Yoga is a system of movement which has been practised in India for 5,000 years. Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word for union and is principally geared towards uniting the spiritual, mental and physical aspects of the being. Yoga works on the body, mind and soul, and is part of an entire philosophical system, the ultimate aim of which is enlightenment and union with the divine. Different branches of yoga have different names depending on the part of the ‘being’ that they affect.

Hatha yoga – works on the physical aspects by using postures and exercises in conjunction with breathing techniques. This is the most popular branch and is what the West considers to be yoga.

Raja yoga – is a series of techniques that focus on understanding the mind and how it exerts its control over the body.

Jnana yoga – focuses on intellect, academia and the understanding of the whole through meditative techniques.

Karma yoga – concerns itself with the ‘reason for being’ and moral concepts.

Bhakti yoga – is that part of the being that focuses on a devotional or religious aspect.

Tantric yoga – is a branch of Hatha yoga that incorporates sexual union between two consenting individuals. Certain sexual positions are formed and held in conjunction with spiritual meditation.

Yoga can be used as a way of relaxing and keeping fit, as well as a meditation technique. All the different types involve learning breathing techniques, and adopting and holding different poses such as ‘cobra’, ‘tree’ and ‘corpse’. The poses stretch and strengthen the muscles and ligaments, increasing suppleness, and also stimulate the internal organs. Yoga has been found to benefit certain diseases, particularly arthritis, asthma, backache, high blood pressure and digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. It is also a very effective way of dealing with stress.

Yoga is not just about standing on your head but is an integrated mind/body activity that connects the material with the ethereal. books and tapes can introduce people to the basics of Hatha yoga but a teacher with experience is required to access the true benefit of other forms of yoga.