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Yoga - formerly also written as yoga - ( Sanskrit योग IAST yoga m .; from yuga 'yoke', yuj for: 'yoke, tie together, tense up, harness') is a philosophical teaching originating from India that includes a series of mental and physical exercises or exercises Includes practices such as yama , niyama , asanas , pranayama , pratyahara , kriyas , meditation and asceticism . The term yoga can mean both "union" or "integration", and in the sense of " harnessing " (see. "Subjugate") and "tightening" of the body to the soul for the collection and concentration or the one with the consciousness understood become. Since every path to self-knowledge can be called yoga, there are numerous names in Hinduism for the different yoga paths, which are adapted to the respective dispositions of those striving for self-knowledge.

Yoga is one of the six classical schools ( darshanas ) of Indian philosophy. There are many different forms of yoga, often with their own philosophy and practice. In Europe and North America, until recently, the term yoga was often only understood to mean physical exercises - the asanas or yogasanas - and the term was largely equated with hatha yoga .

Some meditative forms of yoga focus on mental concentration, others more on physical exercises and positions and breathing exercises ( pranayama ), while other directions emphasize asceticism . The philosophical foundations of yoga were mainly summarized by Patanjali in the yoga sutra , and the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads also provide information about yoga.

Yoga as taught in the West is based on a modern form that emerged from the mid-19th century, often characterized by an adoption of Western esoteric ideas, Western psychology, physical training, and scientific assumptions by English-speaking and Western-trained Indians. In these cases, modern yoga represents a new age approach to life rather than a form of Hindu spirituality. Traditional Indian yoga is fundamentally different from western modern yoga and contains much more complex teachings and practices than modern forms.

The yoga practitioners and in particular a master of yoga is Yogi or Jogi (Sanskrit योगी ) or Yogin ( योगिन् called). The female form is Yoginī ( योगिनी ), which also means "sorceress" (see Yogini ).

On December 1, 2016, yoga was recognized as an Intangible World Heritage Site by UNESCO .


The " Mohenjo-Daro Seal 420 " from the heyday of the Bronze Age Indus civilization , the central figure shows an ithyphallic figure on a throne in a sitting position in which the heels touch and the toes point down.
Kapila , a sage from the mythology of the Vedic high culture, is considered to be the originator of Bhakti Yoga . 19th century watercolor.
Lahiri Mahasaya (1828–1895) in the lotus position . Photo from the book by Paramahamsa Yogananda " Autobiography of a Yogi ".

The older Upanishads (approx. 700 BC) already describe breathing exercises and the withdrawal of the senses ( Pratyahara ) into the Atman as an aid to meditation ( Dhyana ). The middle Upanishads, dating from around 400 BC. Originated in BC, mention the term yoga several times and also the essential elements of the later yoga system. The yoga was closely connected with the theories as they developed the philosophical system of Samkhya , and formed its practical continuation.

In the Indian epic Mahabharata around 300 BC Yoga already occupies an important place and is mentioned as a practical counterpart to the theoretical Sânkhya. While in the Mahabharata and in the older Puranas the wise man ( rishi ) Kapila and others are mentioned as the founders of yoga, Patanjali appears at this point in the younger Puranas . However, it can be assumed that Patanjali the traditional yoga teachings from the time between the 2nd century BC. BC and 4th century AD combined. His work consists of 194 short memorabilia ( sutras ) spread over four books .

The classical Indian scriptures describe four yoga paths:

  • Raja Yoga is the name given to the meditatively oriented levels of the eight-limb yoga according to Patanjali (also called Ashtanga Yoga: "Ashta" = eight, "Anga" = parts).
  • Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge, Intellectual Direction)
  • Karma yoga (yoga of action, selfless action)
  • Bhakti yoga (yoga of love / worship / devotion to God or an Ishtadevata )

The fifth major yoga path, which was established between the 13th and 14th centuries, is Hatha yoga (yoga of power or impulses).

In addition, the following systems can be added:

Originally yoga was a purely spiritual path, the main aim of which was the search for enlightenment through meditation. The many asanas only emerged over time. Your primary goal is to strengthen and mobilize the body so that it can sit in the meditation seat for a longer period of time as free of symptoms as possible - e.g. B. Lotus position  - can linger. Over time, the positive effects of physical exercises on human wellbeing became more and more apparent . The asanas have been further developed, and physical activity in yoga is becoming increasingly important in our time. This development is first reflected in the emergence of Hatha Yoga . The " Hathapradipika ", a text from the 15th century, sets out the techniques that involve the body as an effective means of attaining the existential and spiritual goals of yoga.

