Updated: Dec 9, 2021
The practice of Yoga has been around for thousands of years. A modern translation of the word Yoga is Union, or Unity. However, it literally means to yoke. A yoke is a harness used to control an animal. What does this tool have to do with spirituality you may wonder. We use the tool of yoga to practice control in order to obtain freedom. What we are harnessing is our attention (which tends to be scattered) into a single point of concentration. As we continue the practice we discover that harnessing our energy and attention requires letting go; removing obstacles of our own egos creation. We begin to recognize the animal as our ego, the harness as a tool for liberation, and a knowingness of what is holding the harness.
The ancients practiced various forms of tantric rituals and movements in order to become closer to God. Or Peace. Or Magic. They were seeking the Oneness that comes after Bliss.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the most referenced book in Classical Yoga. Patanjali collated, and perhaps wrote his own interpretations of yoga in a sort of "how-to" guide for reaching higher states of awareness. It is through his perspective that the path to Enlightenment can be marked by these 8 steps.
The first 5 steps are practices that balance our body and energies and are known as Hatha Yoga
(Ha=sun + Tha=moon). In Hatha yoga, one is attuned to all the earthly aspects of the body.
The final 3 steps are meditative practices that are known as Raja Yoga. These take us in to the more subtle and etheral realms, transcending the physical body.