Yoga is a series of breathing patterns, poses and exercises designed to bring about better health and clarity of mind. In the traditional sense, as in the Hindu religion, yoga is a means to becoming enlightened and to become closer to God. For Buddhists, yoga is a way to greater wisdom. A practitioner of yoga is referred to as a yogi (male) or yogini (female). Better known yogis and yoginis form a following of students of disciples who treat them with the same reverence as a prophet.
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means union. Yoga originated in India, as a Hindu philosophy of obtaining a direct spiritual experience outside of mere rituals. Yoga was first practiced by Vedic priests who documented their practices, which the subsequent generations improved on. One of the main aims of yoga is to achieve clarity of mind through the banishment of the ego by awareness of self, awareness of actions and wisdom. There are different schools of yoga, based on different methods or ‘paths’. Some of the most famous schools of yoga include Astanga, Vini Yoga and Iyengar.
Because of its ability to create balance, strength and flexibility in the body, in the west, yoga is treated more as a fitness regimen than an actual spiritual practice. There are various yoga practitioners and teachers who are not necessarily Hindu nor Buddhist.
In India, there are centers or schools (also doubling as dormitories) called Ashrams that specialize in taking in yoga ‘pilgrims’ from all over the world.