After Vasco da Gama had discovered the sea ​​route to India in 1498 , the Portuguese did trade, but largely dispensed with Christian proselytizing attempts. The missionaries who came to India from Portugal in the form of Jesuit monks from 1539 onwards rejected yoga as a form of Hinduism and thus as pagan . Starting from Goa , the "capital of Christianity in Asia", all Indians living under Portuguese rule had to turn to the Christian religion until 1774. English colonial rulers (1756–1947) were also not very open to yoga. Yoga was seen as part of Indian culture to be replaced with English values. British missionaries spread the Anglican or other Protestant denominations. Yoga Day is celebrated on June 21st .

Yoga philosophy


Since yoga originally comes from India , the roots of yoga philosophy lie in Hinduism and parts of Buddhism . The individual is seen here as a traveler in the chariot of the material body. The carriage is the body, the coachman is the mind, the five horses are the five sensory organs, the passenger is the soul, and the dishes are called “yoga” in Indian. The oldest records are in the Upanishads . The most important source text of yoga is the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali .

To illustrate: The first four sūtrs of Patanjali , which give the core of yoga and represent a kind of mantra, are

1. atha yoga-anusasanam ; This is translated as follows: Now the discipline of yoga. What is meant is a kind of absolute now, because things of the past, their essence, be it habits, should be shed. This also means traditions. “But the fact is that yoga goes against the conventional meaning of words. He even rejects past experiences and their verbalization (I 15). ”The reason for this can be found in the 4th Sūtre.

2. yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah ; analogously: Yoga is that inner state in which the soul and spiritual processes come to rest. Nirodah refers to the slowing down and pausing of the (unfortunately generating) vortex movements (v (tti) in our bodily existence (citta, in the sense of embodied mind).

3. tadä drastuh svarüpe'vasthänam ; analogously: Then the seer rests in his essential identity, or also: then the seeing principle (draṣṭuḥ) - which is inherent in each of us - takes place in his essential nature (svarūpe, empty self-form)

4. vrtti-särupyam itaratra; analogously : All other inner states are determined by the identification with the mental and spiritual processes: "If you are still attached to the past from which you project hope for the future, you will never be able to establish a meaningful relationship with yoga" . The term vritti refers to "an activity which proceeds in the fixed paths of custom and convention and which is therefore tied to the past"


The chapter headings in the Bhagavad-Gita each indicate a particular form of yoga, for example karma yoga or jnana yoga. They convey to the practitioner important philosophical and spiritual backgrounds for understanding yoga. Among other things, they contain ethical instructions that clarify the Yamas and Niyamas , for example . The text deals with karma  - the Hindu and Buddhist principle of cause and effect -, reincarnation , meditation , dharma , self-knowledge and faithful love. The text often uses pictorial representations. Thus the hostile relatives who are supposed to fight Arjuna can be interpreted as a symbol of the kleshas from which the yogi (the one who practices yoga) is supposed to purify himself.

In addition, the Bhagavad-Gita contains direct instructions for the follower of yoga, that is, for the yogi. So it says in the 5th chapter: " Detaching oneself from the outside world, staring rigidly at the root of the nose ( Nasikagra ) - regulating the breath and exhalation (inhalation / exhalation) equally, which go through the inner nose." (Verse 27)

Verse 28 turns to the spiritual goals: "Restraining the senses, heart and mind, fully turned towards salvation - Freed from desires, fear and anger, he is redeemed forever."

The 6th chapter is about immersion ( Dhyana ) and the right way of life:

In verse 10 it says: "The yogi should strive constantly in solitude - alone, taming mind and self, hoping for nothing, without possessions".

Verses 11–13 of chapter 6 contain instructions on how to sit and even what to sit on. 12 “Focusing the mind on one point, curbing thinking, senses and doing - sitting on the seat he practices devotion to purifying himself. 13 Evenly keeping body, neck, head unmoved, he remains firm - looking at the bridge of his nose, not looking he here and there ”.

Verses 33–34 discuss religious concepts. Arjuna suggests that the mind is as difficult to restrain as the wind, and Krishna replies that one can discipline the mind through effort and renunciation. Then Arjuna asks what about the people who cannot contain themselves, whether they are lost forever. Krishna comforts him by pointing out reincarnation as another chance to achieve samadhi .

