Yoga is a family of ancient spiritual practices originating in India. It is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. In India and across the World, Yoga is seen as a means to both physical health and spiritual mastery. Outside India, Yoga has become primarily associated with the practice of asanas or postures of Hatha Yoga.
In the United States the American Fitness Professionals & Associates offers Yoga Certification for intructors.
Yoga developed as a worldview, as a lifestyle. It integrates the asanas (bodily poses) and pranayamas (breathing exercises) with the concept of meditation to make the yogi at peace with the world.
Meditation comes from intense concentration, where the individual focuses so thoroughly on a single object that he or she thinks of nothing besides his or her awareness of that object (Some religions may find that their idea of prayer could fall under this definition). Yoga takes that further, making meditation the highest element of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
These "eight limbs" define Yoga as a lifestyle: your attitude to the world around you is followed by your attitudes towards yourself, physical posturing, breathing exercises, withdrawing the senses, concentrating, contemplating, and finally enlightenment. Enlightenment, better known as a state of bliss, comes only as a result of full use and development of the other seven. Meditation combines withdrawing the senses, concentrating, and contemplating to be the final state that can be accomplished before bliss.
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Buddha, who is estimated to have lived 563 to 483 BC, is believed to have studied what was known of yoga at that time as part of an extensive education in Hindu philosophy. It is also very likely, given the rapid growth of Buddhism after his death and before the Bhagavad Gita was composed, that Buddhism had some influence on that work. There is a considerable overlap between the Hindu yoga tradition and Buddhism.
At any rate, meditation calms the mind and offers a number of health benefits even before enlightenment. Regular meditation can help reduce anxiety and stress, lowering blood pressure and decreasing risk of heart attack. It can improve concentration, clarity of thought, and release your creative side.
Some research suggests that meditation with yoga increases matter in the brain's cortex, specifically in the areas involved in processing cognitive, emotional, and sensory data. Meditation may also slow natural shrinkage of the frontal cortex due to aging. The 20 participants on average meditated for 40 minutes a day. Most change happened in their brains' right hemispheres.
That's not to say that meditation is easy. Clearing the mind of extraneous thought is difficult, and all thought even more so. Learning to meditate will take work.
To start, sit comfortably somewhere with your back and head straight. You may find a basic breathing exercise useful to help. Close your eyes, breathe through your nose, and focus on that breath. Cool air enters; warm air leaves. Keep your focus on your breathing, redirecting wandering thoughts that way. Start with short meditations of a few minutes and work your way up to longer. Beginners might find it easier to start with an intermediate method of counting their breaths, counting to four before restarting.