What is yoga?

For me, practising yoga is taking time to honour my mind and body. It provides a pause from the excitement and busyness of life, making space to explore who and where I am right now. When I first started practising, at 19, I wanted to become more healthy. Of all the types of exercise I had tried, the ones that felt most in tune with my mind and body were yoga and swimming. They felt nurturing, smooth and enjoyable while other things I had been introduced to felt fierce and counter intuitive. Moving my body in a thoughtful and controlled manner, while breathing deeply, felt right. From the beginning I could feel what an important practice it was for me.

Stayananda says that ‘Yoga is the science of right living’ and that ‘It works on all aspect of a person: the physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual’ (Stayananda 1969: 1). He also explains that ‘Yoga provides a means for people to find their own way of connecting with their true selves.’ (Stayananda 1969: 1) I think this is a nice way to explain how the western world is responding to the teachings of Yoga. I have noticed that, the people I have talked to and practised with, get a feeling from Yoga, they can intuitively feel the benefits, whilst knowing very little about the theory. The experience of the practice is evidence enough because you feel it helping you move closer to your true self.

The meaning of the word Yoga is ‘Unity’ or ‘Union’ and it comes from the work yuj which means ‘To Join’ or ‘Yolk’. ‘Yoga is all about the integration between head, heart and hand. What we feel, what we say, and what we do.’ (Sevanti 2016).

The 4 paths of yoga - the science of life

Jnana yoga

Wisdom, knowing yourself and being free of attachment. To stop perceiving your body, mind and ego as separate and yourself as separate from others and everything in the world. Seeing the unity and oneness. This is about listening to our inner Buddha, understanding that God is not someone outside, it's within us. Connecting with the Atman, our pure consciousness, the cosmic being and seeing it in unity with the Braman, all of the universe outside of you. This helps us to see how amazing our existence is and how perfect our design. This the ultimate place and the hardest to practice.

Bhakti yoga

- Gratitude for this life. The devotion and love of life that's beyond ego and is free from the mind. We can practice this by creating beautiful spaces e.g a Zen garden or Altar and pleasing sounds e.g. Singing, chanting or prayer. Doing everything we do with love and giving things our total attention, 100% of our focus. Seeing God as the embodiment of love and a spiritual teacher.

Karma yoga

A selfless service through action. What can we offer and give back? Treating work as a meditation. Working with peace so that you don't need to take a break because you're enjoying it and nourishing yourself as you go. Doing your best with 100% with presence and not letting fear or the judgement of others hold you back. Doing your duty and bringing good to the world without seeking reward above your basic needs. Seeing that job is superior or inferior, not becoming attached to a job or the result of your work. Whatever you are doing, do it well.

Raja yoga

Mastery over our mind. Being in charge and bringing our attention to the present moment, to where you are now and not moving towards and away from thoughts. This can be practised through meditation, bringing the awareness back to your focus and anchor. Hatha yoga is the main type of yoga we practice in the west and it's a stepping stone towards Raja yoga. The word Hatha comes from two words is two words ‘ha’ and ‘tha’ meaning sun and moon. This refers to the joining of two extremes, the two sides of us, active and reflective or Rajastic and Samastic.

The 5 Points of yoga

Based on Swami Sivananda’s teachings, Swami Vishnudevananda created these 5 principles as a simplified way of explaining yoga:

Proper exercise

Asanas, yoga poses to help you develop a healthy physical body. Our bodies are designed to move and many of us don’t do it enough in our normal routine. Yoga is designed to nourish the body and the mind allowing us to get the exercise we need while developing our spiritual path.

Proper breathing

Pranayama, deep and conscious breathing to reduce stress and illness. Our breath is the bridge between the mind and body. Yoga allows us to use our lungs to their full capacity and as we breath in we are nourished by prana (subtle energy). Breathing practices are called Pranayama, which means control over the mind.

Proper relaxation

Savasana, relaxing and resting to relieve stress and worry. By deeply relaxing all the muscles we can restore the nervous system and relieve stress, developing a sense of powerful inner peace. Modern life is very full and this makes it very hard to relax. When we are overworked our natural efficiency is diminished as holding tension uses much of our physical and mental energy.  

Proper diet

Eating simple vegetarian food which is easy to digest and doesn't harm the environment or other living things. A diet high in Vegetables, grains, pulses, seeds and nuts. Avoiding foods that are overstimulating and instead choosing foods that have a calming effect of the mind and that keep the intellect sharp. Changes to diet should be made gradually and you should make sure to eat foods from the 5 nutritional categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins.

Positive Thinking and Meditation

Mastering the mind. This is the most important point as happiness created through the mind is temporary. In order to develop a lasting sense of happiness and peace we must first learn calm the mind. Practising Dhyana (meditation) and the teachings of Vedanta (positive thinking) can make space for Joy and peace.


Singleton, Mark, Yoga Body - The origins of modern posture practice (Oxford university press: 2010)

Hittleman, Richard, Be young with yoga (Warner paperback library: 1962)

International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, The four paths of Yoga (Web, 2016)

International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, The 5 points of Yoga (Web, 2016)

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha (Yoga Publications Trust: 1969)