Yoga and religion

Even if the roots are in Hinduism and Buddhism, yoga is practiced by people of different religions and worldviews. Although the motivation is actually to pursue spiritual goals and to find enlightenment ( moksha ), this is only partially true in Europe and North America. Some parallels to the commandments of Christianity , Judaism and Islam can be found in the Yamas and Niyamas . Based on a teaching of the Upanishads , yogis regard the world soul (cf. Brahman / Atman ) as a universal principle that connects all living beings and is common to them. From its historical roots, the concept of karma and the teachings of reincarnation have influenced yoga. In the Islamic culture there are parallels to yoga in Sufism , Islamic mysticism . Patanjali's yoga philosophy differs in its theistic orientation from the Samkhya teaching, which is similar in many points and in which belief in a god (in the religious sense) does not play a role.

The yoga concept

Today yoga exercises mostly follow a holistic approach that aims to bring body , mind and soul into harmony. In western countries in particular, yoga is often taught in teaching units. This combines asanas, phases of deep relaxation, breathing exercises and meditation exercises. The practice of the asanas should improve the interplay of body, mind and spirit through controlled breathing and concentration. The aim is to achieve improved vitality and, at the same time, an attitude of inner serenity .

In the original yoga teaching, yoga is a way of self-perfection, which includes, among other things, curbing desires and practicing methods of purification . The spiritual background of yoga differs considerably in different schools, it has different roots in Asia, and the doctrines were subject to historical development. Therefore, there are very different perspectives on the meaning of yoga and different approaches.

According to a traditional view, which combines pre-scientific and spiritual elements, yoga should be through the combination of postures , movement sequences, inner concentration points , breathing as well as the use of mantras (meditation words or sound syllables) and mudras (postures in connection with bandhas or hand gestures / "finger yoga" ) stimulate the life energy ( Kundalini ) so that it begins to rise through the Sushumna within the subtle spine to the chakras (energy centers).

Modern yoga

Krishna Pattabhi Jois with students in the 1980s

In the second half of the 20th century, a type of yoga that was not tied to a single school developed. In "modern yoga" the focus is on the practice of yoga, which can be more meditative or more body-related. With reference to the positive effects of the practice, yoga is viewed as an individual enrichment or as a contribution to personal development, largely independent of the student's religious or ideological beliefs. Gurus and doctrines are ascribed little importance in contrast to traditional yoga.

The physically oriented practice, modern hatha yoga, did not emerge until the 1920s and 1930s, according to Christian Fuchs: “The first schools were formed in Berlin and Budapest. From the 1960s, when the New Age movement got rolling, there was a growing interest in physical exercise practice. Until the beginning of the 1990s, the whole yoga movement had a spiritual portent ”. With the emergence of the American forms of yoga in Germany, the fitness aspect came to the fore.

There are few rules of conduct, the rules are rather recommendations for the students without a binding character. Yoga is not taught as a philosophical system; instead, there is a tendency towards an empirical approach. Methods for cleaning are evaluated with regard to health-promoting effects (see Shat- Kriyas ). In connection with the emphasis on the training effect of yoga on body and mind, psychosomatic concepts are sometimes used .

The anthropologist Peter van der Veer has examined the development of modern yoga in the West and found differences to the spiritual foundation of traditional Indian yoga practices.

Yoga schools and directions

Hatha Yoga (body-hugging)

Western parlance summarizes more body-oriented yoga practices under the umbrella term Hatha Yoga . One direction of Hatha Yoga in Europe and North America is Iyengar Yoga , a very body-conscious type, in which simple aids are used if necessary to make it easier for inexperienced people to perform the exercises. At the same time, they support the desire to work very precisely and subtly.

Art of Living

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar , who founded Art of Living in 1981 , has written a number of different workshops. The more than 20,000 teachers worldwide teach a modern mix of yoga as physical exercises, breathing techniques ( pranayama ) and practically applicable philosophy in the Art of Living workshops . Mantra-based meditation courses, quiet retreats, pure yoga asanas and knowledge workshops are held. Sri Sri has developed various yoga series, from Padma Sadhana to Purna Yoga. The essence, however, is the Sudarshan Kriya , a breathing technique described as “cleansing”, which is supposed to bring all seven levels of existence into harmony.

