Introduction to Yoga

Just what is yoga? Someone who hasn’t been properly introduced might think that it simply consists of contorting one’s body into strange positions. In fact, yoga is a life philosophy, and the "strange positions" are only one small part of it.

Sanskrit Terms

Yoga – Union

Hatha – SunMoon

Asana – Posture

Pranayama – Breathing

Raja – Royal

Jnana – Wisdom

Bhakti – Spiritual

Karma – Life path

Yama – Observance

Ahimsa – Non-violence

Yoga originated in northern India, near the Himalayas, some 5,000-6,000 years ago. Because of this, the terms used are from Sanskrit; the box at the right has translations of some common words. Although yoga is a philosophy, not a religion, Hinduism took it to Asia, and Buddhism took it to other countries. It is commonly believed that yoga reached ancient Greece and the Holy Land before 200 B.C.

Yoga is a holistic science of self-improvement whose purpose is to consciously focus on one’s mind, body, and spirit in order to find harmony and discover Samadhi (complete self-knowledge, enlightenment). This includes detaching oneself from reality, understanding one’s personality, and putting one’s mind and emotions in order. Yoga practice can help anyone – male or female, young or old, fit or unfit – become healthier and find balance and moderation in all aspects of life.

There are many different types or paths of yoga, but the purpose of each is the same: to create harmony within and without one’s body. There are five main branches of yoga, each of which works toward Samadhi in a different way.

  1. Hatha  Body control, asanas + pranayama, human ability
  2. Raja  Meditation
  3. Jnana  Seek out and share wisdom
  4. Bhakti  Devotion to a higher power
  5. Karma  Service; selflessness; past, present, and future

Hatha yoga, the type most commonly practiced in the West, is two Sanskrit words: ha (sun) and tha (moon). This indicates the polarity of positive and negative which must be equilibrated in order to achieve perfect health and a calm mind.

Yoga and Vegetarianism

So what does all of this have to do with vegetarianism? Yoga practitioners tend to be vegetarian for two distinct reasons. Like the practice of yoga itself, the reasons for vegetarianism are both physical and spiritual.

  1. Similar to Buddhism and Hinduism, the philosophy of yoga includes the yama of ahimsa: the practice of non-harm or non-violence.
  2. Yoga practitioners tend to become more in tune with their bodies and realize that when they eat meat, they feel less healthy than when they don’t. Thus the more advanced a person’s yoga practice, the more likely it is that s/he is a vegetarian.

Learn more

  • Branches of Yoga – Definitions of the principal branches.
  • All Spirit Fitness – This site has info and links for everything related to holistic fitness, including other mind-body workouts such as pilates, Tai Chi, and Qigong.