In the West, yoga is most often associated with the physical practice of asanas, particularly stretching exercises to build flexibility and relax the body. Yoga asanas can also build strength, coordination, balance and stamina. However, this is only one aspect of yoga as asana practice is just one of the "eight limbs" of yoga as listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a key sacred text on the philosophy of yoga. These eight limbs are:
- Yama - Five abstentions (or outer observances)
- Niyama - Five inner observances
- Asana - Meaning “seat” and referring to the physical posture needed for meditation
- Pranayama - Controlled or suspended breath
- Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana - Single pointed concentration
- Dhyana - Meditation
- Samadhi - Liberation
There are many different paths of yoga, including Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga, but all are rooted in the yamas and niyamas, and have the same goal of samadhi.
Yoga is thought to be therapeutic for many physical and mental conditions. Studies have been carried out demonstrating its effectiveness as a treatment for back pain, stress and schizophrenia, to name a few.