Sivananda Yoga and other "integrating" systems

Sivananda Yoga , which has been widespread internationally for over 50 years, goes back to the two yoga masters Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda . It is a classic holistic yoga that integrates all known yoga systems. The Kundalini Yoga by Yogi Bhajan focuses on the awakening and control of Kundalini -Energy. A more spiritually oriented yoga school is e.g. B. Tibetan Yoga . The Marma Yoga emphasizes the self-awareness aspect of the exercises. Technically precise postures are seen as a "test" in which you give your body the opportunity to "speak" and adapt the exercises through this reflection.

Yoga without physical exercises

In Jnana Yoga and Yoga of Silence , the pursuit of self-knowledge of the ultimate truth, without physical exercises, is in the foreground. With Kum Nye there is a Buddhist healing yoga and with Yantra Yoga there is a Tibetan yoga that is used as meditation support. Tibetan dream yoga extends the scope of spiritual and yogic exercises to include sleep . The Kriya Yoga goes on Paramahansa Yogananda back.

Syntheses and Innovations

A synthesis and further development of the classical forms of yoga take place in the integral yoga of Aurobindo .

In addition to the traditional directions, especially in the wake of the fitness and wellness trend, "new" types of yoga are created time and again, so that there is now an almost unmanageable number of different yoga schools. Power Yoga , a direction from America that is derived from the ancient Ashtanga (Vinyasa) Yoga , is one of these modern yoga styles. One of the most recent directions of this development is Bikram Yoga , a physically demanding yoga at high room temperatures. The dynamic Jivamukti Yoga , which is mostly practiced to music, originated in New York . Mixed forms can also arise, so Yogilates courses are now offered, which consist of a mix of yoga and Pilates exercises. The Laughter Yoga owes its origin to the self-experiments the science journalist Norman Cousins .

Yoga, Feminism and New Religious Movements

In the women's movement in the 1990s, women's project culture developed its own design variations of yoga. Materials on Luna and Yabluga Yoga were published.

In addition, there are new religious movements that define themselves as the yoga path and take up traditional elements of yoga, e.g. B. Sahaja Yoga or Surat Shabd Yoga .

One of these movements is also the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU). This spiritual movement, founded in 1936/37, with several hundred thousand members and headquarters in Mount Abu , Rajasthan , Northern India, teaches a spiritual yoga that does not emphasize physical exercises. This Raja Yoga of the Brahma Kumaris is a silent form of meditation with the aim of establishing a connection between the Yogi and the Supreme Self.

By Boris Sakharov (the student Swami Sivananda and one of the pioneers of Yoga in the West) comes the following quote: "From day to day shoot new yoga mushroomed supersaturated through lush imagination bottom of Oriental Studies, and it will be brought to light new name as Sattva Yoga, Buddhi Yoga, Purna Yoga etc. - as if the classic types of yoga, as the first five are usually called (namely Karma , Bhakti , Hatha , Raja and Jnana ), had not been entirely sufficient. "

Vendors, teachers, associations, magazines

In Germany, adult education centers and other public educational institutions offer yoga courses on various forms of yoga; they are independent of individual yoga schools and organizations and their religious and ideological views. Most of the time, trained yoga teachers lead the courses, which are often supported by health insurance companies .

The selection and assessment of yoga teachers and yoga directions is, however, controversial and partly unclear. Only universities are allowed to issue diplomas.

Mention should also be made of magazines with advertisements and editorial advertising - Yoga Aktuell , a comprehensive, bimonthly newspaper, and Yoga Journal . The associations publish small magazines . The Yoga Vidya Journal , which appears twice a year, and its own advertising wiki also increasingly document market-oriented yoga .

Today, at least three million people in Germany practice yoga, around eighty percent of them women (who were excluded for a long time in India).

Yoga and health

Basically, yoga has been shown to have some positively rated effects on both physical and mental health. Yoga can alleviate various clinical pictures, such as circulatory disorders , sleep disorders , nervous complaints ( anxiety and depression ), chronic headaches, and neck and back pain .

The benefits of yoga for illness and for maintaining health are assessed differently. In Germany, costs for yoga courses can be reimbursed by the health insurance companies, especially within the framework of the prevention principle of avoiding specific risks and stress-related illnesses (guidelines of the health insurance companies according to § 20 Paragraph 1 and 2 SGB ​​V ). The health-promoting aspect is weighted differently in the different yoga directions. Sometimes it is only seen as a side effect, sometimes it is the central point of the approach, for example in the context of offers for workplace health promotion .

