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The classical techniques of Yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise, which has since spread throughout the world. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience.
The whole system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. The exercises of Yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body, thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, and so a Yoga student treats it with great care and respect.
Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body. The Yoga student gently increases breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind. These two systems of exercise and breathing then prepare the body and mind for meditation, and the student finds an easy approach to a quiet mind that allows silence and healing from everyday stress. Regular daily practice of all three parts of this structure of Yoga produce a clear, bright mind and a strong, capable body.
There are more than a hundred different schools of Yoga. Hatha Yoga focuses on the physical movements and postures, plus breathing techniques, and this is what most Americans associate with Yoga practice. However, others such as Raja Yoga (incorporating exercise, breathing, meditation and study), Jnana Yoga (the path of wisdom), Bhakti Yoga (the practice of extreme devotion) and Karma Yoga (all movement and work centered on a personal concept of God) have been practiced for centuries.
Yoga probably arrived in the United States in the late 1800s, but it did not become widely known until the 1960s, as part of the youth culture’s growing interest in anything Eastern. Yoga is not a religion. It has no creed or fixed set of beliefs, nor is there a prescribed godlike figure to be worshiped in a particular manner. The practice of Yoga will not interfere with any religion. Many Yoga students continue to follow the religious traditions they have grown up in or adopted without conflict.
As more became known about the beneficial effects of Yoga, it gained acceptance and respect as a valuable method for helping in the management of stress and improving health and well-being. Many physicians now recommend Yoga practice to patients at risk for heart disease, as well as those with back pain, arthritis, depression, and other chronic conditions.
Sources: Wikipedia, American Yoga Association