever-increasing knowledge of himself and the needs of his body and mind in order to achieve and maintain good physical and mental health and spiritual harmony. Yoga, in short, is a science of self-improvement that deals with the whole human being. Hatha Yoga, which is the yoga of physical well-being, usually begins the practice of this ancient science for most Western students. The Sanskrit root, "ha", means sun, or positive aspect, and "tha" means moon, or negative aspect. Yoga comes from the root that also gives us our word "yoke". Consequently, Hatha Yoga is that part of yoga that seeks to unite our polarities and conflicts into a state of harmony. Through its rlated series of exercises for both body and mind, Hatha Yoga techniques are intended to rejuvenate and bring into proper balance all aspects of the body: endocrine system, vascular system, nervous system and musculature. Hatha Yoga postures are very different from other forms of physical exercise. Unlike calesthenics and sports which emphasize stamina and vigorous muscular activity - often to the point of exhaustion - Hatha Yoga postures encourage concentration, perseverance and steady progress. They can be practiced and enjoyed by young and old, healthy and unhealthy, strong and weak. People of all ages, nationalities, races, creeds, religions and of both sexes can benefit from Hatha Yoga. Gentle stretching exercises, rhythmic breathing and deep relaxation techniques are stressed in the beginning practice of yoga, along with instruction in nutrition and diet that promotes physical and mental health through positive living and attitudes. Through continued practice of these techniques, the student of Hatha Yoga quickly experiences the benefits of increased relaxation, normalized blood pressure, the relief of minor back problems, and a steadied metabolism. When combined with deep breathing exercises and meditation techniques, these practices also bring the student a sense of emotional calmness and a feeling of mental peace. As noted earlier, most students are introduced to this ancient science of yoga through their encounter with Hatha Yoga. There are other forms of yoga, though, for in its larges sense the word "yoga" refers to man's aspiration to achieve union with Supreme, or Cosmic Consciousness. The following forms of yoga offer different paths for different personalities. They all lead to the same goal and are fully described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the first written compilation of yogic knowledge, which dates from around 200 B.C.: Jnana Yoga -- union through knowledge and study Bhakti Yoga -- union through devotion and selfless love Karma Yoga -- union through service, work and action Mantra Yoga -- union through sound vibration and speech Raja Yoga -- union through control of the mind Yoga for Depression Yoga's feel-good effects may stretch far beyond garden-variety stress relief, according to a small study from the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. After an hour-long yoga session, study members showed a surge in brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter often found at low levels in people with depression. Yoga's slow, deep breathing has much to do with its mood-shifting potential, says Richard Brown, M.D., who teaches psychiatry at Columbia University. "Many Americans who practice yoga are focused on stretching, but they'll get far more benefit if they tune in to their breathing," says Brown, whose own research has found that yogic breathing may stimulate the release of several hormones known to promote feelings of well-being.