The asanas train strength, flexibility, a sense of balance and muscle endurance. For example, by activating muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood and lymph vessels in the asanas, blood circulation is improved. The back muscles are strengthened, which in turn can lead to improved posture. However, excessive strain and incorrectly performed exercises can also be harmful. Therefore yoga should not only be learned from books, but under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher .

Yoga has a calming, balancing effect on many people and can thus counteract the effects of stress . In addition, the inner contemplation associated with breathing exercises and meditation can be used to reflect on one's own behavior towards other people in order to make it more positive.

There are also types of yoga tailored to specific ailments, such as hormone yoga , which is primarily intended to help with menopausal symptoms .



Web links

Commons : Yoga  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Yoga  Quotes
Wiktionary: Yoga  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Search results for "yoga". In: . Retrieved April 28, 2020 .
  2. Cush, Robinson, York (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Hinduism. London (et al.) 2008, p. 1034.
  3. Unesco ennobles yoga to a world cultural heritage . Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  4. Search results for "Ashta". In: . Retrieved April 28, 2020 .
  5. Search results for "Anga". In: . Retrieved April 28, 2020 .
  6. Georg Feuerstein: The Yoga Tradition. History, literature, philosophy & practice. Yoga Verlag, Wiggensbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-935001-06-9 , p. 78
  7. The Roots of Yoga - The Yoga Sutures of Patanjali; with a comment by PY Deshpande, with a new translation of the Sanskrit words edited by Bettina Bäumer, Otto Wilhelm Barth Verlag, Bern, Munich, Vienna, 1976
  8. ibid., P. 24
  9. “Nasikagra” confuses some translators with “tip of the nose”; Most yogis do not squint, but rather look at the root of the nose between the eyebrows as a concentration exercise, supposedly an important nerve meeting point.
  10. Original text: "yogi yunjita satatam atmanam rahasi sthitah - ekaki yatachittama nirashir aparigraha".
  11. ^ Max Planck Society . Retrieved August 3, 2013.
  12. See also the detailed overview of yoga in Germany from Friedemann Eißler: Mantra, Markt und Massensport. Yoga between enlightenment and relaxation , in: Herder Korrespondenz 68 (6/2014), pp. 307–311.
  13. ^ Official website of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
  14. What is Sudarshan Kriya ,
  15. ^ Therapeutic experiences with laughter ( Memento of October 10, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) by Michael Titze
  16. Silke Garms: Yabluga. A conception for feminist yoga. Rosenholz, Kiel / Berlin 1996. ISBN 3-931665-00-3 / ISBN 978-3-931665-00-5 , Adelheid Ohlig : Luna Yoga. Goldmann, Munich 1991. ISBN 3-442-13535-4
  17. ^ J. Yogendra, HJ Yogendra, S. Ambardekar, RD Lele, S. Shetty, M. Dave, N. Husein: Beneficial effects of yoga lifestyle on reversibility of ischaemic heart disease: caring heart project of the International Board of Yoga. In: The Journal of the Association of Physicians of India. Vol. 52, April 2004, pp. 283-289, PMID 15636328 .
  18. SB Khalsa: Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: a preliminary study with sleep-wake diaries. In: Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback. Volume 29, Number 4, December 2004, pp. 269-278, PMID 15707256 .
  19. EH Kozasa, RF Santos, AD Rueda, AA Benedito-Silva, FL De Ornellas, JR Leite: Evaluation of Siddha Samadhi Yoga for anxiety and depression symptoms: a preliminary study. In: Psychological reports. Volume 103, Number 1, August 2008, pp. 271-274, doi : 10.2466 / pr0.103.1.271-274 , PMID 18982958 .
  20. ^ PJ John, N. Sharma, CM Sharma, A. Kankane: Effectiveness of yoga therapy in the treatment of migraine without aura: a randomized controlled trial. In: Headache. Volume 47, Number 5, May 2007, pp. 654-661, doi : 10.1111 / j.1526-4610.2007.00789.x , PMID 17501846 .
  21. Hermann Traitteur: Effectiveness of an Iyengar yoga intervention in patients with chronic neck pain - a randomized controlled study . Ed .: Faculty of Medicine. Charité - University Medicine Berlin. 2013 ( ).
  22. P. Tekur, C. Singphow, HR Nagendra, N. Raghuram: Effect of short-term intensive yoga program on pain , functional disability and spinal flexibility in chronic low back pain: a randomized control study. In: Journal of alternative and complementary medicine. Volume 14, Number 6, July 2008, pp. 637-644, doi : 10.1089 / acm.2007.0815 , PMID 18673078 .