Yoga means union. Yoga was developed more than 10,000 years ago as a ‘science for living’, in which the body, intellect, and emotions are brought into harmony in order to achieve a higher level of existence: happiness. The body must be working optimally in order for the mind to be balanced, and vice-versa; we know this now from neuroscience, and Yogis had it figured out long ago. The mind and body exchange information and energy. They coordinate our thoughts and actions to enable us to live, and they filter good and bad experiences. A problem in one can manifest in the other, whether you think of your body as a series of energy channels or a system of chemicals and cells. We can’t be happy if our bodies or minds malfunction.
There are two forms of physical yoga: Hatha and Raja. Raja was developed to prepare the body for long periods of seated meditation aimed at higher mental states. Hatha aims for a higher state of body and mind concurrently; detailed, full-body postures control breathing and stimulate the opening of energy channels. In Western terms, yoga balances the release of chemicals and controls blood flow. All modern yoga teaching styles are based on Hatha postures.
Other forms of exercise do result in some of the same benefits as yoga, and in fact many of them are based on classical Hatha postures. But yoga is uniquely concerned with the balance of body and mind. Each posture is an infinite challenge, and paradoxically, is best practiced through ‘focused relaxation’ resulting from an ever-deepening muscle awareness, head to toe. And all you need is a mat.