The word Yoga shares the same roots as the word yoke or union, and means to unite or yoke together. It refers to the union of mind, body and spirit. It is a system of exercises and practices. Some of these have roots thousands of years old, some are modern. Many different people have taken these exercises and practices and developed them in many different directions. Today there are many, many different styles of yoga, and many different things carrying the name ‘yoga’. In my opinion, the essence of yoga – it is a set of practices and exercises the practising of which will make you a better, healthier, happier and more content person. There are some fundamental threads of this practice.
One significant thread is ‘being aware’. Awareness of what you are doing; what muscles need to work to perform a particular movement or to hold a posture; what muscles are working when they do not need to; the quality of your breathing; the quality of your contact with the floor; the quality, location and focus of your attention; the qualities of your motives for doing what you are doing; the qualities of your perceptions, …
Another significant thread is ‘balance’. A common misconception of yoga is that it entails performing amazingly acrobatic postures and moves. I don’t think this is helped by a lot of the available yoga magazines and published media. A casual flip through these mags shows beautiful, photogenic, scantily clad people, doing things relevant for professional dancers and body builders. Krishnamacharya said, “A yoga practice must be adapted to suit the period, location and specific requirements of the individual. The age and the constitution of the students, their vocation, capability and the path to which they feel drawn all dictate the shape of a yoga practice.” [quoted from Mark Singleton’s book, “Yoga Body – The origins of modern posture practice”, Oxford University Press, 2010, p188]. This is all about a balanced, relevant practice. Start at the place you are at and develop from there – progressively get stronger, more flexible and healthier. Become a better, happier, more content-with-life person.
In my opinion, there is no-one who cannot benefit from yoga.
See also: More on what Yoga is