“Yoga”, the original Sanskrit word actually means “union”. “Yoga” as popularly associated with fitness exercises to day is actually “yoga asana” or simply “asana”. Asana means posture.
Hinduism has several paths of yoga — Bhakti, Gnyana, Karma and Raja Yoga — which are the various ways of obtaining the “union” of the individual soul with the supreme soul, which in other words means self-realization or God realization. How does (yoga)asana come into picture in this lofty ideal? Ancient saints found that a sound and healthy body is one of the requirements for withstanding the rigors of the spiritual effort and they developed yogasanas for the purpose.
Such fitness asanas coupled with “pranayama” (breath control) plus several other body cleansing methodologies put together became a separate physio-spiritual science to abet yoga and it is known as Hatha Yoga.
Physical exercise versus yogasanas
In exercises, there is more of physical rigor – repetitive, strenuous and cyclic limb movements which are aimed at making the heart and lung run faster, leading to heavy breathing and also burning of considerable calories.
On the other hand, Yogasanas involve controlled stretching and holding of the body in certain specific “postures” and then relaxing to normal position. There are different asanas (Paschimuthasana, Sarvangasana, Dhanurasana and so on) which are aimed at strengthening different external and internal organs.
Yogasanas are not aimed at increasing the breathing but rather to discipline and control it. As an alternative to the strenuous physical exercises, yogasanas became a widely acceptable fitness methodology recommended by doctors for all ages of men and women.
Yogasanas have proved to have strong health benefits like reducing blood pressure, blood sugar, normalizing hormone secretion, toning up internal organs like heart, liver, spleen etc., eliminating constipation, increasing physical stamina, strengthening muscles and so on.
By the associated breath control, yogasana controls and calms the mind. Sitting in Padmasana (lotus posture)is very conducive for meditation.
Yoga as business
With mass appeal, commercial exploitation too became a natural consequence. Businessmen jumped into the band wagon to offer yoga Videos for self-learning, yoga apparels (mostly existing fitness apparels with “yoga” tag!), yoga accessories – mats, foam blocks, straps and so on.
This ancient traditional knowledge of India, which has by now evolved strongly into a “science sans spirituality”, even shockingly became a “patented technique”, thanks to “Bikram Yoga” of Bikram Chaudhuri of Los Angeles. His “Hot Yoga” technique (of doing yogasanas at an ambience of about 105 degree F) is a patented commercial venture, involving Yoga Teacher Training and certification too.
Thus yoga today helps commercial fitness too!