Yoga is a family of ancient spiritual practices originating in India. As a general term in Hinduism, Gavin Flood defines it as referring to "technologies or disciplines of asceticism and meditation which are thought to lead to spiritual experience and profound understanding or insight into the nature of existence." Outside India, Yoga has become primarily associated with the practice of asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga (see Yoga as exercise), although it has influenced the entire dharmic religions family and other spiritual practices throughout the world.
Hindu texts discussing different aspects of yoga include the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and many others.
Major branches of Yoga include: Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga, known simply as Yoga in the context of Hindu philosophy, is one of the six orthodox (astika) schools of thought, established by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Sanskrit term yoga has a wide range of different meanings. It is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, "to control", "to yoke", or "to unite". Common meanings include "joining" or "uniting", and related ideas such as "union" and "conjunction". Another conceptual definition is that of "mode, manner, means" or "expedient, means in general".
However, the origins of yoga are believed to be much older than that, stemming from the oral traditions of Yogis, where knowledge of Yoga was handed down from Guru (spiritual teacher) to Sisya (spiritual student) all the way back to the originators of Yoga, "the Rishis," who first began investigation into the nature of reality and man's inner world.
Legend has it that knowledge of Yoga was first passed by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati and from there into the lives of men.
In life, it is necessary to learn how to relax after a period of activity. People spend approximately one third of their time in sleep, trying to recoup the energy and vitality they expended during the day. Unfortunately, many never achieve this objective because they haven't learned the essentials of relaxation. Relaxation practices in Yoga are different than sleeping, but their benefits are similar, and the principles of deep relaxation can be applied with equal effectiveness to our sleeping hours as well as our waking ones. When properly done, deep relaxation can become a powerful meditation practice that helps to anchor and stabilize the mind's awareness in a pool of deep tranquility and peace.