Yoga is the science of right living and, as such, is intended to be incorporated in daily life. It works on all aspects of the person: the physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual. The word yoga means ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’ and is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means ‘to join’. This unity or joining is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. On a more practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions. This is done through the practice of asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarma and meditation, and must be achieved before union can take place with the higher reality. The science of yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of the personality, the physical body, which for most people is a practical and familiar starting point. When imbalance is experienced at this level, the organs, muscles and nerves no longer function in harmony; rather they act in opposition to each other. For instance, the endocrine system might become irregular and the efficiency of the nervous system decrease to such an extent that a disease will manifest. Yoga aims at bringing the different bodily functions into perfect coordination so that they work for the good of the whole body.
From the physical body, yoga moves on to the mental and emotional levels. Many people suffer from phobias and neuroses as a result of the stresses and interactions of everyday living. Yoga cannot provide a cure for life, but it does present a proven method for coping with it. Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh explained yoga as an “. . . integration and harmony between thought, feeling and deed, or integration between head, heart and hand”. Through the practices of yoga, awareness develops of the interrelation between the emotional, mental and physical levels, and how a disturbance in any one of these affects the others. Gradually, this awareness leads to an understanding of the more subtle areas of existence. There are many branches of yoga: raja, hatha, jnana, karma, bhakti, mantra, kundalini and laya, to name but a few, and many texts explain them in detail. Each individual needs to find those yogas most suited to his/her particular personality and need. In the last half of the twentieth century, hatha yoga had become the most well known and widely practiced of the systems. However, the concept of what constitutes yoga is broadening as more people take it up, and this knowledge is spreading. In the ancient texts, hatha yoga consists of the shatkarmas, cleansing practices, only. Today, however, hatha yoga commonly embraces the practices of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha as well.