Yoga is often mis-labelled as a variation on fitness regime and in the west the media portrays yoga as super-fit practitioners in lycra in varying shades of contortions.
Yoga is over 5000 years old and the word literally translates to 'union'. The yogic lifestyle is actually a combination of many practices that help the practitioner to aid the union of the mind, body and spirit - of which yoga poses are just one!
There are 8 main practices or 'limbs' of yoga that are recognised in most schools.
1. Yama - Right action (Non-violence, truthfulness...)
2. Niyama - Self discipline (Study, discipline and surrender to practice)
3. Asana - Posture (Yoga poses!)
4. Pranayama - Breath work (There are many forms of breath work used in Yoga)
5. Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses (Mindfulness of body and mind)
6. Dharana - Focus (Concentration)
7. Dhyana - Meditation (The mind is prepared and quiet for meditation)
8. Samadhi - Bliss/Enlightenment (Complete peace!)
These eight limbs of Yoga were put together by the great Patanjali, who also wrote The Yoga Sutras (well worth a read if you get a minute) and they describe the life a yogi is to follow when venturing out on the Yogic path. We are all at different stages of our journey, however it's important to know that Yoga is not just a good stretch at your local fitness - Yoga is an ancient and well-trodden path that will lead you into the discovery of The Self at the highest level.
Now you know all about Patanjali's 8-limbs, why not incorporate a few of these points into your life? 10 minutes of meditation and mindfulness per day is proven to improve nearly every health complaint known to human-kind. Or why not try cutting down on meat and dairy to improve your Karma in Ahimsa (non-violence)? There's lots to explore and a big world out there!